As the world’s automakers prepare to descend on Detroit for the North American International Auto Show in January, a handful of those companies are now making room in their trophy cases in hopes of taking home one of the industry’s top prizes: The North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year Awards, which will be presented during the annual automotive extravaganza in the Motor City. (And more specifically, they'll be presented on Jan. 14, 2013.)
The two awards are chosen by an expert panel of American and Canadian auto journalists, and are distinguished by a notable lack of corporate backing. As a result, the recognitions are, in theory, supported by independent analysis that’s unsullied by the need to please big sponsors. This year’s choices will please green customers, however, since all six finalists showcase superior efficiency performance.
And those finalists are, for the North American Car of the Year Award, the 2013 Cadillac ATS, 2013 Ford Fusion and 2013 Honda Accord; battling it out for the title of North American Truck/Utility of the Year are the 2013 Ford C-MAX, 2013 Mazda CX-5 and 2013 RAM 1500.
2013 North American Car of the Year Finalists
Even though the industry has seen some nifty new coupes hit the road this year—ranging from the affordable 2013 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ duo to the 200-mph 2013 Ford Shelby GT500—all finalists for this year’s North American Car of the Year award are of the four-door flavor, including:
2013 Cadillac ATS—Offering a low curb weight and high levels of driving engagement, the 2013 Cadillac ATS already has scored a number of vehicle of the year awards and most recently saw its available 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 named to Ward’s 10 Best Engines team. But despite being the most power-dense powerplant offered in the GM lineup, that 272-hp engine delivers up to 31 mpg on the highway. The ATS also provides access to Cadillac’s CUE connectivity/infotainment system.
2013 Ford Fusion—The Blue Oval’s all-new mid-size sedan also has earned plenty of praise, thanks to its dynamic style and typically technologically advanced Ford features. Of particular note among the latter are the powertrains offered in the 2013 Ford Fusion, like its high-efficiency EcoBoost I4 that can deliver up to 37 mpg highway, a conventional hybrid setup that provides 47 mpg in all EPA segments, and the plug-in hybrid technology due on the upcoming Fusion Energi.
2013 Honda Accord—Like its Ford rival, the 2013 Honda Accord is an all-new mainstream mid-sizer with hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants, and it also showcases a long list of standard amenities such as a rearview camera, Bluetooth technology, an interface for Pandora Internet radio, SMS text-messaging functionality, dual-zone climate control, a 160-watt audio system. Plus, the brand-new Accord offers two engines from the 2013 Ward’s 10 Best roster, including both its 2.4-liter I4 and 3.5-liter V6.
(And just to be fair, the Fusion's EcoBoost technology, also offered in a 2.0-liter I4 in the car, has won multiple Ward's 10 Best titles as well.)
The Autobytel outlook: With the Fusion running into some launch challenges—and already subject to two recalls—and the Accord maintains a fairly low profile to this point, the breakthrough ATS is our call to be named 2013 North American Car of the Year.
2013 North American Truck/Utility of the Year Finalists
Award organizers have finally renamed the prize on this side of the ledger to recognize the importance of "utility" vehicles, of which there are two in contention this year. But that pair is going up against the real thing in the shape of an all-new full-size pickup from the Chrysler Group, with judges choosing from the following finalists:
2013 Ford C-MAX—The family-friendly multi-purpose vehicle can attain up to 47 mpg in in the city, and in highway travel, and in combined driving, all while featuring a very versatile interior capable of holding more than 52 cubic feet of gear. And even if it doesn’t beat out its Truck of the Year rivals for this year’s prize, Ford is happy to continue boasting that the C-MAX is less expensive, larger and more efficient than its direct rival, the Toyota Prius v.
Mazda CX-5—The first vehicle from Mazda with a full suite of its SKYACTIV technologies, the CX-5 has garnered its share of accolades since its launch earlier in 2012—including Autobytel’s Crossover of the Year Award—and combines zoomy driving dynamics with the ability to score EPA grades of up to 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway/29 mpg combined. Additionally, the CX-5 wears Mazda’s new KODO Soul of Motion design language that helps it stand out from the rest of the crossover crowd.
2013 Ram 1500—Now the most fuel-efficient full-size pickup in America, the completely redesigned Ram has the segment’s first—and only—eight-speed automatic transmission. When that new TorqueFlite 8 transmission is mated to the company’s award-winning Pentastar V6 engine, drivers will enjoy EPA grades of 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined, yet still benefit from a 6,500-lb. tow rating. After the gearbox debuts with the HEMI-powered Ram in the near future, the truck also will have best-in-class EPA grades for V8 trucks, too.
Autobytel’s outlook: With the Mazda likely to slip under the ol’ radar as the finalist that’s been on the market longest, and rumors swirling about the C-MAX’s real-world fuel economy, look for the Ram to roll as the North American Truck/Utility of the Year.
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