2015 TopSpeed Awards: Jacob’s Picks
There is never a time when I feel more like a massive car nerd then when I’m picking a best of list. It’s not that these kinds of lists are inherently nerdy, it’s just that I think about them far too much, and invariably go full High Fidelity. As always, my list of top picks for 2015 has been amended several times and mulled over for days. I have tried to offer up a diverse list, both when it comes to pricing and also intended function, although this comes through mostly with the trucks section.
I haven’t included any Volkswagens and I will admit that this is possibly unfair. I like VW’s cars, but I also used to love its diesels, so I feel my assessment of VW products is tainted. I’m not entirely sure any of them would have made the list anyway, but I will give the GTI an honorable mention here. I have included a couple of Audis and a Porsche too, so that kind of counts. It was a struggle not to make this list about half Ford products as well. Ford brought out a lot of new products this year, and it’s difficult not to be biased as the owner of a 2015 Ford. I resisted, perhaps wrongly, but that’s why naming the best of 2015 is a team effort.
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Car of the Year
Following up a new S-Class sedan in 2014, Mercedes-Benz has now brought us a new version of the coupe, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a very sensible purchase. That might seem like an inappropriate word to use in connection to a car costing in excess of $100,000, but take a second to think about what your other options are for a large, ultra-luxury coupe. You’ve got the Bentley Continental GT, the Rolls-Royce Wraith, and that’s pretty much the whole list. The S-Class Coupe is practically an economy car compared to the price tags on those cars, you could buy three of them for the price of a Wraith. There is the option for a 4.7-liter V-8 that gets 26 mpg on the highway, and the sedan is even available as a plug-in hybrid, an option that may yet make it to the coupe. The styling is understated as well, in all, the only sensible choice in this niche.
In this segment, it is a very close contest between the Fit and the Ford Fiesta, but since it is only the Fit that is new this year, this was one of the easier picks for the list. Simply put, the Fit is what the Civic used to be, all of those years ago when it first arrived on American shores. It’s everything you want in a small hatchback: good fuel economy without the added expense of a hybrid, excellent use of interior space, and a chassis that actually makes it a hell of a lot of fun to drive. The styling has been extensively changed as well, quite a welcome change from the dull look of the previous Fit. My parents just bought one a couple of weeks ago at my recommendation, that’s how much I think this car is the right choice.
For a small luxury sedan in the $30,000 range, the popular choices, the ones that imbue the most status, tend to be German. Japanese offers are sometimes overlooked, probably in part because of the understated styling and lack of bonkers performance versions. But the TLX is a supremely good car, offering four-wheel steering, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive, and a whole slew of technologically advanced driver’s aides. The 3.5-liter optional V-6 packs plenty of power, and the nine-speed automatic transmission is a good companion for it. The interior is comfortable, but the best part is that nobody makes the assumptions about Acura owners that they do about BMW owners.
Facelifted for 2015, the A8 got a thorough going over, with a lot of details changed. The A8 has always been a more practical alternative to the big sedans offered by Mercedes-Benz and BMW. With a starting price of $82,000, it is very noticeably cheaper for one. The base engine is far more sensible as well, a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that gets 29 mpg on the highway. Yet, because of Audi’s relentless use of aluminum, the car is much lighter than the competition, and doesn’t need the kind of big engine found in its competitors. It’s just as comfortable as well, and Audi offers a long-wheelbase version with loads of rear legroom.
Don’t think of the K900 as a car, think of it as a luxury yacht. Not a literal yacht, obviously, but yacht in that way that it used to be used sarcastically to refer to giant luxury cars. As someone who once owned a 1978 Mercury Marquis, I have a bit of a soft spot for an old school luxury car, one where comfort is a higher priority than handling. We don’t have enough luxury cars like that anymore, the Germans have seen to that, but the K900 is one. It has an interior of the sort usually reserved for much more expensive cars. This is done at the expense of driving dynamics, but I don’t care, it’s a luxury car and luxury is the part it does best.
Truck of the Year
It’s nearly impossible to talk about trucks without talking about the Ford F-150, and since it got a pretty big overhaul for 2015, it’s impossible to make a best of list without them. The big news is that the body is now aluminum, and Ford claims that this change has trimmed 700 pounds off of the trucks weight. That combined with the optional EcoBoost engine makes this surprisingly fuel efficient for a full-sized pickup. It’s a much more versatile truck than its competitors, and there is even a new Raptor version on the way as well, also revealed in 2015, although it’ll be a 2017 model and therefore doesn’t count for this piece, I shouldn’t have even brought it up.
For a company that mainly builds sports cars, Porsche is weirdly good at off-roaders. Porsche had two Paris-Dakar rally wins under its belt before it even built its first SUV, and now there is a new one. It’s essentially a shrunken Cayenne, and I would like to suggest that that is a good thing. This smaller, lighter SUV is built to be much more capable that the looks or probably the people buying it would suggest. It is not a cheap vehicle, but it makes up for this by at least being more of a serious off-road machine than most of the other vehicles in its price range. Essentially, it’s what you buy if you’re sick of Land Rovers.
