Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't overlook the underdogs

Take another spin in our Top 10 most underrated new vehicles

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Leading up to the spring selling season, auto shows are promoting the latest and greatest 2013 models from the manufacturers.

But new isn't always the best, and with hundreds of new cars and trucks available today, some cars, inevitably, get left behind in consideration.

For the vehicles that have been on the market for a while, don't get any marketing support from their makers or are soon to be replaced with something shinier or newer, here are our Top 10 Most Underrated New Vehicles you can buy today:

2013 Buick Verano

Nobody under the age of 80 buys a Buick, right? So it's a bit odd in a segment targeted at young, urban professionals, General Motors' demi-luxury brand offers the best value.

We'll be seeing a slew of compact luxury cars in the near future from the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti, to name a few, but right now, if you want a small luxury sedan for a good price, the ($22,895) Verano spanks its only real competition -- the ($27,790) Acura ILX -- on power, features and driving dynamics. Yes, a Buick...

2013 Ford Taurus SHO AWD

In the all-wheel-drive, mid-sized luxury sedan segment, everybody buys German, but instead of paying $59,800 for a 2013 Audi A6 3.0T Quattro with 310 horsepower or $64,900 for a 300-hp BMW 535i xDrive, why not try a $49,199 2013 Ford Taurus SHO AWD with 365 hp?

If you can ignore its plebeian blue oval badge, the Taurus SHO AWD is a big, comfy highway missile with few rivals. The Ford's 3.5-litre V6 is state-of-the-art (direct injection and turbocharging) and scoots the big sedan from zero to 100 km/h in only 6.3 seconds.

2013 Honda CR-Z

As the only affordable hybrid sports coupe you can buy, the 2013 Honda CR-Z is a unique proposition. After sales peaked in its first full year on sale in 2011 with 517 units sold in Canada, only 238 CR-Zs were sold last year, giving the $22,590 Honda supercar-like exclusivity on the road.

Unlike other hybrids -- even ones claiming to be sporty -- the CR-Z actually is, with crisp and eager handling. It's also the only hybrid vehicle on sale today that can be bought with a manual transmission. A new lithium-ion battery pack and larger 1.5-litre gas engine for 2013 now make 130 horsepower (up seven from last year) and pound-feet of torque goes from 128 to 140.

2013 Honda Ridgeline

With draconian fuel economy regulations coming in between now and 2016, automakers are panicking on how to make their big (and profitable) pickup trucks more fuel efficient. Funny enough, Honda's already been there since 2005, with its Pilot crossover-based Ridgeline.

With only a 3.5-litre V6 and 250 hp, the Honda pickup's towing is meagre, but the $34,990 Ridgeline's versatility, car-like handling and fuel economy (13.6 L/100 km city; 9.6 highway), plus its clever storage box in cargo bed, is more than likely all the pickup most buyers need, without the sloppy ride and handling associated with traditional trucks.

2013 Infiniti M37 Sport

Just as the Taurus SHO is underrated as an all-weather highway machine, say hello to the near-invisible 2013 Infiniti M37 Sport, a serious alternative for BMW 5 Series fans.

While the $73,500 M56 Sport's 420 hp V8 offers serious mojo, the $10,000-less M37's 330 hp V6 (matched to a snappy, seven-speed autobox/paddle shifters) has plenty of juice. And with a rock-solid chassis, beautifully made and sculpted interior, plus an athletic and aggressive chassis, the underrated M37 Sport is a fantastic value.

2013 Mini Clubman S

We've been inundated lately with a variety of new Mini models -- from the two-seat Roadster to the all-wheel-drive, VW Golf-sized Countryman -- so it's easy to forget the underrated Clubman model, our fave of the current bunch of Minis.

Like most Minis, the Clubman is not cheap, whether we are talking about the 121 horsepower $24,950 Cooper to the warmer 181 hp $29,950 Cooper S to the red-hot 208-hp $38,400 John Cooper Works, but by using the Cooper hatch's body, stretched to add leg and cargo room, plus the unique feature of a third side door, the Clubman balances the nimbleness of the original Cooper hatch and the practicality of the not-so-mini Countryman.

2013 Nissan Juke

Combining the fuel-efficiency and nimbleness of a compact car, but with a taller body and all-wheel-drive availability, compact CUVs are an appealingly new proposition -- especially for urban drivers. So while the Mini Countryman gets plaudits galore, we prefer the Juke from Nissan.

Despite its unique styling and surprisingly fun-to-drive nature that makes the Juke stand out in a sea of subcompact hatchbacks, Nissan hasn't gotten greedy with the its pricing. A front-wheel-drive Juke with a six-speed manual transmission starts at $19,998. Even our topline SL AWD comes in for only $27,078 -- a steal compared to a comparably equipped $33,536 Mini Countryman S ALL4.

2013 Nissan Maxima

The Nissan Altima sedan sells at about a 6 to 1 ratio over the less-popular Maxima, but if you were already looking at the top-line $33,698 Altima SL, we recommend popping for the $37,880 Maxima. You'll have fewer regrets in the morning.

The under-the-radar Maxima is based on the same FWD platform as the mid-size Altima. But by blessing it with more aggressive styling (that Nissan says was inspired by its GT-R supercar), from the outside at least, the car looks ready to reclaim its "four-door sports car" moniker. Plus the Maxima uses the same V6, but offers 20 more horsepower than the Altima's 270 rating.

2013 Subaru Impreza

No doubt, Canadians love compact cars; particularly practical hatchbacks. Now imagine a model that offers all that plus great fuel economy, a stellar reputation for reliability and all-wheel-drive. That's the wall flower we call the $20,895 2013 Subaru Impreza 2.0 5-door.

With a new, four-cylinder matched to an equally new CVT, Subaru claims the Impreza is the most fuel-efficient AWD car in North America, with 7.5 L/100 km city and 5.5 highway scores -- a huge 38 per cent improvement in highway mileage over the old model's four-speed auto.

2013 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Although governments and our friends south of the border don't like 'em, we Canadians love diesels, especially turbocharged ones. And the least expensive diesel (turbo or not) car you can buy in Canada is the 2013 $25,425 Golf 2.0 TDI Comfortline.

With a nicely screwed-together interior made from quality materials, German road manners, and an inherently frugal diesel engine, we think the compact Golf TDI four-door hatchback is one of the most underrated vehicles you can buy, regardless of price. And if you need a bit more room in the back, feel free to opt for the more practical $27,025 Golf Wagon TDI.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2013 A1

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