Mini Cooper drivers like to name their cars. If a buyer enters his or her car's name in the "Owners' Lounge" section of Mini's Web site, both owner and car will be addressed by name when they come into the dealership--but that wasn't the cause of the naming craze, during 2006.
"Customers treat their Minis like their pets," says Rich Steinberg, Mini USA's manager of product strategy, noting that more than 10,000 owners have put their names in the company's database.
Mini's Cooper two-door is highly customizable. It has a design that inspires affection, a premium feel and engaging driving dynamics, particularly because of its handling. Steinberg says Mini technicians behave like veterinarians treating pets--or like hotel managers. Instead of a mint on your pillow, Mini dealers conclude service visits by placing a box of mints bearing the Mini logo on the seat of your car.
It's easy to see how Mini has created an enviable level of owner enthusiasm. The Cooper is among the market's top vehicles in owner satisfaction ratings. "I won't pretend that our quality is top-notch," said Steinberg, "but our owners put up with quirks, because that's part of the ownership experience."
Consumer advocacy groups work day and night to keep their measurement methods objective and scientific, which can mean conducting extensive surveys with complex formulas. Yet the process for determining automotive owner satisfaction can be boiled down to one simple question: Would you buy this car again?
That's the question on which Consumer Reports bases its owner satisfaction ratings for new cars. If a car has the organization's highest possible owner satisfaction score, at least 80% of owners said they would definitely buy it again. The lowest score means fewer than 50% of owners said they would.
J.D. Power and Associates says the secret to satisfying owners is new-model design. During the recent release of its annual Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, which measures "owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles," J.D. Power said that new or overhauled cars have higher than average APEAL scores, while cars with virtually no changes from the previous year have lower than average ratings.
These aren't frivolous measures of how likely a car owner is to name a vehicle, say, Mini Pearl.
"Models with higher APEAL scores," J.D. Power says, "sell more quickly and generate more profit." In other words, both consumers and carmakers should be studying owner satisfaction ratings.
We've assembled a list of the market's most satisfying cars. It includes just six vehicles--the only cars with both the highest possible Consumer Reports owner satisfaction ratings and the highest ranking in their vehicle classes in J.D. Power's APEAL survey.
These are some distinctive vehicles. For example, Toyota Motor's (nyse:TM - news - people ) Scion tC coupe is J.D. Power's highest ranked compact sporty car, and its clean design makes it popular with young drivers. Honda Motor's (nyse: HMC - news - people ) Ridgeline may not look gorgeous, but its thoughtful construction makes for a smooth and very un-truck-like driving experience. And Honda's Odyssey minivandoesn't sound sexy, but it offers owners extras like leather seats and a navigation system with Zagat's restaurant ratings programmed in.
Money may not buy you happiness, but a great car just might.
Contributed by: Our Special Correspondent
City: San Francisco
Date: March 15, 2010