Editor's note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good, hard look. Our third award:
Smart Energy Car of the Year: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Aston Martin-inspired styling, driving dynamics to match, interior design and materials with a European look and feel, claimed 47/47/47 mpg, and a gas pedal in a hybrid that when floored emotes driving passion without sounding like it may explode at any second — the 2013 Ford Fusion is a game changer.
It almost doesn't matter that some are challenging Ford and the EPA's 47 mpg figure, the Fusion Hybrid is the most fun to drive and best-looking hybrid under $30,000 on the road today. In fact, it starts just under $28,000, and adding technology like lane-departure warning with active lane-keeping steering, self parallel parking, automatic highbeams, adaptive radar cruise control, and voice-activated MyFord Touch with Microsoft Sync, one can keep the price in the mid-$30,000s.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid has raised the bar high and is the sort of sedan you'd be proud to own.
Smart Energy Car of the Year Runner-up: 2013 Infiniti M Hybrid
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the world's fastest accelerating full hybrid — the Infiniti M Hybrid. Rather than go for all-out efficiency, Infiniti kept all the parts that make a sports sedan just that, a true sports sedan.
Instead of some mushy CVT, it gets a properly sorted 7-speed automatic transmission. It has rear-wheel drive and near 50/50 weight distribution. Steering is direct with a hybrid electric/hydraulic setup, and it keeps a 3.5L V6 but adds a 50kW electric motor for a combined system output of 360 horsepower.
While 360 hp may not sound like much, it's the 457 lb-ft of torque (40 more than the V8-powered M) that puts even most diesels to shame, and 199 lb-ft of it comes on instantly from the electric motor with a 0-60 time near five seconds.
All this performance comes at a cost, nearly $56,000 base and $67,000 optioned out. But with 27/32 mpg ratings, this high performer keeps its green car cred real.