It’s not a universal rule, but a lot of time, when a manufacturer jokes about its own product, it is because it is very confident about it. So when Toyota started calling the Tacoma TRD Pro the “Taco Supreme,” it had my attention. The regular Tacoma is unchanged for 2015, but the TRD Pro is new for the 2015 model year. It’s an off-road-ready truck, though not a top-tier off-road racer. There are plenty of other options for an off-road machine, including Toyota’s own TRD Pro Series version of the Tundra and the 4Runner, both of which were new for 2015 as well. But the Tacoma is by far the most practical, and therefore the one most likely to actually be used for its intended purpose. I saw it in Detroit wearing orange paint, and I suggest that color to anyone looking to buy one. Sadly, the all-new 2016 Tacoma doesn’t offer the TRD Pro option. Look for it in the future, however.
The Range Rover Sport SVR is cheaper than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, but puts out more horsepower, and that is nearly everything you need to know about it. It seemed like this list needed one truck that was only barely pretending to offer anything in the way of utility. Land Rover made its name building vehicles that don’t need roads, and that is a big part of why I find the SVR so entertaining. It’s an absurd vehicle to come from Land Rover, but it also works so well as a challenger in the heavily German-dominated segment of batshit crazy performance SUVs. Few people will tell you that the SVR isn’t better looking that the Cayenne or the BMW X6 M either. And with it being so similar to the competition in nearly every other category, my money is on the new-for-2015 SVR.
Sometimes you want to tow something, but also ride in all of the comfort of a luxury car. The go-to vehicle for this since 2001 has been the GMC Sierra Denali, and for 2015, it got a refreshed interior and an improved towing rating. I would like to further recommend that anyone in the market for such a thing buy the crew cab version as well, at which point you’re looking at a living room on wheels. I mean, if you’re going to buy a ridiculous luxury pickup, you might as well go all the way. You can buy other pickups that are loaded with options, but nothing else is quite in the same category as the Denali, and that’s why I love it.
Performance Car of the Year
Yes, the sixth generation of the Mustangdid debut all of the way back in 2013, but when it finally hit dealerships, it was as a 2015 model. If we were going by debut year then I’d be talking about the new GT here instead. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mustang that I can’t really explain, but I can give some pretty solid evidence that this is the best one to date. The one that everyone talked about initially was the independent rear suspension, a first on a Mustang and generally agreed to be an excellent thing.
There’s more power on tap as well, 435 horsepower for the GT and 300 horsepower for the V-6. There’s even a 4-cylinder option that I somehow don’t hate. I thought I would, but 310 horsepower is in the realm of the SVT Cobras that I used to love when I was younger. Muscle cars are once again excellent performance value for the money, and the Mustang is the latest and greatest of these.
With all of the stories about Hellcats of late, you might have missed all of the changes made to the Viper. For starters, it is no longer an SRT and is back to being a Dodge. The change had always seemed like a terrible idea to me anyway, so that’s good. At $90,000, the Viper is quite a good deal for a supercar as well. This is a trait that the Viper has had since the beginning, but it was always entirely possible that Dodge would give in to the temptation to inflate the price. The fact that it didn’t is one of the car’s more endearing qualities, along with that huge V-10 under the hood. There’s a new trim for 2015, the GT, but my favorite change for 2015 is the new GTS “one of one” program. This let’s you pick from a dizzying array of color options in order to make your Viper truly unique.
Ferrari first waded into the waters of turbocharging decades ago with the 208 Turbo and the 288 GTO. 30 years later, we have a regular production car with a turbocharged V-8 and a name that’s even quite similar to the 288 GTO. And just like those early cars, the 488 brings with it engine downsizing, taking the 4.5-liter V-8 from the 458 and bringing it down to 3.9 liters before fitting the pair of turbochargers. But despite the downsizing, the 488 makes more power, and it has been given a much more purposeful look. The big ducts in the bodywork put me in mind of the giant ducts on the Testarossa, and that high praise from someone who loves the Testarossa as much as I do. To me, the 488 GTB seems to be the ultimate form of the 458, and ultimate forms of Ferraris belong on best of lists.
Despite being a massive fan of Porsche, I do sometimes think that it’s a same no other company can really match the dominance of the 911 GT3. But for 2015, Aston Martin added a competitor in the form of a track-focused version of the V8 Vantage. The GT is stripped of a lot of its weight and uses the 420-horsepower V-8 out of the Vantage S to make quite the potent car. But what is probably the best part is that Aston has trimmed the price along with the weight, and the GT costs $18,000 less than the standard model. There is also what can only be described as a choice of five liveries, including Aston’s racing colors of British Racing Green with contrasting yellow. The shade of silver being offered is also called “Skyfall Silver,” and I’m far too big of a Bond geek not to be won over by that.
Audi has done an odd thing with the new S3, which arrived in the U.S. at the tail end of 2014 as a 2015 model. What Audi has made is a car that is at the same time cheaper and quicker than the S4. Generally speaking, when buying a performance vehicle, you have to choose only one of those qualities. The turbocharged engine in the S3 makes 292 horsepower and sends the car to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.
It seems like every year since about 2010, someone is trying to tell us that the end is near for the automobile in one way or another. But as of 2015, things are better than I could have ever imagined not all that long ago. In fact, just 10 years ago, the idea of a 435-horsepower car for $33,000 would have sounded like the greatest thing in the universe. I still might not be all that big a fan of crossovers, but on the whole, the automotive world did some amazing things in 2015, and I believe we’re still on the right track.