New owners love their smaller cars: J.D. Power

Chevrolet Sonic General Motors

(MoneyWatch) Drivers who downsize to smaller cars find them just as appealing as the bigger cars they once owned, according to an annual survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

More than a quarter of survey respondents bought a smaller car than the one they traded in -- twice the number that upgraded in size in the APEAL survey (for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout.) "New vehicle buyers who downsize are not making the sacrifice they once were," says David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. He points out that today's compact cars are more substantial than in the past, better performers on the road and more comfortable inside.

The trend of downsizing also led to greater satisfaction among new owners with their gas mileage. A full 47 percent of respondents said gas mileage was one of the most important factors in their choice of vehicle, up from 40 percent last year.

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In the survey's rankings of individual models by vehicle categories, Chevrolet topped all nameplates with three segment winners -- including the new Sonic among subcompacts and the Volt electric car among compacts. Brands with two segment awards each included Audi, Dodge, Ford, Kia, Mini, Nissan and Porsche.

The overall rankings of nameplates by how appealing all their vehicles are were dominated by European brands, with Porsche, Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover in the top five. Among U.S. brands, Cadillac, Lincoln, Ford and Chrysler scored above the industry average.

The APEAL study is based on responses from 74,000 new-car purchasers about how gratifying a vehicle is to own and drive. They comment on more than 80 vehicle attributes after 90 days of ownership.

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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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