We here at Consumer Guide take great pride in our annual Best Buy award process. Every year, we lock ourselves in a conference room and don’t come out until we have a list of vehicles that we think best represent their respective classes. Well, a few of us might come out for a bathroom break, maybe to get a glass of water, but no matter.
This time, I’m going to take a swing at giving out my own awards. They’ll encompass a variety of “categories,” mostly good, some not so much. It’ll be somewhat tongue in cheek, but the thought and decision-making process is quite serious. The only criteria is that I must have driven these vehicles some time during calendar 2012. In somewhat legal gobbledygook, the opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Consumer Guide Automotive, its parent company, blah-dee-blah.
There are no trophies here. If you’re an automaker who would like your “EdWard” in physical form, feel free to search online for a fill-in-the-blank participation certificate and print it out. Now on with the show.
The “Burger King Award for Having It Your Way”
This honor goes to the vehicle that delivers a highly personalized experience. From trim level and option selection to the experience behind the wheel, the only limit is, essentially, your imagination.
And the winner is . . . the 2013 Dodge Dart
The Dart offers a stupefying array of choices for compact-car shoppers, including five (soon to be six and maybe even seven) trim levels, 12 paint colors, two engines, two transmissions, and a cornucopia of packaged, standalone, and dealer-installed options. Want a Dart with a 2.0-liter engine, manual transmission, navigation system, and no sunroof? No problem. The customization doesn’t stop there. Higher-end models come with a configurable instrument-panel display. Meanwhile, the built-in settings menu allows fine-grain control over the power, climate, and audio systems, including the ability to outright disable probably my most hated automotive “feature”—rain-sensing windshield wipers. That’s what put Dart over the top.
The “George Costanza, ‘I’m Back, Baby!’ Award for Most Improved Vehicle”
Think of this award as the automotive equivalent of the “Comeback Player of the Year” in professional sports.
And the winner is . . . the 2013 Honda Accord
Despite what any big-selling monthly car magazine might say, the 2008-2012 generation of the Honda Accord was a mustard stain on the pristine legacy of this midsize car. Sure, it was spacious and reasonably fun to drive, but the 4-cylinder engines were loud and not terribly economical with fuel. It also didn’t ride as well as it should have. The redesigned 2013 Accord addresses these issues, and then some. It’s exactly what you expect an Accord to be: smooth, refined, and efficient with a driving experience that’s just the right side of sporty. The mid-line Sport model best embodies these attributes while being an incredibly strong value for the money.
The “Ebeneezer Scrooge Award for All-Around Penny Pinching”
This award goes to a vehicle that embodies frugality in both its positive and negative connotations.
And the winner is . . . the 2012 Toyota Prius c
This is a car that can cost $20,000 and get upwards of 60 mpg. That’s good. What’s not so good is some of the obvious cost cutting that went into getting the car to that price – namely the econobox-looking interior trim. Small potatoes, though, if you’ll pardon the pun. Did I mention that this car can cost $20,000 and get 60 mpg?
The “Linebacker in a Tuxedo Award for Brawny Luxury”
This recipient is a substantially sized vehicle with a substantial amount of power and handling prowess.
And the winner is . . . the 2013 BMW M5
I’ve heard some scribes say that the M5 has gone soft, but after spending time with this monster on the road and racetrack, I can’t help but disagree. The 560-horsepower turbocharged engine will light anyone’s fire. When you don’t feel like risking your driver’s license, the car is remarkably docile and easy to drive, even with the available manual transmission. Unfortunately, you need to be earning a linebacker’s salary to afford one, but few cars blend power, handling, and luxury so well.
The “$20 Bill in Your Coat Pocket Award for Most Pleasant Surprise”
Deciding on the winner here was tough. There were plenty of vehicles I drove in 2012 that were better than I expected. While I try to keep a level head going into any road test, past experiences with a brand or product can lead to the proverbial bar being set in any number of positions. In the end, it came down to the one car, truck, SUV, or van for which I expected the least but got the most.
And the winner is . . . The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
In the eight years I’ve been reviewing cars, there are two brands whose products simply have never “clicked” for me: Mini and Subaru. Going into a weekend test drive of an XV Crosstrek, I’ll admit I was not expecting much out of this little genre-bending blend of compact car and SUV. Sure, it has its faults, namely unremarkable acceleration, too much engine and road noise, and an overly complicated navigation system. Still, the Crosstrek just feels right. The steering and handling are tight and precise. The cargo area is substantial and, thanks to the car’s raised suspension, very easy to load and unload. In a test drive that covered more than 230 miles, I averaged 28 mpg, an outstanding figure for a car that has standard all-wheel drive and a curb weight of 3,100 pounds. While our test example was the pricey 2.0i Limited, you can experience all of the Crosstrek’s goodness in the much less costly 2.0i Premium model.
What ultimately put the Crosstrek over the top was that it more than passed the “baby test.” Despite the raucous engine, my infant son was able to sleep for almost the entire duration of an extended drive around Chicago’s far western suburbs. If that’s not award-worthy, then I don’t know what is.