Favourites in a tumultuous year

In a year marked with the bankruptcy of the world’s once largest car company, the hubris of one of the planet’s smallest car companies (that would be Porsche) trying to swallow one of the largest (Volkswagen) whole and the ignominious sale of once storied and proud brands, it would be impossible for the excitement of the actual automobiles to match the high-stakes dramas unfolding in the boardrooms.

Nonetheless, some managed to stand out so that your immensely thankful for the headline-generating news Motor Mouth might pontificate on something other than the soap opera that was the automotive industry this past year.

The Extreme Makeover Award for makeup-free cosmetic enhancement goes to Land Rover’s well disguised but thoroughly redesigned LR4. Though the ’10 model looks virtually identical to its predecessor, the LR3, the new Land Rover is significantly revised if not quite all new.

Rather than raving about a flashy new dress, a sultry hairdo and new fender flares, the Land Rover’s ameliorated attractiveness is based on its completely new direct-injected 5.0-litre V8. Making almost the same power as the supercharged 4.2L that used to power the top-of-the-line Range Rover, the LR4 stresses performance upgrades over esthetic enhancements.

Coupled with an interior that goes from well to wow, it’s enough to make you think that, even in this jaded world, substance can still triumph over style. It’s certainly enough to make the LR4 my new favourite sport-brute.

The Cindy Crawford Award for ageing gracefully goes to Audi’s R8, now fortified with 10 essential pistons and 5.2 litres of sugar-coated sweetness.

It’s fairly easy to wow us men. Pen an aggressively angular shape, equip it with fetching rubber and a vroom engine and for about, oh, 10 seconds, it will be all we can think about. Much more difficult is maintaining our attention beyond the introduction of newer, more enhanced models. This is where Audi’s supercar shines more brightly than any other.

It’s been around for almost three years and, though it’s been enhanced with 525 horses, it’s still that outrageous shape that sells. Park any other run-of-the-mill supercar beside the R8 – from the Nissan GT-R to Ferrari’s 430 – and it disappears. The quattro GmbH-designed coupe is the best-looking car of the decade and almost assuredly a future classic.

The Scrooge Always Rules Award for the car I’d buy with my own money goes to Mini. Though it is far from being the universal automobile (I guess that would be the Camry, God help our souls), it does everything I require of an automobile.

Now that the basement troll is all growed up (and most importantly, possesses a TTC pass), I only need two seats. The Mini also handles a hoot, at once being as manouvreable as a go-kart and yet as stable as a limousine.

It’s quite a trick. If you opt for the John Cooper Works edition, it will even humble many a more powerful supercar and will do so while quite literally sipping our dwindling natural resources.

The icing on the cake is that, almost 10 years after its rejuvenation, the Mini is still on my “hot” list. And, as every successful marriage can attest, anything that can still turn your head after 10 years of close cohabitation is a keeper.

The Eddie the Eagle Prize for Dave being way, waaay over his head goes this year to a motorcycle, the BMW S1000RR. The German company’s very first true superbike in its 86-year history, the S1000RR possesses a class-leading 193 horsepower, weighs just 206.5 kilograms full of gas (for a power-to-weight ratio of barely more than one kilogram per horsepower) and the torque to lift the front wheel at more than 220 kilometres an hour.

The only thing that made the new Beemer even remotely rideable for a klutz like me was a sophisticated electronic traction control system that somehow transformed my ham-handed throttle application into something that resembled ability. Factor in radical styling, BMW’s traditional build quality and a Japanese motorcycle industry seemingly taking a hiatus in the 1,000-cubic-centimetre sport bike category and you have the totally unlikely scenario of a BMW atop the superbike field. Imagine the pandemonium if Eddie Edwards had actually won the gold medal.

The Greg Norman Runner-up Prize winner for leading my car of the year sweepstakes right up until the last week of testing is Cadillac’s CTS-V.

Enormously powerful (how else do you describe 556 horsepower’s worth of supercharged sweetness?), the new CTS-V also handles well, stops like it’s hit as brick wall and has an air of sophistication its predecessor lacked.

Even the interior, the first-generation CTS’ Achilles heel, is not half bad.

All you smug BMW and Mercedes owners better take notice, there’s a new king of super sedans in town and it’s from Detroit. Bankrupt or not, the General makes good on its promise of turning Cadillac into a world-class car company.

The Tiger Did What? Award for the surprise of the year goes to Volkswagen’s Golf TDI Wagon, which, in almost the last week of my testing, just blew me away with its value.

Frugal in the extreme (how about the 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway, the best I’ve ever achieved), an interior luxurious beyond its price tag and enough room for its intended college graduate/new family/empty nester clientele, the TDI proves that the road to miserly fuel consumption does not necessarily run through a Toyota dealership.