Being a top performer in the world of sports means beating some very tough competition. The same applies to building a winning vehicle. The contenders in our Automotive Games exemplify the best vehicles in 10 highly competitive categories, such as luxury, family-friendly and hauling. We considered every new car currently for sale in the U.S., representing automakers from seven different countries: U.S., Germany, Italy, Sweden, U.K., Korea and Japan. Our editors selected one semi-finalist from each country that best fit the key criteria for each category.

The winners were selected by the roughly 16 million car shoppers who visit AutoTrader.com every month. Gold, silver and bronze medalists were selected based on which models received the most views from shoppers. Here are the top cars in each category and the final medal count by country.

Green: Alternative Power

For this category, we looked at vehicles driven by something other than a traditional gasoline engine, including natural gas, diesel, all-electric and hybrid powertrains. The winners were all gasoline-electric hybrids, proving once again that these are the alternative vehicles that consumers best relate to. The gold goes to the Toyota Prius from Japan, which boasts a 50-mpg combined fuel economy rating. Earning a silver medal for Korea, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is rated at 37 mpg combined and comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, as well as lifetime replacement for the hybrid battery. Rounding out the podium finishers for this event is the Ford Fusion Hybrid from the U.S., which is rated at 39 mpg combined.

Green: Gas Power

Top performers in this category extract impressive efficiency from their conventional gasoline engines. Gold goes to the Chevrolet Cruze, a compact sedan that's good for up to 38 mpg on the highway, better than some hybrids. The silver medalist combines efficiency with sporty driving dynamics and luxury amenities; the completely redesigned BMW 328i from Germany is rated up to 34-mpg highway with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Finally, the subcompact FIAT 500 takes the bronze with its Italian flair and up to 38-mpg highway.

Hauling: Trucks

With eligible entries only from the U.S. and Japan, there are only gold and a silver medalists in this category. Top honors go to Japan for the Toyota Tundra pickup, which has a maximum payload of 2,090 lbs. and can pull a trailer weighing up to 10,400 lbs. The Ford F-250 Super Duty takes the silver medal for the U.S. with a maximum payload of 4,240 lbs and maximum conventional towing capacity of 14,000 lbs.

Hauling: SUVs & Crossovers

The most popular haulers among SUVs and Crossovers can not only tow a trailer, but also have plenty of space inside for people and stuff. The gold medalist is the Chevrolet Suburban from the U.S., an SUV with up to three rows of seats or 137.4 cubic feet of cargo volume. Placing second and winning silver for Korea is the Kia Sorento. It also offers up to three rows of seating, and can accommodate 72.5 cubic feet of cargo with all of its seats folded. The bronze medal-winning Range Rover from the U.K. combines luxury with practicality. The two-row Range Rover offers up to 74.2 cubic feet of cargo space.

Agility

Vehicles with superb agility must offer more than raw power. Their muscle must be balanced with low weight to achieve great handling and braking. The Ford Mustang GT wins the gold medal in this event for the U.S. The retro-inspired Mustang GT has a V8 that produces a whopping 402 horsepower combined with a curb weight of 3,605 lbs., more than 250 lbs. lighter than its archrival, the Chevrolet Camaro SS. The Mustang's power-to-weight ratio is 9 lbs. per hp. Winning silver for the Koreans is the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8. Its V6 makes 348 hp, giving the 3,433-lb. Genesis a power-to-weight ratio of 10.7 lbs. per hp. The bronze medalist, Japan's Infiniti G37 Coupe, also uses a V6, but produces less power and weighs more than the Genesis. The G37 has a power-to-weight ratio of 11 lbs. per hp.

Luxury

The winning vehicles boasting the most posh appointments hail from Europe and Korea. Taking the gold medal is Germany's Audi A8. This luxurious sedan is available with features like heated, cooled and massaging seats, and also comes in a long-wheelbase form for limo-like accommodations in back. Winning its second medal (silver this time) is the U.K.'s Range Rover SUV. It gets high marks not only for its comfort and convenience features, but also its all-weather, all-road Terrain Response system. The bronze medalist in the luxury category adds value to the equation without compromising on luxury features. The Korean Hyundai Equus is both high-tech and sumptuous, but has a surprisingly accessible base price of less than $60,000.

