2015 TopSpeed Awards – Jayk’s Picks
It doesn’t really matter what your automotive predilections may be – 2015 was a helluva year to love cars. Technological breakthroughs and developing social perceptions continue to transform the industry on an almost daily basis, and automakers are beginning to see the inherent opportunities of this transformation, rather than just the threat to the status quo. And while no one will deny the mounting pressure to evolve, the basics of what’s positive about cars remain. Icons change, expectations change, but that original kernel of what makes four-wheeled transport so fundamentally good continues onwards. The result, at least for folks like you and me, is some truly fantastic cars.
While I’d be happy to discuss the broad strokes of trends in the car world, my purpose here is different. I’m here to highlight 15 of the best new models on the road, whether they’re economical commuters, elegant SUVs, workhorse trucks, or exotic if-I-had-the-money fantasies. While I admit that my own tastes skew towards the lightweight, affordable, and fun-to-drive, I appreciate any vehicle that taps into that original kernel of goodness, no matter what the shell on top may look like.
Continue reading for my top picks for 2015.
Car Of The Year
Full disclosure – I already knew this was going to be my top pick for COTY before I even started writing this article. It basically boils down to this – the new MX-5 ticks every box on my list. Aesthetically, it looks better than any of the previous generations, while the interior is intuitively laid out for the driver. As most compacts gain in size and weight, the new MX-5 sheds both. Fuel economy is even up. But most importantly, if you’re looking for something fun, the MX-5 offers more smiles-per-miles than just about anything, especially at this price range. More than a standard-bearer for affordable roadsters, the MX-5 continues to show what can be done with simple, mechanical design, and a penchant for driver involvement, and that’s why it’s my pick for COTY.
If the fourth-gen MX-5 wasn’t released this year, the new Civic would probably take the top spot on my list. Bouncing back from a less-than-stellar ninth-gen, this icon from Honda received updates everywhere. The exterior is bold and more aerodynamic, the interior is spacious and laden with amenities, and the drivetrain returns over 40 mpg on the highway. It’s everything a daily highway-pounder needs to be. Now, Honda, about the Type-R…
I love it when a brand evolves and gives us something totally unexpected. Bet you didn’t see this coming – 640 horsepower and 200 mph at the top end. In a Cadillac. Mind blown. This thing is just packed with go-faster tech, from the suspension, to the brakes, to the chassis, leaving BMW and Mercedes owners shaking in their leather-clad sport seats. So why isn’t it in the Performance category? Because it’s still a four-door Cadillac, and will whisk you to-and-fro in comfort and ease. Sounds like a pretty nice combo to me.
I’ve never been big on SUVs and crossovers (when it comes to practicality, I’d probably go with a wagon). But given a chance to sit behind the wheel of Volvo’s new XC90, that prejudice might change. Not only is it very good looking, both inside and out, it brings a solid level of efficiency and technology that’s hard to beat in this segment. Throw in rock-solid safety ratings, and this family hauler is undoubtedly one of the best on the road.
Nissan’s larger mid-size sedan returns for the 2016 model year with a new look, tons of features, and a solid drivetrain under the hood. While not everyone will appreciate the styling, the standard navigation, touchscreens, and 300 horsepower make up for it (and then some). Throw in a well-sorted suspension set-up, and you end up with one very nice four-door.
Truck Of The Year
When I think about what makes a great truck, there are a few go-to qualities. First, it has to be as versatile as a Swiss Army knife, with decent comfort on the road, and impressive capability off it. It has to be powerful, with a solid dose of output under the hood. Most importantly, however, it has to reliable. Like drop-it-from-a-building-and-it-still-freakin’-runs reliable. Behold the Toyota Tacoma. New for 2016, the immensely popular Toyo Taco enters its third generation this year, bringing a refreshed interior, a new V-6 powerplant, and a proven record for being there every time you need it.
Chevy introduced the second-generation U.S.-spec Colorado as recently as the 2015 model year, but already it looks to set a legacy as being one of the best trucks on the road. Updates for 2016 include a refreshed drivetrain with the addition of a very hitch-happy 2.8-liter turbodiesel. This lump offers up to 7,700 pounds of towing – an enormous sum for the segment. What’s more, it’s remarkably fuel efficient, with up to 31 mpg on the highway. Inside, there’s advanced infotainment (like Apple CarPlay), and out on the road, it’s offers a very un-truck-like ride.
