Dozens of cars evaluated at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack

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.” It’s the end result of the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Springtime Auto Roundup, a large-scale competition pitting vehicles against others in their class. Segment awards include the Family Car of Texas and the Performance Car of Texas, both highly coveted by automakers. This year’s competition moved from the legendary Texas Motor Speedway to the U.S.’ only Formula One racetrack, the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin.

As a member of TAWA, I flew to Austin ahead of the two-day driving event. Automakers had shipped vehicles across the country to participate, with PR reps and members from engineering departments on hand to answer questions. Dodge even brought its pre-production Durango SRT 392 for display and Toyota brought a 50th Anniversary Corolla set up with a crash test dummy and VR goggles to demonstrate its active safety systems. The competition was certainly fierce among the 10 categories but only three vehicles would be crowned overall winners.

Continue reading for the full results.

2017 Car of Texas

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

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The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio was a big hit at this year’s event. Journalists took to the car in droves, with someone always waiting to get behind the wheel. Not only is that because the Giulia marks Alfa Romeo’s strong stab at re-entering the U.S. market as a volume automaker, but also because the high-performance Quadrifoglio variant is shaking up the performance sedan category. BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and even Cadillac are all taking notice.

The high-performance Quadrifoglio variant is shaking up the performance sedan category

Of course, the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s headlining feature is its Ferrari-derived, 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-6. It’s basically the V-8 found in the 488GTB and California T, but with two missing cylinders. The all-aluminum powerhouse still kicks out 505 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 443 pound-feet of torque at only 2,500 rpm and holds it there till 5,500 rpm. The direct-injected engine is backed by the omnipresent ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, which sends power to the rear wheels as God intended.

Launch it right, and the Quad will hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. Hold the skinny pedal to the floor long enough, and the car will reach 191 mph. But the Quad isn’t just a straight-line monster. Weighting only 3,360 pounds, it’s 215 pounds lighter than the BMW M3 and nearly 500 pounds lighter than the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. The Quad’s light weight is felt from behind the wheel, too, as the car is easily tossable and controllable. Much of that can likely be attributed to its 50/50 weight distribution.

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is an excellent performance sedan with a proven pedigree

But the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is also a great sedan. Yeah, it will haul four people in good comfort over long distances. There’s a fair amount of legroom for rear passengers, and the trunk holds respectable amount, so long as you can squeeze it past the small opening. Pricing isn’t terrible either, at least for what’s included. The standard-spec Giulia starts at $37,995, while the luxury-minded Giulia Ti starts at $39,995. Opting for the Quadrifoglio will push the starting price to $72,000. That is more than the BMW M3’s base price of $64,000, but a bit less than the Mercedes-AMG C63 S’ price of $72,800. Pricing aside, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is an excellent performance sedan with a proven pedigree. Best of all, not everybody at the Yacht Club has one (yet).

Performance Car of Texas

Mercedes-AMG GT S

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The 2017 TAWA Auto Roundup had plenty of performance-oriented vehicles present, but none of them drew attention like the Mercedes-AMG GT S. This two-door, hardtop coupe became this year’s star car. The attention was certainly warranted thanks to the GT S’ potent powertrain, carbon fiber-rich cockpit, and sultry bodylines. Its boisterous exhaust note didn’t hurt either. Aside from that, the Mercedes-AMG GT S proved its merit on the track, competing mostly against the Nissan GT-R and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Surprisingly enough, the Nissan GT-R didn’t even place in the top three for the Performance Car of Texas award. Rather, it was the raucous Dodge Charger Daytona 392 and its 485-horspower Hemi V-8.

The attention was certainly warranted thanks to the GT S’ potent powertrain, carbon fiber-rich cockpit, and sultry bodylines

The Mercedes-AMG GT S is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 that’s hand-built by AMG technicians. The 32-valve, direct-injected engine kicks out 503 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 479 pound-feet of toque at 1,750 rpm that allows the 3,677-pound car to hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. Top speed is claimed by Mercedes to be governed at 193 mph. Independent data recording by Car & Driver shows the GT S holding 1.05 g on the skidpad. These are impressive stats, for sure.

This particular Mercedes-AMG GT S came packing the $2,850 AMG Aerodynamics Package, which adds the deep front splitter, air dam flics, and fixed rear spoiler. Other options include the $1,200 10-spoke wheels, the $8,950 carbon-ceramic brakes, and $3,150 matte carbon fiber exclusive interior package, among others. The GT S’ grand total was darn close to $200,000. Big performance and big money is what the Mercedes-AMG GT S is all about. It’s a theatrical show on summer performance tires. For some, that completely justifies the cost. For others, the GT S’ outstanding on-track performance is the attraction. Either way, the GT S creates a fantastically fun experience.

