In San Diego, Calif.-based Strategic Vision's yearly acid test to find out which cars and trucks are actually vehicles to Nirvana for their owners, survey respondents have to answer some 130 questions on everything from headlights and windshield wipers to A/C vent performance.
But the car's score on Strategic Vision's survey-based rank doesn't get a point toward its final numerical score if the consumer says this or that feature is merely "excellent," says Alexander Edwards, president of automotive practice at the consultancy.
"Unless a respondent says 'delightful,' it doesn't get counted at all as positive. We find that this is a terrific measure because it pulls brand influence out of the equation. Automakers had to go the extra step -- whether it's how well the feature is working, or whether there is something extra or an extra level of durability."
Edwards says the firm surveyed over 100,000 consumers, with questions measuring attributes like power, performance and interior design. The top vehicles included Mazda3, Mini Cooper and Hyundai Santa Fe. Mazda3 won in the small car segment against Toyota Yaris and Corolla, Honda Fit and Civic. The consultancy said the car scored especially strongly for maneuverability and handling.
Mini Cooper won for performance and Santa Fe for exterior styling cues. Other winners were VW Passat and Jetta for medium car; BMW 3-Series for near luxury; Mercedes S-Class for luxury; Honda Odyssey for minivan, Saturn Outlook for medium crossover and Honda Ridgeline for compact pickup. Per the study, the most delightful full-sized pickups were GMC Sierra and Chevy Avalanche.
Edwards says the survey weighs various features differently depending on vehicle category. "Seating comfort is weighted more in minivans, for instance, than in the small car segment."
He says that, while the study doesn't reflect immediate sales, it suggests how well a brand is building its equity. "If you score well on delight now, you are building toward increased sales tomorrow."
And there is likely to be a "halo effect" benefiting sibling vehicles only if other vehicles in an automaker's lineup haven't failed. "If another vehicle has a delight score under 500, even a positive delight score in one vehicle won't help. If every vehicle is, on average, doing okay, and you have a strong flagship in delight it can help.
"There's a lot more connectivity from one brand to the next with reliability and quality. But on customer delight, it's about that product only."