11th Annual Winter Vehicle Award winners announced

Feb. 28, 2008 Boston – Early this past February, members of the New England Motor Press association gathered for the 11th annual Winter Vehicle Voting Day. With all eligible candidates available in one crowded parking lot, journalists spent the day evaluating the winter merits of vehicles ranging from pickups to supercars.

One thing they all had in common: power to all four wheels, a feature that definitely makes one’s life easier during the four or so months that New England is subject to potential blizzards. Several hours and gallons of coffee later, the votes were cast, and the 2008 NEMPA Winter Vehicle honorees decided.

Starting at the low end of the price spectrum, the Suzuki SX4 took home the Yankee Value Award (netting a hat trick with its third straight win in the category) for its compelling blend of features (including all-wheel-drive with a lockable center differential) and low price. Comments from judges included “Subaru had better look out,” and “plenty of features at a great price.” The 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn’t hurt, either.
Next up, the award for All Weather Sedan—Under $30,000 went to the Ford Taurus. Comments included, “A good balance of size, comfort and practicality for the American family,” and “Taurus gets its groove back.” With all-wheel-drive, the Taurus fills a gap at its price point for buyers who want a large car and serious winter capability.
The award for All Weather Sedan—Over $30,000 went to the Infiniti G35x, a car that infuses the entry-luxury class with a strong dose of sportiness. Despite its placement in the hotly contested over-$30,000 category, the Infiniti was also noted for its value relative to its competitors. Judges said that the G35x “could be the finest Infiniti to date” and is “a great car at its price point, swift, comfortable and able to handle slippery roads.”
The All Weather Wagon title went to a familiar New England stalwart, the Subaru Outback. Arguably the car that began the whole crossover craze, the current Outback remains a strong competitor against anything in its class and, with available turbo power, a solid choice for anyone who wants SUV cargo capability with a strong fun-to-drive factor. Judges called the Outback “the quintessential New England/Yankee wagon” and said it represents “versatility without excess.”
In the realm of small trucks, (many of which aren’t so small anymore), the Toyota Tacoma took the crown for All Weather Compact Pickup Truck. Judges lauded its “great capability for when you don’t need a full-size truck” and praised its torquey V6 for providing near-V8 levels of capability without the thirst.
Moving up to full-size trucks, the Chevy Silverado won the category of All Weather Pickup Truck. With a new design, Chevy established itself as the truck to beat, with judges observing that the Silverado provides a level of refinement that raises the bar for pickups. Comments included, “All-wheel-drive makes it a standout,” and “seems almost too comfortable to use for work, but it can work, too.”
In the SUV categories, the award for All Weather SUV—Under $25,000 went to the Toyota RAV4, a crossover that judges decreed “the clear leader in the segment” that “sets the standard for the small SUV.” While the current RAV4 is larger than its predecessor, voters also praised its size—with a third row that can be used in a pinch, the RAV4 makes a lot of sense for people who might occasionally carry more than five people, but don’t want a larger SUV.
All Weather SUV—$25,000-$35,000 might be one of the most fiercely competitive market segments out there, so perhaps its not surprising that this was the only category to result in a tie. Two new and very capable vehicles, the Buick Enclave and Hyundai Veracruz, shared this award, each with their own distinct merits. The Enclave is the first Buick in a long time to merit gotta-have status, with judges calling it “quiet, competent and with a great interior,” and “the vehicle that should set the template for future Buicks.” The Veracruz is likewise a noteworthy vehicle for Hyundai, since it marks the brand’s assault on the upmarket SUV market—of course, for less money that the vehicles it targets. Judges felt it’s a solid effort, saying that the Veracruz is “a Hyundai built like a Lexus.”
Moving a bit further upmarket, the award for All Weather SUV—Over $35,000 went to the Cadillac SRX. The SRX has been around for a few years, but last year it became the first vehicle to feature Cadillac’s new and vastly improved interior design, and judges took note. While the all-wheel-drive SRX won the award, the SRX is based on a rear-wheel-drive chassis, lending it a sporting edge that elicited comments like, “An SUV that thinks it’s a CTS” and “If Cadillac can make vehicles like this, it will regain its former title of ‘Standard of the World.’”
At the top of the MSRP pile are the high-end SUVs, and along with them the award for Ultra Luxury SUV. It’s a measure of our judge’s Yankee parsimony that even in a category that’s ostensibly cost-no-object, they still gravitated toward a vehicle that makes its case at least partly on value: the Range Rover Sport. The Sport might not have the ultimate off-road chops and on-road status of the full-blood Range Rover, but it offers many of the same attributes—chunky good looks, naturally aspirated or supercharged V8s, a posh interior—for less money. Judges appreciated its “loads of gizmos” and its reassuring ability in the snow, saying that, “It won’t go as far into the woods as a Range Rover, but it’s still a more capable off-roader than its car-based competition.”
For drivers looking for a speedier solution to year-round transportation, the Audi S4 garnered the honors for best All Weather Sports Car. If the all-wheel-drive A4 is good, then the V8-powered S4 is better, reasoned the judges. It doesn’t hurt that the S4, with four doors and a decent trunk, is actually quite practical for a car with such elevated capabilities. Judges commented on its interior—“maybe the best there is”—as well as the S4’s intoxicating exhaust note, which elicited one driver to observe, “I fell in love as soon as I started the engine.”
Extreme All-Weather Vehicle honors were taken by the Bentley GTC, a car that made our panelist wish they were rich—and possibly in Miami. With all-wheel-drive, a twin-turbo W12 and a fully automatic convertible top, the GTC is the Swiss Army knife of supercars, ready for a blast through the snow or a top-down summer cruise. The most salient point was probably penned by the driver who simply wrote, “When money is no object…”
Finally—drum roll, please—we come to the honor bestowed on the car that represents the best all-around solution to year-round driving in New England, a car you’d be happy to see out in the driveway when the snow starts flying and less-suitable cars start lodging themselves in snow banks.
This year, the New England Motor Press Association’s Official Winter Vehicle Award goes to the Volvo XC70, aka the Cross Country. The new XC70 seems to do everything well: It’s luxurious but not pretentiously so (judges noted that its “seats are comfortable all day long”). It can “handle anything New England weather can throw at it.” Stylistically, it’s a handsome, modern update on the iconic Volvo wagon shape. Of course, it’s loaded with innovative safety features. One judge perhaps best summed up the XC70’s appeal with the following plaudit: “The space of an SUV, but with an image anyone can love.”
Here are images from this year’s award ceremony courtesy Gerry Miles:

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