It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why consumers love certain new cars, but for 25 years global research and analytics firm J.D. Power has been developing a formula to determine which vehicles have the most desirable characteristics among new-car purchasers. The firm calls it the J.D. Power APEAL study, which stands for Automotive Performance, Execution And Layout. Ratings are based on consumer evaluations of 2020 model-year vehicles in the first 90 days of ownership across 37 attributes, which are factored into an overall APEAL score measured on a 1,000-point scale to determine the most loved new cars of 2020.
“Purchasing the ‘right’ vehicle is influenced by a variety of factors, depending on each buyer’s specific tastes, wants and needs,” said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power. “The APEAL Study measures an owner’s emotional attachment to their new vehicle and in what areas that vehicle may not be delivering on all of the positive experiences that were hoped for. Understanding this is just as valuable to automakers as knowing about quality issues and owner acceptance of new technologies. The goal for automakers is to delight customers on all these dimensions. Some are better than others at doing this,” Sargent observed.
For the second year in a row, Porsche ranks as the most APEALing brand overall with a score of 881 in the J.D. Power APEAL study. Lincoln comes in a close second among premium brands, followed by Cadillac, BMW and Land Rover to round out the top five.
Last month Dodge ranked highest in the J.D. Power Initial Quality study, and now it takes top honors in the APEAL study among mass-market brands. Ram, GMC, Ford and MINI complete the top five.
For the first time ever, U.S. automaker Tesla has been included in the APEAL study; however, it is not officially ranked since it doesn’t meet all the criteria. “Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn’t grant us permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required,” said Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power. “However, we were able to collect a large enough sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states and, from that base, we calculated Tesla’s score.” Tesla’s unofficial score of 896 would rank it highest in the APEAL study — an interesting contrast to the automaker’s last-place ranking in the recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.
The sporty BMW X6 crossover is the highest scoring individual vehicle in this year’s study. The following are the most “APEALing” vehicles in 25 categories, based on the 2020 study.
The Nissan Versa used to be the least expensive car in America; that changed with the introduction of the all-new 2020 Versa. Still affordable thanks to a starting price below $15,000, the Versa features premium styling that matches the rest of the Nissan lineup, as well as a healthy list of standard equipment. Nissan’s entry-level model has multiple USB ports, a 7-inch color touchscreen display, Zero Gravity front seats and a rearview monitor. All Versas also come with Nissan Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, high-beam headlight assist, rear automatic braking and lane departure warning.
Not only does Audi’s entry-level model rank at the top of its category in the 2020 J.D. Power APEAL study, the A3 also ranked highest in the 2020 Initial Quality Study. Audi’s entry-level luxury car, the A3 carries the styling cues of higher-end Audi models, and is available with the brand’s signature quattro all-wheel-drive system. Premium standard features on the A3 include a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights, a 12-way power driver’s seat, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and a high-end audio system. Audi also offers the A3 with the brand’s innovative virtual cockpit, as well as a suite of advance driver-assist technologies.
A member of the Nissan lineup for more than 35 years, Sentra is all new for the 2020 model year. With styling that matches the rest of its siblings, the 2020 Sentra gets added safety features, more power, better handling and a range of other improvements. Sentra is available in a range of trim levels, including the top-level SR that brings a surprisingly high level of luxury to this low priced model. All Sentras come with Nissan Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear-door alert and rear cross-traffic alert.
An all-new Veloster rolled out last year with a refreshed design as well as other improvements. These updates have put this fun little coupe at the top of both J.D. Power’s APEAL and Initial Quality studies. The sporty coupe continues to stand out with its unique 3-door configuration: one door on the driver side, two on the passenger side. The base Veloster 2.0 is powered by a 147-horserpower engine and features a 7-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, a rear spoiler, a 6-speed manual transmission and 17-inch alloy wheels. For those seeking a bit more excitement, Hyundai offers the Veloster N with more aggressive styling and a turbocharged engine to match.
As Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis offers a range of sedans and a new SUV. The sporty G70 sits at the entry point of the Genesis lineup. Well equipped with features such as power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch color touchscreen display and 18-inch wheels, the G70 sport sedan also has the latest advanced safety tech as standard equipment. This includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam headlight assist and driver attention warning.
