J.D. Power APEAL Study
Granted, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why consumers love certain new cars, although for more than 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 awards, 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 2021.
“One of the biggest factors driving the industry’s improvement this year is the introduction of several highly appealing new models,” said David Amodeo, director of global automotive at J.D. Power. “The APEAL Study measures owners’ emotional attachment to their new vehicle, and the product launches that took place this model year have done a really good job,” Amodeo observed. “Some are all-new and some are redesigns, but the new launches demonstrate that automakers are getting even better at hitting buyers’ emotional triggers,” noted Amodeo.
Best Brands — Premium
For the third year in a row, Porsche wins as the most APEALing brand overall with a score of 882 in the J.D. Power APEAL study. Genesis and Land Rover tie for a close second with Lincoln and BMW rounding out the top five.
Best Brands — Mass Market
Last month Ram and Dodge ranked highest in the J.D. Power Initial Quality study, and for the second year in a row Dodge takes top honors in the J.D. Power APEAL study among mass-market brands, followed closely by Ram in second place. Nissan, GMC and Ford complete the top five.
Last year J.D. Power included U.S. automaker Tesla in this study for the first time, and while it is not officially ranked since it doesn’t meet all the criteria, the electric car company’s score is the highest in the study at 893. Tesla doesn’t grant permission to survey its owners in 15 states that are required for APEAL validity, so the score is calculated based on a sample of surveys from the remaining 35 states.
The Nissan Maxima scored highest in this year’s J.D. Power APEAL survey — a top accolade the sporty sedan also achieved in the recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. This is the first time a mass-market model ranks highest in both studies in the same year. Here’s a look at the highest-scoring vehicles in each of the 23 market segments as reported in the 2021 J.D. Power APEAL Study.
Small Car — Nissan Versa
The Nissan Versa used to be the least expensive car in America; that changed with the introduction of the an all-new Versa in 2020. 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.
Small Premium Car — Mercedes-Benz CLA
One of the least expensive models in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the CLA received an all-new look and updated features for the 2020 model year. With styling that brings this 4-door coupe in line with the rest of the Mercedes-Benz model line, the CLA features flat LED headlights flanking a diamond-block grille that rakes forward, giving the CLA an aggressive stance. The CLA is available with widescreen dual displays featuring two 10.25-inch screens that span half the dashboard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is Bluetooth integration. The latest safety tech is also available, including active brake assist with cross-traffic function, blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist and active emergency stop assist.
Compact Car — Nissan Sentra
A member of the Nissan lineup for more than 35 years, the compact Sentra rolled out as an all-new model for 2020. With styling that matches the rest of its siblings, the Sentra also received additional safety features and more power as well as 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.
Compact Premium Car — BMW 4 Series
BMW introduced an all-new 4 Series for the 2021 model year, based closely on the Concept 4 shown at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show. Although the production model has been toned down from the show car, the new 4 Series retains many of the styling cues introduced on that concept — including the attention-getting new take on the classic kidney grille. In addition to the updated styling, the second-generation BMW 4 Series Coupe gets more power, improved performance and a slew of new features. The 4 Series is available as a coupe or convertible with a choice of two turbocharged powerplants, including a 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo engine generating a healthy 382 horsepower.
Premium Sporty Car — Chevrolet Corvette
Last year Chevrolet introduced the eighth generation of the Corvette Stingray, and for the first time this iconic American sports car has the first mid-engine configuration in the model’s history. Still recognizable as a Corvette but with new styling, the all-new Stingray is designed with better weight distribution, vastly improved performance and a high-tech cockpit. The C8 Corvette is powered by Chevrolet’s all-new LT2 6.2-liter V8 engine producing 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. No manual transmission is offered — instead, the engine gets teamed with a quick-shifting dual-clutch 8-speed automatic gearbox. This combination allows the Stingray to jump to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds — the fastest time ever for an entry-level Corvette.
Midsize Car — Kia K5
Many car companies in America have done away with the traditional family sedan, going all-in on the increasingly popular crossover. Not only is Kia sticking by the sedan, the automaker is doubling down with the all-new K5. Replacing the Optima in the heart of Kia’s sedan lineup, the 2021 Kia K5 is built on an all-new platform with fresh styling, updated features and a range of powerful, efficient engines. The new Kia K5 is longer, lower and wider than the outgoing Optima, which not only gives it a more aggressive stance but also creates more interior space. The K5 comes well equipped even in the base-level trim with features such as a standard 8-inch display screen, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the type of materials that provide a premium vibe.
