Car brands that create the most joy for owners are a mix of new and old technologies, but they have one thing in common: performance.
That's according to J.D. Power's 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout, or APEAL, study, which rates vehicle brands by measuring owners' emotional attachment and level of excitement with their new vehicles.
Unofficially topping the list that was released Wednesday is Tesla, a company well-known for the performance of its all-electric, tech-savvy vehicles. The Silicon Valley automaker scored 896 out of 1,000 points — besting sports car brand Porsche, which received 881 points.
Porsche has topped the study 15 of the past 16 years, according to J.D. Power.
Tesla wasn't officially part of the study because it doesn't give J.D. Power access to customer vehicle registration data in 15 states. The firm rated them anyway based on responses from more than 1,200 Tesla owners.
"Their owners do express a high degree of satisfaction with their vehicles," Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power, said during a call Wednesday. "It's largely driven by performance," styling and the large infotainment systems in the vehicles.
"People love power, whether it be in performance vehicles or just the pickup/ease of merging on freeways for more sedate vehicles," Sargent told CNBC in an email. "And people that are attracted to brands such as Porsche and Dodge really love power. All things being equal, more power equals more delight."
Dodge also topped J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study last month — making it the first domestic car brand to ever top both studies. Only Hyundai has previously achieved the feat in the mass-market segment.
Ranking well in the APEAL study tends to assist sales by retaining customers at a higher rate, according to Sargent. Buyers also are "much more likely" to recommend their vehicle to others, he said.
"Customers that are delighted with a vehicle are much more likely to purchase a more expensive vehicle from the same brand next time than those that are less satisfied, who are more likely to switch brands," Sargent said.
Larger, more expensive vehicles tend to do well in the APEAL study, according to Sargent. Overall, the auto industry "performed very well," he said.
The APEAL study is based on responses from 87,282 owners of new 2020 model-year vehicles who were surveyed after 90 days of ownership. It was fielded from February through May 2020.
Participants are asked to rate their vehicle on a variety of characteristics — from exterior styling and interior comfort to how the vehicle makes them feel.
Tesla's nabbing the highest APEAL ranking comes a month after the automaker ranked last in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Study.
"The owners can sort of look past the fact that they are having quite a few problems with the vehicle but they still are in love with their Tesla," Sargent said. "If they didn't have these problems, their owners would love them even more, and more people would be attracted to Tesla."