From the dry lake bed of El Mirage, California, we present these pinnacles of automotive achievement; cars that affirm that, for all the hand-wringing about the coming electrified future, the dinosaurs and the mammals are playing together quite nicely. For the first time ever, we have an electrically powered car on the list, the Chevy Volt. You may have heard of it. But we haven't forsaken its antipode, the Cadillac CTS-V. Nor have we left off significant events of the past year — the coming technologies, the best performers, and our pitiless look at this year's winners and losers.
Was it all perfect? No. But perfection is a funny thing — just ask Toyota. It is elusive. Slippery. None of the winning cars is ultimately perfect, but each one is as close as you can get for less than $80,000. They all fulfill their intended missions; they all make you feel smart; and they all practically grab you by the lapels and pull you in for a drive. More important than actual perfection may be that these cars are constantly evolving toward that impossibility.
This year marks the 3-Series' 20th consecutive 10Best win, a feat unmatched by any other vehicle on the market. We won't call the 3-Series perfect, but you know how there's always one old lady at the bake sale whose recipe everybody wants? The 3-Series is that car. The chassis balance is exquisite, with handling that encourages risky behavior but a ride that you wouldn't feel bad subjecting your grandma to. The fluid steering weights up just right, the brake pedal bypasses the soles of your shoes and goes straight to your brain, and the manual transmission — should you be wise enough to specify it — boasts a shifter that knows its way effortlessly from gear to gear. Plus, all the 3-Series' goodness is available in coupe, convertible, sedan, and even station-wagon forms. Engine choices are a silky inline-six; powerful, turbocharged inline-sixes; and the M3's screaming, 8400-rpm V-8. The 3-Series is rear-drive dynamics perfected, or, for those in colder climes, all-wheel drive is available. The four-wheeler gets a little heavier and amends the 3's near-perfect weight distribution, but the rest of its virtues remain. Other drawbacks? Only a few. The clutch needs more weight to better convey its takeup, and no matter the configuration, the 3-Series is seriously expensive. But there's a reason people will pay so much more for that one lady's cookies.
In awarding a 10Best trophy to Cadillac's CTS-V lineup only — and not to the sedan, coupe, and wagon on which it's based — we are saying no to mere virtue, no to mere versatility, no to mere parity with the European competition. In forsaking the mainstream CTSs, we are saying yes to psychedelic power, yes to organ-shifting g-forces, yes to the great, mind-expanding duality of Cadillacs that make the 0-to-60 sprint about as fast as a Ferrari 599. We expect the regular CTSs to be fiercely competitive with the foreigners. Hell, we deserve it. What is utterly unexpected and, frankly, not even deserved, is the V's bombastic calm, its furious poise, its spastic nonchalance. These are hard-core performance cars, but they are also Cadillacs, with all of the seamlessness, refinement, and content that implies. Yes, some of the interior trim is occasionally dollar-store, and these vehicles are heavier than they need to be overall, but they have more bandwidth than almost anything on the road. And what do you expect at a price so ruthlessly competitive? At the end of a good long drive, you're left trying to figure out how the CTS-V can balance its outrageous athleticism with such a pacific ride. More than anything, though, you're left marveling at the courage of the thing: Did GM just create a 556-hp wagon? Did you ever think you'd see the day?
To put it simply, the Chevy Volt was far and away the biggest surprise to every editor at this year's 10Best event. None of us imagined that nestling into the glass cockpit would bring the words "automotive bliss" and "electric vehicle" together in the same sentence. The smooth-riding Volt can't shred tarmac like a VW GTI or infuse fun into the family-sedan segment like a Honda Accord or a Hyundai Sonata. Think of the Volt as smile-inducing Xanax for range anxiety — something all other EVs evoke. Canceling the range limitation from the EV equation doesn't make it perfect, though. A tight back seat, limited cargo capacity, and a general lack of horsepower — though plenty of low-end grunt to merge onto the highway like you have somewhere to be — would normally eliminate a 3800-pound porker from contention. However, one would need to be driving straight through the Library of Congress to detect the switchover from EV mode to gas-electric hybrid operation. And maximizing the electric range by curtailing full-throttle or full-brake episodes brings its own kind of driver engagement. Best of all, its efficiency is unmatched, as long as interstate travel is omitted. One editor drove the Volt 101 miles in 18 hours (including a 10.5-hour charge) and only used one gallon of gas. That's some seriously eye-opening arithmetic.
