2014 TopSpeed New Car of the Year
The past 365 days have been an exciting time in the world of cars. Little by little, the statistics say automotive sales are making a comeback, and vehicular technology, like driverless cars and alternative fuels, seems to be accelerating at breakneck speed. But beyond these forecasts for the future, the present is positively saturated with new and interesting cars. We’ve seen manufacturers make many bold moves to entice buyers back to dealership lots. And alongside each new innovation, we’ve seen the refinement and revival of classic hits, as automakers build on what works to make a good product even better. Per your amusement and befuddlement, we’ve assembled five cars from the past year that most impressed us, then ranked them, profiled them, and burdened them with our opinions.
The judging criteria were simple; whichever car we liked the most won. In alphabetical order, the five finalists are: the 2015 BMW i3 (an electric luxury orb), the 2015 Ford Mustang (modern ‘Murican muscle), the 2015 Mercedes GLA (refined European niche-mobile), the 2015 Subaru WRX STI (Japanese boy racer wunderkind), and the 2015 Volkswagen Golf (the platonic ideal of “hatchback”). With entries cobbled together from North America, Asia, and Germany, each vehicle is easily recognizable as a leader in its respective segment. Each bears it’s own unique philosophy on how to move about. Each is a top-notch choice for a brand-new purchase. But as they say, there can be only one.
Click past the jump to read more about TopSpeed’s 2014 New Car of the Year.
Anyone who reads TopSpeed with at least a modicum of regularity should not be surprised to see the sixth-generation Mustang sitting triumphantly in first place. Most of us are already pretty big muscle car fans, but what really clinched the title for the new pony car was its new, wider appeal, achieved through an updated suspension and a variety of engine choices. These are both modernizations that will make overseas sales far more viable, and when you throw in that classic American sports car appeal, you get one very enticing package.
The suspension in question is a rear independent system designed specifically for the new model, which is considered by most (but not all) to be a significant upgrade over the live axle seen in each of the past five generations. The engine range includes a naturally aspirated, 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6; a turbocharged, 310-horsepower, EcoBoost 2.3-liter inline-four cylinder; and a naturally aspirated, 435-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8. Transmission choices include a Getrag six-speed manual, or a paddle-shifted six-speed auto.
Clearly, the option list offers both the old formula that we know and love, and the possibility to take the Mustang into the modern era. It’s the best of the old, with a glaze of the new smeared across the top, and that’s exactly what makes it our New Car of the Year.
2nd place - 2015 Volkswagen Golf
An incredible 40 years separates the first- and current-generation Golf, and in that time, Volkswagen has stayed true to its roots. It’s an original, one of the most successful front-wheel-drive hatchbacks ever made, and as such, the Golf has carried the torch for imitators and copycats the world over.
What makes the Golf so good? In a word: simplicity. It’s a fantastic canvas that’s used to create a multiplicity of vehicles, from long-range, super-efficient cruisers, like the diesel-powered TDI, to sporty canyon carvers like the GTI and R. The exterior is minimalistic, shaped into a handsome design that’s hard to dislike, and the interior is roomy considering the overall vehicle size. There’s an accuracy to the thing, a meticulous attention to detail not found in most vehicles in this segment.
The latest, seventh-generation Golf comes with a huge variety of drivetrain choices, like a 150-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo-diesel; a 292-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter petrol engine; a 115 horsepower electric motor, and many, many others. Transmissions include a five-speed manual, six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, and a seven-speed automatic. It’s almost silly how many trim levels there are to choose from. Unfortunately, none of them could match the new Mustang, and although it came close, the Golf is the number one loser in this contest.
3rd place - 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA
In a world saturated with crossovers, the Mercedes GLA stands out as a smaller, more efficient alternatives that still maintains Mercedes’ standards for sophistication and luxury. As a competitor to the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, the GLA is a brand-new addition to the Mercedes lineup, with entry-level pricing set a few grand north of $30,000. It’s also got a rather sharp-looking exterior, and the performance from its 2.0-liter, gasoline, inline-four engine is more than adequate. When paired with a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive, the GLA can hit 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, charging all the way to a 145-mph top speed. Thanks to the low 3,500-pound curb weight, those numbers are paired with up to 32 mpg on the highway. We also like the variety of available options, like the premium Harman Kardon sound system, rearview camera, and blind spot assist.