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Second Place: 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Third Place: 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392

Family Car of Texas

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

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It’s hard to argue logically against a seven-passenger minivan as being a great family car. Minivans have long been the choice of parents with large, active families who need extra space for people and cargo. The new-for-2016 Pacifica fits those needs to a T, even winning TAWA’s Family Car of Texas award in [last year’s competition.-art173197]. But now for 2017, the Pacifica has gone hybrid, adding the optional powertrain for families on the greener side of life. The Pacifica’s basic nature doesn’t change, but the gasoline-electric, plug-in powertrain offers 33 miles of all-electric driving and a total range of 566 miles. Adding accolades, the Pacifica Hybrid earns EPA-estimated 84 MPGe on the highway.

Minivans have long been the choice of parents with large, active families who need extra space for people and cargo

The Pacifica uses a green-ified version of the familiar 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 in combination with a 16-kW Lithium-Ion battery pack. Charging can be done with a Level 1 or Level 2 charger. A Level 1 charger comes with the van and plugs directly into a household 120-volt outlet. The Level 2 charger is sold at Chrysler dealerships and can be installed by a professional electrician into your garage. Charge times with a Level 2 system take only two hours. Count on twice the time with the standard Level 1.

There are trade-offs with the hybrid system. Functionally, the battery pack resides under floor, subsequently eliminating the second-row’s Stow ‘N Go feature. The second-row captain’s chairs can be removed if needed, but they’ll have to be left somewhere. Then there’s the cost. The least-expensive plug-in Pacifica is the Hybrid Premium and costs $41,995. It comes luxuries like leather seats and power-operated sliding doors. On the other hand, the least expensive conventional Pacifica, the LX trim, starts at just $28,995. For those wanting all the whiz-bang gadgets with the Pacifica Hybrid, the Platinum trim starts at $44,995. There is a caveat to the price, however. Apply for the federal incentive for eclectic vehicles, and Uncle Sam will discount your annual income tax up to $7,500.

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid makes a fantastic choice for young families

Money and Stow ‘N Go aside, the 2017 Pacifica Hybrid makes a fantastic choice for young families. The hybrid system isn’t necessary but does add a level of environmental consciousness (if you’re into that sort of thing) and an impressive all-electric range of 33 miles.

Categories, Competitors, & Winners

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Along with the three major awards, each of the 10 categories had first, second, and third place finishers. My thoughts on each winner are in italics.

Compact Car

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Winner: 2017 Mazda3 5-Door
Second Place: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback
Third Place: 2017 Toyota Corolla iM

The Mazda3 is a surprising little wagon. I hopped behind the wheel expecting only a moderately engaging ride, but walked away loving every second of the experience. The Mazda’s six-speed manual was a joy to operate, providing clean shifts with minimal effort. Its 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder pulled hard thanks to its 184 horsepower. The steering was crisp while the suspension rode the line between firm and soft. Sure, the Mazda3 is no track star, but it would be as much fun to drive to work as blasting around canyon roads. And all that for less than $24,000 for even the fully loaded Grand Touring trim.

Minivan

Texas Auto Writers Association Names the 2016 Car of Texas & Family Car of Texas
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Winner: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Oh, I’m so conflicted. I want to love the Chrysler Pacifica so badly, but my manly pride says I’m too cool. Nah, if my brood of younglings grows any larger, I’d happily choose the Pacifica over a crossover thanks to its cavernous interior and clever packaging. Sadly, the Stow ‘N Go function is lost in the second-row with the Hybrid powertrain, but the 33-mile all-electric range and 84 MPGe highway rating makes the loss easy to deal with. Surprisingly, the Pacifica handles rather well for a minivan. Its in-floor battery pack helps lower the center of gravity, making it feel less top heavy. Now, if I could only convince my wife the Pacifica is cool.

Activity Vehicle

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Winner: 2017 Jeep Compass
Second Place: 2017 Mazda CX-5
Third Place: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport AWD

The Jeep Compass is all new for 2017 and not a second too soon. The Jeep’s new platform is lightyears better than the outgoing model, while its interior is on par with the Cherokee and Renegade models. Interior ergonomics are mostly good, though the HVAC system is placed rather low on the console. The Compass Trailhawk offers class-leading performance off-road, but on-road performance suffers from the rather sluggish 2.4-liter four-cylinder’s 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Nevertheless, the Compass provides an adventurous attitude backed up with actual off-road capability.

Full-Size Luxury Car

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Winner: 2017 Volvo S90 Inscription

I raved about the Volvo S90 during my recent week-long testing and the TAWA judges shared my sentiment. The Volvo, especially in the top-trim Inscription, is an utter work of art. Its supple interior is backed by an outstanding infotainment system and gorgeous exterior. The turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder provides more than enough grunt to all four wheels. The S90 easily out-classes the aging Chrysler 300, its only competitor present, but also gives rivals like Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Audi a hard battle. Volvo will surely have no problem selling every S90 they can make.

