It’s that time of the year again, when I reflect back over the last 12 months, and point out the best vehicles I got to test. Some of the choices on my list aren’t perfect, and nor are they for everybody, but they left a big impression on me.
So without any further delay, here is my Top 10 of 2016:
10- 2017 Hyundai Elantra: This vehicle competes in the toughest segment – i.e. the compact car category – and hence has to deal with the likes of the Honda Civic (Canada’s best selling car), Toyota Corolla, and Mazda3. In the past, the Elantra did well, but wasn’t extraordinary.
The seventh-generation Elantra, however, is the most complete compact segment vehicle I have ever come across.
Not only does this 2017 Elantra look good, step inside and you’ll find a spacious, comfortable interior, with all the infotainment tech you’d wish for from a car like this, and then some.
On top of that, it is also very safe, as Hyundai uses the strongest steel to make the cars superstructure – and since Hyundai has its own steel mill, it can achieve that quite easily.
This car is impressive, and I haven’t even got to its drivetrain yet. Under the hood lies a 2.0L, inline-four cylinder motor that develops 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. It can be mated to either a six-speed manual, or six-speed automatic transmission. Nothing extraordinary about the powertrain, but it is smooth, has plenty of get up and go, and it only sniffs fuel, I averaged just 6.9L/100 km, which makes it the most fuel-efficient, non-hybrid vehicle I tested all year.
To put the cherry on top of the icing, it is also priced really well. A base 2017 Elantra is yours from $15,999 – or a well equipped model for under $20,000. If you’re in the market for a compact segment vehicle, be sure to test drive the new Elantra.
9- 2017 Nissan Maxima: If you want a family sedan that has more power, more room, and more style than the car I just talked about, then the new Nissan Maxima might be of interest to you.
Whereas in the past, Nissan just took the platform of the Altima, and gave it a new body to make the Maxima. For the eight-generation model, while Nissan again has shared a lot between the Altima and Maxima, but the engineering is quite different – hence, the steering has a nicer, luxury car feel. Also, the chassis is tighter, the suspension damping is better, and it has improved sound proofing, so it is nicer to be in on a long drive.
On that long drive, you’ll love its technology, such as its adaptive cruise control (which will keep you away from the car ahead, even when that car slows down), and its lane keep assist (which keeps you in your driving lane). On top of that, the seats are simply excellent, and so is the sound system.
Then there is the power, which it has plenty of. Under the hood is a 3.5L V6 motor that develops 300 hp and 261 lb-ft of torque. Not only is this motor smooth and powerful, but it is also very efficient – I averaged 8.8L/100km, which is very good for a sedan of this size. Also, while it has to make do with a CVT automatic gearbox, the transmission did seem well tuned for this vehicle, so was not as annoying as most CVT units are. Nissan could improve on the Maxima still, by giving it a more conventional automatic and all-wheel drive, but what it has is not bad at all.
On top of that, I like its looks, and loved the interior – so a good product for sure. However, it isn’t perfect!
Open the trunk and while you’ll notice it has a lot of room, you’ll also notice that Nissan didn’t quite bother lining the trunk properly. Hence, the inside roof of the trunk compartment is bare – you can see speakers and amps bolted in place, and the straps to pull down the rear seats look like a last minute DIY effort – it looks cheap, and really out of place in a test vehicle that had a price tag of around $44,000. Base price for the Maxima starts at $34,400 – and for that you get a good vehicle to haul your family around in, I just wish Nissan had paid a little bit more attention to the trunk compartment. Still, it is good enough to be in my Top 10.
8- 2017 Honda Ridgeline: One of the biggest surprises from this year was the new Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. The previous model was just OK, nothing spectacular – in my opinion. The new Ridgeline, is a different story.
It looks great, has a really good cabin – with great technology – and is powered by a grunty 3.5L V6 motor that makes 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, through a six-speed automatic gearbox. But all this is not enough to score so highly on my list.
It has a tough as nails pickup bed, which can take a lot of punishment, and can tow 5,000 lbs. But, even this is not the reason I like this truck so much.
The reason I think this is the best pickup on sale at the moment, is because of its handling. Thanks to torque vectoring, this truck can go around corners like a sports car, and that is no exaggeration. This is the only pickup truck I can think of that I’d like to put on a race track, and I bet it’ll be fun.
It handles well off tarmac as well. Show it an off-road course, and you’ll be surprised at what it can muster. This is a thoroughly well developed vehicle.
With prices starting at $36,590 – the new Ridgeline is good value, too. So, if you need a pickup in your life, check out this one in detail.
7- 2017 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350: It’s no secret, that I love the Ford Mustang – it offers an amazing bang for your buck. However, most of its models are OK, but not extraordinary. The Shelby GT350, however, is very extraordinary.
What makes this version of the Mustang so special?
