2015 TopSpeed Awards - Ciprian’s Picks
With the 2015 calendar year coming to an end, it’s time to evaluate what has happened in the industry over the last 12 months and honor the best vehicles that arrived in showrooms in our annual TopSpeed Awards. This year, we are set to crown three winners – the car, truck, and performance vehicle of the year – and to do that we’ve put together a set of criteria. You can learn more about it here.
Granted, 2015 has been an eventful year with several new or updated releases for each segment, including the three we are set to judge. With so many new vehicles to choose from, picking five nominees and judging them against the criteria has been rather difficult. But after much thorough analysis and deliberation, I’ve come up with what I consider to be the top five greatest contenders for this year’s TopSpeed awards.
Check them all about below and make sure you stick around to find out what my fellow editors picked for each category, as well as for the big announcement on January 4th, 2016, when we will reveal the winners. Also, feel free to agree or disagree with my nominations in the comments section.
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Car of the Year
Redesigned for 2016, the Chevrolet Camaro made the top of my Car of the Year list for many reasons. First, its exterior and interior design is a perfect blend of old and new, combining everything that was great about the fifth-gen model with new and fresh features that bring it into the 21st century. At the same time, it sports many styling cues that harken back to the first-gen model. Then there’s the Corvette-based V-8 engine that makes the SS both fast and fuel-efficient (due to cylinder deactivation), the newly developed V-6 with more oomph than anything the competition can offer, and the brand-new 2.0-liter four-banger that already made a name for itself in the Cadillac ATS in terms of performance and fuel economy. It’s significantly lighter and stiffer than its predecessor and its new suspension system (combined with the Magnetic Ride Control and Brembo brakes available with the SS) granted the Camaro promotion from the muscle car to the sports coupe segment. The new Camaro is once again one step ahead of its traditional competition – the Mustang and the Challenger – and good enough to give the German sports coupes a run for their money. Pretty much what Chevy, Ford, and Dodge have been gunning for in recent years.
If you ask me, the ND-generation MX-5 Miata needs no introduction. It’s lighter, sportier, and more efficient than its predecessor, it has an appealing design, and, more importantly, it’s the modern embodiment of the first-generation car. No other sports car available on U.S. soil will give you better value for the buck and very few (significantly more expensive vehicles) will give you more fun and put that big grin on your face. It’s suitable as both a daily driver and weekend track toy and has just enough technology on board to keep it modern without altering its intended purpose.
Have you noticed how more and more Nissans get that cool factor we usually find in the GT-R? The Maxima sedan is one of them and needless to say, it gained loads of it. I was impressed with the new Maxima as soon as I laid eyes on it at the New York Auto Show. Unlike other Nissans out there, the Maxima remained true to the concept it was based on, showcasing the same muscular body panels, sleek profile, wide stance, and an incredibly sporty appearance for a vehicle of this size.
The interior is equally impressive, featuring a center stack inspired by the GT-R supercar, Zero Gravity front seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and enough premium features to make the Toyota Avalon seem spartan. It’s also quite spacious given its sleek appearance and thanks to the revised drivetrain, it now also delivers up to 30 mpg on the highway, making it one of the most fuel-efficient sedans in its niche. Priced from the low $30Ks, the Maxima checks all the right boxes and the fact that bridges the gap between Nissan and Infiniti as far as premium features go makes it that much more appealing.
While I’m not big fan of small crossovers and I’d take a compact wagon over any high-riding vehicle any day of the week, the CX-3 arrived just in time to prove me that not all mini SUVs have to be ugly as the Nissan Juke or dull as the Honda HR-V. Far more appealing than just about any crossover currently on the market, the CX-3 not only sports a unique design based on Mazda’s sexy Kodo styling language, but it’s also uncommonly aggressive for a vehicle wearing cladding and sitting high above the ground. The interior is pretty fancy for a car that fetches less than $20,000 in base trim, while the 2.0-liter SkyActiv engine returns best-in-class economy. In many ways, the CX-3 is the Miata of the mini SUV market and that statement explains its presence on this list.
Nominating a Kia for the Car of the Year awards would have seemed a crazy idea five years ago, but the Korean automaker made tremendous progress over the past years and the Optima is one of its many impressive results. Although its new design is rather evolutionary and still has plenty of previous-generation cues in it, it boasts the kind of understated elegance and sportiness I expect from a mid-size sedan.
The one-piece headlamp/grille arrangement and the coupe-like profile give it a bold appearance (even when compared to the gorgeous Mazda 6), while the cabin is unlike anything Kia had to offer thus far in this niche. Based on themes used in larger Kia sedans, the Optima’s interior has finally received the attention to detail it deserves, softer materials, and an overall cleaner design. The Optima feels more expensive than it really is and can be had with one of three four-cylinder engines, something all mid-size sedans should offer nowadays. A car for the average Joe, the new Optima is proof that Kia is rapidly growing into a strong competitor in almost any significant segment.