Thanks to the continued popularity of crossovers in the U.S., the midsize sedan has dropped in popularity. However Hyundai is still committed to this market segment as proven by the introduction of an all-new eighth-generation Sonata earlier this year. With fresh styling and a stronger and lighter platform, the 2020 Sonata is available in a range of trim levels as well as with a gas engine or an efficient hybrid powertrain. Sonata is also available with Digital Key, which allows the vehicle to be unlocked, started and driven using a smartphone rather than a key.
The American market may be awash in retro-designed vehicles, but Dodge does one of the best jobs capturing the essence of a classic muscle car and incorporating it into the thoroughly modern Challenger. The 2-door Challenger offers the latest in high-tech entertainment and safety features, but this retro-looking coupe is really all about performance. The Challenger is available with a variety of high-powered engines ranging from a 305-horsepower V6 to the dragstrip-ready Challenger SRT Super Stock that boasts a massive 807-horsepower supercharged V8. Even more impressive — this beast can seat up to five passengers and remains street legal.
Introduced a few years ago, Stinger is the Korean brand’s first performance sedan. Stinger retains the signature Kia grille, but the design features a wide stance, short front overhangs, a steeply raked windshield, a vented hood, sleek LED headlights and bold fenders. Two powertrains are available: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 — the latter producing 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. With the larger engine, the Stinger GT can reach 60 mph in under 5 seconds with a top speed of 167 mph — figures not typically associated with a Kia automobile.
It is interesting and a bit puzzling — Cadillac has announced that the CT6 is being discontinued, yet the car ranks highest in the two most recent J.D. Power surveys. Currently the flagship sedan of the Cadillac line, the CT6 base-level trims come well equipped with LED headlights and taillights, active noise cancellation, heated front seats and an UltraView power sunroof. Additional features such as quad-zone climate control, automatic parking assist and adaptive cruise control can be found on higher trim levels. The CT6 has full-time all-wheel drive as well as the latest active safety technology. A CT6-V is also available, which possesses a 4.2-liter Blackwing twin-turbo V8 powerplant producing 550 horsepower. Although Cadillac is discontinuing the CT6, there may still be vehicles left in showrooms.
BMW introduced the latest version of its flagship sedan for the 2020 model year, offering new technologies and the addition of a 6-cylinder plug-in hybrid. Styling has been updated as well — the most noticeable new design element is an exceptionally large kidney grille surrounded by a single-piece frame that is 40 percent larger than the previous model. The 7 Series offers a range of engines; the top tier is a 6.6-liter twin turbocharged V12 that produces 600 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque in the M760i xDrive. The new plug-in hybrid 745e xDrive teams a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine with an electric motor for a total system output of 389 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque while delivering up to 56 MPGe combined.
Another vehicle that resides at the top of its category in both recent J.D. Power studies, the Nissan Maxima is referred to by its maker as a “4-Door Sports Car.” Last year this Nissan flagship sedan received revised exterior styling including a larger V-Motion grille, interior updates and Nissan Safety Shield 360 with advanced driver-assist systems as standard equipment. Inside, the updated Maxima features a driver-oriented cockpit and seating for five occupants, with a new seat insert pattern and charcoal headliner for the Maxima SR and Platinum Reserve Package. The exclusive powertrain for all trim levels is a 300-horsepower version of Nissan’s award-winning 3.5-liter V6 engine combined with a CVT transmission.
When it comes to the Countryman, this MINI is not so mini anymore. As the largest MINI, the Countryman four door offers reasonable cargo space, ALL4 all-wheel drive and an impressive list of standard equipment. All trim levels come with a panorama sunroof, a 6.5-inch high-resolution display, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, leatherette upholstery and 17-inch alloy wheels. A variety of powertrains are available, ranging from an efficient and powerful plug-in hybrid system to the high-performance John Cooper Works edition with a new generation turbocharged engine generating 301 horsepower. Look for a new MINI Countryman to arrive for the 2021 model year.
