This winter has left enthusiast drivers in angst. New England's trademark two-foot snowstorms have escaped us this year, making sports car owners wonder, a bit nervously, if they could hit the back roads a little early.
Winter is supposed to be a challenge, but we're sitting here idling. Last year, I had the satisfaction of plowing a Hummer H3 through a blizzard and laughing at the spinning taxi cabs. Then the laugh was on me, when a Jaguar XF I had been driving became stuck in only two inches of snow. That's winter driving at its best — always a little miserable to start, yet fun once you get going (if you're like me and have nowhere important to go).
Instead we've gotten a few inches of powder, some light flurry-rain mixes, and 3,353 canceled parking tickets from Boston's no-snow emergency last month. Driving hasn't been all that difficult.
Check the tire pressure on the BMW roadster. Cue up the covered '67 Stingray.
Yet to the south, New York City broke a 114-year-old snowfall record, and Washington, D.C., freaked out so much that Boston-area plowmen had to come dig them out. Our bickering politicians are back to work.
So, too, was the New England Motor Press Association on a flurry Saturday in February, comparing and arguing over the 18 new cars competing in the group's annual Winter Vehicle Test. Two NEMPA members arriving in a Lotus Exige — normally a cause for juvenile celebration — couldn't have been happier to get out of it. They'd beaten the flakes on the drive down from New Hampshire before the car's race-ready tires might have beaten them into a guardrail. One look at the frosting on the windshields of the other cars and the Exige was garaged on sight. Unless you're NEMPA president Ezra Dyer, who took an Audi R8 to Bed, Bath & Beyond in a December storm, it's really not sports car weather.
That's OK, because this year's cars and trucks serve up more sport and all-weather practicality than ever, even if they don't stuff V-10s behind your head.
Witness our overall winner, the seven-passenger Ford Flex equipped with all-wheel-drive and EcoBoost, the efficient, turbocharged version of the Blue Oval's 3.5-liter V-6. New for 2010, this 355-horsepower engine gives the Flex some needed muscle to match its brawny looks, and the fuel economy doesn't suffer. It's exactly the same as the front-wheel-drive model — with nearly 100 horsepower more.
Hyundai's redesigned Tucson took honors for the best SUV/crossover under $25,000. While short on cargo space, the Tucson is a deft handler with communicative steering and lots of upscale features, like a 6-speed automatic and panoramic sunroof.
No surprise that the 2010 Subaru Outback made the best sedan/wagon under $25,000. A longtime New England favorite, the new Outback sits higher as it straddles the edge between oversized station wagon and medium-sized crossover, almost bumping into the Forester's turf. Utility, ride comfort, and "the most balanced all-wheel-drive system on the road," says Zane Merva of autoinsane.com, make the Outback an easy pick.
What about the cars that didn't make our list? The base Chevrolet Camaro RS is one such contender, and when equipped with 20-inch Pirelli Scorpion snow tires, it can growl all winter and get 29 miles per gallon on the highway.
Or the Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic, a six-figure, nonsensical luxury sedan that moves with alarming speed and poise. If investment bankers need to keep buying the S-Class for Mercedes to improve it, please, hand us another recession. Ditto for our winning BMW 750Li xDrive, which AAA's John Paul called a "fantastic cross country tourer."
Whatever your finances allow, NEMPA's top choices and close-seconds ensure a pleasant winter — in snowstorms or the doldrums — before everything gets too summer perfect.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee