Favorite car – Kia Optima
Aside from being a decent driving sedan (or pretty fun with the turbo mill), the Optima is one of those rare machines that punches above its weight class. Inside and out, the Optima doesn’t look or feel like a midsize sedan that starts off with an asking price in the low 20s. When boring and generic make way for impressive design, turbo-technology and the fit and finish of an entry-level luxury sedan, you’re done: the Optima is a winner.
Least favorite car – Scion xD
Why bother with this milquetoast attempt at pandering to some youthful demographic when they the Fit, Soul and Cube? Or go a little bigger and get the punchy Toyota Matrix, the boxy-fresh xB, or the mainstream-appeal of the RAV4? Like the bad old days of GM’s branding insanity, Toyota has too many quasi-CUV hatchbacks in the same general price point: and the xD is the one that gives me an x-D. x-p :-(
Favorite Light truck – Lincoln Navigator
Quick, name a luxury vehicle under 60 grand with a big-dog V8 and more swagger than Kendrick Lamar’s self-aware flow? Now name one from Detroit. Ouch. If you fit that niche, light trucks are your safe haven. And you’re either looking at an Escalade or the Navigator: while the Caddy has the name, the Navigator’s fully independent suspension and modern lounge interior ambiance tops the (more) badge engineered Tahoe with the unique dashtop. Plush, proper and the best truck you never considered.
Favorite Car – Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design
Who knew Volvo made the most powerful small luxury crossover sold in America? Next to nobody. This makes the Volvo the luxury brand with the worst marketing department, but the best sleeper portfolio. The 325 turbocharged horses from a smooth inline-six, sexy sheet metal, and impressive handling will put a smile on your face. The most comfortable seats in the industry, an impeccable safety record and the integrated child booster seats will you convince your spouse the sporty crossover is a solid family choice. Volvo’s rep won’t trump “it’s a BMW” at the country club, but it will put up a strong fight at the stop-lights.
Least Favorite Car – Coda Sedan
The incredibly plain CODA sedan started life as a Hafei Saibao (from China). Hafei claims the Saibao was designed by Pininfarina, which proves that the firm responsible for the Ferrari Testarossa’s sheet metal can create a dud now and then. It’s not just the dowdy exterior and 1980s Hyundai interior that offends, the CODA is truly awful to drive as well. The 88-mile range sounds good but the CODA is the second least efficient EV beating only an after-market van conversion in the MPGe war. The saddest part of the story? The future of the unique and innovative CODA designed battery technology is pegged to a car that’s $9,700 more than a LEAF and worse in every way imaginable.
Favorite car- Mazda RX-7
>Ok, ok, it’s not a new car. There are plenty of good new cars out there, but this one was special. When this car came out in 1993, I was 5 years old. With just under 14,000 miles on it over 20 years, the RX-7 was practically brand new. Safety and emissions regulations have conspired to do away with this car’s two key features – its voluptuous sheetmetal and deceptively smooth twin-turbo rotary engine. There’s a reason so many stories are written about time machines – we all want to experience the past with the benefit of hindsight. I don’t typically buy into the “old cars are special, new cars are boring” maxim, but the RX-7 is about as strong a case as one can make to support that notion. So what if I had to pick a new car? The Jaguar XKR, with its elegant styling, relatively light weight and prodigious power, gives it an odd kinship with the RX-7.
Favorite Truck – Ram 1500
As a city boy, I ignored pickup trucks forever. What a mistake. In my opinion, these are world-class vehicles, the best in American-made motoring, and right now, the Ram 1500 is as good as it gets. The Ford F-150 and the GM twins have plenty going for them, but the Ram’s high-quality interior and superb powertrains (whether V6 or V8, not to mention the 8-speed automatic) give it the edge in my books. Some say that features like the air suspension might be too dainty for real dirty work. I say it’s perfect for someone with soft hands like me. Then again, so is my runner-up, the Mazda CX-5.
Least Favorite Car – Nissan Sentra
No, not the Toyobaru twins. Now that other publications are ceasing their effusive praise of this car (just as I predicted) my jihad shall cease. My nod goes to outgoing Nissan Sentra, which I borrowed from Zipcar one afternoon. I had never driven a Sentra prior to that, but it was an eye-opener. Someone was still making truly wretched cars, and that someone happened to be Nissan. I’ve yet to drive the revised 2013 edition but it can’t be worse than this one.