Green Vehicle

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Winner: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Second Place: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Third Place: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

The Chrysler’s win is a bit surprising considering the Ioniq, Prius Prime, and Niro are stiff competitors and are all new to the market. Still, being America’s first hybrid minivan is big news, especially for larger families. The Pacifica Hybrid’s selling point is its 33-mile, all-electric range, a 566-mile total range, and seating for seven people. Best of all, the hybrid powertrain requires no special input from the driver. The Pacifica is driven conventionally and the computers handle the rest. The owner simply has to plug in the minivan to take full advantage of the hybrid’s all-electric range. Pricing is a bit steep starting at $41,995 for the “base” Premium trim and $44,995 for the Platinum trim, however, that $7,000 tax credit for electric vehicles greatly helps offset the MSRP.

Performance Compact

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Winner: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Second Place: 2017 Toyota 86 – 860 Special Edition
Third Place: 2017 Subaru BRZ

This segment is a fiercely completive one, yet the Mazda Miata RF easily took home the gold. It’s the newest and most anticipated model of the bunch, and its cost is reasonable. Sure, the Golf R is more practical, but its $40,000 price tag is steep. Yeah, the BRZ and 86 are far less expensive, but they couldn’t pull ahead of the Mazda in voting. The Fiat 124 Spider is certainly a fantastic roadster, but the Miata’s retractable fastback and smoother-operating manual transmission proved too much for the Fiat. (Read our head-to-head comparison of the Mazda Miata RF and Subaru BRZ Performance Package here.)

Performance Coupe

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Winner: 2017 Lexus LC 500h
Second Place: 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400
Third Place: 2017 Alfa Romeo 4C

The Lexus LC 500h represents a new age in Lexus design. Its striking exterior is matched only by its sculpted interior. The 2+2 coupe is certainly a looker. However, the LC is more than just pleasing aesthetics and a comfy cabin. Its powertrain is at Lexus’ cutting edge, offering both a 4.7-second sprint to 60 mph with minimal fuel usage at 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. It uses a 3.5-liter V-6 with two transmissions and a Lithium-Ion battery. The LC 500h might not have the V-8 grunt of the LC 500, but its groundbreaking technology is pioneering for a clean yet still powerful sport car future. The LC 500h is hardly a slouch and its V-6 feels more than ready to haul this 4,400-pound coupe to its top speed of 155 mph. Lexus is shooting for the stars, too, with a starting price of $96,510 for the LC 500h. The 471-horsepower LC 500 starts lower at $92,000.

Performance Sedan

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
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Winner: 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Second Place: 2017 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
Third Place: 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392

It’s hard to say enough positives about the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. From its striking design and well-appointed interior to its twin-turbo V-6 and sorted suspension, the Giulia Quad is a blast to throw around the racetrack. Its DNA modes allow for a range of stability and performance settings, while Race Mode puts the driver in complete control with nary a nanny quelling the fun (or saving your bacon). Not only does the 505-horsepower engine and rear-wheel drive make the Giulia Quad a hoot, but its four doors and relatively roomy interior make it practical. Of course, Alfa offers other models of the Giulia, but the Quadrifoglio is the one for enthusiasts.

Performance Utility

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Winner: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Second: 2017 Infiniti QX30 Premium AWD

You’ve got to love Fiat Chrysler Automobiles these days. The Dodge and Jeep brands are on fire with horsepower and badass attitudes. Perhaps the oddest of FCA’s models currently built is the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. It’s a track-focused Jeep with a 392 cubic inch, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 making 475 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque sent to all four wheels. The SRT easily out-performs the swanky Infinity and oddly categorized Toyota in every metric, save for price. Only two vehicles truly compete with the Jeep: the new-for-2018 Dodge Durango SRT and the also-new 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk – the Hellcat-powered version of the Jeep GC SRT.

Supercar

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Winner: 2017 Mercedes-AMG GT S

With only two contenders in the supercar category this year, the race was close. The Nissan GT-R was edged out by the brawnier and flashier Mercedes-AMG GT S. This two-door coupe no longer has the gullwing doors that made the previous version a bit more special, but its 503 horsepower, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 make up for any lost feelings. The GT S sits mid-range in Mercedes’ GT lineup. There’s the “base” GT and the all-out track monster GT R (sans hyphen to avoid confusion and litigation). This carbon fiber-rich Merc hits 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and has a top speed hovering around 190 mph. Mercedes gave the GT S a worth cockpit to match the power and speed, with a large center console full of switches, buttons, and carbon fiber. It’s enough to make the first-generation Porsche Panamera jealous. The heavily bolstered seats look borrowed from a fighter jet, too. There’s no doubt TAWA judges liked the GT S; it was driven more times than any of the other 41 vehicles in the competition.

Best Feature

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Winner: Hybrid powertrain of 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Second: Toyota Safety Sense of 2017 Toyota Corolla 50th Anniversary

Best New Interior

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Winner: 2017 Volvo S90 Inscription

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