Is the car with the highest safety rating or most horsepower the best car to own? Not necessarily, which is why consumers put so much stock in Consumer Reports ratings and J.D. Power rankings for satisfaction. The ownership experience can yield insights over the course of a year that a reviewer won’t notice over the course of a week with a hot new ride.
AutoPacific, a consumer information and research site based in California, hands out annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSAs) to the new cars and trucks that win over buyers for the overall ownership experience. For the 19th year of the VSAs, Auto Pacific fielded over 65,000 survey responses on 274 vehicles wearing a 2015 model-year badge.
The results allow for winners in each category and size of automobile on the U.S. market. Here are the 12 cars, by segment, that beat the pack with the highest ratings for satisfaction in 2015.
1. Luxury car: Kia K900
We know Kia rocked the J.D. Power initial quality rankings in 2015 and had the world’s greatest basketball player pitching K900 during the last NBA Finals … and still the brand’s luxury cruiser will not sell. (Through June 2015, just 710 found new U.S. buyers.) According to the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, it’s not the car’s fault. The K900 not only won the large luxury car segment; it also nabbed AutoPacific’s President’s Award for the best-scoring vehicle of the year, setting a new record with its 2015 rating.
2. Aspirational luxury car: Volvo XC60
Maybe you didn’t know “aspirational luxury car” was a category, but in the VSAs it definitely is. (Think the Mercedes base CLA or Audi A3.) Anyway, the Volvo XC60 was the winner for 2015. There are five different engines to choose from, with the least imposing model offering 240 horsepower. As Volvo plans to make a move on the U.S. market with the XC90 and other vehicles, this award couldn’t come at a better moment.
3. Luxury midsize car: Lexus ES
It’s never a surprise to see Lexus turning up in the winner’s circle of vehicle rankings, and Toyota’s luxury brand continues to rack up goods for the mantel. The Lexus ES, crowned king of the luxury midsize segment among AutoPacific survey respondents, appeared with a new look for the 2016 model year, but owners say the 2015 model works just fine. Drivers have the ES 350, 300h hybrid, and The Crafted Line to mull over at the dealership.
4. Large car: Kia Cadenza
Score another win for Kia, which placed second behind General Motors for most vehicles winning Vehicle Satisfaction Awards in 2015. The Kia Cadenza, another low-volume seller for the automaker, took home the prize for large new cars. It comes with a standard 3.3 liter V6 engine offering 293 horsepower and 255 pounds-feet of torque. Motor Trend also tapped the Cadenza as its favorite when stacked up against Toyota Avalon, Chevy Impala, and other full-size models.
5. Midsize car: Hyundai Sonata
The Hyundai Sonata has no shortage of awards, and AutoPacific survey respondents added a VSA for the midsize sedan category. Add that to a 2015 IIHS Top Safety Pick, top ratings from Edmunds, and KBB’s Best Family Cars list and you have a contender for anyone in the midsize market. For the 2016 model year, a plug-in hybrid model is coming to U.S. dealerships as well. Between Kia and Hyundai, Korea topped the pack among world auto sources in AutoPacific’s survey for 2015.
6. Premium compact car: Lexus CT200h
The second of two Lexus models on the list is the 200h, a hybrid rated at a combined 42 miles per gallon. It’s not a track burner by any means with only 134 horsepower (it takes 9.8 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour), but the economy, comfort, and utility of the 200h and the F Sport model with performance tuning have been winners on the satisfaction front for owners of 2015 editions.
(Tie) 7. Compact car: Kia Soul
In the compact segment, the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards had a three-way tie that included the hamster-toting Soul, the third Kia in the car division. Soul is Kia’s best-seller behind the midsize Optima, equalling the volume of the Ford Mustang through June 2015. The Soul EV has brought even more awareness to the nameplate in recent years, even though it remains a low-volume seller on the EV market.
(Tie) 7. Compact car: Volkswagen Jetta
The Volkswagen Jetta was the second of three cars deadlocked for AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in the compact segment. Jetta stands out in the segment for its driving experience, interior space, and superior utility when compared to the budget models (i.e., Focus). The TDI Clean Diesel remains one of the most efficient vehicles out there with 46 miles per gallon on the highway.
(Tie) 7. Volkswagen Beetle
The VW Beetle may seem a little pricey in the compact segment ($20,065), but drivers are saying the value is worth the money. Options range from the standard model with 170 horsepower to the 2.0-liter R-Line with 210 horses and, for those seeking the most efficiency, the TDI model that can get as many as 41 miles per gallon of diesel. In its most expensive trims, this bug-eyed coupe will crack $30,000.
8. Economy car: Honda Fit
If you feel inexplicably priced out when surveying the latest VW Beetle, we present the Honda Fit ($15,650) for a correction in overall economy. Fit is one of the small cars everyone has fun driving, which makes it the choice for reluctant drivers looking for space in the city or amusement on a budget. The 2016 model, which debuted July 1 in U.S. dealerships, runs buyers just a few hundred dollars more than the 2015 VSA winner.
9. Sports car: Chevrolet Corvette
It won’t surprise anyone that the 2015 Corvette locked down an award for owner satisfaction. The C7 has been an unqualified success for GM’s performance division, wowing reviewers and buyers alike, so we won’t even get into the well-known specs. We only pose one question: At $55,995 for the coupe and $59,995 for the convertible, is there any choice at all for which model you want in the garage?
10. Sporty car: Dodge Challenger
You could argue the Dodge Challenger is the best-looking of the retro muscle cars on the market in 2015, and AutoPacific respondents said it was the highest in terms of satisfaction among all the sporty cars out there. Challenger offers a most drastic range in the muscle department. If you’re not satisfied with styling in the SXT with 305 horsepower ($26,995), you have other options, culminating in the ferocious Hellcat that cranks 707 horsepower ($59,995).