America's best (and worst) car brands

From 24/7 Wall Street and Douglas McIntyre, these are the best car brands in America.

American car owners seem to love their Lincolns while they are least satisfied with their Acuras, according to a recent survey of the auto industry.

These are some of the findings from the 2016 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Automobile Report 2016, a nationwide survey measuring customer experience among the major car brands. Along with record car sales, customer satisfaction appears to have improved as well. Of the 24 brands surveyed, 16 improved their customer service ratings in the ACSI compared to 2015.

The best car brands

8. Infiniti
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 77
> 2016 YTD sales: 85,362

Luxury brands tend to receive better customer ratings in the ACSI, and Infiniti is no exception. The Nissan luxury brand’s rating improved significantly this year, rising from a score of 77 in 2015 to 84 this year. No automaker had a greater uptick in customer satisfaction. Infiniti’s high ratings may be reflected in improved sales. Infiniti set a global sales record this past August.

7. Subaru
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 82
> 2016 YTD sales: 391,969

Due to their improved quality and relatively low prices, mass market cars received a considerable rating boost in this year’s ACSI. Subaru was one of the makes benefiting from the trend, scoring two points higher in customer satisfaction compared to the previous year. According to Consumer Reports, Subaru is one of the top ranking car manufacturers in overall quality, surpassing several luxury automakers.

6. Lexus
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 84
> 2016 YTD sales: 210,392

Lexus was the top rated car brand in last year’s ACSI survey of the auto industry with a customer satisfaction score of 84. While the Toyota-owned luxury brand’s score did not change, several other manufacturers improved their score — in this year’s survey eight brands have a score of 84 or higher. Sales of most auto manufacturers are up year-to-date, but Lexus sales are down by more than 5%.

5. GMC
> 2016 ACSI score: 84
> 2015 ACSI score: 78
> 2016 YTD sales: 348,164

Customer satisfaction among GMC owners has fluctuated considerably over the years. In the most recent ACSI survey, however, the American automaker’s score of 84 is only one point shy of its highest score in nearly two decades. Historically, foreign automakers have dominated the ACSI rankings, but this year, GMC is leading the resurgence in satisfaction among mass-market, American made vehicles.

4. Toyota
> 2016 ACSI score: 85
> 2015 ACSI score: 82
> 2016 YTD sales: 1,625,158

Customer satisfaction tends to be higher among owners of luxury brands than owners of mass-market vehicles. Yet despite being one of the biggest mass-market carmakers in the world, Toyota surpassed high-end makes such as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. Performance and dependability are two important components of customer satisfaction, and Toyota received one of the highest scores in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study.

3. BMW
> 2016 ACSI score: 85
> 2015 ACSI score: 82
> 2016 YTD sales: 204,744

BMW is the third highest rated automaker and the second highest rated luxury automaker in this year’s survey. The German manufacturer has historically ranked relatively high on the ACSI automobile report. The luxury car maker also received near top marks from Consumer Reports for overall quality.

2. Honda
> 2016 ACSI score: 86
> 2015 ACSI score: 80
> 2016 YTD sales: 987,811

After its customer service rating improved from 80 in 2015 to 86 this year, Honda became the highest rated mass-market auto brand and the second highest rated brand overall. Like the industry as a whole, Honda sales are up year to date, with the Civic — one of the company’s core models — posting a 15.4% increase.

1. Lincoln
> 2016 ACSI score: 87
> 2015 ACSI score: 83

> 2016 YTD sales: 71,638

Lincoln, Ford’s luxury division, tops ACSI’s ranking for customer satisfaction with a score of 87. Historically, luxury automobile owners report higher overall satisfaction that owners of mass-market vehicles. Despite widespread satisfaction among owners, Lincolns are not especially popular. The company sold only 71,638 units in 2015, fewer than all of the high-ranking brands.

See the worst car brands.

More on the best (and worst) car brands

While American companies tend to perform poorly compared to foreign automakers, a number of domestic brands improved their customer satisfaction scores this year. Still, while Japan-based Acura had the worst score, five of the nine worst rated brands are American. Among the eight brands with the best customer satisfaction, three are American.

Cars are one of the most expensive purchases most people ever make, and American motorists expect their vehicles to meet certain standards. Performance and dependability are two important components of customer satisfaction. Not surprisingly, automakers with higher quality and dependability ratings from Consumer Reports and J.D. Power — authorities on product quality — tend to also have higher customer satisfaction scores.

In some cases, customer satisfaction is tied to less tangible attributes than vehicle reliability and performance. German automaker Volkswagen has consistently received high customer satisfaction marks over the last decade. However, after the company was caught in 2015 cheating on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles — a scandal that could end up costing the company tens of billions of dollars — customer satisfaction took a hit. This year, for the first time in a decade, VW’s customer satisfaction score dipped below 80, and is now second lowest in the industry.

Luxury brands tend to have higher customer satisfaction, likely due to overall vehicle quality and dependability, among other factors. Half of the brands scoring at least an 84 are luxury cars, while only two of the nine worst ranked brands are luxury makes.

Still, a number of mass-market brands have improved their standings with customers. This year, Honda and Toyota, two of the top-selling auto manufacturers in the world, ranked second and tied for third, respectively.

To produce the customer service scores in its Automobile Report 2016, the American Customer Satisfaction Index surveyed 3,776 randomly chosen people on their experience with one of 28 of the largest car brands based on U.S. auto share. The best rated cars scored at least 84, while the worst brands scored 79 or less. The benchmark for the auto industry for 2016 was 82.

24/7 Wall St. is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.


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