If any single vehicle nails what American motorists want most, it’s the Mercedes-Benz ML luxury crossover, or so says the latest in a series of annual studies by California-based AutoPacific, Inc., designed to identify the most ideal vehicles on the market.
The Ideal Vehicle study emphasizes what industry types like to call “things-gone-right,” rather than “things-gone-wrong.” Motorists, it suggests, are willing to suffer through the occasional defect if a vehicle delivers enough surprise-and-delight features such as great design, good interior space, unexpected performance or the latest in high-tech equipment.
According to that formula, the top premium brand is Porsche, with Chrysler’s Ram taking the lead among mainstream brands. Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. vehicles led in four individual product segments, more than any other brand, noted AutoPacific founder and lead analyst George Peterson.
“That means they are doing the best at targeting customers’ needs,” Peterson said, despite the hits Ford has taken in recent quality-based studies. The Detroit maker has had some well-publicized problems with its Sync and MyFordTouch infotainment technologies, while small back seats in models like the Focus and Fusion sedans have also generated criticism.
While Ford may have more segment winners, the Mercedes-Benz ML was the single highest-rated product in the entire 2013 Ideal Vehicle study, added Peterson, noting that, “To be a sport-utility vehicle on top is a pretty rare thing.”
The results of things-gone-right studies like AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle, and J.D. Power and Associates’ APEAL, often run counter to the findings from defect-focused owner surveys. Chrysler, the top-rated mainstream brand, according to the new Ideal Vehicle study, routinely lags below average in terms of things-gone-wrong reports like Power’s Initial Quality Study, or IQS.
(Toyota tops new JD Power APEAL study, with GM and Ford close behind. Click Here for details.)
On the other hand, Toyota has traditionally delivered strong quality while scoring poorly when it comes to studies that look at how excited owners are about their vehicles. The Japanese giant topped only two product categories, according to the latest Ideal Vehicle study, both with hybrids – the Toyota Avalon Hybrid sedan and Lexus RX 450h crossover/utility-vehicle.
That helps explain a strong shift in direction ordered by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who has promised to deliver more “passion” with the maker’s future products.
(Study ranks Lexus most reliable – but gap narrows. Click Here to learn more.)
A handful of vehicles have landed at the top of their Ideal Vehicle segments repeatedly in recent years. That includes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which has tied or led the midsize SUV segment three years running. The Honda Fit has won the economy car segment for five consecutive years. The Mini hardtop has topped its segment two years in a row. And Porsche has won in the sports car category for seven of the past eight years.
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