Text by John Paul:
New England Motor Press Association Announces 2009 Winter Vehicle Awards
Feb. 27, Boston, MA- Early this past February, members of the New England Motor Press association gathered for the annual Winter Vehicle Voting Day. This was the busiest Winter Vehicle judging day in recent history, with the parking lot filled with all-wheel-drive vehicles ranging from entry-level economy cars to full-boat luxury SUVS. After a day of driving and deliberation, judges cast their votes and annotated their picks in each category. The criteria, as usual, is to consider how each candidate meets the particular needs of the New England driver during our lengthy winters.
Official Winter Vehicle of New England: Toyota Venza
The Venza drives like a Lexus RX while costing significantly less money and forging new stylistic territory in the competitive crossover class. The Venza isn’t technically a wagon, but its low step-in and hatchback shape fulfill the same duties, making it an imminently useful four-season vehicle. Judges called the Venza “a great family car” and “a right-sized vehicle for the times.”
Yankee Value Award: Suzuki SX4
The SX4 continues to exist in a class all its own, offering all-wheel-drive with a long warranty for around $16,000. This is the kind of car that New Englanders hold onto long after it’s paid off.
Ultra Luxury Winter Vehicle: Bentley Continental
With two doors or four doors and coupe and convertible bodies-along with last year’s introduction of the 600-horsepower “Speed” models-the Continental continues to combine staggering performance with everyday, year-round practicality.
Best in Class All-Weather Sedan, More Than $50,000: BMW 5-Series all-wheel-drive
The all-wheel-drive versions of the 5-Series retain that model’s inherent responsiveness while adding the ability to effortlessly scale badly plowed ski area access roads. The 535xi looks conservative but packs 300 horsepower of twin-turbo muscle under the hood.
Best in Class All-Weather Coupe, $35,000-$50,000: Audi A5
The A5 fills the gap between small coupes like the BMW 3-Series and bruisers like the Mercedes CL. With A4 running gear, useful back seats and one of the most compelling silhouettes on the road, the A5 is a unique blend of sportiness and practicality.
Best in Class All-Weather Sedan, $25,000-$35,000: Volkswagen CC
Volkswagen takes a cue from Mercedes and mashes the roofline of a Passat into a rakish CLS-style four-door. The CC has the interior of a much more expensive car, with available two-tone leather seats and a rear center console. The CC is an example of VW playing to its historic strengths, offering a high level of style and craftsmanship at an appealing price.
Best in Class All-Weather Sedan, Under $25,000: Subaru Impreza
Subaru has a stronghold in New England, and the base Impreza is the distillation of Subaru values: All-wheel-drive in a smart package at a low price. While the naturally aspirated Impreza comes in at about $20,000, the updated WRX also sneaks in under the $25,000 mark, beckoning to enliven the winter months with 265 turbocharged horsepower.
Best in Class All-Weather Wagon: Ford Flex
The Flex manages to combine cool styling with three-row seating and novel road-trip accessories like a mini-fridge between the second-row seats. It’s long enough that you can put your skis inside. And it gets better mileage than a comparably sized SUV. For drivers debating commitment to a minivan or SUV, the Flex offers a third option: Neither.
Best-In-Class Pickup Truck: Dodge Ram
The full-sized truck game tends to focus on evolution rather than revolution, but the new Ram rejects conventional wisdom in several major ways. It has coil-spring rear suspension to tame the ride. The sides of the bed feature useful storage bins in space that’s wasted in other trucks. And the new Hemi puts out 390 horsepower but can use cylinder deactivation to improve fuel economy.
Best in Class SUV Under $25,000: Nissan Rogue
The Rogue is one of the few small crossovers that actually seems to care about engaging the driver. It’s a four-cylinder, but it’s feisty.
Best-in-Class SUV, $25,000-$35,000 (tie): Kia Borrego
A lot of people still need the capability of a body-on-frame SUV, and the Borrego offers the V8 from the Hyundai Genesis, a 7,500-pound tow rating, 20-22 mpg highway mileage, and a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
Best-in-Class SUV, $25,000-$35,000 (tie): Honda Pilot
The Pilot is one of those vehicles that’s bigger on the inside than it seems on the outside. Unlike a lot of modern SUVs, it’s also unafraid to get dirty off-road, with a manually locking rear differential and a navigation system that offers off-road tracking.
Best in Class Luxury SUV (tie): Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
The Escalade Hybrid offers the size and creature comforts of the Escalade with the fuel efficiency of a midsize crossover. With the two-mode hybrid system, the Escalade gets city mileage that most full-size SUVs have a hard time reaching on the highway.
Best in Class Luxury SUV (tie): Land Rover Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover Sport looks like a Range Rover, but its chassis was designed for better on-road performance than that of its bigger progeny. It’s also significantly less expensive than the full-size luxury SUVs, and these days that counts heavily for any car buyer.
Official Plow Vehicle of the New England Motor Press Association:
Mercedes G550 with Curtis Home-Pro plow system
You don’t see too many 2009 Mercedes G550s fitted with a Curtis snowplow, and the one gracing the Winter Vehicles test lot generated a fair number of questions. Did AIG use their bailout money to buy this to plow their offices? Was the Plow King in town? Has T-Pain truly run out of things to sing about? The answer will be revealed in early April.