The “Two Left Foot Ballerina Award for Most Missteps”
Let’s move away from the actual product and talk for a bit about the companies that make them. This “prize” goes to the firm that had the roughest 2012, at least in this writer’s humble opinion.
And the “winner” is . . . Hyundai
From 2008 to 2011, it seemed like nothing could stop Hyundai. With a focus on design and quality, the Korean automaker started churning out hit after hit. The company truly found its stride with the debut of the 2011 Sonata.
Then the wheels fell off, so to speak. It was an inauspicious start for Hyundai when it debuted the face-lifted 2013 Genesis Coupe at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. Dynamically, the car was much better, with more power, a better ride, and a more upscale interior. But when I saw the revised front end in person, I was nearly brought to tears. Hyundai had taken one of the most gorgeous cars on the road and turned it into a rolling joke.
Then there’s the Veloster, which is on my top-five list of the worst cars I’ve ever driven.
Finally, we had the fuel-economy flap, in which the company (and its subsidiary brand, Kia) was busted for having cooked the books on its projected fuel-economy numbers. Hyundai needed to reissue window stickers with adjusted mileage and partially compensate owners of certain 2011-2013 models. They issued prepaid debit cards. Even before this kerfuffle, we knew something was up with the fuel economy we were getting in various Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Our long-term 2012 Accent hatchback was rated for 40 mpg on the highway, and we were getting nowhere near that. Many times, the car struggled to break 30.
So 2012 was not Hyundai’s best year. It’s taking a step in the right direction to start 2013, though. The debut of the bold HCD-14 Genesis Concept at the Detroit Auto Show is proof that Hyundai is not wallowing in the past. Keep it up, and 2012 will be a distant memory sooner rather than later.
The “Little Engine That Could Award for Most Up-and-Coming Auto Brand”
I give this honor to an auto brand on the rise, one that should make its way onto more shoppers’ radars.
And the winner is . . . Mazda
Here’s another Asian brand that’s seen its fair share of recent hardships.
In 2012, though, Mazda started getting its act together. The company axed the outdated Tribute and crude CX-7 SUVs and replaced them with the sensational CX-5 compact crossover. The slow-selling RX-8 sports car made its way to the great parking lot in the sky. The compact 3 hatchback and sedan received Mazda’s new SKYACTIV engines, and customers responded by purchasing them at an 85-percent clip. The aged CX-9 crossover received a new look for the 2013 model year, and on January 2, 2013, Mazda put its revamped 2014 6 midsize sedan on sale. In a few months, a 2014 6 powered by a diesel engine will reach showrooms, making Mazda the only Japanese brand to offer such a motor on a car sold in North America.
Mazda understands its position in the market. While it will (almost certainly, anyway) never attain the sales success of brands such as Ford, Honda, or Volkswagen, the company is demonstrating a laser-like focus on maximizing its comparatively limited resources. It’s starting to pay off. Provided the 2014 6 is not a flop, Mazda is one brand that could surprise the industry in 2013.
The “Bikini Contest Award for Most Impressive Lineup”
This award goes to the specific car brand whose overall roster is the strongest. All makes are under consideration, including full-line and not-so-full line.
And the winner is . . . Buick
This one surprised me, too. Maligned over the years as an “old person’s car,” Buick has been reinvented by General Motors. While its lineup consists of only five vehicles (Verano, Encore, Regal, LaCrosse, and Enclave), there’s not a weak link among them.
The Verano and Encore are proving that you don’t need to sacrifice luxury with size. Regal is endowing the brand with a sporty flair that hasn’t been seen in more than two decades. LaCrosse is one of the most refined cars you can buy for less than $40,000. Enclave is a hauler for the value-conscious premium buyer.
As I said in a previous post on this blog—Buick is desirable, not desperate.