You might wonder why we've left the Mustang GT's equine siblings to snort in the paddock. It's simple: The GT is the ideal blend of performance and value, serving up brutal muscle, daily usability, and the agility of an honest-to-Edsel sports coupe at an eminently fair $30,495. The V-6 model is less expensive, but it cedes more than 100 horsepower to the GT and lacks the V-8's final measure of polish (the six goes gritty at high rpm, for example). The Shelby GT500 betters the GT's 0.94 g of grip, 153-foot 70-to-0 braking distance, and 4.6-second 0-to-60 sprint, but those bragging rights cost an extra 19 grand — a nicely optioned five-door Fiesta, or just $4000 shy of a V-6 Stang — and it isn't as livable besides. Yes, the Mustang's interior still could use better materials, but the drive is the thing. From the how-the-hell'd-they-do-that? taming of the live rear axle to the tactile steering to the crisp six-speed manual, the 2011 GT is, save for the GT supercar, perhaps the most gratifying Ford ever made. But even better than the chassis is the five-point-oh! V-8 thundering away underhood: It's a soulful marvel, smooth in its power delivery and mellifluous in its sound. Where the V-6 and GT500 are good — make that really good — the Mustang GT is greatness at a great price, and that's why it alone grabs the trophy.
The current Accord sedan, the eighth generation of the company's bestselling midliner, has a few flaws. It isn't as frisky and playful as its predecessor, and it looks a touch homely, especially parked next to a Hyundai Sonata. But flaws don't equal failure: The Accord remains inscrutably excellent. It manages to combine all the practical virtues you need in a family sedan — plenty of interior space, lots of available infotainment and trim choices, a quiet and relaxed ride, subdued engines, and effortless transmissions — with a fluid chassis that urges a driver to wring it out on back roads and off-ramps. The optional V-6 engine is one of the best of its breed, but the Accord becomes quite pricey when loaded with options such as a navigation system. The Accord range is rounded out by a sporty five-seat coupe. Although the V-6 model strays too close to Mustang GT money, it can be mated to a six-speed stick for a 0-to-60-mph time in the mid-fives. The coupe is refined and far more stylish than the sedan, and the less-expensive four-cylinder versions make more sense and have the spirit of the old, much-loved Prelude. For the 25th time, the Accord wins a 10Best spot because it marries excellence and affordability so brilliantly. Our favorite? The sedan with the 190-hp four-cylinder mated to a slick five-speed manual, of course.
Nominees consist of all-new cars, 2010 10Best winners, cars that were not available for the 2010 competition, and those with significant updates. All cars must fall under our base-price cap of $80,000 and be on sale in January 2011.
*These cars met our eligibility requirements but were not available for evaluation.
No sooner had the first-generation Honda Fit alighted on U.S. showroom floors than it shouldered its way onto our 2007 10Best list. Now it's a five-time champ, maintaining its entertaining demeanor through a comprehensive 2009 makeover. Since its debut, the Fit Sport has won a seven-car comparo [May 2006], then faced a pair of brand-new challengers — the Ford Fiesta SES and the Mazda2 Touring — to score another triumph [October 2010]. One-hundred seventeen horsepower ain't much — there exist Montanans with lawn mowers as powerful — but the 2500-pound Fit nails 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, 1.8 seconds quicker than the Fiesta and 0.8 second sooner than the Mazda2. We're equally zinged by this Honda's upscale interior, its quick and precise steering, an engaging shifter, spot-on ergonomics, a windshield as big as a minivan's, and a rear seat that is both adult-habitable and drops to the floor faster than a Marine pumping push-ups. All of the foregoing, plus an observed 34 mpg. Although it's close, the Fit isn't perfectly fit. Its 197-foot braking distance is substandard, the front seat's lumbar support is too aggressive, and the air conditioning strains to keep up with the solar load caused by all that glass. Nonetheless, the Fit offers a fun-to-drive quotient that proves basic transportation isn't always basic.