Midsize Premium Car — Cadillac CT5
Cadillac introduced the CT5 compact sedan for the 2020 model year, and this relatively new car earns a top spot in this year’s J.D. Power APEAL and Initial Quality Studies. Built on Cadillac’s rear-wheel-drive architecture, the CT5 features a fastback profile inspired by the Escala concept car, moving away from Cadillac’s hard-edged designs to a more fluid, sculpted aesthetic. The CT5 is offered in multiple trim levels ranging from luxurious to sporty. The standard powerplant is a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, while a more powerful 3.0-liter 335-horsepower twin-turbo V6 is also available. Cadillac’s Super Cruise technology — hands-free assistance for highway driving — is also available on select CT5 trim levels.
Upper Midsize Premium Car — Genesis G80
After Hyundai launched the Genesis luxury brand about five years ago, the G80 became the second model in the lineup. As an all-new iteration for the 2021 model year, the car takes many styling cues from the flagship G90: the new G80 wears the large Crest Grille flanked by double-lined quad headlights — now a signature look for the brand. Power comes from either a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine or a V6 powerplant, and both are available with rear- or all-wheel drive. The interior of the G80 exudes luxury thanks to available leather and open-pore wood trim, narrow air vents that span the dashboard, and a 14.5-inch infotainment system display.
Large Car — Nissan Maxima
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.
Small SUV — Ford Bronco Sport
The first member of the new Bronco family to arrive, the Bronco Sport compact SUV shares styling cues and off-road capability with a larger Bronco that is starting to roll into showrooms now. Classic Bronco styling cues, a stepped-up roofline and upright body panels give the Bronco Sport a bolder look compared to many of today’s compact SUVs. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is offered in five trim levels: Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands and First Edition. The standard engine for Bronco Sport Base, Big Bend and Outer Banks is a 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine producing 181 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Badlands and First Edition receive a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine producing 245 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm.
Small Premium SUV — Volvo XC40
Volvo bolstered its premium crossover lineup a few years ago with the brand-new XC40. Styling is similar to its larger siblings, most notably the signature “Thor’s Hammer” headlights. Even the base-level XC40 Momentum comes well equipped with leather seat trim, an 8-way power driver’s seat, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a power tailgate and 18-inch alloy wheels. A 9-inch vertical touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 250-watt AM/FM/HD audio system with eight speakers and Bluetooth streaming are also standard on all XC40s. Last year Volvo added the fully electric XC40 Recharge to the lineup.
Compact SUV — Ford Mustang Mach-E
The 2021 Mustang Mach-E marks the first time that Ford has bestowed the legendary Mustang name on an entirely new vehicle segment. Unlike any Mustang (or any Ford for that matter) before it, the Mach-E is a fully electric 5-passenger crossover and easily one of the most advanced vehicles ever from the Blue Oval. While this is clearly not a sport coupe, the Mach-E carries many of the styling cues found on its sporty sibling, including the familiar sequentially-illuminating triple taillights. Ford offers the Mach-E with a standard- or extended-range battery in rear- or all-wheel drive configuration. The torquey electric motor provides spritely performance, while the spacious interior offers plenty of utility. Look for a more powerful Mach-e GT to come later this year, boasting 480 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque.
Compact Premium SUV — BMW X4
BMW introduced a second-generation X4 Sports Activity Coupe in 2019, 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 via 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.
Midsize SUV — Chevrolet Blazer
Chevrolet reinstated the legendary Blazer name to the lineup last year after a 15-year hiatus. 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.
Upper Midsize SUV — Kia Telluride
The largest SUV ever offered by Kia and created specifically for the U.S. market, the Telluride arrived last year with seating for up to eight occupants. The big SUV is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 engine producing 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and an available active on-demand all-wheel-drive system. The stylish Telluride gets many high-end features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel; optional heated and ventilated seats for the first and second rows; available double-stitched, quilted leather-trimmed seats; simulated brushed metal and matte finish wood; and reclining third-row seats — all adding to this big SUV’s appeal.
