When I first started the journey into the world of the automobile reviewer, both literally and figuratively, I thought about the benchmark I would use to rate all the cars I had driven in the previous year. What should I take into account? The price, the comfort, the practicality, the speed? Which one is the best?
For those who read my reviews on a regular basis, thank you, and you know that I don’t focus on the nuts and bolts of a machine. Sure I could dazzle you with talk about superchargers, direct injection, overhead cams, suspension damping and the like. I have made a living, a pretty decent one at that, by turning wrenches; in fact I still have my big red toolbox, although truth be told now it’s more like a dusty monument to my youth. I also made a living in motorsports, not a decent one as a driver given my lack of god given talent, but I have nonetheless been around the automotive world most of my life and still spend many weekends at a racetrack or some car event somewhere. I can talk mechanics all day long, but in my mind at least most people don’t care about that. It’s all about how they would feel behind the wheel of a car, and how they would live with it every single day of the year.
For those who don’t know, or care for that matter, I am also a fulltime graduate student studying psychology. This may be somewhat surprising given my age of 53, but it’s never too old to learn in my book. After starting my life in medical school in my teen years only to abandon the calling for the military and all things four wheeled and mechanical, I feel I am too old to be sticking my hands in someone’s guts. So I will soon be a full-fledged doctor, but one who is more concerned about what goes on in one’s mind. Thus, I care about how a person feels, and that’s the focus of my car reviews; how I feel after a week or so behind the wheel. It doesn’t matter to me if I can afford it, or whether it would serve my day-to-day life. I try to convey the feeling I get behind the wheel.
I drone on about all this, because that’s the benchmark by which I rate the top 10 machines I have driven in the past year. Whether or not I would put them in my driveway is based not on economics, or reliability, but on the pure joy I would have at waking up and knowing I would get to drive such a thing that day and every day for that matter.
I divide the vehicles into separate areas highlighting my personal favorite, then summarize them all in one top 10 list. This year brought some old, but updated favorites, along with some new manufacturers I had never dealt with. Overall, it was another enjoyable year of motoring and I am looking forward to the next one.
The SUV/Crossover market is one of the most popular. These are the vehicles that are the draft horses of the world. They tow things, carry stuff and get families from one place to another. They range from the large and luxurious, like the Infiniti QX80, the Chevy Tahoe, the Ford Expedition, to the plain, and small, like the Nissan Pathfinder or even the Chevy Trax. There are also such vehicles as the Jeep Renegade, the Nissan Murano and the Fiat 500X which seem to be in a class all their own, yet are called crossovers. While each of these had their own virtues, the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG was the most fun we spent behind the wheel of any SUV/Crossover in 2015. An honorable mention here goes to the final vehicle I had in 2015, the 2016 Land Rover LR4 HSE, which I suppose is considered an SUV. The review is forthcoming as I have only had it for a few days, but so far it is an impressive SUV and the first Land Rover I have ever had. It’s big and roomy and powerful but lacks the luxury the GLA has.
We had a few trucks parked in the driveway this year. In this category I include the Ram Promaster City which is more like a van on steroids. We actually took one on a short road trip and while it wasn’t as comfortable as some, it surprised us with the maneuverability and cargo room it had. Dodge also sent us the Laramie Crew cab, which seems very suited for a family. It was the Ford F-150 XLT though that won us over with its new lighter frame. After a week with the F-150, it was clear why this is the best selling truck in America.
Hybrids are the way of the future. There will come a day when a pure gasoline car will be a rarity on the road. The hybrid can be one that combines and electric motor with a gas engine to push you along, and some can even be plugged in and use only electric power for a time. We had the Lexus ES 300 Hybrid that showed us what a luxury hybrid can be, and it was a good week. However there was also a chance to live with some more mainstream hybrids such as the impressive Jetta, the nice looking Sonata, and the popular Camry. The winner for me this year though was the refreshed 2016 Chevy Volt, the only plug in hybrid we had this year. The Volt is a good looking car that can take you nearly 40 miles on the battery alone and not leave you stranded. When it is using its combination of electric and gas the drive is smooth and pleasant. If the future of motoring is the Volt, we have nothing much to fear.
