PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- In a world full of cheap accolades, myriad award shows and ubiquitous listicles, the superlative "best" has lost all meaning.
In the automotive world, it's almost completely subjective in areas where the metrics don't back it up. You can measure "best mileage" by how many miles the Environmental Protection Agency says your vehicle travels per gallon, but there are still plenty of variables both on U.S. roads and under the hood that can pitch that number in either direction. Best-selling vehicle? Are we including all vehicles in
F-Series of pickups, lumping the Chevrolet Silverado and its
-built GMC Sierra doppelganger under the same umbrella and using all iterations of
Prius, or do we need to get even more specific?
has the good grace to call its top vehicle the "Car Of The Year." Is it necessarily the best? Meh. Do certain aspects of it stand out from the field and make it worthy of greater consideration? Absolutely.
That's usually how folks who don't work for automakers have to talk about cars. It's not the "best," it's the "most reliable," or "most affordable," or "most efficient." When second place is a mile per gallon or $500 away, "best" can be an overreach -- at best.
And then there's the recent list of
The 17 Best Cars You Can Buy
from the folks at car ratings and sale site
. While the "best" part is, admittedly, the opinion of their editorial staff, the "You Can Buy" part is a bit of a stretch for a list that includes the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Range Rover, Bentley Continental GTC and, our favorite, the Ferrari FF as "Best Hatchback."
Still, if you're looking to the get the conversation flowing and bring the fanboys out of the woodwork, only "best" will do as your superlative of choice. We've taken 10 of the cars Edmunds considers the "best" in their category and included them here for your approval or derision. Car buyers, start your engines:
Best large pickup
2014 Ram 1500
You're just juggling pinless hand grenades when you name any pickup truck the "best." Pickup owners are the most loyal vehicle owners in the U.S. and just about any pick you end up with is going to explode in your face.
Ram's sales are up 24% year-to-date, but Edmunds really likes the 2014 model and its eight-speed automatic transmission, a new fuel-efficient diesel engine with increased towing capacity and choice of rear coil springs or air suspension. Forget that both Ford's F-Series and Chevrolet's Silverado outsell the Ram by a wide margin. It's the options that are the key to wooing neutral buyers in the pickup wars.
Best small pickup
2013 Toyota Tacoma
There hasn't been a major overhaul on this truck since 2005, and it really hasn't needed one. Toyota's truck sales are up 11% year-to-date with a lot of help from the Tacoma, which has all of two competitors in the small truck market and a large following among its quirky demographic that's been largely abandoned by the Detroit truck makers.
Basically, it's the favorite of old Ford Ranger drivers who love to beat the stuffing out of a small truck and have it come back for more. Durability is a big deal in the Tacoma's world, where car buyers who don't feel they need all the size and strength of a Ford F-Series or Chevy Silverado are drawn to its off-road agility, flexible cargo options and easy handling. At a combined 23 miles per gallon, the base model Tacoma gets the mileage of a small SUV without sacrificing any of its midsized truck power. When you're content with fetching big items from the hardware store or taking a yardfull of leaf litter to the dump without flashing chrome or flexing muscle, this is the understated truck to buy, even if it's secondhand.
For families in the know, the minivan category isn't just some '90s throwback. It's an absolute essential that inspires pickup-style loyalty.
Hardliners swear by their Toyota Siennas, Nissan Quests and Dodge Grand Caravans. But the Odyssey can carry up to eight people with enough room behind them for a small grill. More importantly, it can carry five family members, collapse the third row and have 93.1 cubic feet for more storage.
It doesn't matter if it's cool when second-row seats can be configured to fit three child seats and the Odyssey's removable center console has a flip-up and a "cool box" beverage cooler for sandwiches and drinks. Sure, the optional 16.2-inch split screen entertainment system that lets passengers watch two programs was once considered this van's killer app, but the addition of the HondaVac to this year's Odyssey Touring Elite gives shuttle-driving a helping hand when the Shop-Vac is miles away in the garage and the backseat is filled with beheaded animal crackers.
Best Five-passenger SUV
2013 Honda CR-V
For all of you just catching up, the five-passenger SUV is this generation's station wagon/minivan/honkin' SUV that it's going to drive to college with, throw kegs in back of and basically sully all fairly G-rated memories of its childhood with. That's cool; it rarely looked up from the screen of its iDistraction long enough to get too attached to it anyway.
To today's parents, however, it's almost as big a step toward parenthood as actually having a child. It represents the end of freewheeling youth and light packing and ushers in an era of school, soccer practice, summer vacation and snow days. After the popular crossover's 2012 overhaul, it's only made that transition easier by adding a leather interior, heated seats and rearview windows and navigation system with controls mounted on the steering wheel. It's also trimmed fuel efficiency to a combined 27 miles per gallon while leaving all 70 cubic feet of cargo space untouched.
