May 23, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 05 January 2012 11:46
What separates our Cars of the Year from the dozens of also-rans we drive every year? The selection process is simple and subjective: We go over the list and select those that made a favorable impression.
Now and then, we indulge in thinly disguised rooting for the home team, as we did when we named the mediocre Chevrolet Cobalt a Car of the Year in the compact-sedan category. (To be fair, the Cobalt was a marked improvement over its predecessor, the Cavalier.)So, on to the winners …
Minicar: The Fiat 500. Cuter than the Mini Cooper, more fun to drive than the smart4two, emblematic of Chrysler’s return to form after a long quality-control nightmare, the two-door 500 is loads of fun, economical and adorable. But sales have fallen below expectations, with 17,444 of the tiny Fiats rolling out the door between March and the end of November. Fiats are sold at “studios,” rather than at Chrysler dealer showrooms, and earlier generations of Fiats were notoriously unreliable. These factors may have slowed sales. That could turn around in a hurry if the car proves to be reliable and remains reasonably priced ($15,500 to $19,500).
Subcompact: Chevrolet Sonic. There we go again, promoting a little Chevy. But the Sonic is the real deal. “Too often, over the years, Chevrolet seemed content to build the cars management felt it had to build,” we said in our review last month. “The Sonic has the look and feel of a car management wanted to build, and that could make all the difference.” Our Sonic was a five-door, versatile, fun to drive and more powerful than most compacts, was priced at $18,500 and rated at 35 mpg on the highway.
Compact: What else but the Chevy Volt? We know, the Volt has become controversial as a potential fire hazard after collisions that ruptured its battery cooling system during crash-testing — significantly, no such fires have been recorded in the real world — and it’s a documented drain on taxpayers. But the Volt is both green and versatile in a way no other automaker can match. The Volt can go upward of 35 miles, in good weather, on its electric motor, but also has a gasoline engine that can keep it moving for another 270 before needing more gasoline or a battery recharge. It’s also a comfortable, nice-looking car that’s pleasant to drive. A well-equipped Volt costs more than $40,000, but buyers are entitled to a $7,500 tax credit.
Midsize sedan: Three models impressed us: the Volkswagen CC, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion. The nod goes to the Sonata for its aggressive styling, exceptional value and strong performance at every level. Our loaded 2011 Sonata SE had a sticker price of $27,600. “Hyundai has stepped up its game,” we wrote last summer. “The new Sonata is roomy, comfortable and even sporty, with its optional 2.0-liter turbocharged Four. It handles crisply and is — dare we say it? — fun to drive.”
Toy: The Volkswagen Eos, successor to the popular and beloved Cabrio, is rather expensive (our 2011 Eos Lux had a sticker price of $38,020), but it’s a luxurious, sweet-handling coupe that’s like no other in one major respect. “With the touch of a button, the Eos has the ability to keep misbehaving weather and unwanted noises out, or give you the airy feel you want, so your spirit can soar,” wrote co-author Kelly Marcoux, also last summer. “Finally the freedom to decide, and your decision is never wrong, because this hardtop solution also offers a large whimsical built-in sunroof.”
SUV: We didn’t drive any large sport-utility vehicles in 2011 but expect to test a few this year. Of the smaller units we drove, the nod must go to the BMW X3, because … well, it must. “Not long after turning in the X3, we drove a similarly sized and priced SUV from a premium Japanese manufacturer,” we said in our review of the 2011 xDrive35i, which carried a sticker price of a little more than $50,000. “The BMW essentially spoiled the experience for us. The X3’s competitor simply didn’t measure up.”
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