Out on the street, people often ask me “What is your favorite car?” The other most frequent question I get is, “Aren’t you so-and-so? I could’ve sworn you look like that Asian fella I work with.” Funny thing is, I actually find it easier to respond to the latter (“No… I’m one of the ones who assembled your iPhone.”). The car question – not so much. I usually give a broad sweeping reply such as, “I have a favorite car in every category, so it’s hard to say.” This answer is sincere, but obviously not conclusive and throws folks into a loop, you see. They expect something along the lines of a Lambo, a Pourssshh, or a… Lambo. However, I firmly believe that there isn’t one all-conquering car, considering that vehicle platforms have become so good, so global. And also because I’m indecisive. And diplomatic. So without further ado, here are my favorite automobiles by category this year of the carpa hicus. (If it’s the all-time classics list you’re looking for, I’ve already written about that too. You’re welcome.)
Hot-hatch: Ford Focus RS
While I would be jubilated if they ever make the RS version of the Fiesta, and just as importantly, bring it Stateside, my groin twitches also for the 350+hp AWD beast called the Focus RS. Wait, what of the menacing and medical Golf R? Some testers have said that it’s no better than the lowlier GTi, so it’s not worth your hard-earned cash. There’s also the pretty well-sorted WRX STi, but it rides as if you’re trotting along on a wooden saddle strapped to an arthritic horse. Which do I pick, then? Simple. The Fiesta ST. Not the Focus RS. For the money there isn’t a car here that piles on the smiles as quickly or as long as the FiST*. It rides better, is lighter, dartier, and is more evocative of the original small hot hatch (or even the original Mini) than the others, even the very tempting RS. Until the Civic Type-R arrives, that is.
* The Fiesta RS would be FiRS or FieRS, and the Focus RS would be FoRs, or worse – FocRS.
SUV: Volvo XC90
It is a fact that this accursed species favored by Americans and increasingly by the Chinesesses (my fellow iPhone assemblers, yo) is getting all the attention from manufacturers flocking to make a quick buck. The current crop of these high rollers are imbued with surprisingly competent dynamics, while returning fantastic fuel economy not unlike a luxury sedan from the 80s. That said, I will concede that I have my eye on the 2016 XC90. The tight, clean, and purposeful exterior (and the Thor hammer headlights!!) combined with a Scandinavian-perfect cabin space that ooze more class than an RR outside of a coach builder special. Have you seen the supercharging/turbocharging/electric-charging hybrid version? The one with 400 hp and 472 lb/ft of torque? It goes from 0-62 in 0.032 seconds and has umpteenth mpgs that would make California tree-huggers blush. Hold on: Do they blush? I mean, does one blush when one is high on weed and weak from vegan steak? Maybe they feel flush.
Sports Sedan: Cadillac CTS-V
Want to make AMG or Bimmer or quattro GmBh very nervous? Make a reliable sport sedan. Which the Cadillac is likely not going to be. But ze Germans are sitting more upright on their alcantara sessel nowadays. The previous CTS-V was a genuine nutter and monster eater, and the new one is looking to be a nuttier follow-up. This thing continues the “Art and Science” design philosophy, which has been on a roll lately. The performance bits are not too showy, either, so the only thing that could attract the po-pos is the distant cacophony of 640 angry equine snorts jostling to escape from its four exhausts ports. However, the important question is: Can this generation inject the subtle controllability and balance of the M-cars? It was SO close before. If it does, Code Brown will be issued within the walls of Affalterbach, Garching, and Ingolstadt. It will be the cachet boost that Cadillac sorely needs.
Minivan/MPV*: Citroën C4 Picasso
The French (lately Citroën and Renault) have always been pretty French at styling their very French MPVs. In other words, they look like automotive versions of Adèle Exarchopoulos or Bridgette Bardot. Okay, maybe not. But if Ms. Exarchopoulos and Bardot had little younglings, they would still look good driving these franco-mobiles. Like typical Frenchies, though, French automakers messed up (or give up) in other areas, such as gearboxes as slow and unrefined as escargot, or reliability that resembles their wartime resolve. Perhaps I’m too harsh on the French. Maybe they’re realizing that being French is très désuet. And, at least in the car world, they are indeed undergoing a renaissance. Thus my vote for this category goes to the Citroën C4 Picasso. It’s completely French in style, which means it’s the girl I’d be happy to take home to see mon maman. The C4 isn’t all looks either, she has substance. A sublime, sufficient, and efficient powertrain. Wonderfully sculpted dash elements with a bright and easy-to-use touch interface. A nicely-crafted and comfortable interior that is nice to touch and versatile to use. And dare I say that French reliability is on the up-and-up over the years. All these things come together to make a case for why the rest of the world gets better MPVs/minivans than we do. Free trade? Bah!
* No haters here. I grew up partly in a gen-1 Renault Megane Scenic, and currently have an Odyssey in my stable – FTW.
Budget Sports Car: Mazda Miata (ND)
This new one has gotten me salivating like a dog at a BBQ convention. What Mazda has done is gone back to its roots, using the first Miata as its inspiration, and in the process, eschewed modern convention of growing bigger in the crucial areas of size (10 cm/4″ shorter than previous gen NC) and weight (100 kg/200 lbs lighter than the NC; and very very close to the original NA with both). It’s a better drive in the curves. Goes faster in a straight line. With greater safety. Greater economy. Higher build quality. Looks good in the flesh. More feature content. Still simple and cheap to own as a goldfish. The MX-5 is one of those cars that I’ll wait a couple or so years for depreciation to eat its fill, then get my hands on one. That, and the FiST. Also, a bittersweet riddance to the fun, but tacky, Zoom-Zoom (and hello to the more mature, but stale as month old bread, Driving Matters.)
Sports Car: Ferrari 488 GTB
If there’s one class where top dogs are toppled on a recurrent basis, it’s this one. I can honestly toot great things about the 488, but someone like Pourssshh WILL develop something awesomer in the next two seconds. Regardless, the 488 is on my list of want-cars for many good reasons. As follow-ups go, the replacement to the 458 is oh-so much better, because as we know, sequels seldom are any good. Remember The Phantom Menace? Or Jordan’s comeback? Precisely. The 458 was already a good car, but the 661 hp 488 takes it up a few notches. Most evident is the (heretical, to some) return of turbos in a production Ferrari since the F40 in the 80s, and how Maranello has basically made a turbo with *almost* zero lag; the best of naturally-aspirated and forced-induction worlds, then. The magnetic dampers and suspension tuning are magical for everyday driving as well as track days, and is discussed to some detail in Chris Harris’ recent drive in one. A visual redesign also adds 50% more downforce than before, while making it more slippery and more striking to my eye. Oh, and it’s steering rack is still hydraulic, as it should be.
Super Car: Ford GT (Gen 2)
Truth is, I wanted to include the Acura NSX along with the GT. Both halo cars for the brand. Both ooze heritage. Both are definitely coming soon. The problem is, Acura may have screwed up the design over the original sketch. That tail…OMG…it’s an awful interpretation of the Accord Coupe’s. No matter how well the car does performance-wise, can I forgive them for that butt? I guess the big question about both of these cars is will they be any good? Will they live up to their predecessors’ capabilities and even exceed them? What we do know is that under its beautiful facade, the Ford will be fielded by a twin-turbo Ecoboost 3.5 V6 breeding 600+ horses, pushrod suspension, fancy active aerodynamics, and limited production quantities. One of my favorite elements of the GT is the fist-sized bazookas standing in for exhausts out back. Ford, I would definitely like a copy of this car, please. And no, I don’t mean wall posters.