I hope you all had a wonderful weekend and now it’s on to 2016! Of course the automakers are already there, in fact, it is time to gear up for the 2017’s, some of which will be on display at the Detroit show early next month and the other big exhibits to follow.
Tradition holds that on New Year’s weekend I reveal my choice for Car of the Year based on vehicles tested in the past calendar year. While I had the chance to drive various makes such as the Hellcat and Corvette for short periods, a full week behind the wheel on all types of roads and in all kinds of traffic conditions gives a more accurate picture of what a car is like to live with. So the COY category will be limited to those cars that spent more time in the road test driveway.
Also this year, I will add a Sport Utility of the Year to the list for no other reason than this is the hottest segment in the industry right now.
In alphabetical order, here are the finalists for Car of the Year:
Audi S3 2.0T Quattro S tronic
The car with the never ending name checked all the boxes: Acceleration, handling, ride, interior luxury touches and a 14-speaker audio system that will convince you that Adele is sharing the seat next to you. Of course, Quattro all-wheel-drive is at your beck and call in time for winter. With all its performance virtues, the Audi was also an excellent commuter vehicle. It was a no brainer when it came to the finalist list even at the $41K asking price.
Hyundai Elantra GT
THE WHAT you may ask? OK, granted this is not a car that made many COY lists but it was a sad moment when they picked up the sleek silver hatchback at the end of its test week. Long term readers will know that I favor cars that offer a nice balance of power, handling and style, matched to a classy interior and value for the money. The little hatchback was all that and more thanks to a responsive 2.0 liter, 173 horsepower four and some suspension tweaks that made rural Maryland roads a lot of fun. Even with two high priced option packages the bottom line came to a reasonable $26,675 for an entertaining, well made, stylish car that will not raise any eyebrows at your insurance company!
Hot on the heels of the Elantra is the Mazda 3. Stirring the pot was a wonderful six speed manual in the test car, that was as delightful as any shift-it-yourself I have driven. It felt light, nimble, balanced and ready to take on any sort of back road. Yet the ride was not sports car stiff. In hatchback form it can carry stuff, produce excellent gas mileage and still champion rural roads and off ramps – All at the reasonable MSRP of the test car, $28,385 for a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
It is a lone wolf. The Triumph TR-4 is long gone. MG is still alive but producing mediocre sedans. Sunbeam (remember the Tiger), is something that now comes down from the skies on a warm day. But to take one of these Mazda two-seaters out for an afternoon drive on a top down kind of day is to rediscover the joy for driving. Therefore, everyone who enjoys that experience should lift a cold frosty one to Mazda for updating its sports car while retaining everything that endears it to the faithful. It might be the North American Car of the Year! We will find out in early January. But will it be mine? Check back Saturday when, as Agatha Christie’s favorite detective might say, “All will become clear.”