February 17, 2013

News & Features

A look at the vehicles that won critics' hearts in 2012

Special to NWautos

web_Tesla-S.jpg

Both Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend named the Tesla Model S sedan Car of the Year. (Tesla)

The year 2012 is over, but one last vestige of it will linger deep into 2013 -- the "best of" automotive lists. Winners of the more prestigious titles will brag for months, if not the entire year. Modesty is not a virtue in the automotive world.

Car and Driver has its "10Best." The "Golden Calipers" are awarded to Motor Trend's Car and Truck of the Year choice. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is where the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY) awards are announced (the honors can go to European and Asian cars, too).

My own Top 11 can be found at DrivenCarReviews.com. ("This is Spinal Tap" fans will understand the "11" reference.)

So are there any patterns this year? Can car buyers glean anything from studying the winners and runners-up? Yes and no. If anything is consistent, it's that the winners are all over the map. I interpret this to mean fierce competition makes it tough to choose a clear winner. Let's take a look.

Both Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend named the Tesla Model S sedan Car of the Year. This is a no-brainer: The innovation in the Model S is much more than just an electric powertrain.

Excellent space management with batteries packaged evenly throughout the chassis floor means there's room for seven when the cavernous trunk is fitted with jump seats. A low center of gravity provides superhero handling; the terrific touch-screen interface is like a supersized iPad, and the sedan itself is gorgeous.

Sadly, with fewer than 2,000 made, the Model S is scarcer that a sunny winter day in Seattle, and the largest of its three battery-pack options pushes the price toward $100,000.

Those are major factors why it's not on other major lists: Car and Driver has a price ceiling of $80,000, and the NACTOY requires that 5,000 copies of a car be produced annually for eligibility (2,000 for Truck of the Year).

The North American Car of the Year's three finalists were the Cadillac ATS, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion, with the ATS taking the honors (and a place on my Top 11 list). Enthusiasts will argue endlessly whether Caddy's sharp-edged compact sport beats the performance and handling of the rival BMW 3 Series. This could signal the emergence of a great rivalry.

Both Motor Trend and NACTOY chose the Ram 1500 for Truck of the Year. It is supremely capable, nicely appointed and fuel efficient, with its class-exclusive, eight-speed transmission. As an innovative detail, the tailgate locks with the rest of the truck.

In NACTOY tabulation, the Ram had 50 percent more votes than the runner-up Mazda CX-5 and three times that of the third-place Ford C-Max.

Making Car and Driver's 10Best list could be considered the American market's highest honor. For 2013, the magazine selected the Audi A6/A7 sedans, BMW 3 Series, Ford Focus, Ford Mustang GT, Honda Accord, Honda Fit, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Porsche Boxster, Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ twins and Volkswagen Golf/GTI.

A win doesn't guarantee popularity. The NACTOY award went to the Honda Ridgeline in 2006 and the Saturn Aura in 2007.

Shopping for a vehicle? Start with the "best of" lists, and then research the competitors.
Keep in mind the difference between a winner and a runner-up can be just a couple votes.
In the end, you're the most valuable judge, because cars and trucks are subjective purchases.

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