The simple answer is, its engine. The Shelby GT350 doesn’t get a tuned up version of the regular Mustang’s motor, it gets an all-new engine. Under the hood lies a 5.2L V8 motor, that features a flat-plane crank – that’s the kind of technology you’ll find in a Ferrari engine, hence with an 8,000 rpm redline, it also revs like one. This naturally-aspirated motor produces 526 hp, and 429 lb-ft of torque. Power is just sent to the rear wheels, via a six-speed manual gearbox – no option for an automatic for posers.
Thanks to this motor, the Shelby GT350 can keep up with exotic supercars, and sounds better than most – that is no easy feat to achieve.
But I know what you’re thinking – sure, it can go fast in a straight line, but can it handle? The answer is, yes, the GT350 can attack corners, and it sticks. The brakes are good too, but the only thing that works against it, is its weight! Tipping the scales at 2,066 kg, the Shelby GT350 is a bit portly. Compared to the BMW M4, which the Shelby GT350 competes with – even on price – the Ford is 462 kg heavier. That affects performance, handling and braking – which means, if you take it on a track, it’ll get tired very quickly.
Ford also offers a more track focused Shelby GT350R, which has aerodynamic downforce, but even that weights 1,976 kg – Ford, you need to find a way for this car to lose 300 kg, and then, it’ll be unbeatable.
For now, as it sits, the Shelby GT350 is still a good sports car, with a price tag starting at $73,678. If it was lighter, I’d have placed it higher on my list.
6- 2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus Coupe: In a way, this car should be the top winner on my list, because there was nothing I drove all year that was faster, handled better, looked better, or sounded better than the new Audi R8, especially in the V10 Plus spec.
Just thinking about my time with it gives me good vibrations, and the performance numbers would make anyone’s jaw drop – after all, this car can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.7 seconds, and has a top speed of 330 km/h. Couple that with quattro all-wheel drive, and a lightning fast, seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and what you end up with is a road car that is just about unbeatable.
So, why is it not positioned any higher on my list?
Well, first of all, its abilities are expected from a car like this, because it is built to be a supercar, and that is what it delivers on – so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Secondly, it is rather expensive – the R8 V10 Plus Coupe starts from $213,900 – so only the very well to do can afford to buy one. Thirdly, while I respect the abilities of its dual-clutch gearbox to change gears faster than you can blink, I wish the old manual gearbox was still available, even as an option – because, the satisfaction of rowing your own gears in a car like this is even better.
However, trust me, if I suddenly win a big lottery, this new R8 V10 Plus Coupe is what I’ll be bringing home – in Camouflage Green Matte paint.
5- 2016 BMW 750i: The latest BMW 7 series is a technological tour de force, and features a lot of ‘world first’ technology, such as the gesture control for the infotainment system, which lets you play with a few menu items – such as the volume of the stereo – by twirling you hand in mid air! It’s magical stuff, but that’s not why this car is on my list.
It is comfortable, and quiet, and has all the gadgetry to melt the miles away, such as massaging seats, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, but that’s not why it’s on my list, either.
It has a key that’s like a mini tablet, and gives you information such as how much driving range you have – among many other things – but that’s not what clinches it for me either.
The drivetrain, although very impressive, is not a new invention, as it still uses the same twin-scroll twin turbo 4.4L V8 motor as the old car, and makes the same 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, sending power to all wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Plus, despite this car’s powerful motor – which allows it to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.4 seconds, and its 2,041 kg curb weight, it still managed to average 11.4L/100km, which is incredible for a car like this, but that’s still not why I rank this car so highly.
During my week with it, I got invited by a friend to a driver enhancement course at Toronto Motorsports Park. Most people who were showing up were bringing exotic sports cars, so they could learn the handling limits of their vehicles in a safe, controlled environment. The day also started wet, with drizzle in the forecast for most of the day. I wasn’t planning on going, but eventually went. As I hit the circuit – in full Sport Mode for the engine, transmission, and suspension – the 750i came alive! The way it would accelerate, then brake, then turn in for corners, and accelerate out, and shoot itself towards the next corner, was just jaw dropping. Its composure and stiffness through the corners make you realize that BMW’s talk about this cars carbon core is not just marketing hype – it actually works! I have driven quite a lot of vehicles on this circuit in the past, and nothing has surprised and delighted me as much as this new 750i – which did have the M Performance package from its list of optional extras.
From there on, I was smitten. I have driven a lot of luxury cars in my life, but had never came across one that could eat supercars on a track. BMW is well known for making great sports cars, and their tag line as makers of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” is equally recognized; but doing a few laps of a circuit in the new 750i proved that their slogan is not just a collection of words, their cars, from the base 2 series, to the top of the line 7 series, are all born on the track, and it shows in their performance.
The 2017 BMW 750i is yours from $113,900 – and its worth every penny.
4- 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C: I had been looking forward to driving one for a long time, and while I had read a lot of very positive things about it, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually like it.
It took less than half a kilometer to fall in love with this car, and the feelings got only deeper and deeper as I drove on.
