Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Philllps and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. First up:
Hot Hatch of the Year: Fiat 500 Abarth
As smaller cars increasingly become cool again, a nice side benefit is the louder, quicker performance versions that often make their way into showrooms. There was no hatch hotter in 2012 than the Fiat 500 Abarth.
It wasn't the quickest or the most refined, but it brought style, character and a stinging exhaust growl backing up the Scorpion badge. It was one of the most emotive cars we drove all year, and we remember it fondly as the little car that put the biggest smile on your face.
This year, the 500 Abarth loses its top — making it all the more desirable.
The Fiat 500 Abarth starts at just $22,700 and breaks at around $27,000 with all the tricks.
Hot Hatch Runner-up: MINI Coupe John Cooper Works
MINI has taken the charm amp and dialed it up to 11 in the JCW Coupe, the most hardcore MINI ever offered.
It's a superior car in many ways to the 500 Abarth in that it's a serious sports car with a thoroughly sorted suspension and powertrain to match. It has vastly better fit and finishes but is not any faster than the regular MINI despite not having a backseat.
And with a starting price at around $32,000 (nearly $10,000 dollars more than the Fiat) and surpassing $40,000 with options, the choice was clear.