Monday, January 11, 2010

Car and Driver's Top 10 Best Cars for 2010

This year, for the 28th running of our annual 10Best competition, the rules were simple. First, we raised the price cap from $71,000 to $80,000 (roughly three times the average transaction price of a new car) in the belief that 80 grand is the current point of automotive excellence’s diminishing returns. Cars get more expensive than that, but they don’t get much better. More important, raising the cap makes eligible nominees in two other vital categories: luxo-sport GTs and luxury sedans. Never mind that only two new cars qualified (and one was about to be replaced in a few months, so we left it out). Second rule: As is the norm, we invited back 2009’s 10Best winners and all the new or significantly altered cars for 2010. Every qualifying vehicle must be on sale no later than January 2010, ergo the complete absence of vaporware. In all, we hosted a total of 58 automobiles at our secret base hidden amid the farm plots of southeast Michigan. We flogged the cars for a week over our long-standing route, which serves up everything from smooth curves to pockmarked apexes to first-gear corners to high-speed straights to elevation changes.
Keep Reading: 2010 10Best Cars
2010 Audi S4
Back in 2004, when the S4 introduced the entry-level luxury-car segment to V-8 power, it was named a 10Best Car. Fast-forward six years. The all-new S4 lost a couple of cylinders but packs a silky, 333-hp supercharged V-6 (it makes just seven fewer horses than the old V-8 did) and might be the most controversial car on this year’s list.
2010 BMW 3-series / M3
Attacking our 10Best loop each year in a 3-series gives you the sense that this car has been designed for the sole purpose of oozing along that twisting, cratered section of pavement. There, it has a cohesive fluidity that’s unmatched by any of its competitors. But then, the 3 feels similarly sublime on any other stretch of road, too.
2010 Cadillac CTS / CTS-V
Now entering its third year as a 10Best winner, the Cadillac CTS plays at the top of a segment packed with some of the best cars in the automotive kingdom. Its interior is gorgeous, with a truly expensive feel, and it is more spacious inside than most of its similarly priced competition. Outside, the CTS combines uniform shapes and sharp angles that borrow from nobody. But the way the CTS drives is what we keep falling for year after year—its moves are as crisp as its exterior lines. The CTS manages to blend refinement, driving dynamics, comfort, and performance in a refreshing, even exhilarating, way that satisfies enthusiast drivers and luxury seekers simultaneously.
It’s an unlikely claim, but the Ford Fusion hybrid is in fact the most advanced car on this list. Through the body of this unpretentious family sedan runs the sturdiest bridge between the tech of the 20th century and that of the 21st. ______________________________________________________
In 28 years of 10Best competition, Honda’s Accord has made the list 24 times. Somewhere in Japan, there are about 200 engineers wringing their hands and asking each other, “Where’d we go wrong in those four losing years?” Maybe that’s why the car is so good. ______________________________________________________
The overachieving Fit is one of our quick-draw answers when people ask us which car to buy. It’s all the car anyone needs—big fun, and as cheap to own and operate as a hamster. Despite the Fit’s microbial footprint, it takes truly Sasquatchian dimensions to be discomforted inside, and all that space is surrounded by quality materials and thoughtful design unmatched in many vehicles costing much more.
The latest Mazda 3 arrives with more than just a shiny new wrapper. It’s more refined, too. In both 148-hp i and 167-hp s versions, the basic Mazda 3 feels more like a genuine car than most of the econoboxes it competes with on price—a bare-bones i starts at $16,045, and the s begins at $19,790. Material quality, ride quality, and chassis control are all a class above. If there are beancounters at Mazda, they don’t get anywhere near the suspension. Getting behind the wheel of the Mazda 3 is a comforting reminder that there is a fun-to-drive car for every economic stratum.
The fundamental mission of a sports car is to put smiles on the faces of its occupants, and few accomplish that mission more effectively than the Miata. After all, a sports car, particularly a roadster, is at least as much about transportation for the spirit as it is about simply getting your body from one point to another. ______________________________________________________
2010 Porsche Boxster / Cayman
There are a lot of words beginning with the letter “P” that can describe the mechanically identical Boxster and Cayman—poised and profitable leap to mind—but we think the most appropriate one is perfect. It’s certainly hard to think otherwise when the Boxster offers a driving experience so sublime and so tactile that it’s really only rivaled by the Cayman’s. Every spin of the steering wheel, every push of a pedal, every fat blat from the flat-six engines, they’re all calibrated to deliver one thing: unparalleled automotive pleasure. In fact, the pair proves even more rewarding than the iconic—and much pricier—911. _______________________________________________________
The latest GTI is the sixth iteration since VW invented the pocket rocket (or “hot hatch” in Euro-speak) back in 1976. And while the GTI has grown larger and more powerful, it keeps its original spirit.
It’s relatively inexpensive and supremely practical yet is an immensely entertaining vehicle that’s as happy meandering around mall parking lots as it is being flogged along a great back road. The 200-hp, turbocharged inline four-cylinder is smooth and responsive, although it doesn’t imbue the GTI with the kind of startling acceleration that the brawnier Mazdaspeed 3 possesses.