Truck of the Year
When it comes to trucks and SUVs, my No. 1 spot goes to the Volvo XC90. A Swedish work of art on wheels that not only reminds me of the boxy and functional Volvos of the 1980s, but also a vehicle that signals the company’s rebirth as a luxury vehicle manufacturer. I also picked the XC90 because it debuted Volvo first new platform in almost two decades and a new, gorgeous design language that has already spawned the S90 and will eventually spread across the entire lineup and maybe even onto other brand-new nameplates.
But the platform isn’t the only thing that’s new on this hauler. Everything else was redesigned from the ground up, including the fancy interior with its flamed-birch wood trim, Orrefors-made crystal gear level, and tablet-like touchscreen on the dashboard. Everything under the hood is also new, starting with the gasoline and hybrid drivetrains and ending with the turbodiesels available outside the U.S. And despite the fact that the XC90 lacks the V-6 and V-8 powerplants most SUV enthusiasts love, the four-pot-exclusive lineup offers plenty of oomph and fuel economy figures that put equally powerful BMW X3s and Audi Q5s to shame.
Finally, it’s arguably the safest vehicle you can buy nowadays, featuring the brand’s latest safety technology. Volvo did a tremendous job with the new XC90 and I’m more than happy to nominate this SUV as America’s Truck of the Year in 2015.
I can’t really remember the last time I nominated a "Japanese" truck over a Ford, Chevy, or Ram, but I know it’s been quite a few years. Come 2016 and I’m finally able to say that the best pickup truck America can buy isn’t made by Ford, GM, or FCA. For 2015, my vote goes to the Nissan Titan XD, a truck the Japanese brand has been teasing us with since 2013. Now that it’s finally here, I can say that Nissan has finally developed a workhorse that can give the F-150 and Silverado a run for their money.
Placed above the standard Titan as far as towing capabilities go, the XD comes with bold looks, a potent Cummins turbodiesel V-8 that sends a whopping 555 pound-feet of torque to the wheels, and unique features such as a standard gooseneck hitch and detachable, bed-mounted utility boxes. Sure, the interior feels somewhat dated compared to the F-150’s and the infotainment screen is rather small, but both will carry out their intended roles.
Having been launched in late 2013 and sent to dealerships in 2014 for the 2015 model year, the Chevrolet Colorado is far from new, but the 2.8-liter Duramax engine GM introduced for the truck in 2016 convinced me to nominate it for this year’s award. The Colorado was already a great truck and came in at a close second in TopSpeed’s 2014 Truck of the Year award, losing to the then-new, aluminum-bodied Ford F-150. When it arrived, the new Colorado raised the bar in the compact segment and made a huge splash in the market thanks to its beautiful design, state-of-the-art technology, and potent, yet fuel-efficient engines.
With the new 2.8-liter diesel available as an option, the Bowtie-badged truck just had to make my list. To recap, the Colorado shines thanks to its small size and lighter weight, which not only makes it easy to park and drive in tight places, but also enables it to deliver excellent fuel economy. It’s also quite nimble for a vehicle that can haul more than 7,000 pounds. Now that it can also be had with a diesel powerplant, the Colorado is basically unbeatable as far as fuel economy goes, being able to return a whopping 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. More, importantly, the Colorado could become a very influential truck in its niche, prompting Ford to revive the Ranger for the U.S. market and Toyota and Nissan to offer diesel engines for the Tacoma and Frontier, respectively.
After ten years on the market with little changes to its design and drivetrains, the second-generation Toyota Tacoma has finally been replaced by a redesigned and more capable truck. More refined on the road, but at the same time more capable in the dirt, the new Tacoma also looks more appealing, all very important feats with the Chevrolet Colorado on the radar. Interior quality has also been upped, with finer surfaces all around and an easy to use infotainment system. Granted, it doesn’t offer a diesel option like the Colorado and it’s ride is not as smooth as the Chevy’s, but the new Taco is the better and more reliable workhorse of the two.
The Model X is the only electrified vehicle on my list and the SUV that will most likely spawn a revolution in this segment. Essentially a Model S with SUV capabilities and a set of fancy doors, the Model X boasts impressive horsepower figures, great mileage, and ludicrous acceleration. In its most expensive trim, the P90D, it benefits from 259 horses at the front and 503 horsepower in the rear and needs only 3.8 seconds to hit 60 mph. Go for the Ludicrous Speed Upgrade and you’ll hit the benchmark in just 3.2 ticks.These are sports car figures right there, which isn’t impressive only for an EV, but for an SUV as well.
