When I was tasked with putting together a list of the 10 cars that most impressed me in 2016, I figured it would be a relatively easy assignment, given the level of excellence of the new models unveiled over the past 12 months. But that’s precisely the problem: with so many standout cars, SUVs and trucks to choose from, how to narrow the picks down to just 10?
After some hesitating and dithering, I decided to base my choices on which vehicles offered something unique and special in their segment, which distinguished them from other models that while excellent overall lacked any striking features.
Here then, in alphabetical order, are those vehicles I believe stood out from the rest over the past year.
This hybrid-engine-equipped sports car has an appealing appearance, but the carmaker took so long to bring it to market that some figured it would never launch. The wait, though, has been rewarded. The car features a highly-advanced hybrid powertrain, and its look is an absolute head-turner. It should be noted that this ultra-sporty Japanese car is colour-sensitive, meaning some of the available colours jack up the wow factor more than others. Some may find the cabin feels like it belongs more in a family sedan, but the performance capabilities of the NSX say otherwise. What’s more, that sporty performance doesn’t prevent it from offering a very docile driving experience in everyday driving.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
It’s true that Alfa Romeo is not the most popular make on the market, and it’s also true that dealerships of the brand are few and far between. Regardless, this sport sedan merits our consideration, especially as it marks the return of the prestige brand to the North American continent. Some may object that the C4 has surpassed it and is more spectacular, but the vocation of that model is too restricted to be considered for general use if you need it for more than standing out in the crowd. The Giulia is in all respects a well-conceived sedan, as much for its elegant silhouette as for its impressive road handling and its choice of either a 4-cylinder or a 505 HP V6 engine. Strong sensations are guaranteed.
Though the redesign for this model dates back to last year, most of its sales have been tallied over the course of 2016. The changes to its contours were relatively discreet, leading some to conclude the retool was of a too-timid variety. The fact is that this is the most aerodynamic car in its category, with a drag coefficient of just 0.23. But where it really impresses and stands out from the rest is inside the cabin, the presentation of which combines traditional with modern in brilliant fashion. And as with all Audis, the quality of the finish and of the materials is first-rate. If you need any more convincing, take it out on the road to fully appreciate what this car has to offer. No need to opt for the V6 engine either, as the 2.0L 4-cylinder engine (offering 252 HP) does the job just fine.
Why this Bentley? Simply because it exemplifies the full-hearted enthusiasm in the marketplace for sport utility vehicles - a vehicle category that, once upon a time, was largely the purview of hunters, fishermen and outdoors adventurers. Nowadays the majority of SUV buyers are more affluent and want to take advantage of the versatility they offer, while enjoying a level of comfort once reserved for luxury sedans.
It’s all in with this muscular SUV fitted with a W12 engine capable of producing 600 HP and 664 lb-ft of torque. All that power is delivered by the 8-speed automatic transmission box to the four wheels via all-wheel drive. Keep your eyes and ears open as well for an ultra-luxurious SUV from Rolls-Royce through its Project Cullinan at some point in 2017.
The concept of a mass-market “Made in China” vehicle sold on this continent by a large manufacturer is now reality. Car industry analysts have been talking about it for years, but now the Buick Envision is here. The Buick brand is enormously popular in China, and we can be sure the new model’s development has been highly prioritized by the company.
The result is a vehicle that respects all of the characteristics of the brand’s other models, give or take a few exceptions such as a dashboard that is distinct from those found in the carmaker’s North American models. And yet, these divergences represent not a fault but a virtue. What’s more, automotive journalists who tested the Envision were pleasantly surprised and quick to pile on the accolades. In addition to the generous livability of the cabin, the vehicle’s road handling is simply impeccable.
Chevrolet Bolt EV
This fully electric Chevrolet is without a doubt the most impressive car of 2016, as much for its 350-km range as for the highly competitive price tag in comparison with competing models that offer just half that range. Not only that, but the car is a definite eye-pleaser and benefits from a well-appointed and highly livable interior.
It’s clear that Chevrolet benefited substantially from the years of experience it gained in developing the Volt to be able to produce a car that has been so universally well-received. We should add that, in addition to all its other qualities, this is actually a car that holds the road really well and is a pleasure to drive.
Ignoring the many voices that have for years been predicting the impending demise of the minivan, Chrysler had the audacity to develop an all-new luxury minivan, and offer it in a hybrid version to boot. The company that invented this vehicle category used its extensive experience to offer a vehicle whose parts form a highly coherent whole, in which elegance is on proud display, and featuring a cabin that is truly remarkable for its versatility.
Chrysler’s engineers also put much focus and toil into sound reduction, noise generally being considered a weak point of minivans due to the echo-chamber effect they often suffer from. Improvements were also made in this revised edition of the Pacifica to the Stow’n Go seats, which are as practical as ever but are now more comfortable. The 3.6L V6 engine is offered in the two versions and is more than up to the task.
It was a logical move for Hyundai: after having expanded its lineup and enhanced the quality of its vehicles over the years, the next step was to produce and market a line of luxury cars under a totally distinct banner. The carmaker has made available two models, the G80 and the G90. The latter of these features a new 3.3L V6 turbo engine which is all suppleness even while it delivers exceptional performance. Also available is the 5.0L V8 turbo that originated with the Hyundai Genesis. The two new models, blessed with classic silhouettes and highly comfortable interiors, give Hyundai the weapons to take on the German luxury brands.
This pickup truck with unique specifications has set itself apart from all the other models in its segment with its solid-unit body frame, independent rear suspension and vast cargo space located under the floor of the truck’s bed. Add to that road handling that approximates that of a large SUV and you have yourself an assuredly iconoclastic vehicle.
The second generation that debuted this year maintains the same overall characteristics, but these have been packaged in more conventional contours that will help it attract consumers who might have put off by the odd appearance of its predecessor. Borrowing virtually the whole of the Honda Pilot SUV’s mechanics, this pickup is highly versatile and will appeal to motorists who might need to fill that bed with cargo on occasion, but otherwise use the vehicle for personal transportation.
The first generation of the CX-9 was for several years the best buy in its class. Gradually, the competition got its act together and upped the ante in terms of modernity and efficiency. Not to be outdone, the engineers at the Hiroshima-based company rolled up their sleeves and produced a new edition that sets up the CX-9 to regain its alpha position in its category. The elegant contours and an interior that is as practical as it is luxurious are impressive enough, but this model stands out most notably for its 2.5L 4-cylinder engine that makes ingenious use of elevated torque to generate V6-level performance out of a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder motor. And not only will owners appreciate its better-than-average fuel economy, the driving pleasure offered by this Mazda is first-rate and only embellished by the efficient all-wheel drive.
And your list?
These are the ten vehicles that struck me as being the ones that most marked the past year. Other models certainly would have merited inclusion, but then that’s the nature of top 10 lists – some always get left out. Why not have some fun and create your own list? And feel free to manifest your difference of opinion. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…