Choosing the best car and truck of the year? It's a difficult task in any year. But automakers have gotten so good, for the most part, in achieving high quality even in the least expensive cars and trucks that any choices made are bound to invite heavy debate and argument.
Before we get to which vehicles were selected by AOL Autos staff editors, let's turn to a couple of other arbiters to see which models they chose. MotorTrend Magazine, probably the most influential car enthusiast magazine when it comes to choosing car and truck of the year, weighed in recently with the 2011 Volkswagen Passat as Car of the Year, and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque as Truck of the Year.
We think they were half right.
Another body, the North American Car of the Year/Truck of the Year organization, will make its choices known at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. That organization, a jury of fifty journalists from different media outlets, vote on their favorites.
That group's three finalists in each category are Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Passat for the car award, and Honda CR-V, BMW X3 and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque for the truck category.
Among the newly designed vehicles released in 2011 that were eligible for MotorTrend, North America Car/Truck of the Year, as well as our selection, were the following 2011 models: Audi A6 and A7, Buick Verano, Chrysler 300, Fiat 500, Hyundai Accent, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Rio, Scion iQ, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Camry, Toyota Prius V, VW Beetle, Mercedes-Benz M Class, MINI Countryman, Nissan Quest and Saab 9-4X.
Have a look at our runner-ups and our selections for the winning car and the winning SUV.
Honorable Mention: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic
The 2012 Sonic, GM's redesigned, rebadged and reengineered Aveo, is a huge step forward in the economy car segment for America's biggest automaker.
Sure, the bar had been set pretty low with the old Aveo, but Sonic blew away the expectations. This car offers a premium-feel ride that toasts the competition, plenty of safety and comfort features, plus great fuel economy, starting at $13,735.
And the optional turbocharged 1.4L engine provides that little bit of extra torque needed to keep things interesting on the road.
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Honorable Mention: 2012 Hyundai Veloster
In offering the 2012 Veloster as a 3-door coupe, Hyundai has yet again challenged car buyers' conventional thinking. And you know what? It actually works really well.
It doesn't take much more than a cursory glance to see that the Veloster offers a tantalizing package: A sharp exterior design, low starting price, sporty ride and exemplary fuel economy (40 mpg Highway). Overall, this hot hatchback is a great combination of form and function.
The only thing the Veloster is really lacking is horsepower, which is why we can't wait to get behind the wheel of the turbo version.
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Honorable Mention: 2012 Volkswagen Passat
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is a North American-only car from VW, meaning it differs from the European version and was designed with Americans in mind. It's got larger seats (of course), more cup-holders (we love our cupholders) and a base price of around $20,000.
The Passat, which coms in both gas and diesel versions, is key to VW's goal of seling 800,000 cars in the U.S.. And it comes across as a mighty fine attempt at that goal. The optional V6 engine packs 280 horsepower, and drives like a fun, finely-tuned German car. The diesel engine is a 2.0 liter four-banger that produces 170 horsepower. And its the quietest smoothest running diesel we have tested.
Built in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Passat is about as all-American as you can get from a foreign automaker. It should do well in the U.S.
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Honorable Mention: 2012 Ford Focus
The 2012 Ford Focus comes either as a sedan or a 5-door hatchback that has been a hit thus far with critics and consumers. It feels bigger inside than the previous version, looks nice on the outside, and at $18,000 is reasonably priced.
The only downside we have noted is the MyFord Touch infotainment system, which buyers can choose not to add to their models. Improvements are being made t the systems -- current owners will get a thumb drive they can plug into their car and update the system so it works faster and is less confusing. But we're still on the fence whether the improvements are enough to keep the system from driving buyers batty.
Focus gets an average of 30 mpg in combined city and highway driving, which makes it a perfect fuel-thrifty alternative to hybrids.
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2011 Editors' Choice Winner: 2012 Audi A7
AOL Autos is joined by Automobile Magazine in thinking that the Audi A7 was the best overall new car released in 2011.
