Every spring, dozens of journalists from all over Texas and around the U.S. gather to compare, test, and crown the winner of the “Car of Texas” competition. The hard-fought award comes from the Texas Auto Writers Association as a result from its Springtime Auto Roundup, signifying the winner’s importance to the Texas people. On top of that, several other vehicles walked away with segment awards, including TAWA’s “Family Car of Texas” award.

As a member of TAWA, I traveled to Fort Worth, home of the Texas Motor Speedway, for some seat time in 51 cars and crossovers before evaluating each one on its performance of intended function and how it stacks up against its competition.

The list of competitors was certainly thick, with each category having multiple entries, some of which are new or heavily revised for the 2016 or 2017 model years. The compact car category had the largest number of contenders, with eight entries, followed by both the performance sedan and activity vehicle segments, each having six entries. There was one loner, the 2016 Dodge Viper GTC, holding down the supercar category.

Beyond the categories, there were also competitions for the best new feature and best new interior. Presiding above them all were the top honors – the Car of Texas and the Family Car of Texas. What vehicles were crowned? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.

Continue reading for the results break-down

2016 Car of Texas

2016 Ford Shelby GT350R

Texas Auto Writers Association Names the 2016 Car of Texas & Family Car of Texas Exterior High Resolution
- image 675026

How Texas… The Shelby name is nearly synonymous with the state since that’s where Carol himself called home. Big power, loud exhaust, screeching tires – all stuff that goes hand-in-hand with Texas. It’s also all things found in the GT350R. It’s almost easy to discount the Mustang as a serious performance machine when compared to things like the 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat, but don’t let the Shelby’s 526 horsepower fool you – it moves.

I don’t think I was prepared for just how violent the Shelby really behaves. Upon startup, the flat-plane crank V-8 shook the garage and all the cars within. Rumbling out, the car burbles and acts ready to run. Still, the clutch is easy to operate with its discernable take-up point and smooth glide. The car is still incredibly loud from behind the wheel, giving the driver a true sense of the power lurking behind its carbon fiber body parts. It was about halfway through my drive that I noticed the variable exhaust button on the center console. I pushed it thinking I wanted to hear the car in its “quiet mode.” I was wrong. The 5.2-liter V-8 instantly became louder; I had been in quiet mode the whole time. Now with the naturally aspirated engine breathing at full capacity, the car sounded like somebody added a pair of glasspacks to its underside. The ridiculous noise only added to the fun, but there’s certainly more to the car.

The Mustang felt very composed behind the wheel. Meandering down the highway was an easy task that didn’t feel beneath the GT350R. Keep in mind, this is the race version of the GT350. There’s no back seats, there’s less sound deadening (obviously), and there’s more performance goodies like the massive rear wing and front splitter. Though built for the track, it wasn’t overbearing on the street. I was most impressed by its smooth yet notchy shifter and predictable clutch take-up. Steering and braking feel were also spot-on, making the car feel tight and well-developed.

But the street isn’t where the Shelby GT350R is most at home. No, it’s the twisty turns of a road course. Even under the control of my non-pro driver hands, the ‘Stang made me feel like the Stig. Shooting for apexes was a game of point-and-click. The Massive front tires fitted to the carbon fiber wheels held their ground, even after being pummeled by journalist all day. Keeping the V-8 in its rev range was easy – it’s basically anywhere above 3,000 rpm. The short, low-speed course set up within the infield of the Texas Motor Speedway was easily done in third gear, which a quick shift to fourth on the straight as the speedo reached for triple digits. Downshifting was a breeze, even with limited time to learn the car.

Somehow, the GT350R just felt right – it felt purposeful and composed, yet angry at the same time. The Recaro front seats further made me feel one with the car, pulling me down into the cabin rather than having me ride on the roof. Still, visibility was good.

It’s for these reasons that the majority of journalist, myself included, voted for the Shelby GT350R as the 2016 Car of Texas. It’s just a scalpel of a machine with the brute force of a chainsaw residing under its hood. Ford has certainly made a true track machine out of the Mustang.

2016 Family Car of Texas

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

Texas Auto Writers Association Names the 2016 Car of Texas & Family Car of Texas
- image 674864

Fast lap times and loud exhaust notes are huge fun, but sometimes you’ve got to haul the kids around. That’s why TAWA has the Family Car of Texas award. It acts as more of a secured category for the everyday drivers; the moms and dads who live on a budget and participate in PTA meetings.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica certainly embodies everything the family-oriented buyer is looking for. There’s plenty of room for people and cargo, there’s plenty of storage cubbies, there’s entertainment options for the kiddos, and it’s reasonably priced. On top of that, Chrysler shows family buyers that they don’t have to sacrifice luxury to get those things. The Limited trim level tester I evaluated had all the bells and whistles, including the Uconnect Theater. The rear-seat entertainment system includes two touch screens mounted to the front seats and offers second-row passengers the ability to not only watch movies, but the opportunity to play multi-player games between the two screens like tic-tac-toe, checkers, and I Spy. When mom or dad have a destination imputed into the GPS, kids can keep up with the progress of the trip in an app called “Are We There Yet,” which graphically shows how much time is left in a fun, cartoonish way. The Uconnect Theater also gives kids the ability to control rear HVAC settings.