Being that it is at the heart of new-car sales volume, the mid-size family sedan must delicately balance its attributes to appeal to hundreds of thousands of disparate car buyers. This sixth-gen Sonata does so masterfully. It offers the most standard horsepower in its class, with the segment's first direct-injection four-cylinder, and it gets the top EPA highway rating of 35 mpg. The optional and very responsive turbo four introduces the category to the downsizing concept: It makes more power than competitors' V-6s and achieves far better fuel-economy ratings, too. The swooping shape makes the Sonata best-in-class attractive, but it doesn't sacrifice on the very reasonably sized back seat and generous trunk. Despite having the lowest base price in its segment, the Sonata packs standard six-speed transmissions. And a high-quality interior. And standard Bluetooth and XM radio. It's very much a car of "ands." Still, it's not perfect. The electric power steering doesn't feel very natural; the Honda Accord's manual gearbox shifts more sweetly, and the Accord is a bit more athletic, too. We left the hybrid powertrain out of the winner's circle because we found the system a touch crude in its operation. No longer simply great for the money, this latest Sonata propels Hyundai to 10Best glory for the first time because its greatness is undeniable.
You've probably seen the TV ads touting Mazda's ubiquity on America's road-racing circuits and autocross courses. The message goes like this: On any weekend, more racers are driving Mazdas than any other brand. That's a big claim, but this little roadster makes it credible. The Miata is a favorite with amateur racers for essentially the same reasons it's perennially popular as a road car: affordability, low curb weight, high agility. This is not the kind of sports car that provokes acceleration brownouts. Mated to one of two manual transmissions (five- or six-speed), its 2.0-liter four generates 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. (Opting for the six-speed automatic takes nine ponies from the corral, slows acceleration, eliminates the crisp-shifting manual, and adds $2260 to the bottom line.) If 167 horsepower sounds tepid, keep in mind that it only has to propel some 2450 pounds, which it manages smartly. And in any case, the Miata's magic lies in its eager responses and the unfiltered connection between car and driver. It doesn't hurt that the magic is wrapped in bargain pricing. A basic roadster with the five-speed manual starts at $23,905; the excellent folding-hardtop version (12 seconds up or down, and it preserves the softtop's trunk space) begins at $27,945. So it's easy to see why this is the world's best-loved roadster.
Drive a Boxster or a Cayman, and most people will think you're just some jerk in a Porsche. You will suffer painful service bills. Carrera drivers will look down on you as though you're a poor Porsche wannabe (they're just jealous that your car has front and rear trunks). Ignore all that. Enthusiasts know that the Boxster and the Cayman are blessed with a mechanical arrangement that yields better driving dynamics than the rear-engined 911. In a lineup whose purity is diluted by the brisk-selling Cayenne and Panamera, the Cayman and the Boxster still exemplify, even heighten, classic Porsche values such as a flat-six's raspy purr, steering that's telepathic, and brakes that can almost stop the Earth's rotation. Raw performance numbers are impressive in either standard or S trim, but behind the wheel of a Boxster or a Cayman, you forget the numbers and simply enjoy the connection to the road. Nowhere is this more true than in the Boxster Spyder, a car barely quicker and a bit less useful than the standard Boxster but even more vivacious. That's why we named it the best-handling car in America for less than $100,000. We're surprised that, in a world of endless 3-Series and Accord clones, no automaker has tried to copy the little Porsche's formula. But we aren't surprised that the Boxster and the Cayman are on this list again.
