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New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) Names Best-In-Class Models for 2012

Foreign Nameplates Win Majority of Awards

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For those of you whose task it is to build, market or sell vehicles to the mainstream consumer, there is little doubt that buyers differ by geographic location. What's hot in trendy Orange County may hardly register as a faint blip on the Midwest's radar.

In recognition of differing tastes and needs, regional press groups bestow awards upon vehicles that appeal to and best serve their local readers. The New England Motor Press Association* (NEMPA) is one such group, and recently announced its 2012 best-in-class winners, as well as top models for the Northeast's foul winters and those offering the greatest value.

*The author is a member of NEMPA.

Best-In-Class All-Weather Sedan/Wagon Under $25,000

© Photo courtesy of Subaru
In naming the 2012 Subaru Legacy the Best-In-Class All-Weather Sedan/Wagon with a base price of less than $25,000, NEMPA members lauded the traction-friendly four-door for being "frugal, comfortable and highly functional." A standard all-wheel-drive system helps, too.

Best-In-Class All-Weather Sedan/Wagon $25,000-$35,000

© Photo courtesy of Dodge
Talk about a turnaround. It wasn't long ago that the thought of any Chrysler product earning a best-in-class award would've been greeted with a chuckle and a look of disbelief. However, Sergio Marchionne has raised a sinking ship with products like the recently updated Dodge Charger. Though last winter was one of the warmest and dryest on record in the Northeast, NEMPA has recognized the all-wheel-drive 2012 Charger variant for its four-season suitability.

Best-In-Class Premium All-Weather Sedan/Wagon

© Photo courtesy of Lexus
For the Best-In-Class Premium All-Weather Sedan/Wagon Award, NEMPA members' votes resulted in a tie between the 2012 Audi A6 and the redesigned 2013 Lexus GS 350 all-wheel-drive models. Accolades for the German four-door focused on its sure-footed and luxurious ride, as well as its MMI central command system with Google Earth technology. Japan's Lexus contender earned praise for its aggressive new styling, powerful engine and expansive LCD screen.

Best Luxury Winter Vehicle

© Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
According to NEMPA, the ideal luxury vehicle for winter driving is the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, specifically the S350 BlueTEC sedan with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. In addition to its foul-weather capability, the big Benz was applauded for its efficient diesel and hybrid powertrains and a bounty of safety features.

Favorite Fun Entry-Level Convertible

© Photo courtesy of Mazda
For cheap drop-top fun, NEMPA has deemed the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata to be the best choice among a rather small field. New England's automotive scribes were impressed by the roadster's affordability, durability and entertaining driving dynamics.

Favorite Convertible $35,000-$50,000

© Photo courtesy of Chevrolet
General Motors scored two spots on NEMPA's annual awards list, with the first being the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible. The Bowtie brand's retro ragtop earned props for its modern interpretation of old-school styling, its generous horsepower, and what the group determined to be excellent handling.

Favorite Luxury Convertible

© Photo courtesy of BMW
Described as a "tour de force of technology, luxury and performance," the 2012 BMW 650i Convertible clearly won the favor of NEMPA's voting members. They also recognized the soft-top 6 Series for its high level of luxury, as well as the side- and top-view cameras included in the Drive Assistance Package.

Best-In-Class Compact SUV/Crossover

© Photo courtesy of Honda
Thanks in large part to numerous enhancements that accompanied its recent redesign, the 2012 Honda CR-V has been named the Best-In-Class Compact SUV/Crossover by NEMPA. Members were particularly impressed by the cargo area's low liftover height, the vehicle's refined four-cylinder engine, and a functional interior.

Best-In-Class SUV/Crossover Over $25,000

© Photo courtesy of Jeep
With a starting price of about $22,000, it seems a bit odd to hear that the 2012 Jeep Wrangler was named the Best-In-Class SUV/Crossover Over $25,000. The confusion lies in the fact that NEMPA evaluated several Wranglers, including Rubicons and Unlimiteds, all of which carried as-tested prices well above $22,000. Well equipped or not, the venerable Jeep drew praise for its off-roading capabilities, solid resale value and updated powertrain.

Best-In-Class SUV/Crossover Over $35,000

© Photo courtesy of Range Rover
Marking a significant departure from previous downsized vehicles from the brand, such as the Land Rover LR2, the 2012 Range Rover Evoque has been named this year's Best-In-Class SUV/Crossover Over $35,000 based on its "striking style" and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that "feels more like a six."
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