Car and Driver's 2010 Top 10 Engines

BMW Twin-Turbo 3.0-liter Inline-6
OUTPUT - 300 hp or 265 hp (diesel), 300 lb-ft or 425 lb-ft (diesel), 101 or 89 (diesel) hp/L FOUND IN - 135i, 335d, 335i, 535i, X5 35d, X6, Z4 For a turbocharged engine, it’s fantastically linear and lag-free, and the diesel is the most powerful and responsive of its kind sold in the U.S. ______________________________________________________

BMW 4.0-liter V-8
OUTPUT - 414 hp, 295 lb-ft, 104 hp/L
FOUND IN - M3 Its blood-curdling shriek and immediate, predictable responses are a large part of the M3’s greatness.

Ferrari 4.3-liter V-8
OUTPUT - 483 or 503 hp, 347 lb-ft, 112 or 117 hp/L
FOUND IN - F430, 16M Scuderia Spider, 430 Scuderia Revs to 8500 rpm. Will startle the neighbors and possibly break their windows.

Ford Twin-Turbo 3.5-liter V-6
OUTPUT - 355 or 365 hp, 350 lb-ft, 102 or 104 hp/L
FOUND IN - Ford Flex and Taurus SHO, Lincoln MKS and MKT Raises the bar for turbo off-idle response. Huge midrange grunt. Premium fuel not required.

GM Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8
OUTPUT - 556 or 638 hp, 551 or 604 lb-ft, 90 or 104 hp/L
FOUND IN - Cadillac CTS-V, Corvette ZR1 Scary-powerful barrel-chested beasts that power GM’s two best-ever cars.

Honda 2.0-liter Inline-4
OUTPUT - 197 hp, 139 lb-ft, 99 hp/L
FOUND IN - Civic Si This is Honda’s highest-performing nonturbo four, a smooth and rev-happy engine that makes rowing through the gears joyful.

Lamborghini/Audi 5.2-liter V-10
OUTPUT - 525–552 hp; 391–398 lb-ft; 101–106 hp/L
FOUND IN - Audi R8 5.2, Lamborghini Gallardo and LP560-4 Its supreme power and manic bark cause spontaneous 100-mph-plus mergings onto freeways.

Mercedes-Benz 6.2-liter V-8
OUTPUT - 451–563 hp, 443–479 lb-ft, 73–91 hp/L
FOUND IN - C63, CL63, CLS63, E63, ML63, S63- SL63, SLS This wicked-sounding, flexible V-8 has lifted AMG’s appeal since ’06.

Porsche 3.8-liter Flat-6
OUTPUT - 435 or 450 hp, 317 lb-ft, 115 or 119 hp/L
FOUND IN - 911 GT3 and GT3 RS Its strident wail is a big reason why we prefer the 911 GT3 to the Turbo.

VW/Audi Turbo 2.0-liter Inline-4
OUTPUT - 200–265 hp, 207–258 lb-ft, 101–134 hp/L
FOUND IN - Audi A3, A4, A5, TT, and TTS; VW CC, Eos, GTI, Jetta, Passat, and Tiguan
Smooth and sonorous, it launched in 2005 as a forerunner to the trend of downsized, boosted, direct-injected engines.

2009's Interesting Moments, the Good and the Bad.

When Jay Leno heard scalpers were getting $800 for tickets to a free concert he planned in Detroit to cheer up unemployed auto workers, he said, “You’re out of your mind to pay $800 to see me. I wouldn’t pay—my mother wouldn’t pay—$800 to see me.” Leno’s mother confirmed that she wouldn’t pay more than $6.75 in green stamps.

January proved to be the worst month for car sales since 1981, with the combined market share of the Big Three sagging to 42.6 percent, the lowest in the history of the U.S. auto industry. Drain-circling GM lost $2.8 million per hour during the first 90 days of the year and spiraled into bankruptcy, as did Chrysler. The children and unborn grandchildren of today’s taxpayers handed out $104 billion in bailout funds. GM got more than $30 billion and soon came back for seconds, while Chrysler took $15.5 billion, a dowry it used to get hitched to Fiat. Suppliers took federal money. Captive lenders such as GMAC got bailouts. People trading in Cadillac Cateras were handed government cash. Even micromakes Tesla and Fisker chiseled about a half-billion each from Uncle Sam, though Fisker doesn’t yet make a car. Suffering car magazines got a pat on the back and blah, blah.