The technology up front is also impressive. The driver now has a large TFT driver information screen between the analog gauges. There’s also the latest version of FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system in the dash. Down below, the center console area is packed with storage options. Chrysler has also taken a page from Jeep’s playbook, adding hidden “Easter Eggs” around the van. The hidden shapes recall the Pacifica’s silhouette.

The Pacifica might be a minivan, but it has plenty of power thanks to the updated 3.6-liter, Pentastar V-6. A nine-speed automatic transmission sends power to the front wheels and is controlled via the familiar rotary dial. Fit and finish within the interior is impressive, even in today’s world league of luxury. The Stow ‘n Go second and third row seats are revised for easier folding. In fact, the third row bench can be had with a power-operated feature that not only raises and lowers the seats within the floor, but also gives passengers the chance to recline. Legroom in all positions is impressive.

All told, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica marks a giant leap forward for the minivan segment. It moves past the “mom-mobile” stereotype and into a cooler echelon of transportation. I doubt it will stall the crossover craze, but I’d bet a hefty sum that Chrysler will sell far more Pacificas that it ever did Town & Counties.

Categories, Competitors, & Winners

Texas Auto Writers Association Names the 2016 Car of Texas & Family Car of Texas
- image 674854

Besides the two major awards listed above, TAWA members voted on a winner and runner up within each category. My thoughts on each winner are in italics.

Compact Car

2016 Honda Civic Touring: Winner
2016 Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring: Runner Up
2016 Chevrolet Cruze Premier
2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus AWD
2016 Honda Civic Coupe LX – Manual Trans
2016 Nissan Sentra SL
2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune Convertible
2016 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T S
The new Civic represents a huge improvement over the last generation of the car. Honda definitely knows it faltered in producing a compelling product and drastically rethought its approach. That is centrally apparent with the 2016 Civic. Its funky design and attractive interior should do well in today’s market.

Mid-Size Car

2016 Kia Optima SXL: Winner
2016 Nissan Altima SL: Runner Up
2016 Chevrolet Malibu Premier 2LZ
2016 Chrysler 200 Limited Platinum
2016 Toyota Camry XSE V6
The Optima is an impressive car that shows just how far Kia has come as a brand. Not only does it have upgraded tech, its fit and finish are outstanding within its class. The car makes a great choice for those wanting a solid sedan with handsome looks and good driving characteristics.

Full-Size Car

2016 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack: Winner
2016 Nissan Maxima Platinum: Runner Up
2016 Chrysler 300S Alloy Edition w/ Mopar Stage 1 kit
The Dodge Charger is a great car, but shoehorn a 6.4-liter V-8 under the hood with a burbling exhaust, and this RWD, new-age American classic becomes a fantastic car. For those who refuse to drive the minivan yet and still need to haul the kids, the Charger R/T Scat Pack is a fantastic choice. With 485 horsepower and a starting price just under $40,000, it’s hard to argue against this bargain. In forty years’ time, this will be a collectable – though perhaps not as valuable as a Charger Hellcat.

Mid-Size Luxury Car

2016 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400: Winner
2016 Lexus ES 350: Runner Up
2016 Buick Cascada Premium 1SP
2016 Volvo S60 T5 Inscription FWD
The Infiniti Q50 Red Sport shows that Nissan knows how to build a proper four-door sports sedan. The 400-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V-6 propels the car at a respectable rate, while a seven-speed automatic transmission (thankfully no CVT here!) does the shifting. Customers can order the car in RWD or with the optional AWD system.

Full-Size Luxury Car

2016 Cadillac CT6: Winner
2016 Chrysler 300 Platinum: Runner Up
This category was rather thin, but no less eye-catching, thanks to the Cadillac CT6. This was my first time seeing Caddy’s newest luxo-sedan, and boy does it impress. The refinement and luxury amenities within the cabin are outstanding, while the 3.6-liter V-6 backs its up with driving pleasure. What’s more, the in-person appearance of the CT6 – especially in black – is breathtaking. This should be the official car of cool.

Performance Compact

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club: Winner
2016 Volkswagen Golf R: Runner Up
2016 Fiat 500 Abarth (Auto)
The MX-5 has extremely high expectations to meet. The Miata has been wowing folks for decades now and the new model had to push the driving excitement envelope even further. Without surprise, Mazda did just that. The MX-5 is a wonderfully balanced car with a fantastic shifter, predictable clutch, and spot-on steering. The car’s lightness is easily felt, even when cruising down the road. It’s no wonder why so many driving snobs choose the Miata for their canyon-carving adventures.