Perhaps you've heard that Volkswagen has gone and dumbed-down the Jetta for the U.S. market; fortunately, the Golf and the GTI haven't suffered the same ignominious fate. Even the entry-level Golf continues to offer hatchback practicality, refined driving dynamics, and luxury-car levels of interior quality. It's the master of a budget-conscious segment whose other entrants ask buyers to compromise on refinement, fun, or both. The Golf's inline-five engine looks weak on paper, but its copious torque moves the car without much effort. Think of it as a mini Mercedes, and you won't be far off. For the planet-conscious, the Golf offers an optional turbo-diesel, which burns fuel with the stinginess of a hybrid and, thanks to a firmed-up chassis, blazes through corners with sports-car ambition. At the top of the Golf range is the car every enthusiast should own at least once in his or her lifetime, the GTI. As practical as the Golf, the GTI adds serious performance to the mix with its strong and efficient 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Its chassis is so well sorted that it can devour back roads as happily as it swallows the indignities of the daily commute. Sure, some of its competitors might be quicker than the GTI, but you'll grow out of them. The GTI gets a hold of you and never lets go.
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Yeah, like most people, I love all 3 of the CTS-V series cars from GM. Although they got rid of the STS-V, (V8) so sad, yeah I guess I can live with this series (same engine, different platform).
To GM, if you want to keep your new status, please stop building your new car plant in Mexico. It is a slap to the American public to keep shipping all of the jobs overseas (shame on you) thus, taking $100M dollar pay packages, for the CEO's whom do much of nothing.
That new plant, is supposedly going to make, most of the next generations of GM cars. If they are going to be built in Mexico, you will lose me, once and for all as a GM customer. I will trade my DTS in, for a BMW, and or an Audi, never, ever to return to GM, even if you give me a car for free (fat chance). Yes, I'll laugh all the way to the bank, just like you are doing, by sending the jobs to Mexico.
I am sick n tired of the business treason created in America, all in the name of greed.
I am sick n tired of America, stinking all the way to Iraq, from our idiot politicians, who insist on taking us down this road to no where; sorry, but send them down it first, Obama, leading the way, right off that cliff; sorry, he stinks too.
The last 15 cars I have owned have been Chevrolet. I have had occasional problems, but nothing more than ANY other car. Maybe I have been lucky. but I don't think so. I do know that my cost per mile driven is way less than the Mercedes owners. Whatever the reasons, buy what you wish and enjoy the ride.
I looked at the Honda Fit but decided on the Ford Fiesta. I couldn't believe the Fit had a lower MPG rating than the Honda Civic a larger vehicle. Sure the Fiesta has a higher 0-60 time but that is part of the way it gets a far superior MPG rating. It also received top ratings from the NIHS ratings the first car in it's class to receive top ratings across the board. Since I drive a small car in a world that seems to be overpopulated with large trucks and full size SUV the safety ratings mean more to me that a slightly faster 0-60 speed. Also there were more advanced options available on the ford than on the Honda.
"Ford has a long list of unsatisfied customers with problems short term and long term."
My father had his 83 F-150 for 17 years (frame finally cracked after 15 years of hauling wood/stone/trailers) and now is having no problem out of his 02 F-350. Trust me, he needs the heavier truck for as much abuse he gives them.
My mother had a 87 Crown Vic that got passed down to me. Clocked over 130,000 miles when sold... running. She also had a 97 Expedition with 120,000+ miles when sold in 09... running. They now have an 08 Taurus and have had no problems.
My 93 Sable was doing quite fine with 93,000 miles in 2005 when I got hit and they totaled it out.
My 01 Escape (bought in 05) has 135,00 miles and still running. Replacing a wheel bearing and tie rod are the worst things I've had to have done.
My wife and I just bought a 2010 Edge in September. Had 104 miles on it when we bought it, and now has 8,000+. Only problem is the SYNC system bugged out. Pulled the fuse to reset the CPU and it cured my problem. Took me 2 minutes. And, to be technical about things, the SYNC is Microsoft ;).
Just stating facts that Ford has been good to me and my family. You better believe that I'll be purchasing a 2011 Mustang GT Convertible (Possibly a Roush if I can get my hands on one) once all of our student loan debt is gone.