As I hinted in my two final review pieces for 2015, I would be picking my favorite review vehicles from the year. Thus, here we are.
2015 saw almost 80 vehicles being driven by yours truly. From subcompact hatches to heavy duty trucks. There seemed to be an endless variety of vehicles I got to lay my hands on.
Trying to pick my favorite vehicles of the past year is a difficult task. To begin with, I have close to 60 vehicles to pick from. These are vehicles that spent a week with me, going through the various motions. Any vehicle that I drove in a first drive event or at media/manufacturer event don't qualify (the Scion iA, iM, and Hyundai Tucson will be eligible for next year). From there, I re-read my reviews and any notes that I have taken on to help jog my memory. Then I start the elimination process till I reach a point that I cannot take any more out. This year, 12 vehicles made the cut. A sizeable group but 2015 was an impressive year.
Here are my 12 favorite vehicles of 2015, or as I call it, the dirty dozen.
Cadillac CTS VSport
Whenever I drive a Cadillac, I think how far the brand has come in a decade. They seem to be getting closer to their overall goal of beating the Germans. But the past two ATSes I have been in, they seem to be missing that final piece. Something that would put them over the top. I was worried the same fate would befall the CTS VSport when it came in. But I was shocked that CTS VSport was well above and beyond many competitors in the class. The twin-turbo 3.6L V6 provided instantaneous power, while returning decent fuel economy. Cadillac was able to find the right balance for the chassis between comfort and sport. Equipped with Magnetic Ride Control, the VSport showed athleticism that would be only reserved for Germans, while returning a ride that was magic carpet smooth.
One other item that impressed me was the CTS' interior. Cadillac is finally getting the message that you cannot go most of the way with the design and materials used. High-quality materials paired with a modern design make the CTS a very enjoyable place to be in.
When we learned that Holden would be ceasing the rear-drive Commodore along with production in 2017, I knew that my chance to get behind the wheel of Chevrolet SS was slipping. Thankfully, the GM Detroit fleet had an SS in the summer and I was able to drive what will be the last Australian-built RWD sedan.
The styling I'll admit is the weak point to the SS. For what it is presumed to be - a sports sedan, it doesn't look the part. But the rest of vehicle more than makes up for it. Under the hood is a 6.2L V8 with 4105 horsepower paired with a new six-speed manual option, it makes leaving a stoplight almost like a drag race. What anyone sees of the SS after the light turns green is the rear end.
But don't think the SS is just a four-door sedan dragster. The SS boasts excellent handling thanks in part to GM's Magnetic Ride Control. To put this in perspective, I had the chance to drive around some roads with a fellow writer in an ATS-V Coupe. While the ATS-V had a slight power and weight advantage, the SS was able to keep it in its sights partly due to the handling. The grunt of the V8 doesn't hurt either.
If it ain't broke, why fix it? This one line summed up the 2015 Chrysler 300 when it debuted at the LA Auto Show in 2014. Some were disappointed that Chrysler didn't go far enough with changes for the model which included a new front grille, headlights, and rotary knob for gear selection.
But I found it to be a wise decision as the 300 still looks quite modern. The 300S I had for review in the fall came with sharp looking wheels and a vibrant red paint that somehow doesn't make the 300 look like a complete mess. The optional 5.7L HEMI V8 is a delight as it delivers a burble that is reminiscent of muscle cars at idle. The V8 also packs the punch that 300S' exterior is conveying - this is a car you don't want to mess with. It helps that the V8 finally gets the eight-speed transmission that has been part of the V6 since the 2011 redesign. The eight-speed is very responsive and improves overall fuel economy to 19 MPG on the combined cycle.
The 300S is still an excellent value for the money as well. The base S model with the V6 begins at $34,895. If you have your heart set on a V8, you only need to add $3,000 to the base price.
Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST was one of most talked about vehicles last year when it launched. It got to a point that I had to basically go into radio silence mode about it. It wasn't because I was getting annoyed about everyone talking about the ST. It was more of a wanting to come in with a clear mind and not having my expectations hyped-up for this vehicle.
