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 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.
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 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.)