Cherish the memories now, parents. Sooner than you realize, your family car will be some dorm floor's ticket to spring break.
Best Seven-passenger SUV
2014 Buick Enclave
Edmunds could have picked the less-expensive GMC Acadia or Chevrolet Traverse for this list, but no: Of the Lambda platform trio of GM crossovers, it just had to pick the costliest one on the list. Ignoring the absolutely deplorable combined 20 miles per gallon of so-called efficiency, there isn't a whole lot separating this monster from its siblings.
They all have roughly the same electronics package, they all seat eight passengers, they all have 116 cubic feet of combined cargo space -- the best in their class. So why the Enclave? We'll let Edmunds explain:
The Enclave possesses near-luxury styling cues, high-quality cabin materials, extra sound insulation and greater standard feature content than its sedan brand mates. As a result, it's simply more special than its fellow Lambda triplets.
See, it's a special little snowflake that just can't make it work for less than $30,000. Surely your family that would be using any of those three vehicles for the same utilitarian purposes deserves something super special for those mundane tasks, right?
Best Full-sized sedan
2013 Toyota Avalon
Before this model year, the Avalon was basically a really nice Camry. It was the prototypical grandfather's car that claimed a load of luxuries, but couched them all in drab, rigid plastic. Oh, and it just soaked up gas like a garage chamois.
For 2013, however, Toyota put the Avalon on a Lexus ES frame, dropped the mileage to a combined 35 miles per gallon and spruced up the interior with some new tech toys and more luxurious detail. The pindrop-silent ride remains, but the Avalon feels just a little younger.
Best Midsized sedan
2013 Nissan (NSANY) Altima
It's absolutely impossible to stifle a yawn at this category. It's like picking the best pair of loafers, the best Norah Jones song or the best bologna sandwich and chicken soup combo. Even if it's better than all the rest, it's still fairly boring.
Even the car-buying public just doesn't care anymore. Midsize car sales are absolutely flat at 0.8%. America still needs midsize cars, but it likely needs some new socks and an eye exam, too. It doesn't mean it's particularly excited any of the above.
That said, the Altima is the best at boring the life out of the automotive market. It's like a cinderblock, a good tomato paste or Eli Manning's haircut -- steady, reliable, does its best when it's reminding you it's not there. Its combined 33 miles only comes up when families realize they haven't stopped for gas in a while. Its 15.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity isn't a whole lot, but it's enough to contain the groceries, a weekend's worth of luggage or any complaints about it not being larger. The cabin is quiet, the new tech features include satellite radio, Pandora, Bluetooth and hands-free texting, and safety options include blind-spot monitoring, a lane-departure warning system and a moving-object detector.
It's enough to pique interest, but not so much that people might actually get excited about it. In the world of midsize vehicles, that's what it takes to be the best.
Best Compact sedan
2014 Ford Focus
Again, a car doesn't have to be the best ever made to be named "best" in its category. It just has to be better than its peers.
The combined 32 miles per gallon of the standard model, the cooler perks including
Sync system, its bevy of available apps, touchscreens, parking assist and other technology and the high-quality material in the cabin separate it from the small-sedan pack.
The big-ticket options including heated leather seats, an all-electric model and a sport-tuned ST make the Focus far more exciting than its value-focused competitors.
2013 Mini Cooper
Admit it, you weren't exactly all over the Hyundai Excel or Accent. You wouldn't consider buying a Geo Metro for any reason other than its obscene 40+ miles per gallon fuel efficiency.
The only reason American car buyers would even consider a Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, Fiat 500 or Honda Fit today is because the Mini Cooper showed them the big features an automaker could squeeze into a small car. Forget the combined 32 miles per gallon: Its deceptively little 121 horsepower engine, wide-stance stability control and sports-car gauges suddenly made large swaths of urban America into extras from
The Italian Job
. When there's some muscle under the hood and plenty of features in the cabin, U.S. buyers don't care how "mini" the car is.
2013 Toyota Prius
The original recipe Prius has a lot more competitors out there -- including a doppelganger in the Ford C-Max -- but none of them are as good at their jobs as the car that started it all. Even the Prius v wagon can't touch its older sibling's 50 miles per gallon, while the Prius c compact provides the same mileage in less space.
Its 21.6 cubic feet of cargo space isn't the largest in its class and its 98 horsepower is easily the pokiest among hybrids, but those aren't the numbers that matter to hybrid buyers. The fact is, when it comes to fuel economy for a hybrid without a plug, nobody else comes close. Considering there isn't a hybrid out there with a price significantly lower than that of the Prius, claiming it's the "best" isn't much of a gamble.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.