At first blush, it’s hard to not be impressed by the Titan. The exterior looks ready to roll over anything in its way, and with either a 5.0-liter Cummins diesel V-8 or a 5.6-liter gasoline V-8 under the hood, buyers won’t be disappointed when it comes to output. Towing is rated at well over 12,000 pounds. A six-speed automatic transmission pairs well with both of the engines, and a variety of solid body configurations round out the options.
In order to keep up with the competition, Chevy gave the Silverado a very extensive refresh for the 2016 model year, and its all the better for it. Outside, you’ll get new styling, while the cabin is equipped with a sweet array of technology, including Wi-Fi Internet connectivity. Also, more Silverado models are now offered with an eight-speed transmission, which helps up both mileage and smoothness.
The standby GMC Sierra receives a variety of updates for 2016, such as an attractive new grille in the front fascia, LED lighting, and available 22-inch wheels. But the changes are more than skin deep, with an impressive eight-speed automatic transmission, a new locking tailgate, and for Denali models, Tri-Mode power steps. It’ll also haul just about anything without issue, and if you put your foot down, it’s surprisingly quick as well, hitting 60 mph in less than six seconds.
Performance Vehicle Of The Year
Pure driving experience. It’s the kind of thing many marques talk about, but few actually deliver, and as the machines become more and more autonomous, performance enthusiasts are anxious. How long will human hands continue to enjoy apexes and trail braking and opposite lock, and when will it all be just another part of the algorithm? Well, fear not, because by the look of it, the good stuff isn’t going away any time soon.
Exhibit A: the Porsche Cayman GT4. Combining a naturally aspirated 3.8-liter engine, telepathic steering, and a manual six-speed gearbox (the only transmission option, by the way), this Stuttgart superstar continues Porsche’s tradition of uncompromised wheel time. And at around $85,000, even the mighty 911 is in for a fight.
Producing a follow-up to the beloved 458 Italia is a big ask, but Ferrari pulled it off. The 488 takes the tried-and-true mid-engine Maranello formula and ups the ante in just about every single way – outside is styling that draws from the LaFerrari superhero, the electronic wizardry responsible for traction is as cutting edge is it comes, the handling is even more rewarding and focused, and at the end of the day, it’ll still drive around town with total composure.
But what about the two snail-shaped elephants in the room? Doesn’t boost spoil it? No way. While it’s easy to praise the outgoing naturally aspirated eight-cylinder, the 488 proves that our inevitable turbocharged future is far from gloomy.
Don’t worry, it’s not a diesel. While VW continues to grapple with fallout from its recent emissions scandal, it’s easy to forget the company also makes a variety of totally EPA-compliant (and utterly fantastic) gas-powered cars, including the uber-hatchback Golf R. A 292-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four provides motivation, while AWD provides the grip. The cabin is both comfortable and practical. The exterior is slick, yet understated. Topping it off is an MSRP under $40,000, which means the R ticks all the right boxes when it comes A-to-B usability when you need it, and eye-widening performance when you want it.
I have a lot of respect for muscle cars, but I wouldn’t necessarily want one. This latest top-shelf Mustang is different. Way different. It keeps the good stuff, like in-your-face ‘Merican good looks, a six-speed manual transmission, and the all-important 5.2-liter V-8 snarl. But at the same time, the old criticisms are kicked to the curb. The suspension is modern and sophisticated, specifically designed for the road course. Materials like aluminum and carbon fiber are used all over the place. Hell, Ford even put it around the Nürburgring and posted the results. Your Dad’s muscle car, this is not. Welcome to the new era.
Life is full of opportunities to overthink things. In-depth analysis certainly has its place, but sometimes, it’s far better to just go with your gut. The Aventador SV is a perfect example – you could dig into specs like downforce, lateral grip, and horsepower-per-liter, but all that ignores what makes cars like this one special. No spreadsheet will ever be able to quantify the appeal of the SV’s blade-like front fascia, nor will an equation explain the hair-raising quality of its exhaust note. The visceral reaction a performance vehicle creates for the driver and outside observers is just as important as anything measured with a stopwatch, and in that respect, the Aventador SV trumps all challengers.
You wouldn’t be wrong to call this a motley crew of vehicles. And while no one will cross-shop between a Civic, Tacoma, and Aventador, each of the machines listed in this article plays its role with the utmost competence. I sit here writing without knowledge of which (if any) of these picks will rise to be awarded ultimate recognition from TopSpeed, but I know each has the capability to do so.
Tune in next week to see if my colleagues agree.