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Dazzling dozen

This year's candidates for Best of the Best Award

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Audi A7

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The ninth-generation Honda Accord is offered in both sedan and coupe models.

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The current Kia Rio is offered in both four- and five-door models.

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The new Porsche 911 body is constructed of an aluminum and steel blend.

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The Subaru BRZ is a bold and sporty collaboration between Toyota and Subaru.

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The Volkswagen Golf R pumps out 256 horsepower and is the most potent Golf version to date.

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The Canadian Automotive Jury's Best of the Best Awards are presented annually by a not-for-profit organization comprised of 11 senior automotive journalists, including Yours Truly.

Last year's overall winner, judged to the Best of the Best, was the Audi A7. As the defending champion, it returns along with four European, four Japanese, three domestic and one Korean model that make up the Best finalists.

Unlike most automotive awards, the Best of the Best recognizes the entire family of cars that falls under the nameplate's umbrella.

Following are the 12 Best of the Best Finalists in alphabetical order:

Audi A7

If you want to bring traffic to a standstill, park an Audi A7 in your driveway -- the "couped" sedan has perfect proportions and an eye-catching style that shouts sophistication. The cabin underscores this aspect, featuring the right materials and gadgets galore. Dynamically, the A7 is just as delightful.

Certainly, the A7 is a large car (almost five metres nose to tail), but one would never know that from behind the wheel, as the suspension, quattro all-wheel drive and steering combine to deliver a car that truly dances when pushed -- the neutrality is such that the A7 can be driven to the limit without fear of it biting back.

The A7 is powered by 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that delivers 310 horsepower, which is enough to hustle it to 100 kilometres an hour in 5.4 seconds.

Buick Verano

Drive the Buick Verano and the first thing that comes to the forefront is noise -- the almost complete lack of it! The insulation and isolation measures banish wind, engine and tire noise to the point where it ranks as one of the quietest vehicles on the road.

New this year is the driving spice the original lacked. Sure, the base 2.4L engine is adequate, but the new 2.0L turbocharged engine is the cat's meow. It bumps the power output to 250 horsepower and, more importantly, 260 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm -- 90 per cent of which is available between 1,750 and 5,500 rpm.

This puts some serious spring in its step -- at 6.4 seconds from rest to 100 kilometres an hour, it's 2.4 seconds faster than its naturally aspirated sibling.

Cadillac ATS

While it is more than evident that the Cadillac ATS and CTS are siblings, the new ATS is a much sharper-looking car. Yes, it still features Cadillac's knife-edge design, but it's softer this time around -- the new look is handsomely accented by LED daytime running lights and spiffy rear light tubes.

The interior lives up to the exterior's promise. Excellent materials wrap the cabin and the content is high running through to Cadillac's new CUE infotainment system.

There are three engines available, the 3.6L V6 being the engine of choice. Not only is it smoother and quieter than the two fours, it produces 321 hp. The ATS also boasts enviable handling with GM Magnetic Ride Control suspension along for the ride.

Once basically dead in the water, Cadillac is back and it's making a bold statement with the ATS.

Ford Fusion

The 2013 Ford Fusion has been completely redesigned, and to great effect. Leading the highlights is the stylish body -- it's far more attractive than its predecessor.

This strong initial impression is reinforced by the manner in which the cabin has been reworked. Not only is it more attractive, it has more functionality and a raft of technologies aimed at making the driver's life easier.

The list runs from MyFord Touch with Sync and cross-traffic alert to the ability to park itself curbside with minimal driver input.

This time around there are three engine choices -- a 2.5L four and 1.6L and 2.0L EcoBoost (turbocharged) engines. There's also the Hybrid.

The extensive rework promises to keep the Fusion family as a strong contender in a highly competitive mid-sized market.

Honda Accord

Since it was introduced in 1976, the Honda Accord has been a staple of the mid-sized market.

The ninth-generation model, which is offered in both sedan and coupe guises, is larger and now features a new direct-injected 2.4L twin-cam that's rated at 185 hp and mated to either a six-speed manual or new CVT. The updated 3.5L V6 brings 278 hp and is teamed with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. There's also a Hybrid.

As for the rest of it, well, it's all about the technology. HondaLink looks after the infotainment side of things, plus there's LaneWatch, which is a blind-spot display that uses cameras to increase the field of vision by up to 80 degrees, lane departure warning and forward collision warning systems. Phew!

