The 2011 Winter Vehicles Honor Roll

BOSTON- New Englanders are a hardy lot, used to fast-changing, often treacherous winter weather, but the Yankee spirit doesn’t get slowed down by white stuff or a hard freeze. Every February, New England’s expert automotive journalists come together to evaluate the vehicles best able to cope with the mix of terrain and mercurial conditions our region is known for. Judging for the 2011 New England Motor Press Association Winter Vehicle Awards took place on Saturday, February 12, and the results are in.

The overall winner of the 2011 New England Motor Press Association Winter Vehicle Award is the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. New this year, the Grand Cherokee blends rugged capability, the choice of a modern Pentastar V6 or powerful Hemi engine, and trio of four-wheel-drive options into a single vehicle. This all-weather package is ideally suited for what the New England region can dish out, with the new Select-Terrain AWD system, slush mats, block heater and remote start. The Grand Cherokee is a no muss, no fuss, all-conditions vehicle that is refined and simple to drive.

Grand Cherokee styling takes an evolutionary step that’s very clearly a Jeep, and the interior is comfortable, well appointed and luxurious, with high-quality materials and pleasing design. There are many great vehicles out there, but nothing highlights flaws like a February commute. For 2011, the journalist members of the New England Motor Press Association were consistently impressed with the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s blend of attributes.

The Yankee Value Award is given to the vehicle that best exemplifies the hardy New Englander spirit of understated perseverance. The 2011 Suzuki SX4 Crossover continues to charm drivers with its friendly, unflappable and fun chassis that includes all-wheel drive at a rock-bottom price. The SX4 Crossover’s handy hatchback profile speaks to Yankee adaptability, too. There are few situations where the SX4 Crossover won’t perform admirably, and that’s why the Suzuki SX4 Crossover has taken the Yankee Value Award for multiple years.

In the Pickup Truck category, the GMC Sierra 2500HD comes out on top. No doubt the victory is partly due to the new Duramax 6.6 liter diesel V8 that packs 765 lb-ft of torque and bolts into an all-new frame that’s stronger than before. The new frame provides the basis for redesigned suspensions that offer better capacity, comfort and control, while a towing capacity of 17,000 lbs (21,700 lbs with fifth wheel) starts to edge into big-rig territory. The addition of thoughtful features like a smart exhaust brake and hill-start assist demonstrate GMC’s commitment to building heavy-duty trucks that make the work easy. We work in any kind of weather, and the GMC Sierra 2500HD won’t take any snow days.

Entry AWD Sedan/Wagon honors go to the Subaru Forester. A favorite in this region since its introduction more than 10 years ago, the Forester keeps getting more refined. Underneath it all is Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system that performs feats of traction. Foresters are thick on the ground in New England because they represent excellent value, and with AWD standard. The Forester’s efficiency and utility are just the ticket for many buyers who need a flexible car and can’t wait for the storm to clear before heading out.

Sedan/Wagon $25K-$35K belongs to the 2011 Dodge Charger. Extensively revised, the Charger wears striking new styling with more glass area for better visibility. An all-new interior is stylish, functional and assembled from high-quality materials. Chrysler’s also all-new Pentastar V6 and respected Hemi V8 are the available powerplants for the Charger. When teamed with the all-wheel-drive option, the Charger offers all-weather big-sedan accommodations with a large trunk and a healthy dollop of value.

The Sedan/Wagon $35K-$60K category is where you’ll find the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Wagon. In and around the suburbs of Boston, the E-Class wagon is a common sight. The reason for that is Mercedes-Benz’s long history of building some of the safest vehicles on the road that also offer utility and solidity for decades after the initial purchase. Mercedes-Benz makes an unshakeable premium station wagon that fits families and their gear with ease and drives with confidence. The E350 with 4MATIC all-wheel drive continues to go when it snows, and its smooth and efficient powertrain provides enough range to run from Newport to Mount Washington without melting your fuel budget.

