Saturn dealers topped Strategic Vision's Dealer Total Quality Experience index for the second year in a row.
The index, which Strategic Vision has made public the last two years, measures customers' evaluations of their sales and service experience at dealerships.
The index rose 7 percent last year, which means auto buyers believe their treatment at dealerships is improving.
The research firm, based in San Diego, questioned 31,000 new owners. All purchased their vehicles in October and December 1996, and had owned them at least 90 days.
Dan Gorrell, Strategic Vision vice president, attributed the increase in satisfaction to dealers' and automakers' 'fear' of Republic Industries Inc. and other challenges to traditional dealerships.
Republic, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., owns AutoNation USA, the country's largest group of new-car dealerships.
'We've seen in the numbers where manufacturers are doing something special for customers through their retail outlets,' Gorrell said. Land Rover dealers, for example, are installing off-road demonstration tracks.
Saturn scored 905 out of a possible 1,000 points in the low-priced category, with vehicles averaging under $20,000.
Dealers that handle luxury vehicles had the highest average - 882. Jaguar scored 899, while Lexus had 904. These dealers sell cars with sticker prices that average more than $30,000.
Gorrell said a tie was declared because 'Jaguar provides a slightly higher sales experience, especially in the clarity of explanations and negotiations. Lexus excels in the service area, which is, with its lower incidence of mechanical defects, primarily scheduled maintenance.'