Lincoln is tops on the latest ACSI survey of new vehicle buyers in 2016.

New car buyers are happier with their purchases this year than they were last year and Lincoln is the leader of the pack, according to a new survey from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The annual survey shows Lincoln’s approval rating this year – 87 out of 100 – is a 5% improvement over last year’s result. Honda was second with an 86, marking an 8% jump, while Toyota and BMW tied for third at 85. It was a 4% increase for both brands.

Often in these types of surveys, luxury brands, such as Lincoln and BMW, sweep the top spots, but this wasn’t the case this year. Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said the figures show the gap in consumer perception may be closing between mass-market and luxury brands.

“The rise of mass-market vehicles may well be at the expense of luxury brands in the sense that buyers now see little differentiation between luxury cars and regular ones,” Fornell said. “If there is little difference, why pay more? Exclusivity may not be enough.”

Overall, automakers scored an 82. The former Big Three scored reasonably well: Ford Motor Co. outpaced its domestic competition by receiving a satisfaction score of 84. General Motors Co. received a satisfaction score of 81 and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles got a 78.

Honda was second in this year's customer satisfaction index rankings for new vehicles.

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David VanAmburg, ACSI director, said the Detroit automakers are gaining ground on their foreign counterparts with an average approval score of 81. Japanese and Korean manufacturers received satisfaction scores of 82.

“Year-to-date sales are looking pretty flat, and demand for cars may slacken some,” VanAmburg said. “But the good news for Detroit is that higher levels of customer satisfaction will make it more competitive.”

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The top finishers after Lincoln, Honda, Toyota and BMW and their scores were:

  • GMC – 84
  • Infiniti – 84
  • Lexus – 84
  • Subaru –84
  • Audi – 83
  • Chevrolet – 83

ACSI, which is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, interviewed approximately 70,000 customers about 24 auto brands for the survey. Sixteen of the brands showed increases while five declined, including Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Acura.

Not surprisingly, Volkswagen’s rating slid from 80 to 78, largely as a result of the ongoing problems related to its diesel emissions scandal. The results not only show a drop, but a long road ahead for the German automaker.

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“The combination of fines and fallen stock price are a big hit to Volkswagen’s finances, but it may prove even harder to recover from the reputational hit the company will take for deceiving customers and the general public,” VanAmburg said. “Many customers or would-be customers could be turned-off of VW for life and it’s hard to put a value on that.”

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