Top-Rated Vehicles for Performance, Design

New-vehicle owners scored their 2012 cars, trucks and SUVs based on how gratifying they were to drive and how appealing the designs were. These are the most and least expensive for each car segment.

New owners of 2012 Chevrolets were very satisfied automobile owners, according to the results of a new survey.

The J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study scored cars in various segments (coupe, SUV, pickup, etc.) based on how gratifying owners find it to own and drive the new vehicle. Chevrolet received the highest number of segment awards, while the Audi A8 achieved the highest APEAL Study score of any model in 2012.

The survey of 74,000 people who bought new 2012 model-year vehicles (and owned them for at least 90 days) also revealed that more than a quarter of people in 2012 replacing a car downsized, while just 13% upsized.

"For many years, almost twice as many vehicle owners have downsized, compared with those who have upsized," David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power said in a statement. "Although larger models continue to attain higher APEAL Study scores than smaller models, as they typically provide higher performance, have more pleasing styling, are more comfortable and include more features, owners who downsize find that today's compact models are not the 'econoboxes' that they may have imagined.”

Below are the least expensive and most expensive cars for each car segment; however, note that for the vans, those were the only two reported by the study.

Images copyright J.D. Power and Associates.

Sedan

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

$13,865—$17,925 MSRP

Three versions of the car are on sale: LS, LT and LTZ. Highlights include standard OnStar telematics, 10 standard air bags, ride and handling characteristics tuned by Corvette engineers.

2012 Audi A8

$78,750—$133,500 MSRP

The A8 is Audi's full-size flagship sedan, offered with a standard- or extended-length wheelbase. For 2012, a new A8 L W12 model debuts with a 6.2-liter 12-cylinder engine generating 500 horsepower.

Coupe

2012 Mini Cooper Coupe

$21,300 MSRP

This car is the new two-door, two-seat variant of the traditional Cooper Hardtop model. To create the Cooper Coupe, Mini started with a Cooper Hardtop, shaved off the roof and replaced it with something resembling a helmet, and removed the rear seats.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

$82,100—$160,700 MSRP

Porsche redesiged the 911 for the 2012 model year, rolling out new versions of the standard Carrera and Carrera S models in both coupe and convertible format.

Convertible

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

$42,500—$54,800 MSRP

Mercedes-Benz redesigned the SLK roadster for the 2012 model year, and changes included a new family of engines, panoramic retractable hardtop roof with available Magic Sky Control variable roof transparency, Attention Assist technology, LED front and rear lighting, Keyless Go locking and push-button ignition and Parktronic parking sensors.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

$93,700—$172,100 MSRP

Same features and changes as the Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe; however, the convertible will cost more than $10,000 more for each model available.

Crossover SUV

2012 Mini Cooper Countryman

$21,750 MSRP

The 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman is a compact five-door crossover SUV with seating for four or five passengers, depending on configuration.

2012 Ford Flex

$29,465—$43,105 MSRP

The Ford Flex is a three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV sold in four trim levels. However, the 2012 Ford Flex sees few changes in advance of a thorough refresh for the 2013 model year.

SUV

2012 Ford Expedition

$36,530—$49,680 MSRP

The Ford Expedition is a full-size, eight-passenger SUV sold in regular- and extended-length wheelbases. Buyers select from four trim levels, all equipped with a 310-horsepower, 5.4-liter V-8 engine and a choice between rear-wheel and four-wheel drive.

2012 Porsche Cayenne

$48,200—$107,100 MSRP

The Cayenne is offered with a choice between a V-6 engine (Cayenne), V-8 engine (Cayenne S), turbocharged V-8 engine (Cayenne Turbo), and a gas-electric hybrid powertrain (Cayenne S Hybrid) that Porsche says will power the SUV up to 40 mph on electricity alone.

Hatchback

2012 Kia Soul

$13,900—$19,600 MSRP

The five-passenger, five-door vehicle 2012 Kia Soul is offered in three trim levels, the highest of which boasts numerous standard features uncommon in the entry-level economy car class, such as LED running lights, LED taillights, premium sound system, reversing camera, and more.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

$39,145—$39,145 MSRP

The 2012 Chevrolet Volt added passive keyless entry as standard equipment while the previously standard navigation system moves to the options list. A four-passenger hatchback, the Volt offers limited electric-only range and when the battery is depleted of energy, a 1.4-liter gasoline generator engine starts.

Van

2012 Nissan Quest

$25,990—$42,350 MSRP

The Nissan Quest has seats that fold down similar to an SUV as well as a large covered storage well in the van's trunk. Changes for 2012 include the addition of satellite radio to the SV and SL trim levels.

2012 Honda Odyssey

$28,375—$43,825 MSRP

An eight-passenger minivan, the 2012 Honda Odyssey is highly rated by consumers for its performance and design, and is sold in five trim levels.

Pickup

2012 Nissan Frontier

$19,260—$32,990 MSRP

A traditional compact pickup, the 2012 Nissan Frontier is offered in extended- and crew-cab styles with a four-cylinder or V-6 engine and two-wheel or four-wheel drive.

2012 Chevrolet Avalanche

$36,800—$50,305 MSRP

Offered in three trim levels, the 2012 Chevy Avalanche is a cross between a pickup truck and an SUV. The Avalanche is equipped with five-passenger seating and a short cargo bed that can be expanded by removing the vehicle's rear cab wall and folding the back seat down.