2017, a year many people would like to forget for one reason or another. Here at the Cheers & Gears Detroit bureau, it has been an excellent year in terms of the vehicles I have driven. Compared to last year, the number of vehicles that stopped by our garage dropped (35 vs.44 from last year), But most of the vehicles in one way or another proved to really impressive. This year, eight models would earn the honor being named a favorite.
Why is the CT6 a favorite? No matter how many Cadillac vehicles I have driven, I come back to the same, tired, cliche line - so close, yet so far. It comes down to some bizarre decision made during the development of a model whether in terms of the interior, powertrain, etc. But somehow, the CT6 Platinum was able to avoid this. The interior has to be one of the best efforts done by Cadillac with high-quality materials, top-notch build quality, and a handsome design. The performance was another high mark as the 3.0L twin-turbo V6 moved the CT6 with authority and handling is quite shocking for a vehicle of this size. I really would like to see Cadillac offer a softer suspension option (possibly air suspension) as most buyers of flagship sedans want something comfort oriented. If the CT6 is a preview of what Cadillac has planned down the road, then I believe the “Standard of the World” tagline should make a return.
Why is the Cruze a favorite? Chevrolet’s previous attempts at building a compact vehicle has ranged from mediocre to terrible. But the new Cruze showed Chevrolet put a lot of care and effort into their newest compact. The Cruze is quite the handsome vehicle and really comes to life when you option the RS package. Inside, Chevrolet added some really nice touches such as heated rear seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and high-quality plastics. The turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder provided enough grunt for most driving situations. The turbodiesel was a huge improvement over the last one I drove. It was much quieter at idle and felt slightly quicker than the gas engine. The only downside to the diesel was the manual transmission which had a really short first gear. I liked the Cruze so much, that I’m seriously considering one when it comes time to replace my current vehicle.
Why is the Malibu Hybrid a favorite? The brakes. I know, picking a car as one of my favorites just for the brakes may seem like an odd reason. But seriously, the brakes in the Malibu Hybrid are the best of any hybrid vehicle I have driven as they feel like normal brakes with a linear feel. But there is more the Malibu Hybrid. For one, it doesn’t scream that it is a hybrid. The only indication is a small ‘H’ badge on the trunk lid. Otherwise, the hybrid version looks like your standard Malibu. A strong powertrain, similar handling characteristics, and a much nicer interior than the last Malibu I drove (thank you leather package) make for a very compelling package. The cherry on top? With an as-tested price of just $33,000, the Malibu Hybrid is quite the deal.
Why is the Pacifica a favorite? Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took quite the pummeling with their vehicles over the past year. But the Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid were the bright spots for the automaker. The two vans were not only stylish inside and out, but Chrysler showed they hadn’t lost the practicality touch. All of the seats provide more than enough space for the tallest of passenger and cargo space is in line with other minivans. The standard Pacifica retains the Stow n’ Go seating for both rows of rear seats, while the Hybrid loses out on having them in the second-row due to the massive battery pack. Both vans excel at providing excellent performance and a very cushy ride. The Hybrid takes it one step further by allowing the van to travel on electric power only for 33 miles - I was able to squeeze out 34.
Why is the Ridgeline a favorite? “To put it another way, the Honda Ridgeline is like Festivus from Seinfeld; they’re both for the rest of us.”
That was how I ended my Honda Ridgeline review earlier this year and I still stand behind it. It may not fit the true definition of a pickup in terms of capability when compared to other trucks in the class. But for most people, the Ridgeline is very much capable for their needs as it provides an impressive max payload rating for the class and decent towing numbers. The Ridgeline has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve such as the in-bed trunk that provides a secure spot for carrying cargo, dual-action tailgate, and a ride that you expect to find in a sedan, not a truck.
Why is the Prius Prime a favorite? If I was to give an award out for most improved, the Prius Prime would be taking it home. When I drove the Prius Plug-In Hybrid a few years back, I couldn’t figure out why anyone should consider it due to its high price and limited range. Toyota addressed both with the Prime. A larger 95-cell, 8.8-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack bumps electric-only range from 11 to 25 miles, perfect for running errands around town. The electric-only mode also made the Prius Prime very zippy. I’m sure that I shocked some people by how fast the Prius Prime left the stop light. The price also came down considerably with my test vehicle sticking at $28,300, making this an impressive value.
Why is the Golf a favorite? The past couple of years when picking my favorites, a Golf has appeared. 2015 saw the GTI be christened with this honor, while the Sportwagen would follow a year later. 2017 saw the remainder of the Golf family come in for an evaluation and all of them would earn a place on my list. Despite the three models being designed with different use cases in mind, all of them have the same balance of sharp handling and comfortable ride that I loved about the previous Golfs. They also are quite practical due to their shape, offering loads of space for passengers and cargo. The Golf R is quite the monster in the snow with the 4Motion AWD system and boosted 2.0L turbo-four. The Wolfsburg is excellent value with the model coming with a lot of standard equipment such as leatherette, 6.5-inch touchscreen, sunroof, and blind-spot monitoring for a price that is very surprising. The Alltrack brings more capability to the Sportwagen with a slightly raised ride height and 4Motion AWD. It’s also the sweet spot in the Golf family with an impressive amount of standard equipment along with the option of various active safety features such as adaptive cruise control on all trims.
Why is the S90 a favorite? The S90 had a tough act to follow with the XC90 considered by many to be one of Volvo’s best efforts. Thankfully, the S90 was able to follow through with many of the same traits set forth by the crossover. The simple exterior is very handsome and features some nice touches such as rounded corners and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime-running lights. The interior is one of the nicest I have experienced with Nappa leather, matte wood trim, and the metal surrounds for the optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system. A smooth four-cylinder engine with twin-charging provides the performance and refinement of six-cylinder. I would say get the smaller wheels as the 20-inch ones fitted to my tester made the ride slightly rough.
There was also a few vehicles that deserve an honorable mention.
While the styling of the 124 Spider Abarth did put me off, I will admit that Fiat made a slightly better handling MX-5 Miata. The changes made to the suspension on the Abarth does wonders with the vehicle feeling very athletic. The big downside was turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder as it had too much turbo lag to have any real fun. The optional automatic transmission doesn’t help matters due to the programming that loves to upshift quickly, leaving you without any turbo boost.
Had I not fallen down a flight of stairs and fractured a bone in my right leg, I would have spent more time with the Elantra Sport. The small amount of time I did spend with it showed it to be a real improvement over the previous Elantra I drove last year. The small changes to the exterior did wonders and made the Elantra stand out. The turbocharged 1.6L four and seven-speed dual-clutch seemed to work in harmony with providing quick performance. Handling was the best part as Hyundai had finally figured out how to make a vehicle that handled superbly. I really do think the Sport would have been on my list had I not injured myself.
Make no bones about it, the new Compass is such an improvement over the outgoing model. It is quite the looker outside and interior is noticeably improved in terms of space and quality. Ride and handling are nicely balanced. But the Compass has a huge weakness under the hood. The 2.4L four-cylinder has never been a favorite due to its poor performance and abysmal fuel economy figures. If FCA was to swap the 2.4L four-cylinder for something else, I think the Compass would be on my favorites list.