We’re often asked which car we think is the best. Of course, our answer is always, “It depends.” The best car is the one that’s best at meeting that particular owner’s specific needs.
At the end of each year, it’s fun to review all the cars we’ve driven and select those that are best for a specific set of requirements, taking into account price as well as packaging. As noted in our review for this month, we think the MazdaSpeed3 is the best car for young families.
Here’s the rest of our best of 2010.
Best at combining performance with style and comfort
For someone who prefers a day on the race course to a day on the golf course but still has to transport clients and family, there was no beating the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. Our test car was expensive ($85,750), but it was like getting three cars: a top-rated high-performance sedan, a limousinelike client car and an ideal long-distance touring car.
Best for driving in comfort and arriving in style
The top echelon of full-size sedans is highly competitive, but the Audi A8 ($75,000-$100,000) was king of the mountain. With a 372-horsepower engine and 8-speed automatic transmission, it’s capable of reaching 60 mph in less than 6 seconds but still gets 21 mpg – impressive for a sedan of this size. Although we didn’t warm up to the huge grille and front trim, we thought the interior was superb in style and comfort.
Best for hauling families and stuff on weekend trips
Our definite favorite among full-sized SUVs was the Honda Pilot Tour (priced at $40,245). With 250 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque, it can haul seven people and tow a 4,500-pound trailer but still deliver 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. It’s also an attractive vehicle that comes with a high-tech entertainment system.
Best at addressing environmental issues
Although the fuel-efficiency improvement of each of the cars in the previous categories is impressive (up at least 6 mpg from 10 years ago), the real progress has been made in cars using new technologies like hybrid engines. This technology has expanded from the special-use niche to nearly all categories of automobile. The Ford Fusion Hybrid and its slightly more luxurious sibling, the Mercury Milan Hybrid, were our favorites. Unlike the trend-setting Toyota Prius, these are standard sedans with excellent performance that belies their fuel efficiency (41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway). Even better, they’re priced as low as $27,270.
Best for the future
Going beyond the hybrid, with its dependence on petroleum and consequent impact on the political and physical environment, several companies unveiled prototypes and nearly market-ready cars that rely primarily on electric propulsion instead of internal combustion. Which will prevail in the marketplace is a toss-up.
The Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, which relies on a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity, is the easiest to use and most environmentally friendly. With the same capacity and performance as a standard compact car, a range of more than 200 miles on a 10-minute fill-up and zero direct emissions, this would be our favorite – except for one thing: There are few hydrogen filling stations available or under development by energy companies.
The Chevrolet Volt is the closest to a real market contender, with its onboard gas-powered generator to power the batteries. But it has two problems: It’s expensive for its size and quality, and the battery requires lithium metal, rarer than petroleum.
We still believe four-cylinder, diesel-powered hybrids would be the best answer to our fuel and environmental concerns over the next decade, but manufacturers don’t believe Americans want them.
Overall, after several dismal years, the automobile manufacturers – foreign and domestic – are uniformly optimistic about the future, so we can look forward to a new crop of exciting cars to test in 2011.
Happy New Year to motoring enthusiasts everywhere.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.