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Volkswagen Grabs Top JD Power APEAL Honors

The 2016 J.D. Power Automotive Performance Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study has brought good news for an automaker that needs some: Volkswagen Group, which includes not just the Volkswagen division itself but also Porsche and Audi, captured the top spots for both premium and non-premium brands in this year’s survey. Porsche led the industry for the 12th consecutive year, this time with a score 9.5 percent higher than the overall average among premium brands. The Volkswagen brand, which was third among mainstream names in the 2015 APEAL Study, leapfrogged Hyundai and Mini to claim non-premium victory this year.

Some folks may question the appeal of certain diesel-powered VW and Porsche vehicles given the automaker’s recent issues, and for an answer, we went right to the source. According to John Tews, director of Media Relations for J.D. Power, “there were effectively no VW Group diesels included in the study this year,” since the automaker had pulled its problematic vehicles from dealerships so early in the 2016 selling season.

The Power of Premium Appeal

The annual APEAL Study looks at the “emotional attachment and level of excitement” created by new vehicles after 90 days of service, with owners and lessees asked questions about more than 75 separate attributes. But perhaps the most effective way to read the J.D. Power quality studies is to think of the APEAL report as covering things that folks like about their new rides, while the Initial Quality Study (IQS) is for issues they don’t like. The differences can be fairly drastic, too.

Consider: In the 2016 IQS, released earlier this year, the No. 1 brand was a mainstream choice – Kia – and five of the top 10 brands were non-luxury names. Yet in the APEAL Study, the 11 highest-scoring brands were all from the premium side of the business. Unsurprisingly, the top overall vehicle was the luxurious 2016 BMW 7 Series (although Power indicates that it’s not listed with the segment winners because there weren’t enough Large Premium Car models eligible).

BMW brand vehicles that did receive APEAL awards in 2016 were the BMW 2 Series (Small Premium Car), BMW X1 (Small Premium SUV) and BMW X6 (Midsize Premium SUV). BMW also was the second-place brand overall, and Mercedes-Benz made it a German hat trick by tying with Jaguar for third.

For mainstream customers, the most impressive performance might have been from Kia. It already had led the industry, including premium makes, in the 2016 IQS. Then it was just 2 points behind the non-luxury No. 1 in the APEAL Study. That was on a 1,000-point scale, too, and the leading APEAL brand, VW, didn’t happen to lead in any individual vehicle categories. Meanwhile, Kia earned trophies in key segments for the 2016 Kia Optima (Midsize Car), Kia Sorento (Midsize SUV) and Kia Sedona (Minivan).

APEAL: What’s Trending

Despite the wide variety of traits taken into account by the APEAL experts, a few common themes did emerge from this year’s data. For example, customers gave noticeably better ratings to vehicles with today’s new wave of high-tech safety measures. Particularly important were blind-spot monitoring and collision-avoidance technologies: Cars with blind-spot systems enjoyed APEAL scores that were 41 percent higher than for similar vehicles lacking that feature, and collision-avoidance setups delivered a 30 percent boost in ratings.

Other technologies brought mixed results, however. APEAL ratings for infotainment systems in general rose by 6 points between 2014 and 2015, but those specifically for navigation technology didn’t fare nearly as well: Two of the lowest-scoring vehicle attributes in the 2016 study had to with how difficult and ineffective the latest in-vehicle navigation technology is.

A similar situation also popped up in the fuel-efficiency data. As J.D. Power points out, just one of the 10 APEAL categories saw ratings slip in the 2016 study, and the biggest factor in that decline was the perceived rougher shifting of today’s newer eight- and nine-speed automatic transmissions. Yet those units also play a vital role in boosting fuel economy, which was the APEAL category with the highest gain in ratings.

The idea of a new or redesigned vehicle also was plenty appealing to customers. The J.D. Power team counted 30 vehicles for the 2016 model year that were either brand-new to the marketplace or significantly upgraded, and 22 of them outscored their segment averages in this year’s APEAL Study.

Entries here include segment winners such as the Buick Cascada and Porsche 911. But those two cars are in another unique club this year as well.2016130_1

The J.D. Power Two-fer

As mentioned, the APEAL Study is essentially the flipside of the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, with the one focusing on the positives of the new-vehicle ownership experience and the other tracking the negatives. And the thing is, there’s not a lot of overlap in terms of individual winners. Power recognized 25 segment leaders in the 2016 APEAL Study, and five also won their segments in this year’s IQS.

  • The Buick Cascada—the brand’s all-new convertible—was a double winner in the “Compact Sporty Car” category, beating the also-new 2016 Mazda Miata in both J.D. Power studies.
  • In the “Midsize Premium Sporty Car” segment, in both the IQS and the APEAL Study, the redesigned 2016 Porsche 911 won. It also was the only entry in the segment to score high enough to be eligible for recognition.
  • Oh, and Porsche actually led all premium brands in both studies, thanks in part to the company’s best seller, the Porsche Macan, which bested its rivals in each of those surveys in the Compact Premium SUV segment.
  • Much like the 911, the ever-funky 2016 Kia Soul not only earned a segment award in each of the reports, it also was the only one to qualify in its segment (Compact Multi Purpose Vehicle).
  • Finally, the Chevrolet Tahoe was the sole vehicle eligible when it took home the APEAL honor for Large SUVs, though it was atop a full podium in the segment in the IQS study.

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