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Best Car To Buy 2012 Nominees: Mustang, Civic, CR-V, Accent, Veloster

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2012 Ford Mustang GT

2012 Ford Mustang GT

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Next week, High Gear Media will announce our trio of Best Car To Buy 2012 award winners. Here at TheCarConnection, the field includes 25 eligible cars, crossovers and SUVs--a great field of new vehicles heavy on sedans and hatchbacks, and somewhat lighter on green machines and minivans than in the past.

As we culled the list of nominees to a smaller group of serious contenders, some interesting observations surfaced. The wide majority of vehicles on the list earn EPA highway ratings of more than 30 mpg, with many approaching or passing 40 mpg. Most of the nominees--18 of 25--are hatchbacks, or come in a hatchback body style. And 20 of the 25 are powered by four-cylinder engines--while one doesn't have an engine at all.

We're bringing you the candidates in groups of five, in alphabetical order, for your consideration. We've already considered them, and we're almost ready to name the best of the best.

Stay tuned as we bring you more of the finalists--and visit us Monday morning, November 28, as we name TCC's Best Car To Buy 2012.

Now, for the nominees:

2012 Ford Mustang

Who doesn't like a Mustang? Maybe all those new Camaro owners that have displaced the Ford pony car as the best seller in its niche. But the Mustang soldiers on, with major upgrades each of the past three model years that put it back in contention. The powertrain improvements in 2011 get a signature stroke for 2012 in the form of the BOSS 302, the race-ready Mustang derivative that's so eager to hit the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, it offers a special edition named for the course. It also has a semi-magical "TracKey" that enables hotter performance, which can be dialed down to make it more comfortable on the street.

2012 Honda Civic sedan

2012 Honda Civic sedan

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2012 Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is one of those venerable nameplates that's made its way on to lots of top-ten lists in its nearly 40-year history. This year the winning streak seems to have come to an end: reviewers, including our own team, think the latest Civic's unimaginative, with barely updated looks and a cabin that suffers greatly from cost-cutting. Fuel economy is up and the Hybrid returns, but the Civic's lost a lot of luster this time around.

2012 Honda CR-V

2012 Honda CR-V

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2012 Honda CR-V

While the Civic flounders, the Honda CR-V crossover could be poised to take over its place as the second-most-popular American-made Honda. The new CR-V is really more an evolution of the same idea, but the tapered sheetmetal has some handsome edges, and not a few nods to good-looking crossovers like the Lexus RX. Performance is still mediocre, with only a 185-horsepower four-cylinder available, but the CR-V's flip-folding seats are a best-in-class piece that will make for many swift comparisons with the new Ford Escape coming in the 2013 model year.

2012 Hyundai Accent

2012 Hyundai Accent

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2012 Hyundai Accent

It's no longer the new car you pass over in favor of a lightly used one. The latest Accent has grown into a higher-profile slot in the Hyundai lineup. It's physically larger--almost a compact by interior volume--and it's much sleeker than before, too. A perky four-cylinder engine gets six speeds, manual or automatic, and gas mileage hits a nice, round 40 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. The Accent's notable interior refinement and vastly improved handling make it one of the most dramatically transformed cars we've driven this year, which gives Honda and Ford one more thing to worry about.

2012 Hyundai Veloster

2012 Hyundai Veloster

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2012 Hyundai Veloster

Given their common DNA, the Accent and the brand-new Veloster could easily feel like the same car--but they don't, and the radically envisioned Veloster is more than halfway to sporty credibility. There's a hatchback out back, and the bracingly quirky Veloster also has three other doors--one on the driver side, two on the passenger side. A dual-clutch transmission's offered, and it makes good use of the Veloster's four-cylinder power, though it's a few ticks shy of quickness. The Veloster also offers Blue Link, which gives it OnStar-like connectivity to go with in-car streaming audio and navigation features. The Veloster's a striking new direction for Hyundai, and it's just a turbocharger shy of greatness.

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