Each December my In box fills up with email from one carmaker after another, reminding me of the awards that public-interest groups, the media, pollsters or the Carmelite nuns have bestowed upon them—for crashworthiness, economy, green-ness, strategic vision, design, engineering, utility, brand identity, luxury, near-luxury, value, appeal, connectivity and that outdated notion, performance.
Not to be left out, I’ve reviewed the 50 or 60 cars I drove in 2012 and humbly submit my own picks & pans. Everyone who writes about cars is asked, “What’s the best?” or “What should I buy?” Beats the heck out of me. But here’s what rose to the top in the past year.
Coolest Little Wagon: BMW 328i Touring. The hard-hat dude who rented me a pressure washer helped load it into the car, then stepped back and said admiringly, “Now that’s what I call a sport-utility vehicle.”
Top 4X4 (tie): Jeep Grand Cherokee and Range Rover, whichever you can afford. Perfect for the opera and then if you take either one truly off-road, you’ll be shocked, amazed & delighted. Only a rental car can take more abuse.
Preferred Snowmobile: Infiniti G37xS coupe, sort of a snowshoe by Prada. Dazzling in the slippery stuff; its power, response, balance, looks, comfort, refinement, luxury, quality and toys come with no trade-offs.
Best Car in which to Lose Your Nürburgring Virginity: Porsche Boxster. On your first lap—12.94 miles and 73 corners plus bumps, hills and 200 MPH straights—you want a car that inspires confidence. Also on your next lap and all the ones after that.
Best Digital Racer Come to Life: GT-R. Nissan’s ferocious AWD two-seater can erupt from 0 to 60 in three seconds and then storm up through the gears in a way that will have your passenger shrieking in disbelief. Or terror.
Best Over-the-Hill Sports Car: Corvette. Bought only by men age 60 and up, who recall the one their older brother’s friend had in 1965. Too bad, because it has evolved, over geologic time, into a world-class performer.
Best Car to Send a Kid to School in: Subaru Impreza 5-door. It’s got room for their stuff (outbound) and a semester’s laundry (inbound) or a couple of friends (3:00 AM trips to Dunkin’ Donuts); it’s AWD; they think it’s cute; and it hasn’t got all that much motor.
Biggest Shocker, Good: Cadillac ATS. An all-around player that’s crisper than any 3-Series BMW short of the M3, even with a 6-speed automatic as the only transmission. Also Best American Car of 2012.
Biggest Shocker, Bad: Eos, the runt of Volkswagen’s otherwise admirable litter. Evidently created by engineering interns from VW’s folding-lawnchair division.
Best New Gadget: Honda’s LaneWatch. Signal for a right turn and the entire starboard side of the car plus the lane you’re about to veer into appears on the computer screen. Perfect for commuters slaloming through traffic while talking on the phone.
Car I’d Drive Across the Country Tomorrow: BMW 640i.
Then there’s the BMW M6: outrageously heavy, outrageously fast, outrageously complex and pricey—impossible to ignore, but how to sum it up? For all its outrageousness: the Lady Gaga Award.
Best Cheap Fun: Fiat 500. It zips around like a water beetle and can be driven flat-out without dire consequences. A reminder that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
Best Sport-UTE: Dodge Citadel. Big, solid, powerful, good-looking, four-wheel-drive and all the comforts, but still down-to-earth. The dog can throw up in it and the kids may track snow, mud and peanut butter everywhere.
Best SPORT-Ute (tie): Porsche Cayenne and Infiniti FX50. These all-weather demon “trucks” are short on cargo room, but they can outrun sports cars and are as plush as luxury sedans.
Sexiest Car: Jaguar XJ, the poor man’s Bentley. Gorgeous, posh, fast, agile and vastly appealing, and not even that stupidly expensive. Yes, the XJ is a sedan. Maybe it’s my age.
Best Value in a Capitalist Dreadnought: Hyundai Equus. At $65,000 it puts a huge hole below the waterline of the automotive establishment; 6-figure price tags are so pre-Recession.
Best Car No One Else Seems to Like: Volvo C30. Am I the only one who thinks this impeccable 3-door mini-wagon is the knees of the bee? How come no one’s buying it?
Car of the Year (my year, anyway): Bentley Continental GT. Phenomenal performance, bite-your-hand looks, regal comfort and bespoke tailoring, all for only a quarter of a million bucks.
Bring on 2013!