Its turbocharged 1.75L four-cylinder motor makes a healthy 237 hp, and since these horses only has to pull along 1,118 kg of mass – and since it also has a super fast shifting six-speed twin-clutch gearbox – the 4C Coupe can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.1 seconds, and will top out at 258 km/h.
It’s not the speed that wins you over, its how the car feels. This is a pure driver’s car, short on frills, high on thrills. It talks to you, sometimes softly, mostly by shouting at you, and as a car enthusiast, it’s all I want.
The 4C Coupe is yours from $66,495 – although options can take the price far north of that.
3- 2017 Lotus Evora 400: If you want a car that has all the qualities of the Alfa Romeo 4C, but then adds more usability (small back seats, more luggage space, choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearbox available) and a lot more power, than you need to get to know the new Lotus Evora 400.
Thanks to its bonded-aluminium chassis, the Evora 400 tips the scales at just 1,430 kg – given that its supercharged 3.5L V6 motor makes 400 hp and and 302 lb-ft of torque, it can swiftly move its mass around.
Compared to the Alfa Romeo 4C, the Evora 400 is a tad slower from 0 to 100 km/h, clocking a time of 4.2 seconds, but the extra power allows it to go much faster at the top end, as it’ll keep accelerating to 300 km/h. That is supercar stuff!
As with the 4C, the Evora 400 is less about performance numbers and more about how it feels. On the track, it’s agile and nimble, yet also very stable through the high speed sections. The brakes truly are like anchors, as they wash off speed instantly, and the best part is, they can take the abuse all day. So can the rest of the car, as the one I drove, spent the entire day driving around on the track, with no signs of overheating, leaks, or squeaks. Due to its light weight, it is even easy on its tires, which showed very little wear and tear after a long day on the track.
If you want a road car that will also spend a lot of time on the track, the Evora 400 is the weapon for you.
The 2017 Lotus Evora 400 will be in showrooms by the first quarter of 2017, priced from around $124,000.
2- 2017 Ford Focus RS: There is only one way to describe this car; it’s a giant killer!
The RS has been the top Focus model in other parts of the world for some time, but this year, the model has finally come to North America, and what a monster it has evolved into.
For the first time ever, the Focus RS features all-wheel drive, and a clever one at that. It can actively send power to whichever wheel can best use it, and thanks to its active yaw control, its ability to go through corners is just mind blowing. It’s an old cliche, that a good handling car is referred to as – “It handles like it’s on rails.” The Focus RS actually does. I’ve driven cars that cost half-a-million-dollars that can’t keep up with this hot hatch on a twisty B-road, it’s that good.
It is fast in the straight line, too. Thanks to a turbocharged 2.3L, four-cylinder motor that makes 350 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque, the Focus RS can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds, and top out at 265 km/h. While these numbers are good, they aren’t what makes this car special; it is just the way this car puts its performance together in your hands that makes it special. While a lot of electronic wizardry makes this car do what it does, it still feels analog, and that’s what I love about it – and the fact that it is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, means it’s not for posers.
All this comes at a price, the 2017 Ford Focus RS is yours from $48,218. That is not cheap for what many would see as a domestic hatchback, but trust me, drive it the way it needs to be driven, and it’ll make all the sense in the world.
1- 2016 Lexus GS-F: This car was the biggest surprise of the year, because I just wasn’t expecting it to be anything too special. I thought, it’d be similar to the Lexus RC F, and I didn’t much care about that car, when I drove it last year.
On top of that, the GS F uses a version of the motor that first came to light in the IS F a decade ago, and has the same eight-speed transmission, only with updated software.
Plus, the GS F is not an all-new car, it is based on the platform of a car that’s been around since the 2013 model year.
However, Lexus engineers must have waved their magic wand at this vehicle, because the GS F has much better road dynamics than the vehicles it shares its specs with. It is made up of the best bits that are currently made by Lexus, and they have come together to make this, fairly large sports sedan drive like a sports car.
There is a lot to love about this car, and I’ll start with the engine. It has a 5.0L V8 motor (naturally aspirated) that develops 467 hp and 389 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to just the rear wheels, but it does have an electronic differential, which can slow down the inside wheel – while speed up the outside wheel – when in a corner, and that helps you go through quickly and cleanly.
The suspension is firm, but also very supple, so you go over bumps without hurting your back. The firmness is necessary, for when you’re going fast – as this is a very fast sedan! Zero to 100 km/h is gone in 4.4 seconds, and top speed is limited to 270 km/h – that is fast enough for all of us. I even averaged 12.8L/100km in my test week, which is not at all bad for a vehicle like this, especially when you consider the fun I had with it.
For 2017, the Lexus GS F has a base price of $97,100. That is a lot of money, but it is a bargain compared to its German rivals. Plus, if I had to pick just one car to drive next year, all 365 days of it, it’ll be the GS F.
Happy Holiday’s everyone, see you all next year!