Kia Rio

While some manufacturers have been languishing in the bed of boring design, others have been pumping out hit after hit -- Kia being the most prolific. The current Rio, which is offered in both four- and five-door models, is a very strong competitor that can be ordered with as little or as much content as desired.

The interior is logically laid out and can be ordered with Kia's UVO system. It allows the driver to access the audio and media files through voice command. All derivatives are powered by a peppy 138-hp 1.6L four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission -- both of which deliver an enviable highway rating of 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres.

The Rio's sharp styling, comfortable cabin and solid handling put it in a very strong position both market-wise and as a contender for the Best of the Best Award.

Mazda CX-5

The CX-5 is the first Mazda to get the company's full SkyActiv treatment. It's all about putting the tried-and-true to better use. By employing more efficient engines and transmissions, lightweight construction, better platforms and sharper suspensions, SkyActiv is designed to keep the zoom zoom in the CX-5's road manners.

In this instance, it's a new 2.0L engine, more efficient transmissions and sharper handling thanks to a robust platform and nicely sorted suspension. It also boasts the utility required of the breed and a cabin that is markedly upscale.

In the end, the CX-5 comes across as a very well-conceived crossover that has the added bonus of being as much sports car as it is utility vehicle. It's an attribute that serves to set it apart from its peers.

Porsche Boxster

The latest Boxster, which retains its soft-top convertible, takes a smart step forward in all areas.

Offered in base and S versions, it now has much more road presence and a nicer cabin that can be done to the nines if that's what's required. However, what really makes the bigger difference is the performance and handling found beneath the brightwork. The base car features a 2.7L flat-six that puts out 265 hp, which is enough to get it to 100 km/h in 5.8 seconds. The Boxster S gets a more rewarding 315 hp from its 3.4L flat-six. It cuts the acceleration time to just 5.1 seconds.

What's more remarkable is the manner in which the Boxster handles -- testing the Boxster S saw its built-in g-force meter register a mind-numbing 1.31 g through a hard and fast corner!

Porsche 911

The new Porsche 911 has a body that's constructed of an aluminum and steel blend that drops its mass by up to 45 kilograms in spite of the 100-millimetres-longer wheelbase. This stretch and the reduction in height accentuate the 911's trademark silhouette.

The Carrera's engine has been downsized to the same 3.4L flat-six that powers the Boxster, but in this case, it delivers 350 hp and is mated to a pair of seven-speed transmissions -- the twin-clutch manumatic and a world-first in the form of its seven-speed manual. The combination warps the 911 to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds (4.4 seconds when teamed up with the optional Sport Chrono package).

Then there's the Carrera S model -- it employs a larger 3.8L flat-six with 400 hp, which allows it to sprint to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds and 4.1 with the Sport Chrono aboard. It's heady stuff!

Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ

The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ arrive as a result of a collaboration between Toyota and Subaru. While the two are somewhat different in terms of the manner in which they are packaged, the hard bits are common -- both are rear-wheel-drive 2+2s.

In both cases, the power comes from a 2.0L flat-four sourced from Subaru. The 200 hp and 151 pound-feet imbues the car with a truly sporty work ethic -- the run to 100 km/h takes in the 7.5-second range, which is more than competitive.

The two are also notable for the manner in which they hug the road and obey driver input without flinching from the intended line. If there's a disappointment, it's that Subaru's excellent all-wheel-drive system is conspicuous by its absence in both derivatives.

Volkswagen Golf R

The Volkswagen Golf has been a perennial winner, regardless of whether it's the entry-level car or the vaulted GTI.

Now comes the most potent version yet -- the Golf R. This model employs a boosted version of the GTI's 2.0L turbocharged engine. In this case, it puts forth 256 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque.

It also employs a slick close-ratio six-speed manual and the latest iteration of VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. This system has the ability to direct up to 100 per cent of the engine's output to the rear wheels if so needed.

The Golf R also benefits from a sportier suspension and bigger brakes and adopts a bolder style. This means LED daytime running lights, large black air intakes, adaptive Bi-xenon headlights, flared side skirts, a bolder rear spoiler and 18-inch wheels through which peep the gloss-black brake calipers.

So there you have it, the 12 best vehicles for the class of 2013. Each of the finalists will make a fitting winner of the overall Best of the Best Award. However, there can only be one winner -- it will be announced in January.

Stay tuned.

-- Postmedia News

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