SEDANS/COUPES (Plain Jane)
This class made up the bulk of the fleet this year. These are the cars that many Americans can afford and are what are seen on the roads every day. This year Hyundai showed us that the Genesis 5.0 really is new and improved. The VW Jetta was a nice ride, while Audi impressed with the S5 Cabriolet and the little S3. I now understand why the Camry is so popular after a turn with the XSE, but it was the Chrysler 300C that stole the show and left me not wanting to give it back.
The luxury sedan is a special animal. Most are so expensive that usual only corporate executives are seen behind the wheel. The Cadillac ATS coupe started the year off with a nice ride that left me wanting more, but it was a foreign invasion that proved to be the most impressive. Mercedes brought the E250 a nice diesel, and the S500 coupe which was as close to perfection as could be found this year. It was the BMW 740ld xDrive that stole my heart though. It was the perfect blend of smooth ride on the road and drivability behind the wheel.
This is the class that features those cars that don’t really fit into another category. Chief among those is years was the MINI Cooper S 4-door, the first MINI I have ever driven. There was also my continuing love-hate relationship with Fiat as I gave a little love to the 500L after spending a nice week with it. The one that stuck out though was the 2015.5 Volvo V60 R-Design, a grownup station wagon that was the tops in this category.
These are the cars I love to drive. It’s also the class that had clear winner a couple of months before the year was over. I started the year with the BMW M4 coupe which was a blast and a head turner wherever I went, especially, and oddly, among the NASCAR mechanics and drivers who saw it parked at a speedway during my week with it. I also had the Lexus IS460 F-Sport in the spring that continued to deliver as always. In addition I had both the 2105 and 2016 Scion FR-S which is another model that never fails to leave a positive impression. The Audi RS7 was something I characterized as a sedan that thinks it’s a supercar, and for good reason. The Mercedes C63 AMG hovers between a sports car and luxury sedan with a tilt towards the sports side thanks to the AMG guys. It was a fun week with that machine, a car that’s not as expensive as you might think.
However, it wasn’t all about the Europeans. America delivered with the Ford Mustang, impressive with the 4-cylinder engine. Ford also gave me the Focus ST to try out with it’s only available transmission being a manual. Chevy handed over the Camaro SS which left me gasping for air, but of all the American muscle cars I had in 2015, Dodge again impressed with the Challenger SXT and the Charger SRT, which left a semi-permanent smile on my face for several weeks.
One of the most memorable weeks in recent years was spent with the Alfa-Romeo 4C. This car rocked my world and for most of the year sat atop the pack as my favorite. That was until October when I slipped behind the wheel of the 2016 Jaguar F-Type R for the first time. The F-Type truly was, and is, the most fun I have had behind the wheel in years. I thought there would be no rival for my favorite car for 2015, until the week of Christmas came. The next to last car of the year was the 2016 BMW M6. This 560 horsepower beast can deliver amazing performance on the road and carry the groceries home. Everyone who rode in the M6 loved it and the way it exploded off the line was nothing short of amazing. A short road trip with the family proved this could be a welcome addition to my driveway, if only I could afford the $130,000 price tag. It came down to almost a coin toss as to what my favorite would be, but in the end the Jaguar won out, although not by much.
So here you have it, my top 10 cars of 2015. Your list and mine might differ, but in the end, I hope I have helped a few drivers looking to put something in their own driveway make an informed decision. Never just look on paper though. Get out, get behind the wheel and drive. Forget all the fancy terms and mechanical wizardry, just enjoy the drive. Know that the one you want will be the vehicle that makes you wake up and feel the joy of knowing you get to drive such a thing every day of the year.
The 2015 Top 10
10. 2015.5 Volvo V60 R-Design
9. 2015 BMW 740ld xDrive
8. 2015 Mercedes GLA 45 AMG
7. 2015 Chrysler 300C Platinum
6. 2016 Chevy Volt
5. 2015 Mercedes C63 AMG
4. 2015 Alfa-Romeo 4C
3. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT
2. 2016 BMW M6
1. 2016 Jaguar F-Type R