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Which cars make people happiest?

The latest auto safety technology can make owners happier with their new cars, according to J.D. Power.

The 20th annual APEAL study (for Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout) measures how gratifying it is to own and drive a particular model of new car. It also ranks new-car appeal by brand. Porsche topped the brand list for the 11th straight year, followed by other luxury brands: Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. U.S. luxury nameplates Lincoln and Cadillac finished seventh and eighth.

In the individual categories, Porsche had three winners (Cayenne, Cayman and Macan) along with Chevrolet (Colorado pickup, Corvette and Sonic) and Ford (C-Max, Expedition and F-150 pickup). The Mini Countryman was the highest-ranking small SUV.

The APEAL study, surveying 84,000 people who have recently bought or leased a new car, found that new safety features can greatly boost people's satisfaction with their vehicle. For instance, owners with blind-spot monitoring and warning systems scored 38 points higher than those without. Other coveted safety features include backup warning, collision avoidance and parking assist.

"Not only are models increasingly offering systems that improve safety and visibility, but owners are using them on a regular basis," said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. "This can go a long way toward generating positive feelings about their vehicle overall."

Additional findings from the APEAL study:

  • Of vehicle owners who have blind-spot warning systems, 69 percent use that feature every time they drive. For parking assist, that number was 62 percent.
  • Shoppers are willing to pay more for such systems. They indicated they would pay up to $750 for blind-spot warning.
  • Mainstream auto brands are improving their scores versus luxury nameplates. The gap between the two was the smallest it has been in 10 years. The average APEAL score for mainstream brands was 790, versus 841 for premium brands (out of a possible score of 1,000.)

"Over the past several years we have seen non-premium brands increasingly offer the types of technologies that used to be available only to premium buyers," Stephens said.

In the brand rankings, Lincoln and Cadillac were the only two Detroit-based names in the top 15. GMC, Ram, Buick and Ford scored above average among all brands. Chevrolet, Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep were below average.

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