Why? The car is a Mozart symphony of every aspect of a car coming together in one beautiful fun-to-drive package.
First, the car just looks perfect. It doesn't need anything added, and nothing need be subtracted. The navigation system is very nifty indeed, allowing inputs to be drawn on a touch-pad screen, while also incorporating Google Earth imagery. The car can also act as its own wireless hotspot.
We were skeptical about the A7 when it was first talked about as a "four-door coupe." We had heard this idea spoken before about the Mercedes-Benz CLS against which the A7 naturally competes. The A7, which starts at $59,250, is so complete an execution of a sports coupe that it actually seems like a bargain to us, and could have been priced $5,000-$10,000 higher.
The 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine makes 310 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Combined with a taut, but comfortable, suspension, exquisite interior and graceful lines, the A7 is a car to revel in.
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SUV Honorable Mention: 2011 BMW X3
The previous generation X3 was a bit of a disappointment, with a mediocre interior and a ho-hum exterior. Critics dubbed it a "cute ute", meaning it was cutesy from the outside but wasn't all that fun to drive.
The newer version is miles better. It's sleek and modern from the outside, and luxurious inside. And it has some of the best handling on the road.
Starting at $41,000, this crossover utility vehicle competes with the Lexus RX 350, but it's sportier and more fun to drive.
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SUV Honorable Mention: 2012 Honda CR-V
The CR-V is all new for 2012, but it may not be obvious at first glance, as the exterior changes are quite conservative.
The biggest change in the new CR-V is a 2.4-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine, which will give drivers more horsepower, torque and better fuel economy. The interior was reworked to make is more spacious inside, even though the vehicle is smaller overall.
The CR-V is one of the best selling vehicles in the country and for good reason: It offers a pleasant driving experience, solid fuel economy, fantastic passenger and cargo space and, of course, the legendary Honda reliability.
Changing the CR-V only modestly, in reality, is what kept it on this list. This is how to not screw up a good thing.
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Honorable Mention: 2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
The 2012 Mercedes M-Class was introduced in September, with a curvier exterior and better fuel economy. The luxurious interior make it feel worth the $49,000 starting sticker price.
The SUV comes with a gasoline V-6 or a Bluetec diesel. Both handle nicely, and since the price of diesel in the U.S. is often more than the price of regular gasoline, consumers should decide which one they want based off personal preferences.
The V6 is not a bad choice: It gets 302 horsepower, and its fuel economy is better than the older model, coming in at 17 mpg city and 22 highway. But it's certainly not a vehicle for fuel conscious customers -- there are many more fuel-efficient options out there.
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2011 Editors' Choice Winner: 2012 Range Rover Evoque
The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque had a lot going for it to annoy us when it was launched. First, the company seemed pointed about having this car listed on buying sites like AOL Autos with the belt-and-suspenders name of "Land Rover Range Rover Evoque." C'mon…really?
Then, there was the dubious idea of a small Range Rover. Eyebrows went up. We saw a small Land Rover in the 1990s we loathed--the Freelander.
But this Evoque crossover, which starts at $43, 995 for the five door version and $44,995 for the coupe, and has a huge heritage and legacy to live up to, looks beautiful. It could be the Charlize Theron of crossover SUVs. Look at it in profile, or from either front or rear quarter, and the proportions are just perfect.
The four-cylinder, high-output 240 horsepower engine means no shortage of power, but also not the wallet exploding, Greenpeace picketing crappy fuel economy of other Range Rovers and Land Rovers.
And it has true off-road capability that makes it a legit Range Rover and far from a joke in the African, Middle Eastern and Australian markets that not only like Land Rovers and Range Rovers, but use them on what pass for roads in many of those rugged regions of the world.
The big Range Rovers are still the SUV of choice for Queen Elizabeth. But we think Prince William and his new bride, Kate, the cool kids in the monarchy these days, are more like Evoque royalty. A true Range Rover for the 21st century.
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