Ford Fusion Hybrid
Base price: $29,999
The four entries in this category spanned a $6,000 price range – and the least expensive won.
The Fusion Hybrid was judged to be the most attractive, topped the class in roominess, comfort and access, convenience and entertainment features, safety features and ride comfort. It tied the Malibu in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) and the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid for exhaust emissions. During my test drive, I was especially impressed by the perceived quality and the exceptionally low noise levels, whether from the wind or the road.
The all-new Fusion looks a lot like a down-scaled Aston Martin, which is to say it is drop-dead gorgeous. Equipped with Ford's hybrid drivetrain, it is slower than the gasoline-powered competition but trumps them on fuel economy. The combined output of the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine and electric motor is 188 -horsepower. Put through a CVT (continuously variable transmission) to the front wheels, the combination is enough to provide good, if not exciting performance.
The Fusion is unique among hybrids in that you can fold one or both sides of the rear seat backs to extend the cargo area. Ford has done an excellent job of packaging the battery pack to allow this important feature.
Base price: $24,995
The Chevrolet Malibu, like its arch-rival the Ford Fusion, is all new for 2013. Based heavily, and successfully, on the European Opal Insignia, this is another example of GM's movement to using global platforms. With a 197-horsepower, 2.4-litre four and a six-speed automatic transmission, the Malibu tied the turbocharged Mercedes for best acceleration from rest to 100 km/h. It was judged to have the best throttle response and tied the Mercedes for transmission/drivetrain but used more fuel than the rest in this category.
Base price: $29,900
The most affordable Mercedes has been thoroughly reworked for 2013. The B-250 boasts 208 horsepower, and the AJAC testers rated it as having the best interior in the class, the highest quality, the best driver position and ergonomics, visibility, steering, handling and brakes. The baby Benz tied the Malibu in accelerating from rest to 100 km/h but topped all in the class in getting from 80-120. And it took a full three metres less to come to a full stop from 100 km/h. It was, however, the most expensive car in the class by about 10 per cent.
TOYOTA PRIUS PLUG-IN HYBRID
Base price: $35,700
The journalists did not look too fondly upon the Plug-in Prius, putting it in last place. It finished in, or tied for, last in every category except cargo area and fuel consumption. The Plug-in Prius is a "normal" Prius except for the fact the batteries can be topped up by plugging the vehicle into a 110- or 220-volt outlet.