Favorite Car – Mazda MX-5
Got to be the Miata. It makes perfect sense as a daily driver, is more fun to drive than ever, and it’s still pretty cheap. The only car I’ve ever reviewed that I might actually go ahead and buy (though I’d save a few grand by getting the non-Club and then swapping in a junkyard 6-speed). As an added bonus, it angers Texas SUV drivers.
Favorite Truck – Nissan NV3500 van.
A LeMons team had one at Gingerman and it inhaled most of a parts car, a couple of scooters, a billion pounds of tools, and still had room for three guys to sleep in. Build quality clearly excellent.
Least Favorite Car: Look for Murilee’s forthcoming “Worst Rental Cars of the Year” for more.
Favorite Car – Ford Focus ST
An outstanding mix of performance, handling, functionality, and refinement with a price in the high twenties.
Least Favorite Car – Acura ILX
A competent car but with far less power than anyone spending over $30,000 should expect.
Best Car: Fiat Abarth
Derek Kreindler’s review of the Abarth already covers most of my admiration for this vehicle. So I will simply offer the Cliff Notes version. No car under 30k is more fun to drive for normal everyday driving than the Fiat Abarth. The clutch is flawless. The upright seating position puts the tailpipe viewing FR-S and MX-5 competitors to absolute shame. The Abarth’s fanciful interior is also one of the very few that completely shuts out the pointless large infotainment oriented screens of today. Damn I hate those things. Instead you are blissfully surrounded by unique Italian style and flair, along with class leading ergonomics. The only other Italian inspired vehicle sold in North America to have achieved this coupling of credentials is… the 1st generation Miata. Not even the tightwad in me could favor a 50+ mile per gallon Prius C over the Fiat Abarth. That’s how good it is in the real world. The enthusiast within us all will thank your generous soul for buying one, and the frugalist will never regret that decision.
Worst Car: Scion iQ
Hideous. Not just for a lack of joi de vivre, or a front fascia that looks like an angry deformed rodent. The iQ gets my vote because no other car represents so much lost potential in the marketplace. A hand shaker would make it a bit more fun… in a Muzak to light rock kinda way. A bit better modularlity for the rear would give the iQ genuine trucklet credentials for well under 20k. In that incarnation, the iQ has serious commercial potential. Okay, one other desperate hail mary. Few folks realize that the iQ is arguably the easiest car to maintain in today’s car market. All major maintenance items are easy to access and that powertrain, shamefully under-stressed as it stands, has the unique potential to become a truly sound platform of tinkering for the emerging enthusiast who is looking for fun on a budget. The iQ has potential to be interesting beyond the anime ugliness. Instead nothing will be done. Consumers will continue to glaze their eyes, yet again. At another bland, joyless small car that is marketed to old people and city folk. Scion used to conjure up youth and exuberance. Instead, the iQ shucks away those very enthusiasts who have the means to make this car worth owning. At least for the American market, the Scion iQ is a shamefully inept and half-baked car. Let’s hope they change it.
Truck Of The Year: Infiniti JX35
This is the only crossover/SUV/plumped out people carrier that I felt was worth the money. Now mind you I am talking about other people’s money. Not mine. I live in a place where you can buy four acres, two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one indoor, one outdoor) and a 16 car garage for the price of an Infiniti JX35. But maybe the Infiniti is the better deal? Alex, Sajeev, Derek and Michael have already offered all the worthy compliments and salutations that this vehicle rightfully earns. Well, nuts to them I say! I still consider these types of vehicles as nothing more than excusable versions of the old overweight SUV. So why will I recommend the JX35 while weighing in the irresistible opportunity to own the ultimate man-cave instead? Well, because it is the only vehicle of this unique SUV-like ilk that can rightfully lay claim to the trifecta of fun, luxury and value. The only one.Some folks wouldn’t be caught dead living in a small town in Georgia somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. That’s fine. I wouldn’t be caught dead buying a 4500+ pound vehicle that isn’t designed to haul and tow everything I will ever desire between now and the afterlife. Want a luxury SUV/crossover/suburban commuter with today’s fashionable bulk? The Infiniti JX35 is a great luxury vehicle that hits all these targets. It’s a great… vehicle.
Just don’t expect me to be at the front of the line for the Yuppie buffet.