V&R is trying to forge some traditions. Vehicle of The Year, Speculators, auto shows…the works! There is one that I always find fun to do and solace when it is posted.
If you read the title right, it is time for My Favorite Vehicles of the Year.
Unlike the strict rules of VOTY, this encompasses every vehicle I have driven from mid-October of last year to the VOTY cut-off this year. That means every vehicle, everywhere. If I had a nice taste of one, it is considered.
Unfortunately, I could not name just five. There were many more considered for this post. This year, the total favorites came out to… They ranged from ordinary models to some of the finest machines in the world.
So, my favorite vehicles of this past season are…
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GTC: I described driving this bespoke drophead coupe as driving "heaven." On the roads around Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, I discovered why this is one of the best coupes around. With its 6.0litre twin-turbocharged W12 under the hood, it is motivated by pure silent power. Combine this with a smooth shifting 8-speed automatic, an all-wheel drive system and some of the finest driving dynamics you will experience in a lifetime, and you would agree with my conclusion. I waited too long in my life to experience one of the finest cars in the world. After driving it, I can die happily now.
JAGUAR XJ: In 1974, I sat in a second generation XJ12 and dreamed of driving one. Thirty-nine years later, I was glad I waited. It was because Jags were beautiful, but heavily flawed. Not anymore, thanks to preparations by Ford and leadership from Tata. The new XJ may exhibit some controversial design characteristics, it is well executed. The interior is unlike any in its class – and a far cry from the all-real wood dashboards of yore. The sample I drove had a 3.0litre supercharged V6 that made easy work out of this large sedan. If you throw it into a curve and put the throttle down on a straight – it will reward you by the multitudes. Besides, as Jeremy Clarkson would say, "it's a Jaaaag!"
LEXUS LS 460: I suppose there is a theme to this year's "Favorites" of the past year – a plutocratic one. There is nothing wrong with loving expensive flagships, especially driving more than my usual allotment during this year. I simply felt this one. Having reviewed various Lexus models since rebranding the site to V&R, I figured I would never see this one was coming. It certainly arrived – and I loved it. It was a flagship with a pulse, honesty and pure joy. It balanced the art of wafting about with some bite. It entertained friends, coworkers and its driver. It may have been big, but driven with care. Frankly I wished I did more with it, because it simply begged for more. I suppose I should have mentioned the V8 engine, 8-speed automatic and so forth…but, why? You forget all of those things when you take one for a drive.
MAZDA6: In search of a mid-sized family sedan I would not be embarrassed to drive, my eyes were focused on the latest Mazda6. As much as I appreciated the driving capabilities of the first generation model, it was simply too small. Though I wondered what happened to those qualities in the second-generation model, I appreciated its space. All I wanted was the best of both generations. This new one – all Skyactiv everything and such – nailed it. The complete package – including driving dynamics, efficiency and overall performance – makes it so entertaining and enjoyable to drive. It is the kind of sedan where I would not care if anyone crawled in the back seat. If you chose to sit back there, just fasten your seatbelts.
MITSUBISHI LANCER RALLIART: Some cars simply kick ass. This one does exactly that. But, before anyone offers up the Evolution…consider this. The Ralliart follows the three-diamond formula of all-wheel drive, turbocharged performance. While the Evo is at the pinnacle of this formula, the Ralliart is a more accessible experience. This is power that could easily be unleashed at a step into the throttle. It represents a place where comfort and convenience is balanced with boost and driving dynamics. So what if it is not the gleaming star of the three-diamond lineup? So what if some insurance underwriters rate this higher than its more powerful and expensive brother? The Lancer Ralliart is a fun option for those who need speed, comfort and something different than the usual $30,000-35,000 sports car/sedan.
RAM 1500: Underneath this homosexual, Bear community-identified, almost-50-year-old guy is a man who loves his trucks. It took a long time, but experience helps in developing a taste for these larger-than-life, profitable machines. Though there were two pickups in for review, there is one thing for certain – the Ram offers the best experience in a truck. This second time around revealed a more mature truck that is accessible, technologically advanced, comfortable and fun to drive. Yes…a truck can be fun to drive. The Ram has become a measuring stick to what a pickup truck should be. In my summation in October, I stated that the Ram has something its competition truly does not have – soul. A plus in my book for any truck is soul and character. It means that a truck can also do the work while having fun. That defines a truck for me.
TOYOTA AVALON: I would call this the biggest surprise of the year. At the risk of being accused as ageist, the Avalon denotes a change in full-sized sedans for a growing older demographic, while catering for younger buyers. The result is something akin to Toyota’s premium brand (Lexus) without the premium badge. For a big sedan, it was athletic and sporty. For its level of luxury, it was attainable and easy to use. For once, Toyota's corporate V6 was alive under its hood. To judge a car by its past is to not see where it is today – a prime example for today's full-sized car. This Kentucky-built sedan simply changed my mind – but not without wanting to dive into its competition to prove it. Yet, I walked away with one summation: This is one fun big sedan.
VOLKSWAGEN GTI: With everyone's eyes on the seventh generation Golf, I wanted to look back at the outgoing model. One taste of the sixth generation GTI reminded me why this is the hot hatch that started it all. This model was a far cry from the first GTIs of the 1970s (they finally showed up here in 1982 straight out of Westmoreland, Pennsylvania), with its 2.0litre turbocharged four, its quick shifting DSG gearbox and unreal handling package. Plus, the GTI offers the practicality of a five-door hatchback with generous cargo space. Simply, to drive one is to drive one of the finest cars ever developed for the common man – especially one with a hot foot.
All photos by Randy Stern