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Weekend Roundup: 2012 All-Stars and Automobile of the Year, 2013 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ

Been away from your computer this week and missed all the automotive news? We've gathered a few of the top stories of the past week along with the weekend racing schedule for your convenience.

We announced that the Audi A7 is our Automobile of the Year for 2012. Why? The A7 is beautiful, pleasing to drive, and filled with useful technologies. As the culmination of years of Audi development, the A7 manages to impress our staff all-round. From its voluptuous sheetmetal to its first-rate interior, the Audi is a stunning car. Couple that with a willing chassis and an enthusiastic supercharged engine, and Audi had the recipe for Automobile's favorite car of 2012.

While we believe the A7 is the best new car introduced this year, there are plenty of other stand-out vehicles. This year we picked the Audi TT RS, BMW 3-Series, Dodge Charger, Ferrari 458 Italia and Spider, Ford Focus, Ford Mustang Boss 302, Honda Odyssey, Range Rover Evoque, Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and Volkswagen GTI and Golf TDI. Read the story to find out why we picked each of the vehicles as our 2012 All-Stars

Spied! 2013 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ Nearing Completion

Our spy shooter caught two of Ford's new midsize offerings undergoing their final rounds of testing. The 2013 Ford Fusion is expected to debut first, at the Detroit auto show in January 2012, wearing styling shared with the Euro-market Ford Mondeo. The design should stay fairly close to what was previewed by the Evos concept seen at the Frankfurt Motor Show earlier this year. The 2013 Lincoln MKZ will debut later, possibly at the New York auto show in April 2012. It should have a totally new face, with design touches like LED running lights and Lincoln's trademark winged grille.

2013 Ford Flex: More Power, New Face, New Features

A refreshed version of the Ford Flex goes on sale in spring 2012, but the car first will make its public appearance at the Los Angeles auto show next week. The changes include a new front-end design, with a restyled grille and the emigration of the signature Ford Blue Oval badge. The base V-6 engine also will receive more horsepower and torque, thanks to the addition of variable valve timing, and a 1-mpg bump in fuel economy. Other changes for the 2013 Flex consist of trim upgrades and new safety technology like adaptive cruise control.

Our spy photographer also got a look at the Dodge Hornet, a compact sedan from Dodge that should emerge in early 2012. The new car replaces the aging and lackluster Dodge Caliber, and will be based on Italy's Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback. The product was part of Chrysler's 2009 turnaround plan announced during bankruptcy proceedings. Powertrain choices are expected to be a Fiat-sourced 1.4-liter inline-four, or a Chrysler 2.0-liter inline-four.

Somebody at Cadillac was evidently very excited about the 2013 XTS: although the car won't debut until the Los Angeles auto show next week, a picture of the XTS was briefly displayed on Cadillac's consumer website. The luxury sedan stays true to the XTS Platinum concept from the 2010 Detroit auto show, with a big chrome grille and swept-back headlights. We'll have more information and full photos of the XTS live from L.A. next week.

Despite announcing plans to install dual-clutch transmissions in its midsize sedans, Chrysler will continue using traditional automatics for some time. The 2012 Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger did not receive the dual-clutch setups because Chrysler felt customers wouldn't like the new transmission's driving feel. Chrysler hasn't ruled out using dual-clutch transmissions in the future, but also is said to be working on a nine-speed traditional automatic. "The customer has to be happy with the refinement of the transmission," a Chrysler spokesman told us.

Looking Deeper: Buick LaCrosse GL Concept Previews the Future of Buick Color Palettes

Buick's LaCrosse GL concept is meant to highlight the future design direction for the luxury brand. The concept car, which will bow at L.A. next week, wears 20-inch wheels sourced from the Buick Regal GS, two-tone cocoa and caramel leather upholstery, and darkened interior trim. In addition to new visual cues, Buick is working on the scent of its future vehicles: the LaCrosse we examined smelled like worn leather with a hint of tea. The overall plan, though, is for Buick interiors to shift from staid gray, beige, and black colors to a "rich, warm, and contemporary color palette."

Chevrolet Volt Fire At NHTSA Facility Prompts Investigation Of EV Lithium-Ion Battery Packs

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the safety of lithium-ion batteries after a Chevrolet Volt caught fire at a NHTSA crash-test facility. The Volt had been subject to a side-impact crash three weeks prior to the fire. The fire, which was determined to have started in the battery pack, was violent enough to damage other nearby vehicles. Chevrolet asserts that the Volt is safe and says it will cooperate with the NHTSA investigation fully.

Driven: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S Coupe, 2013 Nissan GT-R

This week we were fortunate enough to drive two performance coupes. The 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S represented our first time behind the wheel of the new, 991-generation 911. Not only does the new 911 remain a pure performance car, it's one of the best 911s ever made. The new Porsche handles more surely than its predecessor and offers more power. We even found the quirky seven-speed manual gearbox easy to wrangle. On the other end of the spectrum is the 2013 Nissan GT-R, the latest iteration of Japan's prodigious supercar. Updates for the new model year make "Godzilla" even faster, with 545 hp on tap and an improved dual-clutch transmission. Along with a mild bump in fuel economy, some interior tweaks, and a restyled front fascia, the revisions make for the best (and fastest) version of the GT-R yet.

Weekend Racing:

- NASCAR Nationwide Series, Wypall 200, Phoenix International Raceway, Saturday November 12 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2

- NASCAR Sprint Cup, Kobalt Tools 500, Phoenix International Raceway, Sunday November 13 at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN

- Formula 1, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Sunday November 13 at 7:30 a.m. EST on Speed