For the tenth consecutive spring, those writers, bloggers and broadcasters affiliated with the TAWA (Texas Auto Writers Association) joined together at Texas Motor Speedway to sample the latest – and some of the greatest – new cars and crossovers available to their respective readers, listeners and viewers. Much like the Association’s annual Truck Rodeo, participating vehicles are grouped into categories (for those voting, probably too many categories) and judged by the membership. In a long story not quite up to the standards of a long story, Ford’s 2013 Shelby GT500 was selected as the Association’s ‘Car of Texas’. And if you can forget for a moment Rick Perry is Governor of Texas, ‘Car of Texas’ would seem quite the honor.
The vote for the Shelby was the most significant among several wins for the Motor Company. Ford’s Fusion Titanium was accorded both Best Midsize Car and Family Car of Texas; the Focus ST was judged Best Value; and the Ford Escape was recognized for its hands-free lift gate, the Best New Feature. Notably, the new Mazda6 was a close runner-up to the Fusion in midsize; the Focus ST earned Best Value despite $3K of Recaro seating and a runner-up spot to the Scion FR-S in Performance Compact voting; and the Escape’s hands-free liftgate earned the accolade despite the absence of any (known) double amputees among the membership.
Of course, there’s more to the event than simply FoMoCo. Chrysler took six wins, including nods for its Fiat 500 Turbo (Subcompact Car), Dodge Challenger SRT 392 (Performance Coupe), Activity Vehicle (Dodge Journey), Performance Utility (Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT), Supercar (SRT Viper GTS) and Best New Interior (Chrysler 300C John Varvatos Luxury Edition). Chrysler also will receive a trophy for Best Minivan, which – with no other minivans entered in the competition – is more than a little like Anthony Weiner winning for Best Political Tweet.
General Motors, whose factories are absolutely humming, also garnered its share of love from TAWA. The General’s Buick Verano Turbo won for Best Compact, the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala won for Best Fullsize, Cadillac’s XTS Platinum Collection AWD got the nod for Fullsize Luxury (trumping the Lexus LS!), Cadillac’s ATS was voted Best Performance Sedan, and Chevrolet’s Volt was judged Best Green Vehicle.
Only two wins were given to Foreign (pronounced Furrin’) brands. Toyota’s Scion took home the Performance Compact category with its FR-S, and Toyota’s Lexus Division garnered the Midsize Luxury kudo with its honkin’ GS 350 F Sport. And if you think just two wins in nineteen categories didn’t disappoint at least a few personalities comprising the Import PR contingent (the reps aren’t imported – only their cars), well, then, we have a new bridge in Dallas we’ll sell ya’.
Personal highlights included a lap-and-a-half in the right side seat of a Mercedes C63 AMG, with pro Tommy Kendall driving; my own drive in the new turbocharged VW Beetle on the road course, where it seemed oh-so-composed and – with top down – oh-so-much fun; and a couple of laps in the aforementioned Scion FR-S, which, even with an auto trans, is exactly what a sports coupe should be. Finally, Honda entered an Accord V6 Coupe with manual transmission. On the road it was good, while on the track it was deceptively good; the manual trans is as close to perfect as a manual connected to a front-wheel drive platform will probably get.
Off the track, Jeep had its new Cherokee on static display, for those wanting to look-but-not-drive. And while its design may have received static from some media, a walkaround of an offroad-capable Trailhawk put me on the cusp of being a Believer, if not an actual buyer. (Our ’06 Grand Cherokee is running just fine, thank you!)
Finally, last year’s Car of Texas, the Nissan GT-R (remember that, Import PR reps?), was celebrated with the commission of commemorative artwork by automotive artist – and Dallas resident – Bill Neale. Already a stunning piece of vehicular sculpture, Bill did the seemingly impossible: He made the GT-R pretty. And God Bless Texas!