Since 2000, import automakers such as Toyota have taken more than 5 million sales annually from domestic brands. Consequently, the Japanese press has, like a disappointed parent, been tut-tutting over the situation faced by Detroit’s beleaguered executives. “If [U.S. automakers] used the Japanese-style business practice of cutting costs with a unified labor and management,” opined the Japanese business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbum, “the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated to this extent.” Well, obviously.

President Barack Obama told a crowd in Washington that “just last week, Car and Driver named me Auto Executive of the Year, something I’m very proud of.” Not so fast... On April 1, Car and Driver said you prohibited GM and Chrysler from running in NASCAR, which was, a lie. But Car and Driver's Auto Executive of the Year is Katsuaki Watanabe, who is vice chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation.

The $2.9 billion Car Allowance Rebate Program, better known as “Cash for Clunkers,” purged 690,114 vehicles from American highways in August to wild whoops from Congress. The Ford Explorer was one of the most popular trade-ins—63,163 were dumped for the $4500 rebate on a new car. Taxpayers bought 13 Porsches, six Maseratis, 19 postal vehicles taxpayers had already purchased once before, and an ultrarare 1987 Buick GNX that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly kept for herself. Thirty-seven model-year 2008 vehicles were traded for $4500 rebates on model-year 2009 vehicles. The engine-shredding slurry of sodium silicate was, per program rules, injected into the crankcases of a 1997 Bentley Continental R and an Aston Martin DB7 Volante. Toyota was the biggest sales winner, grabbing 19.4 percent of the rebate purchases. Junkyards also made out, reselling the leftover parts to help keep America’s other 250-million-plus vehicles roadworthy for years to come.

Rick Wagoner, the former GM chairman ejected during the company’s government-run “reinvention,” will receive an $8.2 million payout over five years, plus $74,030 annually until the sad day that we lay him to rest in the obituary section that follows.

Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation, which controls the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League, was fired by his own mother—his own mother!—ISC chairman Mari Hulman George, apparently for spending too much money upgrading the track.

We normally reserve this space for a list of the models killed over the past year. However, this year it’s easier just to list the companies that were killed.
Pontiac is dead. Saturn is dead. Hummer was sold to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company, a fate possibly worse than death. After 87 years in business, Checker Motors went into bankruptcy. (The company stopped building cars in 1982 but continued on as a stamping and welded-subassembly supplier.) And Wilhelm Karmann GmbH, best known for the scrappy 1955–1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and more lately for assembling high-end convertibles for German brands, also went bankrupt and shut down its carmaking operation.
Finally, let’s extend a moment of silence for the Chrysler owner’s manual. To save a little filthy lucre (and 930 tons of paper), Chrysler says it will stop stuffing glove boxes with complete, 200-page owner’s manuals. Instead, it is replacing them with a DVD and a briefer, 60-to-80-page handbook, which owners can continue to not read.

Larry Miller, 64, founder of a $2.5 billion, 39-dealership retailing empire that spans six states, creator of Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, and owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team, of complications from diabetes, on February 20.

Colorado’s Department of Revenue rejected resident Kelly Coffman-Lee’s vanity-license-plate application, which was ILVTOFU. Said an obviously filthy-minded spokesman, “It could be misinterpreted in a way that suggests that she likes something other than tofu.” We don’t see it.

Drivers caught thump-a-dumping their tunes too loudly in Fort Lupton, Colorado, are sentenced by Judge Paul Sacco to a Friday-night “music immersion” at the courthouse. For one hour, offenders must listen to Barry Manilow, the “Barney” theme, Bing Crosby, and other music guaranteed to torment teenagers, the primary audience. Fort Lupton has reported a 64-percent drop in noise offenses.

Interesting & Stupid:
Michael Bryant, former Liberal Party attorney general for the Canadian province of Ontario, probably knew that he was breaking the law when he bumped a bicyclist with his vehicle in Toronto and then tore off at high speed—with the rider still clinging to the door. Bryant, who as attorney general championed draconian laws to stop street racing, including the seizing and crushing of the cars of offenders, tried to scrape off the rider by driving his Saab up on sidewalks and near lampposts while screaming obscenities. Eventually, the bicyclist was removed by a mailbox and later died of his injuries. Bryant was charged with criminal negligence and may soon be unable to pay any amount to see Jay Leno.

A six-year-old boy in Wicomico Church, Virginia, missed his school bus and decided to take his mother’s Ford Taurus instead. The boy—did we say he was six?—drove for 10 miles, weaving in and out of traffic at speeds sometimes exceeding 60 mph, before striking one of the few poles in Virginia that doesn’t already have a Taurus wrapped around it. Somehow, nobody was hurt. The kid said he learned to drive from the video game Grand Theft Auto. No kidding.