7 cars people buy again and again

What makes these models so popular

Customer-satisfaction surveys are all well and good, but we believe actions speak louder than words. The real measure of how people feel about their rides is whether they buy the same car or truck again. According to Michigan-based R.L Polk, an automotive data specialist, the average owner keeps a car for about six years. Because most of us live with a car for so long, we think that's the strongest possible statement about the quality and durability of a vehicle. These are cars and trucks you can live with for the long haul without getting bored or disappointed. Each year, R.L. Polk releases its Automotive Loyalty Awards, which recognize those models with the highest percentage of repeat buyers. If, for example, 27 of every 100 Honda Civic owners who replaced their cars in 2012 bought another Civic, then 27% of those would be repeat buyers. Here are the leaders in seven segments, with the reasons we think they inspire such devotion. Prices are for the least expensive 2013 version, including delivery charges. Compare car loan rates here.

Compact Car: Honda Civic

Base Price: $18,755
Repeat Buyers: 27.0%

We think there are two primary reasons owners are so loyal to the Civic. First is Honda's reputation for reliability. Whether you own a Honda or not, you probably believe it builds cars that last a long time. Actually owning a Honda just reinforces that belief. The other big reason owners go back to Civic is that there's a version for almost everyone. It comes as a sporty-looking coupe or more family-friendly sedan. While most versions come with the 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, there is a more powerful Si model with a 201-horsepower engine. For those drivers worried about gas prices, there's a natural-gas-fueled Civic and, of course, the celebrated hybrid that gets an EPA-estimated 44 mpg on the highway and in the city. Even if you go crazy, it's pretty much impossible to spend more than $23,000 on any of the gasoline-fueled versions.

Sports Car: Ford Mustang

Base Price: $22,995
Repeat Buyers: 18.1%

The Mustang still engages drivers nearly 50 years after its launch. Maintaining some of its earliest styling cues, it remains familiar to baby boomers, yet it is highly contemporary to younger drivers. Sure, tradition is one of the reasons older drivers keep coming back, but it's the combination of Mustang's hot-shoe styling and user-friendly performance that we believe really turns owners into devoted repeat buyers. Even the base car comes with a V-6 that generates an impressive 305 horsepower. The ponies just keep multiplying as you increase the engine size all the way to 662 horsepower in the Shelby GT500. But Mustang isn't just about horsepower. It is as easy to drive in stop-and-go city traffic as it is fun to drive on curvy mountain roads.

Midsize Full-Size Car: Subaru Outback

Base Price: $24,290
Repeat Buyers: 32.9%

We agree that somehow it seems odd that the Outback wagon straddles the line between midsize and full-size cars, but it's how R.L. Polk organizes the segments. That said, two types of owners have the same good reason to continue buying them. The Outback is a fuel-efficient alternative to larger crossovers and SUVs. Whether a driver is looking for the added stability of all-wheel drive (AWD) in foul weather or is someone with an active outdoor lifestyle who wants to get places a two-wheel-drive car just can't go, the Outback works. No carmaker has more experience with AWD than Subaru, and it shows. Available with a four-cylinder engine posting an EPA-estimated 30 mpg on the highway, or a more powerful six-cylinder engine, Outback offers two performance/fuel-economy options.

Luxury Car: Lincoln MKZ

Base Price: $36,820
Repeat Buyers: 49.5%

Lincoln totally redesigned the MKZ for 2013, and whether the new one will fare better or not as well with owner loyalty is anyone's guess, but the core qualities we think owners like haven't changed with the redesign. We're going to use the "A" word here: American. There is a chunk of luxury buyers who just prefer their high-end cruisers to be Lincolns or Cadillacs. Just as with domestic pickup trucks, these owners are rabidly loyal. Additionally, though, the MKZ — both the current and past generation — is richly styled. Ford/Lincoln is a leader in Bluetooth and voice-recognition technology. Even in its base guise, MKZ has features like Sync voice command and the MyLincoln Touch systems interface. And there is that EcoBoost, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 240 horsepower while delivering 33 mpg on the highway.

Minivan: Chrysler Town & Country

Base Price: $31,525
Repeat Buyers: 31.2%

Thirty years after Chrysler invented the minivan, it still makes more of them than anyone else and enjoys the highest owner loyalty. When it comes to practicality and utility, we don't think you can beat a minivan like Town & Country. It may not be flashy, but it's versatile. Chrysler is a segment innovator, creating features such as Stow 'N Go seating with second- and third-row seats that easily fold flat into the floor and a Blu-ray player in its optional rear-seat entertainment system, as well as an HDMI input. Other features like USB ports for rear-seat passengers and heated second-row seats reinforce this minivan's premium image, keeping it fresh and owners coming back for more. Whether running co-workers to lunch, schlepping sheets of plywood for weekend chores or taking the family out, Town & Country gets it done.

Midsize/Full-Size SUV: Lexus RX 350

Base Price: $40,555
Repeat Buyers: 40.1%

For years, the RX not only has been the top-selling Lexus model but the top-selling luxury crossover. It was the first luxury crossover when introduced, appealing to drivers in search of an upscale alternative to the minivan. We believe it's Lexus quality and its roundly praised customer experience that motivate owners needing this kind of space and versatility to come back to the RX. Lexus simply doesn't give owners a reason to shop the competition. The brand's quality image doesn't hurt either, and it's everywhere you look in the RX. We particularly like the computer-mouse-like Lexus Remote Touch that controls the available navigation system and systems interface. It's arguably the best in the industry. The high-end RX F-Sport version even adds some performance fun to the mix.

Luxury SUV: Land Rover Range Rover

Base Price: $83,545
Repeat Buyers: 37.4%

Land Rover completely redesigned the Range Rover for 2013, which could impact loyalty going forward. But we doubt it. If anything, the improvements should increase loyalty. The Range Rover is what you get when you combine maximum capability with over-the-top luxury, and that's what we believe keeps owners firmly in the Range Rover driver's seat. Do most owners take their $83,000-plus Range Rovers rock crawling or swamp wading? Of course not, and neither would we. But it's the idea these SUVs can go just about anywhere a motorized vehicle has ever been that appeals to well-heeled owners who want some bragging rights as well as an uber-luxurious vehicle. Moreover, in the redesign Land Rover boosted highway fuel economy to 20 mpg while enhancing the communications and safety technology.

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