Performance Coupe

2016 Ford Shelby GT350R: Winner
2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat: Runner Up
2016 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe
2016 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible 2LT V6
As explained above, the GT350R is a beastly machine that elevates the Mustang into a new league. Make no mistake, this category is hotly stacked. The ATS-V and Challenger Hellcat are two very different yet very capable machines that are worthy of attention. The GT350R simply steals the show.

Performance Sedan

2016 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat: Winner
2016 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan: Runner Up
2016 Lexus GS F
2016 Subaru WRX Limited
2016 Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL
2016 Jaguar XF S
Oh boy, the Hellcat strikes again. Like the Charger R/T Scat Pack, this American muscle sedan offers its driver an outstandingly powerful experience that makes sport coupes seem obsolete. Unlike the R/T Scat Pack, the Hellcat’s 707 horsepower pushes the car beyond fast within milliseconds of dropping the pedal. Acceleration doesn’t stop as the speedometer quickly blows past anything resembling a legal speed. For those wanting absolute power yet still need to haul people and things around, the Charger Hellcat is the right choice.

Performance Utility

2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD R-Design: Winner
2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT: Runner Up
2016 Tesla Model X
2016 Range Rover Sport
This was another hot category this year, but nearly everyone agreed the pure beauty, elegance, and refined power of the XC90 T6 AWD R-Design was the clear winner. Sure the Grand Cherokee SRT was more powerful and the Tesla Model X could outrun every other vehicle present – at least to 60 mph – but the Volvo just impressed to a higher degree. For those who need an honest crossover yet want a little oomph under the hood, the XC90 R-Design definitely worth considering.

Supercar

2016 Dodge Viper GTC
Okay, so this segment is a bit lonely since other automakers were conspicuously absent, but that didn’t stop journalist from having fun with the meanest two-seat coupe present. The Viper is an American icon that will always be revered as one of the greats. It’s powerful V-10 engine, side-pipe exhaust, and manual transmission are something otherworldly, giving those who drive it an experience they’ll never forget. The Viper isn’t without its flaws, though, and several shared my complaint about its clutch having an extremely long travel that takes a while to get comfortable with.

Minivan

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited: Winner
2016 Toyota Sienna Limited: Runner Up
The Pacifica won the Family Car of Texas for a reason, so it’s not necessary to me to dive further into its qualities. I will reiterate that it feels leagues above the Sienna, which was also present in the competition. It’s too bad Honda, Kia, and Nissan weren’t present with their minivans for a more complete side-by-side comparison.

Activity Vehicle

2016 Nissan Murano Platinum: Winner
2016 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Drive-E: Runner Up
2016 Ford Edge Sport
2016 Infiniti QX60 AWD
2017 Kia Sportage SX AWD
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited
It can go without saying that crossovers are incredibly popular these days. Folks are flocking to these high-riding unibody vehicles more than ever, while ditching the sedans and minivan segment. It might be a year old now, but the 2016 Murano impressed enough of TAWA’s journalists that it was crowed this segment’s winner. That’s likely thanks to its Platinum trim level, which brings a host of luxury features and a well-trimmed interior.

Green Vehicle

2016 Lexus RX 450h: Winner
2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback: Runner Up
2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring
The RX is an extremely important vehicle for Lexus. Redesigned for the 2016 model year, the crossover features a more luxurious interior, a hyper-stylized design, and in the 450h trim, a hybrid powertrain that offers great fuel economy without killing the crossover’s driving abilities.

Best New Feature

Uconnect Theater, Chrysler Pacifica: Winner
1.4-liter Engine offering, Volkswagen Jetta
Teen Driver, Chevrolet Malibu
Driver Mode Selector, Chevy Camaro
Adaptive Steering, Ford Edge
Bird’s Eye View, Toyota RAV4
Regen on Demand, Chevrolet Volt

Best New Interior

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited: Winner
2016 Honda Civic Touring

Conclusion

Texas Auto Writers Association Names the 2016 Car of Texas & Family Car of Texas
- image 674862

The 2016 TAWA Auto Roundup was an engaging event that shows the breath of variety in today’s automotive market place. We evaluated everything from the fuel-sipping Prius up to the V-10-powered Viper. It’s clear that cars today are vast improvements of what the industry was building a mere decade ago, giving consumers more choices and products that cater to all needs. What’s more, initial quality has drastically improved, with even sub-$20,000 vehicles like the Honda Civic Coupe offering better interior fitment than a luxury brand from the early 2000s.

It’s a great time in the automotive industry and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Until then, this group of Texans has picked its two winners that represent the best of the best. Nicely done, Chrysler and Ford.

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: