It is the end of November and time to finalize my annual 10 Favorite Vehicles list. The last 12 months have seen a plethora of small cars come visit, some hybrids and some diesels, plus a whole host of crossovers and SUVs. There have been some pickup trucks, some real speedsters, too, and Mr. Lawlor’s crew never ceases to amaze me.
But, so do the automakers. Surely, if you have been in the new car marketplace, you have been amazed at the progress the industry has achieved. Fuel mileage is up across the board, standard features, too, while prices continue to rise as well — the average new car transaction price has surpassed $31,000. Critics continue to comment on the practical nature of the latest electronic aids, debating whether these technologies improve driving or alleviate driver responsibility via greater driver distractions. The jury is still out.
As usual, the following 10 selections are culled from an impressive list of visitors. These choices stand out because they worked better, drove better or had greater appeal than their rivals that appeared. Cars initially on the cut list that didn’t make the grade include: Cadillac CTS, Acura MDX, Toyota Highlander, Mustang GT, Chevy Cruze Diesel and Kia Soul. We also got to briefly sample the latest Mustang as well as the new Chevy Colorado late in the year; maybe each will make a full-length visit and make next year’s list.
Thank you again to all of the automakers for their support, as well as to the staff at The Ellsworth American. Read on and see which of the following 10 could be your favorite vehicle of the year.
Two Subarus make the list this year, only fitting for the fastest growing brand in America. At number 10 is the XV Crosstrek, a compact class hatchback with engaging driving enthusiasm, useful space and Subaru’s omnipresent AWD. The Crosstrek is not quick, however it is more fuel-efficient with its latest powertrain upgrades — improvements that raise its profile among the brand faithful, while increasing the car’s appeal for the masses. Yes, a Corolla or Civic is even more thrifty to drive, but neither comes in a five-door hatchback or utilizes four-season AWD. Add a massaged interior and a hybrid option and the Crosstrek is ready for prime-time.
The Crosstrek’s performance sibling makes no pretenses about fuel economy or practicality other than it can if you wish, yet prefers that you don’t. The Impreza STI is Subaru’s hot-rod road rocket with a pressed new suit that does little to mask the car’s superior performance intentions. If you think that buttoned-down Subaru only does practical, sensible transportation, then strap yourself into the STI for a blow-you-away driving experience. The latest WRX offers 90 percent of what the STI delivers, but that extra 10 percent of handling, braking and power is what makes a legion of fans worship this hip four-door.
At number eight, Hyundai appears again this year with the latest Genesis sedan. Featuring a 420-hp 5.0-V-8 engine, or V-6 power, the Genesis was a luxury car rocket. It has an interior that beats a Lexus. The handling has finally been sorted out, so the car rides and corners well too. Up until the Genesis appeared, Cadillac’s CTS had this spot. The Cadillac is an industry favorite. The Genesis is less expensive, more comfortable and just better.
The Dodge Durango Citadel is a returning favorite, a three-row wagon that edged out Toyota’s new Highlander. The Dodge just strikes the right chords; it rides smoothly without sacrificing nimble handling, the cabin is roomy, comfortable and quiet, plus the features list exceeds many rivals — not just in content but in usability. What good are great features if they are not intuitive to use? The Durango does not suffer that fate. Available with V-6 or Hemi V-8, the Dodge continues to grow in both sales and reputation.
So, if you like the Dodge, but don’t need three rows of seats, what other credible crossover would you select? Of course, it has to be NEMPA’s own four-time winner of Winter Vehicle of the Year, the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Two distinct diesel-powered Grand Cherokees were delivered this past year. Impressive power, impressive fuel economy (over 31 mpg in one) plus a truly polished cabin mark the Grand Cherokee as one of the best SUVs in the midsize category, period. Look for the diesel model to proliferate throughout the lineup (and maybe reach the Durango) and for pricing to reflect greater availability of this option going forward.
Volkswagen has lost some of the shine it earned when the Passat debuted as a built-in-the USA sedan three years ago. However, the Passat TDI recaptured some of the brand’s luster this past summer when it proved to be a much better, and much smarter, alternative to hybrid midsize sedans. Try on 51-mpg, full-size accommodations, plus road-going manners that reflect a European perspective. Best of all, the TDI model only costs $26,000! A Chevy Cruze Clean Diesel was on the list, too, but the larger Passat bumps the Chevy. Both of these diesel powerhouses, like the Grand Cherokee diesel, point to a new direction for our future fleet.
Two BMWs came to the house. Both make this year’s list.
At number four is the BMW X5 5.0i. The X5 is BMW’s top selling crossover/SUV in America. Made in America, the X5 with the twin-turbo V-8 engine will make the hair on your neck stand right up and pay attention as this wagon qualifies as one of the fastest crossovers on the market. However, it handles, stops and steers very well, too, so buyers can be forgiven for tossing their occupants about the cabin as the driver enjoys the vicious forward surges available from this steamroller. If you really want my number one and two selections here, but need space for five and their gear, the X5 5.0i will reward your inner Mario Andretti.
Perhaps a more sensible everyday choice is the BMW 335i GT. BMW has plumbed the depths of its designs to create a 3-series sedan with a hatchback. Slightly wider and just a few inches longer, the GT offers multiple cargo option flexibility and even makes a 3-series wagon seem, well, kind of plodding and old school. The GT series, also available with the turbo-four engine as well as the 335i’s turbo-six, is responsive and responsible. The Germans do driving dynamics best; the GT is a great example of technology, comfort and versatility in one svelte package.
This next choice was an exciting and pleasant surprise. The Dodge Challenger SRT/392 represents consumer yearnings for powerful pony cars in thoroughly modern designs. Packing a 485-hp 6.4-liter naturally aspirated V-8 and a six-speed manual gearbox, the SRT was a powerful thoroughbred that squashed the perennial favorite Mustang GT. The Challenger’s cabin is better than the Mustang, the SRT is faster than the Mustang, while the Dodge matches the Mustang’s road manners. The new Mustang arrives at dealers now, yet the Challenger earns a spot here for its bravado, brashness and plain old feel-good character.
In many ways, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible represents similar themes. The all-new Corvette expands your horizons and blows your expectations of what a sports car do. Polished, more comfortable, cleanly styled, and wicked fast, the Stingray demonstrated why this car remains such a great value when compared to the European exotics that costs tens of thousands more — it performs, over and over, without protest. In addition, just when you think you have sampled what the Corvette can do, it flat out smacks you upside the head with another dimension and even more performance. Hearing the Corvette’s ripping 460-hp exhaust note is one memory that will last for a long time, or at least until the next high-performance car visits.
Happy New Year to all.