Gas mileage, technology keys to owner satisfaction

(MoneyWatch) Car buyers who have realistic expectations about gas mileage and are familiar with the entertainment and navigation technology are the most likely to be satisfied owners, according to analysts at J.D. Power. They give that advice in releasing this year's APEAL study, which measures how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive.

Luxury nameplates dominated the rankings, with Porsche repeating as the top brand. But Chrysler Group's Ram pickups and Volkswagen scored above the industry average for brand satisfaction. Chevrolet received the most top rankings in individual segments, with three, including the plug-in hybrid Volt among compact cars. Volkswagen, Ford and Nissan brands each received two model awards.

The automotive performance, execution and layout (APEAL) survey queried 83,000 people who had owned or leased a new car for 90 days to see how satisfied they were with 77 different aspects of the car. The analysts found that those who bought a model that ranked high in satisfaction had spent at least $1,800 more for it than a low-ranked competitor. "Even within the same vehicle segment, consumers are willing to spend substantially more on vehicles that they find attractive, provide the utility and performance they are looking for and have well-executed interiors," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power.

To consumers shopping for a car, the Power report had these suggestions: Don't put too much faith in the mileage numbers on the window sticker. "Remember that the city/highway/combined mileage ranges listed on the sticker are merely estimates. This has been a particular problem for buyers of some hybrid cars. The report also advises that before buying, shoppers should ask for a demonstration of the entertainment and navigation features and how easily a wireless phone connects to the system. Recent technology often has been a major source of dissatisfaction for new owners.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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