My 2014 Car & Truck of the Year
It wasn’t easy
By Ron Amadon
DAMASCUS, MD – Usually at the end of the calendar year, the car and truck of the year candidates clearly stand out.
This time around the Car of the Year was a tough choice resulting in lost sleep with associated large intakes of beer and coffee.
That’s because there were so many standout cars during 2014. In the end, the fun to drive standard moved one car to the tallest podium. Here are the runners up:
When you take into consideration all of the key elements that Kia does well – fit and finish, quiet interior with luxury touches, lots of stretch out space, and abundant standard equipment, one can only conclude that Cadenza is a solid performer and one that I would recommend to anyone looking to step up in the sedan class.
Handling was better than expected on country roads, the ride could be described as just a touch on the firm side and feedback to the driver could be improved.
With two $3,000 option packages the test Cadenza carried a price tag of $41,900 including delivery. As good as it was it fell short of COY.
I like surprises like this. The Genesis was faster than expected with the smaller of the two offered engines! The 3.8-liter, 311 horsepower V6 with 293 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm produces a 6.6 second run from a standing start to 60.
The Sport Mode made some changes to the steering, suspension, and transmission for more driving enjoyment and handling that was above what one might expect in a 4,295 pound luxury sedan, yet shy of the COY winner.
With $11,000 worth of options, the test car came in at a reasonable $52,400 including delivery.
For the company, the key is drawing that kind of customer into a Hyundai dealer. If you drive one home, you could always just tell the neighbors it is a Genesis.
The stock market produced more records last year than Tyler Swift. That had lots of consumers thinking about stepping up to classier wheels. The Lexus ES 350 would be a great way to enter the low end of the luxury market.
It hit all the right targets – a high lux interior with bamboo wood trim, very comfortable perforated leather trimmed seats, ample room for two real adults in back, superb fit and finish, and pleasing response from the 268 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6 with 248 lb-ft of torque.
Add in $910 for transportation, and the test car carried an MSRP of $44,102. If your inclination is luxury ahead of carving up back roads, the ES350 is worth a long look but we were looking for more when it came to COY.
Finally, the Car of the Year
Audi RS 5 Quattro
Audi said this is a “purist performance coupe” and after a week behind the wheel I wholeheartedly agree.
Consider 450 hp V8 with 316 lb-ft. of torque mated to a seven speed double clutch S tronic transmission. If that sounds like a fast car you would be correct. A 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, an electronically governed top track speed of 174 mph, and the quarter mile in just under 13 seconds at 111. Of course there was Quattro permanent all-wheel drive with self-locking center differential and torque vectoring.
The S tronic can operate in fully automatic mode, or the driver can shift via the gear selector or shift paddles. Drive select gives you variations on the tranny’s shift characteristics, throttle response, dynamic steering and sports differential. They all work well, so in the end the driver can tailor the car to their personal preferences.
Needless to say that the RS 5 was simply magnificent on my favorite twisty trails in West Virginia. It felt glued to the road and feedback to the driver was above average.
Testers have run up nearly 1.00 G on handling circuits. The Sport tuned suspension was an excellent blend of comfort and sport with enough available adjustments to suit any operator.
But inside this was not a stripped down racer despite the race car like flat bottom wheel. There were lots of carbon inlays, leather and Alcantara with S line embossing on the seats that held your body firmly in place regardless of the pace and they were adjustable a dozen ways. Opt for the convertible, by the way, and there are optional neck-level heating vents!
The bottom line with the Audi MMI Navigation Package, Black Optic Package, and the sport exhaust came to $78,495, delivery included.
In either coupe or convertible form, the RS 5 is a delightful blend of performance and luxury with impeccable handling that made for a most memorable week. I would love to add one permanently to the road test garage. It filled all the check marks and became Car of the Year.
Gas Sipper of the Year
Honda’s smallest offering is all new from the wheels up, but it was something that dates back almost to the first automobile that made this little gas sipper a blast to drive.
In an era when auto enthusiasts are making a concerted effort to retain manual gearboxes, Honda put a brilliant six-speed stick the red test car.
With the 2014 redesign, the Fit got bigger and smaller. It offers a healthy 4.8 inch increase in rear seat legroom despite the fact that the car is 1.6 inches shorter than last year. That is the mark of a pretty smart designer or three.
There is enough room to ensure that your St. Bernard need not stay home this winter. Fit and finish were excellent, and there is a long list of available amenities.