Few of the crossovers out nowadays actually combine a car-like character with the benefits of a sport utility vehicle. Usually, they either come up flat, or overdo it in one area. We like the GLA because it strikes a happy balance in a package that’s truly a jack-of-all trades.
4th place - 2015 BMW i3
The i3 is definitely not your typical Bimmer; it’s small, lightweight, and most importantly, powered by an electric motor. Paired alongside the i8 sports hybrid, the i3 represents the Bavarian brand’s new foray into green technology. That being said, the i3 also shares a mixture of distinctly BMW-ish elements. Compared to its competitors, the i3 looks great, combining futuristic design elements front to back. It looks segmented, even chiseled for an EV, yet streamlined for maximum efficiency. It’s rear-wheel drive, and although you probably won’t see an i3 lining up at your local track event, it’ll still run to 60 mph in seven seconds and nip through the corners thanks to a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic passenger cell, which yields a curb weight of only 2,434 pounds. And of course, there’s the laundry list of BMW options to choose from, like high-grade interior materials, sunroof, satellite radio, leather trimmed steering wheel, etc. etc. There’s also an optional range-extending, twin-cylinder petrol motor that places total driving distance around 180 miles for normal driving.
The i3 combines all the benefits of an EV/hybrid with the characteristics you’d expect from a BMW: good looks, loads of luxury, high technology, and maybe even a dash of sportiness. And that’s good enough to earn it a spot on our list of top New Cars of the Year.
5th place - 2015 Subaru WRX STI
First and foremost- yes, we know the STI has not changed a whole lot over the years. But given the immense popularity garnered by this all-wheel-drive, turbo rally icon, can you really blame Subaru for keeping it pretty much the same? The WRX, and its brawnier sibling the STI, are, in many ways, responsible for the proliferation of fast, turbocharged, small, all-wheel-drive sports cars we’ve been seeing. The Mitsubishi Evo, the Ford Focus RS, the VW Golf R… odds are all of those cars would not have made it to these shores if it weren’t for the success of this six-star hero.
What’s that? You think it’s ugly? The STI couldn’t care less. There’s one thing that makes any rally-bred car sell, and that’s the ability to traverse terrain, any terrain, with unbelievable swiftness. That means 300 horsepower from a burbling flat-four, 2.5-liter engine, with muscle sent to all four wheels through a torque-vectoring, grip-making powerhouse. Yes, the interior is cheap, and the wing in the back is enormous, but it just doesn’t matter. You buy this car for the drivetrain and the rush you get when boost meets traction. You buy it for the confidence it inspires, where even on unknown roads in less than ideal conditions, you can drive fast. You buy it because you know that going sideways through the air in a forest at triple digit speeds makes rally racing one of the most awesome motorsports in the world. And that’s why, after fourth relatively static generations, the STI still makes it on our list of top-five New Cars of the Year.
What the TopSpeed Team Thinks
Christian Moe - Associate Editor
The new Ford Mustang may not seem like a big deal to any of our American readers, but to the rest of the world, the new Mustang represents a big step forward.
"The new Ford Mustang may not seem like a big deal to any of our American readers, but to the rest of the world, the new Mustang represents a big step forward. This new car makes use of a ’more civilized’ independent rear suspension, a more modern and Euro friendly design, and it will actually be sold outside of North America. This is the American muscle car that is truly ready for European consumption. The new car will expand Ford’s reach into new markets and should help build brand image in those countries.
The new Mustang may have a suspension setup that the rest of the world approves, but that mighty 5.0-liter V-8 is a bit to thirsty for most markets, so Ford has also made a new EcoBoost engine for the pony car that will be found on both sides of the pond.
Only time will tell if the new Mustang becomes a major sales hit, but it is a big step in the right direction to see Ford creating machines that have worldwide appeal."
Mark McNabb - Associate Editor
Perhaps it will bring the import-loving tuner crowd to the American sports car category.
"The Ford Mustang is an iconic car if there ever was one. Completely new for 2015, the Mustang continues the same tradition of pony car fun with its 2+2 coupe and convertible configurations and plethora of engine options. While the competition for our Car of the Year award was stiff, the Mustang came away with the most votes.
