Click to enlarge picture2008 Toyota Avalon Limited (© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.)

2008 Toyota Avalon Limited

Mainstream media has an insatiable appetite for surveys, studies, polls and lists. Not a day goes by without a barrage of this fast food for the modern mind. But let’s face it — we’ve become survey, poll and Top 10 junkies and we can’t get enough of them.

They are particularly prevalent in the automotive world. The past decades have seen the birth and proliferation of surveys and studies on all aspects of the automotive experience, from judging initial quality and reliability to the ranking of the top family-friendly features and must-have safety equipment.

For the past 13 years, AutoPacific has been measuring how satisfied buyers are with their new vehicle a few weeks or months after their purchase. Its best-known public work is the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, the results of which were recently announced for 2009 model-year vehicles.

The VSAs are based on an eight-page questionnaire that covers 48 separate vehicle attributes. This year, the form was completed and returned by more than 25,000 consumers who had acquired a new 2009 model between September and December 2008.

Click to enlarge picture2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport (© General Motors)

2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

AutoPacific then generates a separate list from that survey, based on a single question of whether or not you, the buyer, would recommend the car you are so satisfied with to family or friends. From those responses, AutoPacific compiled — surprise, surprise — a list of the top 10 most recommended cars specifically for MSN. The order is based on the percentage of respondents, highest to lowest, that would recommend their vehicles.

Top 10: Perception Versus Reality

Since these recommendations are based on a single question, we were interested in how they compare with the findings of the VSA study that examines the “ownership experience” in much greater detail. After all, both studies are based on the answers of the same 25,000 respondents.

Furthermore, we cross-referenced the results with other surveys and studies aimed at consumers, including the most recently published editions of J.D. Power and Associates’ respected Vehicle Dependability and Initial Quality studies, to see if vehicles on the Most Recommended and VSA rosters also perform well in terms of quality and reliability.

Finally, we compared the most-recommended list with the most recent reliability, satisfaction and overall ratings published by Consumer Reports for 2009 model-year vehicles, as well as to MSN’s own comprehensive automobile reviews.

We were looking for validation that perception and reality are not mutually exclusive when recommending a given model. Here’s what we found.

Infiniti G37

Click to enlarge picture2009 Infiniti G37

2009 Infiniti G37

Percentage of owners polled by AutoPacific who recommend:
95 percent

What the studies say: It is a CR "Top Pick" for upscale sedans. In fact, the Infiniti G37 is "one of the highest-rated sedans” the magazine has ever tested, scoring 95 out of 100 possible points. And CR’s accolades are mirrored by top-tier scores in J.D. Power’s dependability and initial quality studies.

MSN evaluation: According to MSN Autos, the G37 is a fine alternative to luxury sedans from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Its strengths include good looks, willing power, a premium interior with useful space and available all-wheel drive. Add in prices lower than those of the more established brands, and the G37 should be on everyone’s shopping list.

Does perception meet reality? Yes

Read:  Car and Driver Review of the 2009 Infiniti G37

Hyundai Genesis Sedan

Click to enlarge picture2009 Hyundai Genesis (© Hyundai Motor America)

2009 Hyundai Genesis

Percentage of owners who recommend: 94 percent

What the studies say: The South Korean carmaker’s first luxury sedan was chosen as both the North American and Canadian Car of the Year. The Genesis was also recognized as one of the top all-new 2009 models in terms of initial quality and is CR’s highest-scoring upscale sedan.

MSN evaluation: Hyundai moves successfully up-market with the Genesis sedan, the company’s best car yet. It aspires to take on the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans, but is priced closer to the Chrysler 300 and Pontiac G8. It has a good performance, lots of amenities, willing power and a smooth ride.

Does perception meet reality? Yes

Read:  Review: 2009 Hyundai Genesis

BMW 1-Series

Click to enlarge picture2009 BMW 1-Series (© BMW North America)

2009 BMW 1-Series

Percentage of owners who recommend: 94 percent

What the studies say: In only its second year, the BMW 1-Series is too new to figure in J.D. Power’s latest dependability study or get the coveted “Recommended” mention from CR. On the other hand, it tested highest of all models in the magazine’s “sporty cars” category, with an exceptional score of 97 out of 100. Proven mechanical components should make the reliability ratings a cinch in the next round.

MSN evaluation: Available as a coupe or convertible, the 1-Series has all the exceptional goodness of the class-defining 3-Series in a smaller and more affordable package, albeit with tighter rear seating and less striking exterior styling. Top-range 135i versions are hot rods, powered by BMW’s 300-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six, but the 128i coupe is a remarkably sweet car — and a well-kept secret in the market — with the standard manual gearbox.

Does perception meet reality? Yes

View Slideshow:  Top 10 Convertibles for 2009

Watch Video:  Test Drive: 2009 BMW 1-Series

Read:  Flash Drive: 2009 BMW 128i convertible

Chevrolet Corvette

Click to enlarge picture2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport (© General Motors)

2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

Percentage of owners who recommend: 94 percent

What the studies say: The Corvette was AutoPacific’s most recommended “premium sports car,” ranked second in the “sports car” category of its 2009 VSA study, and third in the “premium sporty car” category of J.D. Power’s latest dependability study. The Z06, with its 505-horsepower V8 engine, even got a nod from CR as one of its four “most satisfying” cars to drive. Unfortunately, it also received a “much worse than average” reliability rating from the magazine. The worst culprit: body integrity.

MSN evaluation: The Corvette has arguably been Chevy’s best designed and best engineered car overall since the introduction of the fifth-generation C5 in 1997. The current-generation C6 has improved further in all respects. And the new ZR1, with its 638-horsepower supercharged engine and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, undoubtedly is the world’s best supercar value in spite of the disappointing interior finish.

Does perception meet reality? Hard to say — reliability might be a concern.

Watch Video:  Test Drive: 2009 Chevrolet Corvette

Read:  Review: 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

When you are considering a car purchase, how important are opinions and ratings from current owners and/or professionals? If you were considering a certain vehicle but then learned of low recommendations from polls and surveys, would they change your purchase decision?

Cadillac CTS

Click to enlarge picture2009 Cadillac CTS-V (© Marc Lachapelle)

2009 Cadillac CTS-V

Percentage of owners who recommend: 92 percent

What the studies say: The Cadillac CTS is tied for second place with Infiniti G-Series in both the “entry premium vehicles” class of J.D. Power’s latest long-term dependability study and the 2009 Initial Quality Study for “entry premium vehicles.” On the other hand, it gets middling test scores and a “below average” reliability rating from CR.

MSN evaluation: The CTS has been in the hunt since it entered the near-luxury sedan battle in 2003, and more so after a successful revamp that improved quality, interior, handling and performance for the 2008 model year. The second-generation CTS-V version, powered by a 556-horsepower supercharged V8, can run with Europe’s best sports sedans or purr quietly down the road for much less money.

Does perception meet reality? Yes

Watch Video:  Test Drive: 2009 Cadillac CTS

Read:  Review: 2009 Cadillac CTS-V