The 2011 BMW 7-Series wins the AWD Sedan/Wagon $60K and Up segment. The 7-Series is a large sedan, but it’s still got BMW’s famed sportiness as part of its core ethos. With cleanly styled, handsome bodywork that’s well suited to clicking off highway miles or taking in a show in the theater district on a winter evening, the 7-Series is a stalwart companion thanks to its Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system. High-tech, with a twin-turbocharged V8 underhood and a cockpit fitted with the latest generation of iDrive to manage navigation, entertainment and communications, the 7-Series impresses on multiple levels.

The crown for the Entry Compact SUV/Crossover category goes to the 2011 Hyundai Tucson. Small crossovers are red-hot now, and the Tucson delivers to the segment the blend of styling, all-wheel-drive stability and value that Hyundai brings to the fore. The Tucson is affordable for practically every buyer-the all-wheel-drive Tucson GLS starts right around $23,000, well equipped. As well, luxury has marched into segments where it didn’t exist before, and the Tucson Limited offers features like leather seating and premium suspension that were once only the domain of larger, more expensive vehicles. Hyundai understands that while some buyers like to go small, that doesn’t mean they want to skip features.

The 2011 Ford Explorer, sporting a complete redesign, takes the SUV/Crossover $25K-$35K award. The Explorer has been completely re-imagined. Keeping everything that made the nameplate famous-like three rows of seats, family-friendly features and, of course, all-wheel drive-Ford completely updated everything else to breathe new life into the Explorer. The change from traditional SUV to crossover vehicle puts the Explorer back into the meat of the family vehicle segment, which has shifted away from truck-based utility vehicles. This smart move has been solidly executed with a vehicle that’s easy and comfortable to drive, offers more capability than most owners will ever need, and can be loaded to the gills with some of the most cutting-edge technology in the car business, such as Sync and MyFordTouch.

The 2011 Volvo XC60 wins the Premium SUV/Crossover $35K-$50K contest. New England is a Volvo-friendly region, as the Swedish automaker’s products resonate well with our regional personality. Scandinavian expertise at building vehicles that shrug off winter’s worst shines through in the XC60, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s got sharp styling and a luxurious cabin done in Volvo’s trademark clean and classy style. Be it a flurry or a gale, the XC60 is one of the best places to ride out a winter storm. You won’t have to worry about making it to the slopes, regardless of the weather outside the characteristically extra-safe XC60.

The Luxury SUV/Crossover over $50K category is tied this year between the 2011 Range Rover HSE and the 2011 Infiniti QX56. These luxury machines are two divergent takes on the premium SUV theme. The Range Rover offers astounding off-road capability with luxury fit for a monarch. The Infiniti QX doesn’t give up an inch when it comes to opulent outfitting, and there are three rows of leather-swathed seats within this vehicle’s large footprint. Both machines impress us with powerful V8 engines, high levels of equipment to cover the entertainment and driver-assistance bases, and all-day comfort. The two different natures of these vehicles perhaps represent the way coastal New Englanders differ from their inland counterparts. While the QX56 will happily pull your boat, the Range Rover will get you out where the hunting is good.

Best People Mover honors go to the 2011 Toyota Sienna AWD. Fully refreshed for 2011, the Sienna is now more striking to look at and it’s also the only all-wheel-drive minivan you can buy. With an extremely space-efficient layout, nobody wants for room in a Sienna. Thoughtful touches and plenty of storage make the miles roll right off your back, and Toyota’s hard-won reputation for quality and dependability provide peace of mind.

Despite being hardy and practical, New Englanders still know how to have a good time, and that’s why the 2011 Porsche 911 Turbo wins Best All-Weather Sports Car honors. Four-wheel drive, turbocharged flat six, a classic profile and 40-plus years of legendary performance to back it up; what more is there to say about the 911? It’s our year-round supercar.

About The New England Motor Press Association
Comprised of automotive writers and talk show hosts throughout all six New England states, NEMPA members influence one of the most technology rich and population dense areas in the United States. Popular publications and programs that NEMPA is affiliated with include The Boston Globe, Automobile Magazine, Hemmings Motor News, Esquire, The New York Times & Car Talk on NPR.

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