Ford made the most dramatic improvement in a 2003 British customer satisfaction study, but the Japanese brands came out tops.

Ford made the most dramatic improvement in customer satisfaction, according to the J D Power and Associates/ magazine 2003 UK Car Customer Satisfaction Study.

But, according to the study, Japanese brands on average remained the most hassle-free cars to own and operate. For the third year running, Lexus came out tops. The study, now in its 10th year, showed overall satisfaction with vehicles from all manufacturers rose by three points from 791 in 2002 to 794 in 2003, with 13 of the top 20 models built by Japanese manufacturers.

The top vehicle brands in overall customer satisfaction for 2003 were Lexus at 861 points, an increase of one point over 2002, followed by Toyota (848), which improved by five points. BMW was third (838 points) changing places with Skoda (836 points), which was third in 2002. Maximum score possible was 1 000.

The most dramatic improvement among brands above industry average was by Ford, moving up the index by 21 points, making strong gains in quality and reliability, dealer service, vehicle appeal and overall ownership costs. It had a total of 798 points. Just trailing Ford for the most improved brand was Honda, with a 20-index point improvement.

"It is common knowledge that Ford’s cars have improved markedly over the last few years, but the 2003 study shows that dealer service has also taken a big leap forward. However, the fact remains that Japanese brands on average still hold a commanding lead, demonstrating that most European brands have some way to go to match their levels of customer satisfaction," said Dave Sargent, director of European operations at J D Power and Associates.

The 2003 JD Power and Associates/ study is based on evaluations of more than 24 000 owners and covers 32 brands and 138 models. Owners provide detailed evaluations of their vehicles and dealers, encompassing 77 attributes, which are grouped together into four key measures of satisfaction: quality and reliability; vehicle appeal, which includes performance, design, comfort, features; ownership costs, which includes fuel consumption, insurance and costs of service/repair and service satisfaction.

2003 top 10 overall rankings:

Lexus 861

Toyota 848

BMW 838

Skoda 836

Honda 829

Mazda 817

Jaguar 814

Saab 813

Audi 810

Subaru 808.