Over the past 12 months, the American auto industry has been consumed with never-ending news about autonomous driving, electric cars, Tesla’s new products, Tesla’s stock price and Tesla’s inability to meet its goals. Behind this not-too-subtle siege, consumers continued to buy millions of crossovers and trucks, conventional car sales continued to tank, and drivers took to our roads in record numbers, which unfortunately, is reflected in a rise in traffic deaths despite the best intentions of dozens of new electronic driving aids.
From last December to this December, another 50 new vehicles visited. Some were repeats, some were all-new designs, and some simply outshined their rivals to land a spot on this year’s 10 favorites list. Read on to see what we liked and what you might want.
For two years running, a Dodge Challenger has been the annual “top dog” here, with the shy, unassuming Hellcat coupe blowing every other visitor out of the water. Eleven months ago, Dodge took the nation’s auto scribes to a private race track in New Hampshire and let us loose in the snow with a fleet of brand new Challenger GT AWD coupes. Many of us were smitten with the car’s foul-weather performance. While lacking the Hellcat’s demonstrative Hemi engine, the GT acquitted itself nicely and illustrated that Mustang and Camaro might be leaving sales on the table without AWD, as the Challenger was the only pony car with increased sales this year.
At number nine rests another Dodge product — the Durango Citadel. Basically a long-wheelbase, three-row version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Durango continues to beat more expensive and newer crossovers that lack the expanded portfolio available here; V-6, V-8 and high-output SRT engines, rear or all-wheel drive, plus base or loaded Citadel trim levels that impress. Ideally, you could include the Grand Cherokee here — either is a great choice despite the onset of middle age on a platform that remains relevant.
In case you missed the news this year about Toyota’s new product emphasis, you’ll be surprised to see the Lexus GS-F positioned here as a swanky sports coupe/sedan series. The 467-hp V-8 acts like Superman, while the chassis works mightily not to disappoint buyers who are migrating from BMW or Mercedes. By and large, Lexus has succeeded in building a legitimate sports/luxury package that will certainly flex its development muscles in the years ahead. It’s good to see this process bear such successful fruit.
Only one convertible visited this year — perhaps an unhealthy sign of the industry’s transformation — yet the Ford Mustang GT convertible proved memorable. Fifty-two years young, the Mustang remains the country’s favorite pony car, despite a precipitous slip in sales in 2017. A refined yet expressive combination of power, handling and interior comfort, the Mustang leaves buyers with a general satisfaction of their purchasing decision. Not the fastest, not the most powerful, just the most well-rounded pony car on sale, the GT remains a halo car for Ford.
For two years, VW/Audi has been assaulted for its mischievous diesel deception. Thankfully, one of the world’s largest automakers continued to work on new products, including a filling pipeline of proposed electric vehicles. Three VW/Audi products left their mark here in 2017.
The A4 Allroad Quattro Wagon is a smaller, less expensive, more practical edition of a car that debuted 10 years ago. The newest Allroad, $45,000, is a premium version of its VW stablemate — the new Golf AllTrack ($25,850). Both of these compact class AWD wagons are worthy alternatives to small crossovers because they, mostly, retain the handling and driving verve of conventional VW cars — quick, nimble, balanced. The Golf will account for big sales for VW; it is the Euro-competitor for Subaru’s vaunted lineup. Too bad VW didn’t build this car, oh, about 10 years ago.
VW also jumped into the burgeoning crossover wars with two feet — a new compact Tiguan plus the full-size Atlas. Two Tiguans visited; each proved to be capable enough to edge out the small crossovers from Ford, Kia, Nissan and Toyota that visited. Let’s hope that the Tiguan reverses VW’s fortunes here.
While it’s good for many to see VW make inroads in these critical markets, they certainly have had a benchmark vehicle worthy of copying. The Subaru Outback has been missing from this list for too long. The Outback wagon made me wonder why buyers think that the handsome Volvo V90 is worth so much more money, when the Outback does everything that the Volvo can do for a fraction of the money. The Subie has more space, it feels more capable when the roads aren’t, and the Volvo feels like it is just too complicated for its own good. Subaru equals Yankee value. Volvo equals pretentious overspender.
Pickup trucks remain hot sellers in America, and FCA/Chrysler’s Ram brand made strong inroads in the market in 2017 with an ever-expanding lineup of trucks aimed at virtually every niche in this highly profitable segment. Two Rebels and two Power Wagon trucks appeared. They are comfortable, stocked with new amenities, plus they are appealing to buyers with multiple trim packages and a plethora of performance options. FCA/Chrysler still has the “for-sale” sign out; key to any buyer of this company is Jeep and Ram.
Did you know that Ford is America’s top-selling brand? Did you know that Ford sells more pickup trucks than its competitors? Did you know that the most gnarly, bodacious, extreme full-size performance pickup truck is the Ford Raptor? Think Mustang GT in a four-door truck weighing three tons, which also floats over off-road imperfections with the same grace that the Mustang circles a race track. Dynamically superior to any rival, mechanically separate from the industry with its twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6, the Raptor stands alone atop the pickup segment and this year’s list. Its mind-altering portfolio is impressive.
Thank you for sharing your time for this space each week. Happy New Year to all.