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Down to the wire

Six finalists vie for top car, truck honours

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The Ford Fusion is a finalist for Car of the Year.

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The Ram 1500 is a top contender for North American Truck/Utility of the Year.

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Will a Cadillac be North American Car of the Year for the first time in the award's history? Is Honda back on top? Can the svelte Fusion give Ford some needed good news?

Can a European-designed hybrid compact minivan become North American Truck/Utility of the Year? Did Mazda's curiously named SkyActiv technology soar above the competition? Can a V-6 rule the roost among high-powered pickups?

We'll find out on Jan. 14, when the awards are presented in the first news conference of the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

I'm one of the 50 jurors who vote on the awards. I can't say which got my votes yet, and there are no clear favorite among the six finalists, but here are some of the contenders' pros and cons.

CARS

Cadillac ATS

Pro: Great performance in an advanced and efficient sport sedan that moves Cadillac into the big leagues of the global luxury market. Its engineering will influence how GM develops upcoming vehicles.

Con: It's tough to win when you take on the BMW 3-Series, the car that defined "sport sedan." Jurors often prefer high-volume mass-market models to luxury vehicles.

Ford Fusion

Pro: Beautiful exterior styling, great interior design and materials, cutting-edge features and a wide variety of models.

Con: It uses Ford's polarizing controls and has already been recalled twice. Jurors inclined toward family sedans could split their votes between the Fusion and Accord.

Honda Accord

Pro: A return to form by one of North America's favorite brands. Good value and fuel economy in a car that showcases new engine and transmission families.

Con: It and the Fusion may split votes from midsize sedan-minded voters. The Accord met the high expectations we used to have for Honda, but may not have raised the bar.

TRUCKS

Ford C-Max

Pro: Impressive fuel economy and advanced technology in a practical and affordable hybrid.

Con: The compact van stretches the idea of what constitutes a truck.

Mazda CX-5

Pro: Sporty handling and daring styling in a fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive crossover.

Con: The engine saves fuel, but doesn't provide a lot of power. Interior materials leave something to be desired.

Ram 1500

Pro: A new engine, transmission, stop-start system and more in a full-size pickup that throws down the gauntlet for new models coming from Chevy and Ford.

Con: Despite huge improvements, it's not quite an all-new truck. The V-6/8-speed transmission combo has good economy, but doesn't approach V-8 performance.

-- Detroit Free Press

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