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AutoWeek Best of the Best 2011: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, Jeep Grand Cherokee

Wed, 05 Jan 2011

Several decades have passed since we handed out an award whereby AutoWeek editors picked the best new vehicles in a given model year. We've dabbled in things such as "America's Best," when we've asked you--our faithful, opinionated and knowledgeable followers--to vote on the best vehicle in certain categories.

We drive hundreds of vehicles each year (including all of the newest hardware), report the cold, hard facts and give you our opinions about which vehicles are worth your consideration when the time comes to make one of life's biggest purchases. Some are standouts, some not so much.

But beginning with 2011, we're going to let you know which new car and truck we consider to be the best among the new crop of vehicles. The name of our award says it all: AutoWeek Best of the Best/Car and Best of the Best/Truck.

The eligibility rules are simple. The vehicle has to be all new or substantially new for the model year, so no cars with minor styling facelifts or small mechanical updates will be considered. Cars are defined as sedans, coupes, convertibles, hatchbacks and wagons. Trucks include classic pickups, crossovers, minivans and SUVs. The cars and trucks have to be readily available to the general public.

Unlike other publications with their "best" picks, we conducted ours completely under the radar, without any manufacturer knowledge (at least, in this first year). So no automaker was able to sway the results via either lobbying or specially prepped and provided test vehicles. Believe it, it happens.

Editors evaluated the vehicles as closely as possible to our AutoWeek Reader Fantasy Camp criteria, which identified the best midsize sedan in America, grading drivetrain, ride quality, handling, exterior, interior design and fun factor. Points were tallied for each vehicle; the winners were those that garnered the most points.

And now, without further ado, we present the 2011 AutoWeek Best of the Best:

Best of the Best/Car: Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

With 556 hp under the hood, sharp exterior styling and what is described as the best interior General Motors has ever made, the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V coupe was chosen by AW editors as the magazine's 2011 Best of the Best/Car. Oh, and need we mention that the CTS-V coupe drives as well as it looks?

Well, it does. The cynical editors who gathered to pick the winner were effusive in their praise of the Caddy.

"This car is very, very well refined," one editor said. "Even with the suspension set to sport, the ride is outstanding, and the suspension and chassis never beat you up, let alone knock you out. The car is stiff and set up to handle well, but Cadillac has found an intriguing mix of performance and ride quality that places this creation in a category of its own. It's quite something to behold."

The 6.2-liter V8 powering the CTS-V coupe is a slightly detuned version of the same powerplant in the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, so the performance heritage is significant and noteworthy. With 551 lb-ft of torque, you can smoke the rear tires and hang the back end out all day long, if you're into that. But there is also a high level of refinement in the car that adds to its allure.

With 500-plus-hp cars more plentiful than Republican jabs at Democrats and vice versa, the CTS-V coupe is more than just pure muscle. This is no boy racer but a versatile performer that is as much at home clipping apexes and carving corners as it is on a long-distance drive.

And speaking of versatility, the CTS-V lineup includes not only the stellar coupe but also a sedan and a sport wagon.

The Cadillac battled strong competition for AW Best of the Best/Car honors, narrowly edging out the all-new Audi A8 and the BMW 5-series. The Mercedes-Benz SLS and the Ford Fiesta were also finalists.

But as editors went through the selection process, the Cadillac scored consistent high marks for its design, proportion and functionality, as well as for ride, handling, braking and steering.

One editor summed up his thoughts this way: "I think it might just be one of the best, perhaps the best, potluck recipes on the market: one part good handling, one part drag-strip-launching fool, one part high-speed highway-mile eater. With an eye-catching, positive-comment-provoking design on top of all that, this car really stands on its own in a way we haven't seen in a long time."

Another was more succinct: "Best Cadillac ever."

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

BASE PRICE: $62,990

DRIVETRAIN: 6.2-liter, 556-hp, 551-lb-ft V8; RWD, six-speed manual

CURB WEIGHT: 4,200 lb

0-60 MPH: 3.9 sec (mfr)

FUEL ECONOMY (EPA/AW): 16/13.4 mpg

Best of the Best/2011 Truck: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Trucks are an extremely passion-inspiring and sometimes divisive subject at AutoWeek. We all have our preferences and tastes, and few vehicles are versatile yet distinctive enough to please our discerning editors. But this year, one stood out above all others for our first Best of the Best/Truck award: the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Perhaps no single vehicle symbolizes the reborn Chrysler more than this off-roader. It's capable, it builds on the long-held strength of the iconic brand, and in a new twist, it's downright luxurious. Our staff gave it consistent high marks for the interior, which has been redone with pleasing soft-touch materials yet still exudes a rugged demeanor.

The Grand Cherokee maintains its familiar appearance on the outside--it's still obviously the flagship Jeep--but now it's more sculpted on the sides and chiseled around the wheels. With a clearly evolutionary design, this new rock crawler looks similar to but sharper than its predecessors and stands out in the street.

Underhood, the Grand Cherokee is fortified with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 making 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Angrier drivers can opt for the Hemi V8, which displaces 5.7 liters to the tune of 360 hp and 390 lb-ft, and not be disappointed.

For all of its power and luxury, this vehicle still hangs its hat on ability, which it has in spades. There are three four-wheel-drive options, and in low gear, the beast is nearly unstoppable. For the first time, the Grand Cherokee gets an independent rear suspension, and drive character is reinforced with a body that's 145 percent stiffer than its predecessor and has more responsive steering. The Jeep rides on a platform similar to that of the Mercedes-Benz M-class, one of the last vestiges of Chrysler's association with Daimler to make it to the road.

We ranked vehicles on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest. The design elements of the Grand Cherokee in particular scored high, and many editors drooled over the power and capability. The foibles of lesser trucks didn't stand up to our screening, but perfect-five ratings were common for the Jeep in many categories.

The Grand Cherokee is clearly a gem of a vehicle, and with a base price of $30,995 and top-shelf models stickering for more than $40,000, there's a choice for almost everyone.

But that doesn't mean it was the universal favorite among the diverse tastes of our staff. The Porsche Cayenne was also well received and earned strong consideration for AW's top honors. Blending sports-car ethos and SUV function, it was easy to find favor with this vehicle. The sturdy and dependable Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet Silverado drew heavy support, and the Honda Odyssey saw its share of praise. But in the end, the Grand Cherokee--the most well-rounded, handsome and brutally capable Jeep in years--won the top prize. This might be a harbinger of things to come from the new Chrysler.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee


BASE PRICE: $30,995

DRIVETRAIN: 3.6-liter, 290-hp, 260-lb-ft V6; RWD, five-speed automatic

CURB WEIGHT: 4,470 lb

0-60 MPH: N/A

FUEL ECONOMY: 20 mpg (mfr)

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