Being in the enviable position of learning and driving new cars is a fun job and gives me a good perspective on what is being offered in today’s automotive marketplace. Sometimes the specs, the driving experiences, and model names become a blur after a while, but there are some wonderful cars that stand apart from the crowd. Here are my top five favorite cars of 2015.
5. 2016 Volvo XC90
For a period, Volvo lost its way. A global recession, falling sales and being jettisoned from the Ford portfolio left Volvo adrift in perilous waters. Today the Swedish car company is owned by Geely and is back on course building new cars and crossovers with a vengeance. The big crossover SUV was redesigned for 2016 model year and Volvo revamped the XC90 from bumper to bumper. A brand-new style language, a completely reworked interior that is simply gorgeous, and state-of-the-art human convenience and safety features help the XC90 become one of the best vehicles I had the pleasure of experiencing this year.
4. 2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Without a doubt the new, expressively styled Alfa Romeo 4C captures a true old-world sports car persona. Starting with a featherweight carbon fiber tub weighing 236 pounds and an all-aluminum 1750cc turbocharged engine that sends 237 horsepower to the rear wheels, the mid-engine two-seater is capable of being propelled from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and reaching a top speed of 160 mph. Speed is only part of the equation. A super strong and stiff chassis, a communicative suspension, and a raw visceral driving experience that doesn’t include power steering, connects me to the road in a way modern cars don’t. If you want to enjoy driving a real Italian sports car that is much more affordable than a Ferrari, this is the one for you.
3. 2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron
Driving an EV — or even a hybrid — usually involves compromising the driving experience. That’s not the case with Audi’s A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid. When burning hydrocarbons in bumper-to-bumper traffic becomes environmentally irresponsible, the A3 e-tron can work silently in EV mode. When the road finally opens up on your favorite ribbon of tarmac, the A3 e-tron responds with the road-handling performance that can rival some sports sedans and still get up to 37 mpg cruising at highway speeds. The practicality of the little wagon/hatchback even makes carrying your gear a no-brainer. Factor in Audi’s style and elegance, and it becomes one of my favorite all-around cars I’ve driven this year.
2. 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350/GT350R
When Ford engineered the Shelby GT350, it got down to serious business. Everything developed for the GT350/GT350R diverges from its street performance roots to a muscle car honed for the track that is focused more on clipping apexes than elapsed quarter-mile times. Ford’s pony car brings to the table 526 horsepower from a new high-revving 5.2-liter V8, MagneRide dampers, Torsen limited-slip differential, body modifications unique to the model, plus much, much more — all for a very reasonable price tag of well under $60k (before dealer markup). If the roar from the flat-plane V8 doesn’t grab you, the GT350’s capabilities on the track and its cruising behavior on the boulevard will capture your inner Michael Schumacher.
1. 2015 BMW i8
The BMW i8 looks, drives, and moves like nothing else on the road today. This dual-mode electric hybrid sits squarely in exotic car territory. Underneath its concept-car looks is a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine that produces 228 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, driving the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic. Driving the front wheels is a 129 horsepower electric motor that is powerful enough to move the car under its own power or assist the gasoline motor for a total power output of 357 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. Featuring high-tech everything, the i8 is the polar opposite of the Alfa Romeo 4C, but it delivers sharp handling and high-speed ecstasy born from BMW’s legacy of performance.