Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout - APEAL - is how J.D. Power measures the 'gratification' a car owner experiences with each new model on the market. For the fifth year running Porsche took top honors, but several trends in the market show a wide range of improvements.

First up: American carmakers have closed the gap on their import counterparts. In 2007, domestics fell 27 points short of imports, while in 2008 that shrunk to 15 points. This year there's just 5 points between domestics and imports, reflecting the huge improvement in design and build quality of American vehicles.

“Consumers have a great array of appealing vehicles to choose from by both domestic and import brands,” said David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates.

Underscoring the improvement of the American brands is the overall industry improvement. The average score across all models in 2009 is up 9 points from 2008 to 779. A large part of that increase is attributed to a boost in owner satisfaction with fuel economy, according to Sargent.

“Although lower fuel prices and the switch to smaller vehicles have undoubtedly helped, there are also many individual vehicles that have made strong improvements in fuel economy ratings,” said Sargent. “For example, the Ford F-150, Cadillac Escalade, Volkswagen Jetta and redesigned Dodge Ram have all made major strides in owner satisfaction with fuel economy through the introduction of more efficient powertrains.”

The Germans also did well - as usual - in the APEAL rankings for 2009. Beyond Porsche's first-place finish, Volkswagen took home four category awards for the CC, GTI, Passat and Tiguan. Mercedes-Benz nabbed two of its own for the S-Class and SLK-Class.

The APEAL results are built on owner evaluations of more than 90 vehicle attributes, with responses gathered between February and May 2009 from more than 80,900 purchasers and lessees of new 2009 model-year cars and trucks who were surveyed after the first 90 days of ownership.