Hmm. Let’s try to figure this out. We’re buying cars at a robust pace (a 16.5-million sales year is predicted), and cars are doing more and more for us — power windows, locks, air-conditioning, voice commands, smart cruise controls, advanced infotainment systems, parking assistance, lane keeping — and yet we’re less and less satisfied with them.

The 2014 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) delivered an overall score of 82 out of 100 for new car purchases through July, a 1.2 percent decline from the same period last year. Only Buick and Chevrolet showed gains, which is amazing considering all the bad press that Chevy has gotten for recalls.

Chevrolet Sonic

The Chevrolet Sonic, a popular and affordable small car, is probably helping Chevy's upticking satisfaction ratings. (Photo: Chevrolet)

Mercedes-Benz leads the survey, with an 86 score (down from 88 last year), followed by Subaru at 85 (it was 86), Lexus (84, down from 87), Volkswagen (84, unchanged), Toyota (83, down from 86, possibly reflecting lingering concern over unintended acceleration), Honda (83, was 86), Buick (83, up from 82), GMC (82, was 85), Kia (82, unchanged), Chevrolet (82, was 79) and Ford (81, was 83).

Dead last in the survey, surprisingly, was Acura, with a score of 77, down from a healthy 83. Also proving less than satisfying are cars from Dodge (78, down from 79) and Jeep (79, was 80).

The conventional reasoning is that incentives are disappearing, which lessens the number of people who think they’re driving a bargain. That’s a factor, but a big one I think is people having trouble with some of those sophisticated controls I mentioned earlier, especially infotainment. People feel like idiots if they can’t master those systems, and it’s complicated by the fact they tend to be problem-prone.

Acura RLX

Acura's RLX. Are the controls too complicated, or do people want more for their money? (Photo: Acura)

It makes sense from that point of view that Chevy and Buick, which tend to have user-friendly controls, would score well in the ACSI test.

It’s interesting that, in separate company surveys, computer software gets a really low ACSI score — just 76 — and cellphones are only marginally better at 78. Again, products in both categories are often needlessly complicated, especially for older users. I bet if the survey was broken down by age it would have found more dissatisfaction among seniors. Have you seen those ads for super-simple cellphones?

Another conclusion is that cars are expensive (the most costly thing people buy other than their houses), and they’re expecting more for their money. Automakers may be shooting themselves in the foot if they include few features as part of the standard package and lard on the premium packages. According to Claes Fornell, ACSI’s chairman, “Consumers now expect more for their money when they pay a premium price.”

Here are the full survey results:

chart showing consumer satisfaction with cars

And let me note here that people surveyed as part of ACSI gave their absolutely lowest ratings to their cable and Internet service providers. That’s not because they’re overly complicated, but because they’re overpriced. It should be a wakeup call to those industries that the natives are restless.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Why Americans are less happy with their new cars
For many reasons, happiness with new cars and trucks is hitting a five-year low.