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No sympathy prize for the ATS

The Cadillac ATS is a fine car. But North American Car of the Year? Not to me.

Like many reviewers, I find things to cheer and jeer about the sedan. The suspension is crisp but jarring. The two-liter turbo-four produces great thrust, but it is raspy under acceleration and provided disappointing fuel economy in my review. The interior is well-equipped, but the instrument panel looks and feels way too plasticky for a luxury brand. The back seat is tight. Problems with the CUE telematics system have been well-documented.

No car is perfect. Few, if any, get unanimous raves from those who rate cars for a living.

But I hope the new ATS didn't rise above the competition in the eyes of 49 journalist jurors simply because it's, well, new.

(Automotive News has one staff member among the jurors: Executive Editor Edward Lapham.)

The Cadillac ATS finished ahead of the Ford Fusion and ninth-generation Honda Accord in North American Car of the Year balloting.

The Ford Fusion and ninth-generation Honda Accord finished just behind the ATS. The Accord is a clean-sheet redesign, with new engine, transmission and suspension technologies. The Fusion is so good in its second generation that it has an honest chance of ranking alongside the Accord and Toyota Camry on shoppers' consideration lists.

Meanwhile, the redesigned BMW 3 series didn't even make the final round, despite routinely winning magazine comparison tests against the ATS. Were the NACTOY judges' eyes so glazed over by BMW's decades of excellence that they forgot how good the new 3 series is at its core?

Back in 2008, the Chevrolet Malibu won top honors, beating out the Accord, among others.

I asked several jurors then if they honestly thought the Malibu was the best new car introduced that year. Their answer: No, but it's a really good car for General Motors.

I hope no one is thinking that way anymore. Points in this competition should be based on a car's own merits. The degree to which jurors are surprised by an automaker's ability to be competitive shouldn't carry more weight than a company's ability to squeeze big improvements out of an already excellent product.

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