6 Finalists for Best Car and Truck of 2013

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DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- The U.S. auto industry is wrapping up a year that included strong sales of innovative, well-built cars and trucks as well as an election victory by a president who listed Detroit bailouts as a primary achievement.

Several 2013 introductions provided signs of a resurgent industry finally able to anticipate customers' preferences and to deliver on them.

As the Detroit Auto Show approaches, the Automotive Press Association jury, composed of 50 automotive journalists, has rolled out its list of the top six finalists for the 2013 North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. Winners will be announced Jan. 14 on the media day at the car show.

To be eligible, a vehicle must have been substantially changed from the previous model, must be available for purchase shortly after the award is announced and must be likely to reach minimum sales levels of 5,000 for cars and 2,000 for trucks.

Last year's winning car was the Hyundai Elantra. The winning truck was the Range Rover Evoque.

TheStreet spoke with Karl Brauer, CEO and editor of Total Car Score and a member of the jury, about the entries and the likely winners.

Cadillac ATS

We might as well say it up front, the Cadillac ATS looks like a winner in the car category.

"This is the first time anybody has eclipsed the BMW 3 Series" in ride and handling, Brauer said. "No one would ever have imagined that a GM (GM) car could overcome a BMW car."

In 2010, GM introduced the Cruze and showed it can compete in the compact-car market. This year, Cruze is the ninth-best-selling U.S. car.

The Cadillac ATS is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle that weighs less than 3,400 pounds, one of the lowest curb weights in the segment. GM calls it "the most agile and lightweight Cadillac." The latest news on the car is that, despite being one of the lightest vehicles in its class thanks to the use of metals such as martensitic alloys and ultra-high-strength steel, it earned a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The ATS was unveiled in January 2012 on the eve of the Detroit Auto Show media day. This year that spot has been turned over to the new Corvette.

Ford Fusion

The 2013 Ford Fusion was among the most eagerly anticipated cars of 2012, and Ford succeeded in bringing upgraded styling, improved aerodynamics and fuel efficiency to the hotly contested midsize-sedan category.

"Until a month ago, I though Fusion had it locked up" to be car of the year, Brauer said. But a few things altered his perception. For one, he said, he took a more careful look at all the criticism of the Ford Sync in-vehicle communications and entertainment system. "It is messed up, not as good as it should be," he concluded. "The voice recognition is not there." He said GM's CUE and Chrysler's UConnect are better systems.