Who Do You Love?

These days, with so many great models to choose from, there is no reason not to love your car. But besides the sheer visual appeal of a vehicle's exterior design, how can you gauge whether you are going to love it or not? Well, one way is to look at what cars other people love with the expectation that, if they have a love affair with their model of choice, it is likely you will, too.

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at some of the results from the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, keying on the luxury side of the market. But not all of us are rich, so we decided it would be equally useful to look at the cars and trucks for the rest of us, and the APEAL Study is a good place to start. Now in its 12th year, it measures owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles. While the well-known J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study focuses on stuff that goes wrong, the APEAL study focuses on things that go very, very right. In other words, it measures love.

And one thing is clear from the data, people love their Hondas. Four Honda models were at the top of four different segments -- Honda Fit sub-compact car, Honda CR-V small crossover utility, Honda Ridgeline midsize truck and Honda Odyssey minivan were all at the top of the charts. Beleaguered Ford Motor Company, which has been in sales decline for the past several years, managed to score with two segment-leading models -- the Ford Mustang sporty car and the Ford Edge midsize multi-activity vehicle, a new crossover. 

Volkswagen continued to demonstrate that many people who buy its cars are not just happy, but are passionate about them. The VW Jetta topped the compact car category and the VW GTI accomplished the same trick in the compact sporty car category. Nissan turned in segment wins in two fairly unlikely categories. Its Altima sedan triumphed in the midsize car category that is also home to perennial sales leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. (Those two worthy cars didn't even make the top three, proving yet again that people don't fall in love with their refrigerators.) The Nissan Armada was the winner in the large multi-activity vehicle category, beating out the all-new and highly regarded Chevrolet Tahoe.

The list included several other surprises, as well. Among large cars, the vehicle with the highest APEAL score was the Hyundai Azera, which bested the Toyota Avalon and Dodge Charger, among other worthy opponents. And among full-size pickups the GMC Sierra LD was a mild surprise, taking the crown over the Chevrolet Avalanche and Chevrolet Silverado LD.

One brand name that is largely missing from the list of APEAL segment leaders is Toyota, a brand that is on a terrific sales roll in the United States. Its success indicates that a lot of folks will buy plain vanilla if it's good vanilla, because the Toyota Yaris sub-compact car was the only model to top a segment and then it was in a tie with the Honda Fit.

Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about the auto industry and consumer issues from the Cleveland shores of Lake Erie.