The C-HR, or Coupe High-Rider, was introduced as a Scion before Toyota discontinued the youth-oriented brand and brought this small crossover into the fold. Part of a new trend of inexpensive crossovers without all-wheel drive, the C-HR is front-wheel drive and powered by a 2.0-liter engine producing 144 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a continuously variable transmission. For the 2020 model year the C-HR receives updated front styling, new wheel designs and the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard equipment. All trim levels of the C-HR are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense P, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist and full-speed range adaptive cruise control.
The Escape is one of Ford’s most successful models — only the F-150 pickup truck outsells this small crossover. All new for the 2020 model year, this 2-row crossover is lower, wider and longer than its predecessor. The 2020 Escape has all-new styling with a look that is quite a departure from the current generation. Escape is available with a range of engine choices starting with a 1.5-liter EcoBoost 3-cylinder unit as standard equipment. The 2020 Escape signals the return of the small SUV’s hybrid offering in both standard and plug-in form; the latter is rated at 100 MPGe when operating in electric-only mode.
Last updated a few years ago, the CX-5 is currently Mazda’s best-selling model by a wide margin. The CX-5 is the first Mazda to feature G-Vectoring Control, which enhances vehicle responsiveness and stability while reducing the sideways sliding of occupants during spirited driving. Last year Mazda added the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trim levels, both powered by a turbocharged SKYACTIV-G 2.5T engine rated at 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque with premium fuel and i-ACTIV all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
After being the first Jaguar to earn a category-level award in the history of the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, the E-PACE has now ranked highest in the APEAL study. The entry-level SUV of the Jaguar lineup features styling that mimics the brand’s larger F-PACE, albeit in a much smaller package. Available in a number of trim levels, all E-PACEs come with a wide range of luxury amenities that include LED headlights, JaguarDrive control with selectable drive modes, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10-inch TouchPro touchscreen and 17-inch alloy wheels. Power comes from a 2.0-liter Ingenium 4-cylinder engine producing 246 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a ZF 9-speed automatic transmission.
BMW introduced a second-generation X4 Sport Activity Coupe last year featuring a more aggressive front end with larger kidney grilles and swept-back headlights that follow the new look of its sibling, the redesigned X3. The X4 continues to separate itself from the X3 thanks to a sloping fastback roofline; it offers a sportier driving experience than its predecessor, with a lower center of gravity and revised suspension. The extensive X4 standard equipment list includes Navigation Professional with a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, iDrive touch controller, and real-time traffic and parking information. Standard safety equipment includes active guard with frontal collision warning, automatic city collision mitigation and braking — including daytime pedestrian detection — and speed limit information.
Chevrolet brought the legendary Blazer name back to the lineup last year. Instead of going retro like the new Ford Bronco, Blazer returned as a bold, sporty crossover featuring a wide stance, a high beltline with sleek headlights up front and dual exhaust at the rear. This 5-occupant crossover offers plenty of cargo space as well as a roomy interior for passengers. Available in three trim levels that include the sporty RS and luxurious Premier, Blazer comes well equipped with an 8-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera and a 2.5-liter engine producing 193 horsepower. A 305-horsepower V6 coupled with a 9-speed automatic is also available.
The all-new Telluride came to market for the 2020 model year and promptly earned top honors as North American SUV of the Year. The new midsize crossover offers bold yet classic SUV styling, a premium interior, a powerful engine and seating for up to eight occupants. Created specifically for the U.S. market at Kia’s design center in California, Telluride is built in West Point, Georgia. The largest SUV in the Kia lineup, Telluride draws power from a 3.8-liter V6 engine producing 291 horsepower.
The Velar joined the Range Rover lineup a few years ago. Unlike typical boxy Range Rover models, the Velar features sleek styling including flush-fitting door handles, flush glass and super-slim LED headlights. The Velar was the first Range Rover to feature a new infotainment system called Touch Pro Duo, which uses two high-definition screens designed to make in-car technology clearer, quicker and more enjoyable to use. The Velar is available in a range of trim levels, including the new SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition, which boasts a lavish interior and a powerful 5.0-liter V8 engine.