After spending a week in the Fiesta ST, I fell under its spell. The exterior is a key item to this as Ford made the diminutive Fiesta look like villain thanks to a more aggressive front end, lower ride height, and gray wheels. Power comes from a 1.6L EcoBoost with 197 horsepower and it makes the Fiesta go like a rocket ship. The six-speed manual has to be one of the best as the motion of moving through the gears was really smooth, and putting the vehicle into gear felt positive.
Then there is the handling. There are very few cars I have driven that have given me a bigger smile than the Fiesta ST. Its small size and suspension tuning means the vehicle quickly transitions from one corner to another without any sign of roll. The steering provides an excellent feel of the road and weight that makes you want to push the Fiesta ST a little bit more.
GMC Yukon Denali XL
Getting A Cadillac Escalade with a $10,000 discount. That's one way of describing the GMC Yukon Denali XL, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It might not have some of the distinctive features of the Escalade such as different dashboard and some luxurious materials, but the Denali comes very close.
For starters, GMC made sure the Yukon Denali stood out from other Yukons. So there is a mesh grille, HID headlights, and twenty-two inch chrome wheels. Small changes but they do make a difference. Then there is the engine, a 6.2L V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet. The engine is more than enough to get the Yukon moving at a surprising rate. More impressive is an average MPG of 16 for the week I had it. This thanks to a new eight-speed automatic.
Hyundai Genesis 3.8
If you want proof that Hyundai is a quick learner, you just need to look at the current Genesis sedan. The first-generation model came with the traits you expected from a Hyundai vehicles; a lot of equipment at a surprising price, and the 10 Year/100,000 warranty. But it wasn't a vehicle that stood out in terms of looks or how it drove.
Flash forward to the second-generation model and wow. The Genesis actually has a presence on the road thanks to a design that borrows a lot from the HCD-14 Concept. Then you have the engines. This particular Genesis came with base 3.8L V6 with 311 horsepower and paired with an eight-speed automatic. This powertrain provided more than enough power and was as refined as what you might find in a German vehicle. The ride is also a bright spot as the Genesis was smooth and relaxed, perfect for a holiday road trip.
But the best part of the Genesis has to be the value. I drove a base Genesis which came with a price of $38,950 and it came with navigation, heated and powered front seats, dual-zone climate control, LED lighting, and Hyundai's BlueLink telematics system as standard. Value of the year?! I believe so.
Hyundai Sonata Eco
When I drove the Sonata Sport 2.0T back in 2014, I was very disappointed. The interior and turbo-four were huge improvements over the last-generation model. But the exterior lost a lot of pizzaz that the last Sonata featured, and handling of the Sport model was not sporty. If you were to ask me what were my disappointments of that year, the Sonata Sport 2.0T would be towards the top.
I didn't have much hope when the Sonata Eco came around to do a weeklong test with me. But the Eco surprised me. You got the feeling of power thanks to 1.6L turbo four that delivers torque at @ 1,500 rpm and continues to 4,500 rpm. Then there is the fuel economy. I was able to achieve 33.4 mpg - the highest average I have seen in a midsize sedan. The comfortable ride was more fitting in the Eco than it was in Sport model. The best part is the value argument. A base Eco will set you back $23,275, but that will net you a power driver's seat, five-inch touchscreen radio, backup camera, and chrome grille. From a disappointment to being named one my favorites, the Sonata Eco should be very proud.
Kia Soul EV
The Soul EV is Kia's first electric vehicle and it doesn't feel like it. Faint praise, but here me out. Whenever an automaker builds an electric version of existing model, there comes a number of compromises. This includes how do you package the electric powertrain into the vehicle, range, and price to name a few. It becomes more difficult when it's your first production electric.
