It’s all about execution.
There’s all sorts of new technology coming out of Detroit right now, and all of it merits some level of admiration. But technology means little if the car it’s fitted in doesn’t follow through on the promise.
The list here has been under consideration for a while. Nothing here is flashy or especially fun to drive. What these vehicles are, however, are ideal representations of what their makers are capable of building when engineering and design stars align just right.
I’m a sucker for refinement. I’m impressed by clean, smooth shifts, quiet cabins, and build quality. For different reasons, all three vehicles here can lay claim to levels of refinement above other vehicles in their respective classes.
So are these really the best vehicles that Detroit builds? To answer that, I quote a Consumer Guide colleague who, while discussing a previous generation of the Honda Accord, noted, “It’s great at nothing, but very good at everything.”
So, yes, by my estimation these vehicles are the best. They may not do any one thing exceedingly well, but they do everything really well. That’s execution.
Best American Cars
Best General Motors vehicle: Buick Verano
Helps you forget: Buick Rendezvous
While they aren’t a dime a dozen, large and midsize luxury cars that are well appointed, ride well, and boast quiet cabins are hardly uncommon. What is uncommon is a car the size of a Chevrolet Cruize that does all these things for comfortably under $30,000.
On paper, the Buick Verano isn’t all that impressive. The proof is in the test drive. No car sporting a price within $10,000 of Verano can match this car’s level of quiet or mechanical refinement.
Execution is the news here. This isn’t just a small car with a lot of sound insulation. Verano feels like a luxury car. The cabin is modern-looking and nicely trimmed. The ride—especially for a car this size—is impressively compliant without floatiness, and the drivetrain is subtle and polished.
For a nation in the midst of a downsizing frenzy, Verano will certainly find shoppers looking to tax the planet and their wallets a little less. You can point at any number of vehicles and find one that rides better, has a nicer cabin, or is quieter, but I defy you to find one that melds these attributes so effectively for less than $30,000.
Best Ford vehicle: Ford Edge with EcoBoost engine
Helps you forget: Old Ford Explorer with V8 engine
EcoBoost isn’t magic, nor is it, despite Ford’s assertions, a singular technology. What EcoBoost is, in reality, is the very well executed use of turbocharging. What Ford has done is substitute small turbocharged engines for larger—and thirstier—engines of similar power output. What seems like magic is how well these EcoBoost engines work in real-world driving.
The most impressive application of an EcoBoost engine is in the Ford Edge. While EcoBoost engines are now everywhere, including the new Fusion and Escape, it’s in this 4,000-pound crossover that their impact is best appreciated.
In Consumer Guide testing, an Edge with the standard 3.5-liter V6 averaged a decent 19.6 mpg. Under similar conditions, a like-equipped Edge with the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine averaged 25.2 mpg. That’s 4-cylinder sedan mileage from a largish people mover with V6 power. Most impressive is how the EcoBoost-powered Edge feels on the road. It’s quick off the line, is eager to pass, and moves out without a hint of traditional turbo lag.
No, the Edge isn’t sexy, nor is it especially fun to drive. But with the EcoBoost engine, it is an excellent crossover and an impressive vessel for the technology that will be saving us gas for the foreseeable future.
Best Chrysler Vehicle: Dodge Durango
Helps you forget: Any previous Durango
My love for the Dodge Durango runs deep. I rather like large trucks, and the Durango goes some distance toward assuaging any guilt I might feel about piloting something so potentially thirsty.
Chrysler’s branded “Pentastar” V6 has impressed us with its thrift in a number of vehicles, but in the substantial Durango the engine has outdone itself. Our long-term 2012 Durango has averaged almost 19 mpg over 18,000 miles.
To make sense of that number, keep in mind that we’re talking about a full-size, all-wheel-drive SUV that seats seven, tows more than 6,000 pounds, and boasts almost 300 horsepower. For comparison, consider that Consumer Guide averaged less than 2 mpg better in a hybrid version of the previous-generation Durango.
More impressive, though, is the Durango’s luxury credentials. This big truck looks and feels like a vehicle costing $20,000 more than it does. Fit and finish is top-notch, cabin materials are a grade higher than you’d expect, and sound levels are low enough for first and third-row passengers to chat easily at highway speeds.
And though you can load a Durango up to almost $50,000, you can also carefully equip a nice example for comfortably under $35,000.