Versatility

Drivers who rely on just one vehicle require versatility. Winners in this event can do it all, offering plenty of space along with efficiency, comfort and value. Taking gold for the U.S. is the newly redesigned Ford Escape. All-wheel drive and turbocharged power are available, but even the base 4-cylinder engine gets up to 31 mpg. The Kia Sorento earns another silver medal for Korea, thanks to its available third-row seat, V6 engine and all-wheel drive. From Japan, the bronze medal-winning Honda CR-V is also newly redesigned. It's available with all-wheel drive and is rated at up to 31-mpg highway.

Family-Friendly

The top vehicles in our Family-Friendly category all have three rows of seats to accommodate you clan, and are available with features to keep things moving smoothly, like rear-seat entertainment systems and power liftgates. Winning gold for the U.S. is the GMC Acadia. This midsize crossover gets fresh styling for 2013, and 7- or 8-passenger seating configurations are available. The silver medalist is the award-winning Honda Odyssey minivan, adding to Japan's medal count. Versatile space meets efficiency in the Odyssey, which is rated at up to 28 mpg on the highway. Finally, the Volvo XC90 wins the bronze Sweden. This SUV combines Volvo's legendary focus on safety with updated styling and equipment for 2013.

Off-Road

Drivers that enjoy going off the beaten path need vehicles capable of the challenge. Medalists in our Off-Road event can handle the slick surfaces and rugged conditions of the trail. The gold medalist hails from the U.S., and is indeed one of the country's most iconic vehicles. The Jeep Wrangler has been an off-road favorite for years, thanks to its high ground clearance, durable suspension and standard 4-wheel drive. Taking the silver medal for Japan is the Nissan Xterra. While many SUVs are moving to car-like unibody construction, the Xterra keeps its tougher, body-on-frame design and boasts plenty of power from its standard V6. Winning an impressive third medal, the Range Rover takes bronze in the Off-Road event for U.K. It's luxurious. It can haul plenty of cargo. And it can handle rugged trail conditions that would send lesser SUVs scrambling.

 

Safety

Winners in the Safety category are classified as Top Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and also offer plenty of airbags and advanced safety systems. Winning gold for the U.S. is the Ford Taurus, a full-size sedan with a long list of high-tech safety equipment. Extensive use of high-strength steel is complemented by high-tech features like collision warning with emergency braking and a blind spot system that can detect cross traffic when backing up. The Hyundai Genesis takes the silver for Korea, thanks to eight standard airbags, and available auto-cornering adaptive HID headlights and lane departure warning system. From Germany, the bronze medal-winning Mercedes-Benz E350 adds some action to the safety systems. For instance, its lane departure and blind spot assistance features will apply corrections autonomously, should the driver fail to react. The E350 also features nine standard and two optional airbags.

Winning 7 gold medals, one silver and one bronze, the United States finishes at the top of the overall medal count. Japan and Korea are next, with 6 medals apiece. Japan took two each of gold, silver and bronze, while Korea won five silver medals and one bronze. Also tied, with three medals each, are Germany and the U.K. Germany's medals were evenly split - one each of gold, silver and bronze. The U.K. picked up a silver and two bronze, all with a single model, the Range Rover. Rounding out the final medal count are Italy and Sweden with one bronze medal each.

AutoTrader.com's site editor, Brian Moody, says the performances from Japan and Korea are especially remarkable.

"While the number of American vehicles coming out on top was significant, we were particularly impressed with the strong showing for both Japanese and Korean vehicles," Moody said. "The Japanese automakers have recovered well from the disasters that nearly stopped them in their tracks last year, and the Korean brands, which many shoppers just weren't considering ten years ago, continue to garner excitement and interest from shoppers."

Winning a medal in the AutoTrader.com Automotive Games reflects the strengths of these vehicles in their respective categories, as well as their popularity among AutoTrader.com's car shoppers. Competing against the best vehicles the world's automakers have to offer, each of the winners here are performing at the top of their game.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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