2012’s best of the best
The Canadian Automotive Jury is a group of prominent automotive journalists that recognizes the 12 best cars for sale in Canada every year. Two of the 10 jurors are Postmedia’s David Booth and Yours Truly. Each year begins with the task of picking the best 12 automobiles from the lengthy list of the vehicles sold in Canada — to make the “Best list” the vehicle need not have to be new. The first spot on the Best list is reserved for the previous winner. Having established the Best 12 list, the jury then names the Best of the Best. Here in alphabetical order are the Best 12 for 2012.
If you want to bring traffic to a standstill, park an Audi A7 in your driveway. This latest “coupe” sedan has perfect proportions and an eye-catching style that shouts sophistication. Slip behind the wheel and the exterior’s promise flows into the cabin. The materials are top-class and the content is all that’s demanded of a luxury car. Dynamically, the A7 is just as delightful. The suspension strikes a near-ideal balance between ride comfort and the ability to limit body roll. Throw in the effects of Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive and understeer is all but non-existent. As a luxury sporting sedan that delivers the flexibility of a hatch, things do not get much better.
BMW 1 Series
While the 1 Series is a good car in its own right, the 1 Series M is the star. Transforming good into great starts with the visual aspects (this car is bold to the point of being brazen) and finishes with a dynamic package that sees human and machine become one. The 1 M feels for all the world like an extension of one’s body, such is its communication and feedback. Motivate this package with 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque and you have a serious road rocket — a zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time of just 4.8 seconds and a blindingly quick 80-to-120-km/h passing time of 4.2 seconds. The 1 M is a simply delightful car and a bargain for an M-badged product.
For years, Chevrolet flogged the Cobalt as its compact offering, and it was desperately in need of replacement. The Cruze has addressed its predecessor’s issues very effectively. It has the size, substance and overall solidity to its drive that’s a rare find at the affordable end of the price ladder. In this regard, it is a great family car that will find many fans. The fact it is offered with as little or as much content as a potential customer wants only serves to bolster its appeal. For the frugal at heart, there is the Cruze Eco. On a highway run, I actually managed to equal National Resources Canada’s rating of 4.6 litres per 100 km, which is as good or better than that of many hybrids.
Talk about the most sophisticated car in the world and a strong argument can be made for the Chevrolet Volt. Its extended-range electric powertrain provides the answer pure electric cars cannot — there is no range anxiety. In simple terms, after charging the main battery, the Volt drives for the first 60 km using only this power source. When the battery is depleted, the gas engine fires to life and begins to power the generator that then services the electric motor’s needs. This combination delivers a driving range of up to 600 km. The reason I say the Volt is the most sophisticated car is that simply replacing the engine/generator with a fuel cell provides one with the drivetrain of the future. The fact it operates as seamlessly as any “normal” car is probably the biggest complement I can pay.
Having earned its way as a manufacturer of trucks, Ford finally got off its corporate duff and began delivering the cars it so desperately needed to bolster its product portfolio. The first of a barrage of new products was the Fiesta. Its perky nature, flexibility (it is offered in both sedan and hatchback guises) and low cost of operation proved to be such a good combination it was voted Best of the Best for 2011. Yes, it is the returning champion, but its list of attributes remains such that it would have earned its way back on to the Best list for 2012 regardless.
Many have knocked Honda for not pushing the styling envelope farther when the latest Civic was launched. Certainly, the comments may force Honda into an early facelift, but delve a little deeper and the Civic remains as strong and desirable as it ever has been. It has earned an excellent reputation for reliability and it does everything demanded of a good compact family sedan — especially the sporty Si model — better than many of its most obvious rivals. Besides, omitting the best-selling passenger car in Canada for the past 13 years would have been an enormous oversight.
Hyundai has morphed from a purveyor of cheap cars into the maker of good, affordable automobiles. Nowhere is this more aptly demonstrated than with the Elantra. There are very few cars that rival its content- to-cost ratio. Even the fully loaded Limited with its navigation system sits below $25,000. The Elantra also delivers a balanced blend of comfort and handling as well as state-of-the-art engineering, with the use of direct injection being one of its key assets. Throw in bold styling and you have one of the strongest players in the compact segment. As they say, how times have changed!
If you want a well-rounded luxury car, Infiniti’s M fits the bill to a T. It is handsome and fast and it treats its occupants to a lavish cabin. Its other asset is found in the M35h, a hybrid that does it all. When the mood takes the driver, it is a sure-footed sporting sedan that boasts excellent handling and a rewarding turn of speed. Conversely, when driven sedately, it is the sort of green car the planet so desperately needs. Where it succeeds is through the use of a conventional automatic transmission rather than the dreaded continuously variable type many hybrids employ. This strategy delivers equal efficiency without the annoying “motorboat” racket many potential hybrid buyers find so offensive.
The reason the Kia Optima made the Best 12 list is very simple — it can be all things to all potential customers. There is the very well-equipped entry-level sedan, a go-faster model with a 274-hp turbocharged engine and a hybrid for those looking to do their part for the planet. The fact it is well conceived and equally well executed seals its overt appeal. Along with great looks, a refined cabin and rich content, it possesses the right driving dynamics. But perhaps its strongest asset is affordability — there are very few cars offering anywhere near the same sort of bang for one’s hard-earned buck.
The “baby Benz” did not get off to the best start in life when it was first introduced in 1982 as the entry-level 190. Since then, it has grown with each new model. Its progress has been such that it now ranks as one of the most highly regarded entry-level luxury cars available. The 2012 model arrives with a fresh face, a swanky interior, better powertrain combinations and much better fuel efficiency. It also spans a broad range, being offered in both coupe and sedan variants. The ultimate C-Class expression, however, is found in the C 63 AMG. With a monstrous 451-hp V8 shoehorned under its hood, it warps to 100 km/h in just 4.5 seconds. Enough said!
There are many loyal Mini owners who would dearly love to move up a size while staying with the brand. The answer is the Mini Countryman. At a tad more than four metres long, it is the largest car yet from the iconic British brand. It also marks a radical departure from the usual things Mini in that it is the first to arrive with four full doors and the first to be offered with a full-time four-wheel-drive system. Indeed, the Countryman is, for want of a better description, a Mini Cooper on steroids. It will hold four adults in complete comfort without ceding anything in terms of its fun-to-drive quotient.
Range Rover Evoque
When the first Range Rover hit the road in 1970, it shifted away from the traditional utility vehicle by actually offering some of life’s little niceties without losing sight of its key intent — the ability to amble through a muddy field and tow a trailer. The Range Rover Evoque represents an equally radical shift as it is more on-road ute than off-road brute, although it still possesses enviable boonie-bashing skills. It is also different in that, unlike its forebears, it actually delivers respectable fuel economy. Credit a state-of-the-art turbocharged four-cylinder engine that replaces the traditional V8. To say Range Rover has managed to reinvent itself again without losing sight of its frightfully British heritage is no understatement.
There you have it, the Best 12 cars for 2012. Each of the finalists would have made a fitting winner of the Best of the Best award. However, there can only be one winner. After many rounds of balloting and much wringing of hands, the Audi A7 pipped the Kia Optima as the Best of the Best for 2012.