Motor Trend Car of the Year Finalists (© Andrew Yeadon)Click to enlarge picture

Motor Trend Car of the Year Finalists

The Tesla Model S is the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year. The luxury 5-door electric sedan fought off 10 other finalists for the Golden Calipers trophy, acing the magazine's six judging criteria in the process. Eleven judges reviewed the contenders, including three guests, and for the first time in the award's history all 11 voted unanimously for the winner. Each car was evaluated on advancement in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, and safety and value. While 25 vehicles were eligible to win, judges narrowed down the field to the final few over two weeks of solid testing.

The final contenders
Initially, the 2013 Ford Fusion seemed a shoo-in for the award, as judges praised the redesigned sedan's wide range of drivetrains and athletic performance, but in the end, testers found issue with the vehicle's driving dynamics and steep price tag. Guest judge Chris Theodore said, "The Fusion is a world-class car, but because it does not establish a new benchmark, I ranked it fifth."

More on the Ford Fusion from Motor Trend

If the Fusion needed to outperform any other vehicle in the competition, it was the 2013 Honda Accord. The midsize Honda sedan, an all-new generation, now comes with available direct-injection and a continuously variable transmission to increase fuel economy. Judges also appreciated the Accord's light-on-its-feet driving dynamics. Ultimately, the finished package wasn't enough of a revolution to nab the crown.

The surprise entry on the finalist list had to be the Ford C-MAX Hybrid; Motor Trend isn't known for lavishing love on anything with a battery pack. Those vehicles offer leaps in efficiency that are often offset by sacrifices in dynamics. The C-Max earned praise for its excellent value, engaging character and capacious cabin, but those attributes weren't enough to overcome a flimsy-feeling interior.

More on the Ford C-Max from Motor Trend

Speaking of interior woes, the 2013 BMW 3-Series found itself on the pointed end of the judges' ire for its interior's quality. Motor Trend said the 3-Series DNA "is being diluted with poorer steering and convoluted interior design made of noticeably compromised materials." That may sound harsh, but the German sedan continued to perform well, almost by default. While the suspension exhibits more body roll than previous versions, the 3-Series still won favor for its poise on the track.

Judges couldn't help but pit the 3-Series against the 2013 Cadillac ATS, and rightly so. Cadillac came gunning specifically for the 3-Series with its newest compact luxury sedan. The ATS won laurels for its steering, firm chassis and capable Brembo brakes, but lost points for the shift action on its manual transmission. Likewise, the 4-door was docked for having too firm a suspension in sport mode.

More on the Cadillac ATS from Motor Trend

Toyota is actively pursuing younger buyers with its Avalon sedan, and the judges seemed pleased with the company's efforts so far. Guest judge Jim Hall said, "The Limited trim level's interior is a genuinely special place." Other testers found the vehicle's dynamics to be ahead of even the Lexus ES. With precise steering and powerful engine options, the car has its fans, but a coarse hybrid version brought down the model wide average.

More on the Toyota Avalon from Motor Trend

As much as Motor Trend seemed to enjoy the Avalon cabin, Digital Director Mike Floyd found the interior of the 2013 Lexus GS all the more impressive, saying, "If there were an Interior of the Year sub award, the GS would have won it, hands down." The evaluation panel also enjoyed the vehicle's handling, even in hybrid guise. But those attributes weren't enough to outweigh the sedan's troubling styling.