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Small cars more appealing than ever — with one exception — in new consumer survey

Motoramic

Small cars more appealing than ever — with one exception — in new consumer surveyIf there's further proof needed that Americans will buy well-designed smaller cars if given a chance, it arrived today in a new survey of 74,000 owners from J.D. Power, which found that today's small cars are just as desirable as the larger rides favored by buyers four years ago. That's good news for cars like the Chevy Sonic -- but there's a downside for a brand of small Japanese cars that used to be a favorite.

The J.D. Power Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) survey asks people who've owned or leased a new car for 90 days how much they like it on 80 different measures. It's an annual attempt to gauge "things gone right," in addition to the firm's better-known survey of quality defects that tracks things gone wrong. Over the past few years, the survey has found automakers gradually improving the appeal of their new models, although the survey tends to favor luxury brands and larger cars.

What made this year's results different was the gain among small vehicles. Based on the data from auto dealers, J.D. Power found that twice as many buyers were downsizing to a smaller car than getting a bigger set of wheels -- 27 percent to 14 percent. While those who chose a smaller car often did it for better fuel economy, they were just as satisfied with their purchase on average as they had been with their previous vehicle.

Among automakers, the top three remained the same as last year, with Porsche leading for the eighth straight year, followed by Jaguar and BMW. The brands that improved the most: Dodge, Jaguar and Ram, as Chrysler posted the largest gains of any single automaker. Among individual vehicles, the most appealing new model was the Audi A8, a result we won't argue with; J.D. Power also gave out a trunk full of segment awards with Chevrolet picking up three for the Sonic, Volt and Avalanche -- a model that's set to end production this year.

The least-desirable brand? Suzuki, a company that's barely hanging on in the United States, followed by Smart and Mitsubishi, both companies that have offered few new models over the past year. And the exeception to better ratings for smaller cars? Toyota's Scion brand, which suffered the largest decline in scores of any automaker, dropping from just above industry average to fifth-worst. Some of Scion's products are among the oldest in Toyota's lineup, and this year's report came too soon to see what buyers thoughts were on the Scion FR-S; if that doesn't boost the smiles per mile, nothing will.