On the Road Review: My 10 favorite vehicles from 2015



How do you select 10 favorites from 50 new cars and trucks that visited over the last 12 months? With dozens of crossovers appearing, several pickup trucks and no convertibles (!), what will this year’s list look like?

Will there be repeat selections? Will your choices match mine? Well, let’s see what 10 vehicles are deemed worthy of space here, as well as in my own driveway if the conditions warranted. Again, thanks to all of the automakers for sending their new products, as well as the staff at The Ellsworth American for handling this material so adeptly.

1-GMC Yukon Denali

GMC Yukon Denali XL

At number 10 is the largest vehicle on the list, the largest crossover/SUV in the land, GMC’s Yukon XL Denali. A persistent theme exists on this list, among several, but the most prevalent is — more. Every vehicle here offers more of almost everything; more features, more safety, more power, more efficiency, more space, more LED lights, more stereo, and more complexity. And more money. Yet, the GMC stands out for combining its more into a comprehensive package that drives smaller than before, gets better mileage and generally behaves like a smarter athlete. That makes the Denali a winner.

2-Ford Mustang EcoBoost

Ford Mustang EcoBoost

For almost two years now, we’ve been teased by the new Mustang. It is sleeker. It is smarter. It is smoother, faster and has more features. All true. It rides on a better chassis, now fully independent (boy, that took long enough) plus it packs a turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that makes more power than the base V-6 engine as well as the GT V-8 engine from 10 years ago. Big changes, much needed progress and a much better Mustang.

3-BMW 740Ld

BMW 740Ld

4-Mercedes S550

Mercedes S550

The next two choices lead the premium class full-size sedan segment, cars that might seem out of reach to many of us financially, but are so important for the technology and the features that will quickly trickle down to all cars. The BMW 740Ld and the Mercedes S550 4Matic are two similar yet very different luxury cars. Both are so coddling to drive, you can get lost in the comfort. The diesel BMW delivered 33 mpg so quietly it defied logic. The S550 produces 449 hp and whisks you to your destination like a time machine. Both have creature comforts that we never knew we needed, or wanted; massaging driver’s seat, power rear seats, power window shades, power vent portholes, power door closures, as well as seamless AWD systems that tackle winter. Two awesome cars that crush the comparable versions from Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.

5-Dodge Charger Scat Pack

Dodge Charger Scat Pack

This next sedan also crushes the competition — with a 485-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 thundering its presence. The Dodge Charger Scat Pack model has a 392-cubic-inch blue-collar hunk of smoking metal under the hood that wants to vent — often. Stoke the fires and that venting turns into blue plumes of Pirelli tire smoke and one rapid four-door that drives better than any Buick you ever rode in. Composed, balanced, comfortable, the Charger Scat Pack is a family sedan when necessary and a four-seat pony car when you want it to be. So really, it’s two cars in one, and who doesn’t like that kind of value.

Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel

Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel

There are four diesel choices this year, and yes, one of them is a VW. Two are from FCA/Chrysler and one is a perennial honoree — the Jeep Grand Cherokee, this year in Summit trim with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine designed and built by Fiat. The Jeep is still the undefeated midsize class dominator; it just does more things, better, than its rivals. The new Nissan Murano is a nice contender, as is the Hyundai Santa Fe (have not seen or driven a new Ford Edge), yet the Jeep’s portfolio allows it to maintain its winning stance — five years in a row.

The Jeep’s stablemate, the RAM CrewCab EcoDiesel, also earns space here due to its elevated fuel efficiency, smooth power, comfortable cabin, clever storage designs, extensive

Dodge Ram CrewCab EcoDiesel

Dodge Ram CrewCab EcoDiesel

features list, innovative eight-speed automatic transmission and overall drivability in everyday life. Did I also say that it also gets great fuel economy with the torquey turbo-diesel engine quietly working away — the best full-size pickup truck economy? These two diesel-powered vehicles have helped FCA’s overall image and sales greatly this past year.

Crossover and pickup truck sales have led the charts this year, and the Ford F-150 continues to dominate overall vehicle sales in

Ford F-150

Ford F-150

America with good reason — the truck is better. It has more, more. The new aluminum body has lowered overall weight. The EcoBoost engines — two were sampled this year, the 2.7-liter as well as the 3.5-liter — work great. They are smooth, powerful, and our latest SuperCrew sample truck finally delivered on the elevated fuel economy Ford promises: low to mid-20s. With excellent cabins and refined road manners (finally), the Ford is a well-rounded package.

Say GTI to a sporty car fan, and he or she knows exactly what this car is — polished German performance in a tidy, front drive package.

VW GTI

VW GTI

Two VW GTIs visited and I hated to see each leave. Combined with a Golf TDI SportWagen, these three VWs proved that this platform is the world’s best front-drive layout/package for economy, space utilization and driving fun. The solid feel of the GTI, as well as the SportWagen, is the hallmark of the brand. Don’t let bad decisions about diesel emissions compliance otherwise taint what is a fine product.

The number one slot is, by far, the easiest favorite selection of the past year. The Dodge Challenger Hellcat is a very special car. Get

Dodge Challenger Hellcat

Dodge Challenger Hellcat

past the outrageous 707-hp rating; this hyper-performance car is just plain fun to drive. It is smooth, comfortable and gracious — it never demands more from the driver than what you are willing to give. The clutch is easy to modulate, the back seat swallows real people, and the car has modern features that its ancestors could never have dreamed of. The Hellcat is easy to drive, easy to love, and everyone who samples this Dodge connives ways to come up with the money to buy one. It is just that good.

Happy New Year to all. Send my Hellcat in red, Lisa, thanks.

Next week: Nissan 370Z Roadster

 

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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