Midsize Premium SUV — Land Rover Defender
After Defender’s 23-year absence from America, Land Rover returns to the U.S. market with a thoroughly modern Defender. Built on the automaker’s new all-aluminum D7x platform, the iconic SUV’s design continues the high level of off-road prowess expected from a Defender. Revered by serious off-roaders and collectors alike, the Defender traces its roots back more than 70 years to the original Land Rover, and last sold in the U.S. in 1997. The new model retains its familiar silhouette incorporating short front and rear overhangs for a look easily recognized as a Land Rover Defender. The overall design has a tough appearance, and the high sills, short overhangs and rear-mounted spare facilitate off-road capability. The new Defender is available as the 4-door Defender 110 or the short-wheelbase 2-door Defender 90.
Upper Midsize Premium SUV — BMW X6
More than 10 years ago, BMW debuted the X6 — a Sports Activity Coupe that combines the attributes of a sport-utility vehicle with a coupelike roofline. Last year BMW introduced the third generation of this sporty crossover. The X6’s updated styling features 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, topping out with the X6 M50 sporting a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter TwinPower V8 engine producing 523 horsepower.
Large SUV — Chevrolet Tahoe
All new for the 2021 model year, the best-selling full-size SUV in America has been improved in every way with standout styling, plenty of power and range of new features. Chevrolet builds the 2021 Tahoe — and its larger SUV sibling, the Suburban — on a new chassis with a longer wheelbase and new independent rear suspension. Not only does this setup provide an improved ride, it also allows for a lower load floor and improved overall passenger space in all three rows. Tahoe retains its squared-off classic SUV styling, although the 2021 model features sculpted doors and pronounced fenders that add considerable character. Tahoe gets power from a choice of V8 engines or a powerful Duramax Turbo Diesel.
Large Premium SUV — BMW X7
As the flagship Sports Activity Vehicle of the BMW lineup, the X7 takes its place as the next logical progression from the X1, X2, X3, X4, X5 and X6. While clearly identifiable as a BMW, the X7 is a thoroughly modern take on BMW design with slim twin headlights flanking the largest kidney grille ever crafted for a BMW; together these give the X7 a wide, aggressive stance. The X7’s luxurious interior has leather and wood trim as well as dual 12.3-inch display screens. Power emanates from either a turbocharged 335-horsepower 6-cylinder engine or 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 that produces 456 horsepower.
Midsize Pickup — Honda Ridgeline
A rarity among pickup trucks sold in America, the Ridgeline features unibody construction that contributes to a comfortable ride more in keeping with a car than a typical pickup. Other unique features include a dual-action tailgate and lockable in-bed trunk. Every Ridgeline comes equipped with the latest high-tech safety features and tri-zone climate control, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. For 2021 the Ridgeline gets fresh styling with a new hood, squared-off nose and upright grille with new LED headlights. Inside, the 2021 Ridgeline brings back the volume knob (!) and adds wireless phone charging.
Minivan — Toyota Sienna
Toyota introduced an all-new Sienna for the 2021 model year, and for the first time the popular minivan features a hybrid powertrain. With fresh styling, an all-new chassis and a range of new features, this fourth-generation Sienna uses the Toyota Hybrid System II that teams a high-efficiency 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors for a total output of 243 horsepower. Inside, Sienna designers created a “Bridge Console” between the two front seats, providing a clever space for storage and device charging. With all covers closed the design is exceptionally clean, yet the console features a large storage bin, multiple cupholders and a large area below the bridge to stow a bag, purse or other items that need to remain within reach.
Large Light-Duty Pickup — Ram 1500
The Ram 1500 is the most important vehicle in the entire portfolio of parent company Stellantis. Ram introduced an all-new 1500 pickup in 2019 with bold exterior styling and an interior that is one of the best in the segment. The big truck’s frame uses 98 percent high-strength steel — increasing stiffness and durability — to make it the strongest frame ever used in the Ram 1500. Multiple trim levels are available, as well wide range of powertrains that includes a powerful diesel and eventually a hybrid system. For 2021 Ram added the high-performance 702-horsepower TRX, an outrageous truck designed for tackling off-road terrain at high speeds.
Large HD Pickup — GMC Sierra HD
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 and features a bold grille and LED signature lighting. The interior is more spacious and has a host of new features. Available as the 2500 HD or 3500 HD, the Sierra has multiple trim levels that include the off-road-ready AT4 or the ultra-luxurious Denali. The Sierra HD can be configured depending on need; with the right setup it can tow as much as 35,500 pounds.