Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps 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. Now for our second award:
CUV of the Year: Audi Q7 TDI
Crossovers are king when it comes to utility vehicles, offering the benefits of a SUV without the mostly unused off-road or heavy-duty capabilities of a truck-based SUV. Although there are many CUV options, when it comes to great fuel economy there are few, so it's the Audi Q7 TDI that gets our award.
With its turbo direct-injected clean diesel technology, coupled with a best-in-industry 8-speed automatic transmission, the Q7 delivers 28 mpg on the highway (22 mpg combined) without compromising a fun-to-drive disposition and family-pleasing, three-row accommodations.
While the 3.0L V6 diesel delivers only 240 horsepower, it's a whopping 406 lb-ft of torque that make the full-sized CUV feel fast while using less gas. Add to the mix understated Teutonic styling, the latest MMI navigation with slick Google Maps integration, an expansive panoramic sunroof, the performance and safety of Audi's legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and a highly competitive starting price just below $53,000, and the Q7 TDI is a clear winner.
CUV Runner-up: 2013 Hyundai SantaFe Sport
It's remarkable to us how quickly Hyundai's newest models continue to improve and rightfully give their more established competition serious cause for concern. The all new 2013 Hyundai SantaFe Sport is no exception.
Starting at just $24,450, the SantaFe packs class-leading content and features typically found on higher-end utes in a sharp-looking and efficient package. We prefer the 2.0L twin-scroll turbo version, with its 264 hp delivering a good push back in the seat and 19-inch wheels giving a truly premium look.
Clever touches abound. This is the first ever utility vehicle with an in-floor storage space for the load-space cover when not in use.