More than 10 years ago, BMW introduced a new segment-buster called the X6 Sports Activity Coupe. This year BMW introduces the third generation of this sporty crossover, and the new model not only ranks highest in this year’s APEAL study, it also achieved the top of its category in the recent J.D. Power IQS. For the new model year, X6 receives a new look featuring slim trapezoidal Adaptive Full LED headlights and slim L-shaped LED taillights. The roofline flows into a double bubble at the rear, with twin spoilers above the rear glass. Three trim levels are offered; at the top, the X6 M50 sports a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter TwinPower V8 engine producing 523 horsepower.
Unique within the American truck market thanks to its unibody construction, the Ridgeline offers several features that are as distinctive now as when the truck came to market 10 years ago, including a lockable in-bed storage trunk and dual-action tailgate — which is both left- and bottom-hinged. Ridgeline can also handle the obligatory 4X8 sheet of plywood laid flat. Power comes from a 3.5-liter 280-horsepower V6 engine now teamed with a 9-speed automatic transmission. The Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds and offers a range of innovative features such as a truck-bed audio system.
One of the most popular minivans in America, the Odyssey celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Fully redesigned a few years back, Odyssey offers a range of family-friendly features including a “Magic Slide” second-row seating system that offers multiple configurations, an in-car vacuum cleaner, tri-zone climate control, multiple USB ports and an in-cabin child monitoring system called Cabin Watch. Odyssey is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 280 horsepower and teamed with a 10-speed automatic transmission. In honor of its 25 years in production, the Odyssey is available with a 25th Anniversary package that includes a chrome roof rack and body-side moldings, a chrome rear bumper protector, illuminated sill plates with a 25th Anniversary logo, special 25th Anniversary badges on the front fenders and tailgate, as well as a 25th Anniversary key fob.
Many SUVs have migrated to more carlike unibody construction, but the big Nissan Armada remains a body-on-frame design capable of handling considerable cargo and towing duties. This full-size SUV carries up to eight occupants while still retaining plenty of space for cargo. The Armada’s 5.6-liter V8 engine generates an impressive 390 horsepower, which provides enough oomph to tow up to 8,500 pounds. This may be an old-school truck-based SUV, but the Armada is fully modern inside with the latest high-tech connectivity and safety features, including adaptive cruise control and forward emergency braking.
Lincoln introduced an all-new Navigator for the 2018 model year, and the luxurious SUV went on to be named the North American Truck of the Year — a first for the brand. The Navigator has a bold presence, highlighted by a large grille that immediately grabs attention. When approached, the Lincoln logo softly illuminates along with LED lighting that brightens the ground immediately around the vehicle. During the day, a panoramic sunroof ensures that even those sitting in the third row don’t feel claustrophobic, while at night interior ambient lighting illuminates all three seat rows. This big Lincoln has big power to match — a twin-turbo V6 engine produces 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque, delivered through a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity is an impressive 8,700 pounds — more than almost any other luxury SUV.
Ram introduced an all-new 1500 pickup truck last year, which took honors as the 2019 North American Truck of the Year. Improved in nearly every way, the Ram 1500 was completely redone and features a raised aluminum hood and RAM lettering across the forward-leaning grille. The Ram 1500 weighs in almost 225 pounds lighter than its predecessor, with a new frame that uses 98 percent high-strength steel to make it 100 pounds lighter. The Ram 1500 also features a stylish interior with an available 12-inch touchscreen display with split-screen capability. A range of trim levels and powertrains are available for the Ram 1500, including a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 that delivers a tow rating of 12,500 pounds.
GMC introduced an all-new Sierra HD for the 2020 model year with updated styling and more capability than ever before. Built with new architecture, the Sierra HD is taller and longer than its predecessor with a bold grille and new LED signature lighting. The interior is more spacious and has a range of new features. Available as the 2500 HD or 3500 HD, the 2020 Sierra has multiple trim levels that include the off-road-ready AT4 or the ultra-luxurious Denali. The Sierra HD can be configured in a number of ways depending on need; with the right setup it can tow as much as 35,500 pounds.