Under the hood is a refined little four good for 130 hp @ 6,600 rpm with 114 lb-ft of torque @ 4,600 rpm. Of course it takes regular unleaded.
With the manual tranny, the test car was rated at 29-37 mpg by the EPA for a combined 32 mpg and that’s where I came in for the week. With some care, I am sure the 37 mpg or more is attainable on a long trip.
A base LX with a six speed manual starts at $15,525 with a $20,800 base price for the top EX-L model with navi and a CVT. It is fun to drive, will carry more than you might expect, and it will sip gas if that is an issue anymore. Plus, as they have said on morning television for decades, The Price Is Right.
Small SUV of the Year
I love the Wrangler but having left the military many years ago, I have wondered how it would feel with a heavy dose of refinement. The Cherokee with an off road package answered that question in spades. It was one of the best sport utility vehicles I have ever driven.
I forded streams with it, tackled deep mud, followed by several inches of not yet melted snow on back-back roads. Through it all the Jeep returned a strong message – “You have to try harder.”
After all, the test vehicle was a “Trailhawk” the beefed up off-roader in the revived Cherokee lineup. That means it was designed with considerable attention given to traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording.
Inside is a corporate inspired interior with lots of soft touch surfaces heated and leather trimmed seats, a heated steering wheel, and, in short, the entire package that one would expect in an upscale compact car. Plus, tons of storage space including a glove box that will swallow up a laptop.
Given the hefty weight at 4,106 pounds, I would strongly recommend the 3.2-liter V6 engine even at a $1,495 premium. It delivers 271hp @ 6,500 rpm and 239 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. A 184 hp 2.4-liter is offered but more grunt is needed for every day driving.
The nine speed transmission didn’t always produce smooth shifts. Six speeds would do it.
I really appreciate engineering that allows a vehicle to go off road, and then settle in on an interstate for a long day’s drive in comfort and a style that caught the eyes of passersby.
Option packages are a bit on the expensive side, and it’s easy to build up the base Trailhawk price of $29,495. With $6,025 worth of extras, the test ‘hawk sprouted some fancy feathers at $36,515 including transportation.
But my goodness was it fun to drive. And there really isn’t anything like the Cherokee on the market unless you move way up market.
Luxury SUV of the Year
Range Rover Supercharged LWB
The MSRP on the beautiful test model was $125,125.
Bottom Line? If you are rich you need one!
Because there is nothing that will quietly cruise down the interstate surrounding you in abundant luxury and then, if you get the urge, take on the Rubicon trail. Its response would be a most British like, “Pip, pip old boy, no problem.”
As if having a big V8 were not enough RR supercharged it to produce:
510 hp @ 6,000 rpm
461 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500 rpm
Accessing it is just a motion away thanks to the convenient paddle shifts mounted on the heated wood and leather trimmed steering wheel. RR estimates a 0-60 run in about 5.5 seconds with a top speed that will have you calling a lawyer to go your bail in any state in the union.
Luxury you say? Well you need it in case royal baby George needs lift.
The test RR had four zone climate control, a giant moonroof with power blind, configurable mood lighting, an 825 watt Meridian audio system, (excellent), glove soft Oxford Perforated leather on all seats, a massage function on the heated and cooled front seats that are infinitely adjustable, a Beverage Cooler Box, rear seat entertainment package, and Shadow Walnut Veneer throughout. That is not a complete list. I loved the massage seats.
There is simply no SUV in the world that so perfectly combines luxury with off road ability. From the rocks of the Utah desert to the fanciest Kardashian country clubs, this one fits right in.
Truck of the Year
The new Ford is Truck of the Year because the company was bold enough to launch the aluminum bodied truck of the future.
With federal fuel economy standards moving ever higher, the 700 pounds that Ford claims it skimmed from the F-150 is no small thing. It is a step that I confidently predict other makes will have to follow on full size pickups.
The caveat is that we are still not sure how much more expensive it will be to repair. Yet aluminum bodies are starting to show up in greater numbers on cars and even the recently tested Range Rover. (See above)
A surprise was the excellent response from the 2.7 liter Ecoboost turbo with plenty of passing power and no turbo lag. It was quick to rev and the six-speed automatic was a smooth operator.
There are a zillion options and trim levels on these trucks, and every luxury bobble, bangle and bead one could ask for on a top-of-the-line luxury car, so much so that you might scrape the mud off your boots before entering.
But it was Ford’s brave leap into the future to aluminum that in my opinion made it a runaway choice as Truck of the Year.