If you've ever wondered how car awards get decided, allow me to explain with a time-honored New England recipe:
1. Throw two dozen journalists into a garage filled with chili, doughnuts, and fried chicken.
2. Allow for lively banter and mild indigestion.
3. Add 30 gleaming new cars, turn up the gas, and stir vigorously for six hours.
4. Relax and inhale the vapors.
That's what actually happened last Saturday when members of the New England Motor Press Association gathered for their annual winter vehicle test. Besides reverting to little boys with Matchbox toys, the goal was to rank the best in-class winter cars and name an overall winner that fits the needs of the average New England motorist. The above photo, shot by fellow blogger Zane Merva of AutoInsane, only shows one-third of the parking lot.
Car Talk technical advisor John Lawlor, the man behind this escapade, owns Lyndon B. Johnson's presidential limousine and built an exact replica of a 1950s general store in his garage, replete with ice cream freezers. Oh, there's also a diner on cement blocks out front.
Your scribe, along with local celebrity "car doctor" John Paul and Globe auto writer Bill Griffith, whipped through back roads in a multitude of fine machinery, from a $17,000 Suzuki SX4 to the $80,000 Range Rover. Ford, General Motors, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Toyota each sent at least three models, including the new Venza, Passat CC, Lincoln MKS, and Infiniti FX45. Two samplings each from Subaru, Suzuki, Land Rover, Chrysler, Kia, and Mercedes were also on hand.
Noticeably absent: Honda, Mitsubishi, Volvo, and Porsche. Next year, perhaps?
Some highlights, in no particular order:
- The ML320 BlueTec doesn't feel, sound, or smell like a diesel. Hats off to Mercedes for building a luxury SUV around a more fuel-efficient and torque-laden engine.
- BMW's X6, equipped with very wide 20-inch tires and a 400 horsepower V-8, still is very fast despite its hefty weight.
- Cheap dash plastic mars an otherwise well-crafted interior of the Audi A5.
- Ditto for the Dodge Durango Hybrid, which was canceled after less than a year. It's a shame that the penny-pinchers at Cerberus are throwing away hybrid technology that's just as capable as GM's two-mode system on the Escalade and Tahoe.
- The spring-wound Subaru WRX is a car I'd never like to have in traffic or on a bumpy road (OK, I flubbed the clutch a few times).
- Sitting in the back of the four-seater Passat CC feels just like a Mercedes CLS - for half the price. The brakes are fantastic as well.
- Never failing to raise eyebrows was Automobile Magazine columnist Ezra Dyer, who did something rather devilish to the Mercedes G500. Keep guessing.
The author is solely responsible for the content.