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Garage Briefs

New models get top marks from owners

June 30, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer

OK, so the power windows go up and down, the engine purrs nicely and the AC keeps you cool during those long waits on the 405.

But what do you really think about that new car you just brought home from the dealer?

J.D. Power & Associates asked 91,000 new car buyers that question recently. The answer: When it comes to auto love, quality isn't everything.

The market research firm released the results this week of its latest APEAL survey, which stands for Automotive Performance Execution and Layout and attempts to measure, in Power's words, "how gratifying a new vehicle is to own and drive."

In some respects, the results differed significantly from Power's much-better-known Initial Quality Study, an annual report card on problems experienced within 90 days of buying a new vehicle. In fact, of the 19 vehicle categories, only four featured the same winners in both surveys.

The dual winners were the Ford Mustang (mid-size sporty car), the Mercedes-Benz E-Class (mid-size premium car), the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (large premium car) and the Honda CR-V (compact "multi-activity vehicle," a category that includes medium-weight sport utility vehicles and crossovers.)

Honda captured the most first-place nods in the APEAL survey with four. Import nameplates captured the top spot in 15 of the categories.

One key winner for the domestics was the Ford Edge in the mid-size multi-activity vehicle. Ford is counting on the Edge, introduced last fall, to help reverse its sales slump in North America, and getting high marks from new owners is cause for hope.

Not surprisingly, vehicles that were either all-new, like the Edge and Honda Fit, or substantially redesigned, like the Cadillac Escalade EXT, resonated strongly with buyers, Power analysts found. Apparently, there's nothing like cutting-edge exterior design and the latest interior comforts and gadgets to stave off buyer's remorse -- at least for three months.

"Whether due to fresh designs or innovative features, APEAL scores tend to be highest for models when they are first introduced," said Neal Oddes, direct of product research and analysis at Westlake Village-based Power.

The survey also looked at how brands as a whole were viewed by new car buyers. For the third straight year, German automaker Porsche came out on top. It also finished first in Power's quality rankings this year.

But there were some anomalies. For instance, Hummer, Mazda and Land Rover, which anchored the bottom of the quality survey, all scored above the industry average in terms of buyer appeal.

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SLO teens are top mechanics

When it comes to cars, California is the undisputed king of the American road, with almost twice as many registered motor vehicles as runner-up Texas. So it's a good thing somebody here knows how to fix them.

A team from San Luis Obispo High School this week won the national auto repair competition for high school students sponsored by Ford Motor Co. and the American Automobile Assn.

Daniel Lehmkuhl and Austin Castro, both 18-year-old 2007 grads of SLO High, beat out teams from 49 other states in the two-stage competition, which featured a written exam and a hands-on race to diagnose and repair an intentionally "bugged" Ford Fusion.

Lehmkuhl and Castro finished the repair job in 49 minutes, 6 seconds. That was a few minutes slower than their fastest competitors -- some bad power window switches were to blame -- but high scores on the written exam allowed the California pair to capture the first-place scholarships. (It didn't hurt that Daniel's dad Jeff is SLO High's industrial tech instructor.)

It's the third time a California team has won the 14-year-old competition, which the sponsors hope will encourage more students to enter the auto repair field.

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Next week in Highway 1

Auto critic Dan Neil reviews a couple of Mercedes-Benz powerhouses, the CLK black series and the SLK55.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Ahead of the pack

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Top-rated vehicles, by category, in the J.D. Power & Associates 2007 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout study. The Multi-Activity Vehicle (MAV) category includes vehicles such as sport utility vehicles and crossovers.

Subcompact car: Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris

Compact car: Volkswagen Jetta

Compact sporty car: Volkswagen GTI

Compact premium sporty car: Porsche Cayman

Entry premium car: BMW 3 Series

Mid-size premium car: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Large premium car: Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Premium sporty car: BMW 6 Series

Mid-size sporty car: Ford Mustang

Mid-size car: Nissan Altima sedan

Large car: Hyundai Azera

Compact MAV: Honda CR-V

Mid-size MAV: Ford Edge

Large MAV: Nissan Armada

Mid-size premium MAV: BMW X5

Large premium MAV: Cadillac Escalade EXT, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

Large pickup: GMC Sierra LD

Mid-size pickup: Honda Ridgeline

Van: Honda Odyssey

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Source: J.D. Power & Associates

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