Of all the automobiles I’ve driven this year, there are only a handful I would like to own and drive again and again.
One crossover deserves a spot in my garage; next to that the hottest sports car that I could almost afford and the supercar that I never will. (Almost making the cut are a 54-ton tank and an indestructible dune buggy, but those are other stories.)
And then there’s one auto that makes so much sense that it seems a shame not to have it -- my pick of car of the year. Here are my faves, by category, for 2011.
Crossover: Range Rover Evoque.
Other carmakers such as Acura and BMW (BMW) have tried to pull off high-end, provocatively shaped crossovers. Those are ugly. The new Evoque comes as both a two- and four-door and is funky in all the right places. Just look at the low sloped roof, the Tonka-toy-shaped body and oversized tires. As the most urbanized Land Rover ever, it’s more a crossover than SUV, but will handle light off-roading.
The Evoque starts from $44,000 and seats five in an extremely livable, plush interior. The panoramic glass roof cries out for stargazing. Land Rover trades in its petrol- gulping V-8 engine for a thrifty 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 240 horsepower. Modest, but it gets 18 mpg city, 28 highway.
That’s big news for Land Rover. (TTMT)
Supercar: Lamborghini Aventador.
You have a half million dollars burning a hole in your Armani trousers. You want exclusivity, an exotic design and car valets drooling. Wouldn’t hurt to break 60 mph in less than three seconds, either. Lamborghini’s latest $393,695 flagship, the Aventador, ticks all those boxes. I think it’s the greatest Lambo ever.
Unlike Lamborghinis of yore, the Aventador lives up to the promise of its scissor-door design and comic-book-color paintjob. It’s absurdly fast (top speed 217 mph), but also agile, using all-wheel-drive to carve out of the trickiest corners. My day testing it on a racetrack was the best of the year.
It’s lightning on wheels. And trust that the 6.5-liter V-12 engine, mounted behind the driver for the best weight balance, has more than enough power (691 hp) to hurl you across the heavens.
Economy Car: Hyundai (005380) Veloster.
Nobody wants an economy car. Rather, most of us want a nice-driving, good-looking automobile that won’t sledgehammer us into debt. Hyundai has gotten in the habit of over-delivering very good cars at underwhelming prices. The Veloster is the most out-and-out fun.
A compact hatchback with a too expressive front end, the Veloster is aimed at a young demographic. Still, my $22,550 test model was crammed with amenities like touch-screen navigation, automatic everything, Bluetooth and a rear-view camera. Ten- year-old Mercedes-Benzes should be as nice.
Special mention for the gas mileage. It manages 40 mpg highway with the six-speed manual. Fascinating, since no so- called “green cars” knocked my socks off this year -- the Honda Civic Hybrid was rather dismal, for instance. Hyundai has four models which hit the 40 mpg mark, only one a hybrid. That’s progress for the people.
Sports Car for Mortals: BMW 1 Series M Coupe.
The German automaker’s detractors say it makes cars that are too heavy, too big and overly reliant on technology. The $47,000 1M is a riposte to all that. BMW’s M Division took one of the company’s smallest cars, the 1 Series, and made a driver’s dream.
The 1M has rear-wheel-drive, a lightweight, dynamic engine (a twin-turbo six-cylinder) and is only available with a six- speed manual transmission. The interior is simple and options limited. Mine came to $54,085 as driven.
Horsepower is only 335, but it’s more than enough. This is what BMW’s M cars are supposed to be: visceral and fun. The kind of car you take on a Sunday drive and disappear until Monday.
Since only 1,000 of them are being offered as a 2011 model year, the 1M is likely to be coveted in the future.
Overall 2011 Winner -- Executive Sedan: Audi A7
So you can’t imagine how you got along without your do- everything smart phone. This is the automotive equivalent. The A7’s blend of technology, material luxury and highway-conquering drivability is almost eerie.
This thing has so many gadgets that it can act as its own on-the-go Wi-Fi hotspot, yet the cockpit still feels warm and inviting. Styling is almost militantly modern -- a Teutonic beauty -- while being handily practical. The trunk is actually a hatchback. Fold down the rear seats and it will fit a full-size bicycle.
Its stablemate, the new A6, feels staid next to the A7, and the bigger A8 is a bit too mature. The A7 has just the right amount of style and substance. You could drive your company president around all day, and then pick up a supermodel date at night.
It has a silky eight-speed automatic transmission and a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, with 310 horsepower and 325 pound- feet of torque. The gas mileage isn’t superlative, but it isn’t embarrassing (18; 28).
Pricing starts around $60,000. As tested, mine came to $68,630. For that, you get a car which will do a bit of everything.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.