But somehow, Kia was able to avoid a number of pitfalls that plague other electric vehicles. It begins with the vehicle itself. By picking the Soul, Kia was able to fit the electric powertrain with only one compromise. You lose out on some cargo space from a underfloor cargo tray. But with the boxy shape of the Soul, it isn't a big deal. The electric powertrain adds about 600 lbs to the Soul, but thanks to instantaneous torque of the electric, the Soul EV doesn't feel heavy. In fact, it feels spritely when compared to the standard soul.
There are some clever features in the Soul EV such as having the climate control system only provide heat and cooling to the driver, a quick-charge port that drops charging time to around four hours, and the ability of the navigation system to guide you to the nearest charging station.
Kia Sedona SXL
Can a minivan be sexy? Seems like a contradiction at first. But when the minivan in question is the Kia Sedona, then the answer is a resounding yes. The overall look is sleek and daring with bits of chrome, a large glass area, and distinctive headlights. The interior feels more like a luxury car with leather and wood trim. Then there is the second row where you can recline and have a foot rest come up (but there isn't enough space for this work for all passengers). There is also more than enough power from a 3.3L V6 and a comfortable ride.
This is a minivan that stands out from the usual suspects.
Nissan Murano SL
Whenever Nissan can put its head down and have everything work in sync, they can produce some magical stuff. Case in point is the Nissan Murano SL that came in towards the end of this year. The Murano is one of the elder statesmen in crossovers since being launched as a 2003 model. But what made it really stand out was the design. It stood out in a sea of boringness at Nissan.
That why I was happy to see Nissan take some chances with the third-generation Murano. From the deep V-shaped front grille to the floating roof, it stands out in a growing crowd of crossovers. Then you step inside, and your jaw will drop to the floor. Nissan used a lot of high-quality materials to make the Murano feel as luxurious as certain luxury models. For example, the ivory wood trim in my tester added a nice touch of class.
Nissan also worked on improving the Murano's ride. Driving over some of the roughest roads Michigan had on offer, the Murano just rolled over them like it was nothing.
Ram ProMaster City Tradesman Cargo
Even though Ram was somewhat late to small cargo van party, they have one of the best ones on sale today in the form of ProMaster City Cargo. The reason? Well, it's built for those who need a lot of space and can handle the tough duties that is thrown a cargo van's way.
In terms of space, the ProMaster City is either best-in-class or up there. Consider this, a ProMaster City has a total cargo capacity of 131.7 cubic feet of space - which beats even the long-wheelbase Ford Transit Connect. It is also very versatile with sliding doors on either side and barn doors around. The van can also handle the rigors of work with durable plastics for the front and a limited amount of power accessories. For example, the side view mirrors are adjusted with a control arm.
The ProMaster City also has a trick up its sleeve. Driving a cargo van shouldn't be a bouncy affair with or without cargo in the back, and in the case of the ProMaster City it isn't. The suspension is setup in such a way that it provides a comfortable with or without any cargo in the back.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
This past year hasn't been kind to Volkswagen. When allegations came out in September by the EPA say Volkswagen cheated emissions tests with their 'clean' TDI models. Since Volkswagen admitted they did cheat, it has ballooned into a giant clusterf$ck with people stepping down, large fines being considered, and a number of other issues.
But if there is something that Volkswagen can hang their hat on being a success, that would be the seventh-generation Golf GTI.
Ever since Volkswagen rediscovered its mojo with the fifth-generation model, the Golf GTI has impressed everyone with its performance and practicality. The seventh-generation model might be the best yet. Thanks to a modular platform known as MQB, Volkswagen was given a clean sheet to build on. It shows when you step inside and there is space for those sitting in the back seat.
This also shows in the handling characteristics where Golf GTI feels composed on the curves. Nary a hint of body roll and the suspension quick to react in when going from corner to corner. But the suspension delivers one of the most comfortable rides when doing the daily commute. Volkswagen does offer adaptive dampers for Golf GTI, but I think the standard suspension is enough.
And there you go. My favorite cars from 2015.
If you're wondering about reviews for 2016 models. Those will be returning after the Detroit Auto Show.