The Model X is further proof that electricity is the future and that you don’t have to spend enormous amounts of cash at the pump to own a high-performance hauler. The reasons why the Model X is at the bottom of the Truck of the Year list are the fact that the first units have only been delivered in December and that the SUV retails from $132,000. It’s definitely cool and all with all the oomph and the gadgets, but it’s definitely too expensive for the average Joe, making it a rather exclusive appearance on the market. Maybe next year, Tesla...
Performance Vehicle of the Year
When it comes to performance cars, I found the Cayman GT4 to be the most exciting release of 2015. I know Porsche also updated the 911 and launched the bonkers GT3 RS, but with the Cayman GT4, the Germans opened a whole new chapter for their entry-level sports cars. Overshadowed for many years by the 911, the Cayman finally received the high-performance update it deserved, giving Porsche enthusiasts a more affordable, mid-engined alternative to the mighty 911 GT3. And "mid-engined" is the key word here, as it makes the Cayman GT4 a more balanced track toy compared to the 911 GT3.
Granted, the GT4 is not as fast and it has yet to make a name for itself on the race track, but it offers an experience the 911 can’t match because of its rear-engined configuration. Porsche took many inspired decisions in recent years, but the one that green-lighted the Cayman GT4 is definitely the most wonderful and most appealing to fervent enthusiasts. The fact that it carries only a $10K premium over the Cayman GTS makes it that much better!
I was a bit disappointed when Shelby discontinued the previous GT350, but I got over it as soon as I laid eyes on the brand-new model. Based on the sixth-generation Mustang – by far the sportiest pony released by Ford as of 2015 – is one of the angriest muscle cars ever created and by far the meanest looking, factory-built Mustang. It has a redesigned front section with race-spec flared fenders and an aggressive bumper. The rear end was also reconfigured aerodynamically to the extent that the GT350 needs only a wing to become a full-fledged race car.
The impressive thing about its design is that the GT350’s form truly follows function, being a purely functionally driven design rather than a styled coupe. Under the hood, it packs a naturally aspirated, flat-plane crank, 5.2-liter V-8 rated at 526 horsepower. The chassis was tuned on some of the finest tracks around the world, including Sebring and the Nürburgring. In short, the GT350 is one heck of a track toy. Did I mention that the GT350R can be ordered with carbon-fiber wheels built using NASA technology?
I’ve already discussed the MX-5 Miata in the Car of the Year section, but there is one more thing I’d like to add in order to justify its presence here among vehicles with significantly more horsepower at their disposal. Specifically, I want to quote [this Miata vs Porsche Boxster comparison,->https://www.topspeed.com/cars/car-news/2016-mazda-miata-vs-2015-porsche-boxster-ar170612.html] which perfectly illustrates why Mazda’s roadster is the perfect entry-level performance car. Although it’s significantly less powerful than the Porsche, it’s less than a half-second slower from 0 to 60 mph, while returning far better fuel economy and commanding less than half the price of a base Boxster. At $24,915 before options, the Miata is the best bargain the performance market has to offer these days.
Take a quick peek at today’s hatchback market and you’ll understand why my list just had to include a hot-hatch. They’re all over the place in all shapes and sizes, with manufacturers from North America, Europe, and Asia battling for supremacy. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is arguably the most popular and celebrated hot-hatch in the U.S., but there’s a new kid in town that appears to have what it takes to make the German five-door seem slow. It’s called the Focus RS, packs a Mustang-sourced 2.3-liter EcoBoost rated at a whopping 350 horsepower, and uses an all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 70 percent of the available 350 pound-feet of torque to the rear axle.
How cool is that? Of course, I can’t nominate the Focus RS just for being cool, so I will add that it’s as practical as any other hatch on the market, it comes with Ford’s latest technology, a purposeful body kit, and an affordable, $35,730 price tag. If TopSpeed were to hold the Hatchback of the Year awards for 2015, the Focus RS would likely win by unanimous decision.
The Cadillac ATS-V is the kind of performance vehicle that often gets overlooked at the end of the year, mostly because it competes in a very tough niche that includes vehicles such as the BMW M3/M4, Mercedes-AMG C63 Sedan/Coupe, and Audi RS4/RS5. Granted, there’s nothing revolutionary about it, but it seems as if Cadillac finally found the magic recipe that allows it to compete against the big boys of this select market.
The exterior design is sporty yet elegant, the cabin is packed will all sorts of premium goodies (including carbon-fiber), while motivation comes from a high-revving V-6 that produces a stout 464 horsepower and 445 pound-feet of torque. At $61,460 before options, the ATS-V is also less expensive than its German rivals.