The dealership experience — once considered by many consumers as painful — is getting high marks from today's buyers, according to two surveys that Automotive Retailing Today commissioned.

The Gallup Organization, which polled how satisfied customers are with their new vehicle purchase or leasing experience, says 85% reported a positive experience and 94% reported being satisfied with the dealership they patronized (75% saying they were extremely or very satisfied).

A Wirthlin Worldwide survey measured minority buyers' experiences at new-car dealerships.

More than eight of 10 minorities (83%) who purchased or leased a vehicle in the last 18 months say the experience was positive. Of the minority groups giving positive ratings, Asians ranked the highest at 92%, followed by African-Americans at 80% and Hispanics at 77%.

High dealership ratings from minorities may stem from more and more dealers marking to those groups.

“Fifteen years ago I got interested in such niche marketing,” says Juanita Baranco, owner of Baranco Acura in Atlanta. “I have unique qualities to market in these areas — I'm a woman and I'm African-American.”

The Gallup and Wirthlin surveys shatter negative stereotypes that dealerships are unpleasant places, says Maury Giles, a senior research executive for Wirthlin.

But while dealers and manufacturers try hard to improve the customer experience, they continue to see TV situation comedies and comedians mock dealers, he says.

“It's frustrating to change, but not throw off the stereotype in the media,” he tells the Automotive Press Association during a presentation in Detroit.

Members of the media were polled on what they expected consumers would say in the surveys. The journalists said only 46% of consumers would rate their dealership experiences positively, and 54% would rate them negatively.

Yet 61% of journalists rated their own car-buying experience as very or extremely satisfying and 28% somewhat satisfying. Only 11% said they were not satisfied at all, according to the Gallup poll.

Meanwhile, Wirthlin says 90% of non-minorities and 87% of minorities see their dealership visits as the most useful resource for purchasing a new vehicle, followed by word-of-mouth recommendations and consumer guides.

Dealers making their stores kinder, gentler places has a lot to do with the high marks from modern consumers.

But another factor is that buyers are more informed than ever before, says John Peterson, chairman of Automotive Retailing Today.

He explains “By the time they set foot in the showroom, they have a very good idea of what they want and don't want, how much they're prepared to pay, and how they expect to be treated.

“As a result, when they drive away in their new vehicle, they are satisfied customers.”