Ford has chosen to offer a seriously wide range of powerplants and it will be really interesting to see the take-rate for the new turbocharged four-cylinder. Perhaps it will bring the import-loving tuner crowd to the American sports car category. Conversely, it’s hard to pass up that snarling sound from the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8.
The Mustang’s new independent rear suspension has certainly made headlines. Though it seems Ford still has some minor tuning to do, the new suspension does behave better than the old live axle of yesteryear. We look forward to what the future holds for the ‘Stang, especially with the upcoming GT350."
Kirby Garlitos - Associate Editor
Its combination of modern looks and trademark performance continues to astound.
"Some Ford Mustang purists may scoff at the design of the new Mustang, and while they may have a point to a certain extent, it doesn’t mean that the new-look Mustang isn’t befitting of carrying the iconic ’Mustang’ name moving forward. There’s a reason why the Ford Mustang has stolen a lot of hearts this year, mine included.
Its combination of modern looks and trademark performance continues to astound and as an added treat, Ford even threw in an EcoBoost engine for those who are conscious of straddling the line between power and efficiency.
If there ever was a car that deserves the title of New Car of the Year, the Mustang is the perfect choice. That said, honorable mention goes to the Challenger SRT Hellcat. In any other year, the Hellcat would’ve been the runaway winner. But the biggest difference between the two is that while the Challenger SRT Hellcat caught us a lot by surprise, we already knew the Mustang was coming…and it still blew us away."
Jonathan Lopez - Associate Editor
No doubt about it, the new Mustang is a great car, and it deserves its spot at number one on our list.
"Even for a die-hard sport compact fan like myself, it’s hard to deny the new Mustang. This is more than cheap performance- this is the rebirth of a legend. When it was announced that the new Mustang would finally ditch the log suspension out back, I knew this generation would be different. When I heard there would be a turbo four-cylinder option as well, I knew Ford had a surefire hit on its hands.
Personally, I would never buy a four-banger muscle car, but with an option like that, it was obvious to me that this pony car would suddenly get far more accessible to lots of folks all over the world. Some people love everything about the Mustang, but look elsewhere after realizing what they’d pay at the pump. The EcoBoost motor fixes that. I’ve always appreciated the Mustang’s good looks, and I think the restyled exterior looks modern, without stepping too far from its roots. No doubt about it, the new Mustang is a great car, and it deserves its spot at number one on our list."
Ciprian Florea - Associate Editor
Ford finally stepped up to revolutionize its pony car and did so by retaining most of the features that made the fifth-gen Mustang a massive success.
"When it comes to the 2015 Mustang, I’m part of the crowd that thinks Ford diluted the iconic pony car by ditching the live rear axle and trying to play catch with the BMW M4. That’s not to say I’d want Ford to ignore innovation and modern engineering, but I feel like a part of the Mustang legend went away with the fifth-generation car. As weird as it may sound, this is also one of the reasons why the 2015 Mustang deserves the TopSpeed New Car of the Year award. Ford finally stepped up to revolutionize its pony car and did so by retaining most of the features that made the fifth-gen Mustang a massive success. The redesigned muscle car is recognizable as a Mustang, you can still get a Coyote V-8 and a six-speed manual and, more importantly, it comes with a great bang for the buck at $23,600 in V6 guise.
The TopSpeed Car of the Year must be stylish, affordable, equipped with the latest technology, and a hoot to drive. And needless to say, the 2015 Mustang checks all those boxes before adding the ability to take turns in a sportier manner, as well as an EcoBoost engine for better fuel economy and a ticket to a global career. Yes, the 2015 Mustang is also the first of its kind to go global, a feat that will take its popularity to new heights."
Justin Cupler - Editor in Chief
Now with an independent suspension, the Mustang is now ready to do battle with any sports or muscle car from America or Europe.
I am no "Ford Guy" by any stretch of the imagination, but the Mustang has always held a piece of my heart. Over the years, however, the Mustang became stagnant and its technology hit a vicious plateau that Ford had a hard time getting past. Sure, there were insanely fast and powerful versions, but that live rear axle really limited its abilities. Now with an independent suspension, the Mustang is now ready to do battle with any sports or muscle car from America or Europe.
Additionally, the addition of the four-cylinder, Ecoboost engine shows off just how focused Ford is on making the Stang desirable to all buyers. Welcome to the modern day, Mr. Mustang, it took you a while, but you’ve finally arrived!