Businessweek.com's Thane Peterson tested dozens of cars and reviewed more than 25 over the past year. Here are the 10 he most liked.

Businessweek.com's Thane Peterson tested dozens of cars and reviewed more than 25 over the past year. Here are the 10 he most liked.

Thane Peterson's Best Drives of 2011

German cars rule
German cars rule

Businessweek.com's Thane Peterson tested dozens of cars and reviewed more than 25 over the past year. Here are the 10 he most liked.

Overview
Overview

Car-reviewing often involves making quick judgments. Which models, however, linger in the memory? This was the year of the Germans, as far as I’m concerned. Japanese automakers were hobbled by weather and earthquake-related problems and the Detroit Three are still trying to redefine their luxury-car divisions. German carmakers, meanwhile, are on a roll, with numerous exciting new models that range from Audi’s gorgeous new A7 hatchback to BMW’s hot-selling redesigned X3 compact SUV. I drove a few memorable non-German cars—the Maserati Gran Turismo convertible comes to mind—but six of my Top Ten for 2011 are Teutonic.

2012 Audi A7
2012 Audi A7
Starting Price: $60,125
Sales: 5.383* (new model)

Why I like it: The A7, an all-new hatchback version of the redesigned A6, is the best-looking Audi I’ve ever seen, with a cabin as gorgeous as its exterior. The A7 also handles like a dream and jumps from 0 to 60 in a mere 5.4 seconds, about matching the BMW 550i GT and Mercedes CLS550. Little wonder Automobile magazine named the A7 “Car of the Year.”

*For all slides U.S. sales Jan. 1-Nov. 30, 2011
2011 Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro MT6 Spyder
2011 Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro MT6 Spyder
Starting Price: $161,875
Sales: 1,012 (up 48.8 percent)**

Why I like it: I got to take the R8 Spyder out only for a brief spin last spring, but driving it was a memorable experience. This hand-assembled, mid-engine, all-wheel-drive sports car is powered by a 5.2-liter, 525-horsepower, 10-cylinder engine coupled with a six-speed manual transmission. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in about four seconds and drives like a bucking bronco on wheels. I love it.

**Figure includes all versions of R8
2011 BMW X3
2011 BMW X3
Starting Price: $37,995
Sales: 24,261 (up 364.2 percent)

Why I like it: There’s a reason sales of BMW’s compact SUV nearly quintupled during the first 11 months of this year. The model was redesigned for 2011, and the new X3 is bigger, quicker, better-looking, and more fuel-efficient than the previous X3. Audi ‘s Q5, a nice but less performance-oriented small SUV, has had much of its thunder stolen by the new X3.
2012 BMW 650i Convertible
2012 BMW 650i Convertible
Starting Price: $91,395
Sales: 3,180 ( up 35.4 percent)***

Why I like it: In just about every respect—from roominess to fuel economy and on to quickness and handling—the 2012 650i Convertible is a major improvement over the outgoing model. Its state-of-the-art eight-speed automatic is lightning-quick and the 650i is also available with a six-speed stick shift. I liked the controversial styling of the previous model, but many prefer the more conservative look of the new 650i.

***Includes all 6-series models
2011 Chevrolet Volt
2011 Chevrolet Volt
Starting Price: $41,000
Sales: 6,142 (new model)

Why I like it: Battery fires after government crash tests gave Chevy’s pioneering gasoline-electric hybrid a black eye, but the Volt topped Consumer Reports’s satisfaction ratings anyway, with 93 percent of owners saying they’d definitely buy another one. The Volt is more fun to drive than a Toyota Prius and is rated to go nearly twice as far (93 miles) per gallon of gas. A $7,500 federal tax break takes some of the sting out of its sticker.
2011 Jaguar XKR Coupe
2011 Jaguar XKR Coupe
Starting Price: $97,000
Sales: 724 (down 10 percent)

Why I like it: Speed fanatics will prefer the new 2012 XKR-S supercar, but most owners will be satisfied with the regular XKR I test-drove earlier this year. The XKR’s V8 generates “only” 510-horsepower (40 less hp than the S), but that’s enough to propel it from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds, vs. 4.4 seconds for the S. The XKR also costs 34 grand less than the S and looks better to my eye.
2012 Maserati Gran Turismo Convertible
2012 Maserati Gran Turismo Convertible
Starting Price: $137,300
Sales: 813 (up 45.7 percent)

Why I like it: There are few sounds sweeter than the rumble of the engine in the Maserati GT Convertible when you’re tooling around on curvy back-roads—top down, of course. Then there’s the distinctive Pinifarina exterior styling and the sumptuous, drop-dead-gorgeous interior that can be trimmed in a variety of soft leathers and exotic hardwoods. Is all that worth 50 grand more than the BMW 650i convertible? If you have to ask...
2012 Mercedes CLS550
2012 Mercedes CLS550
Starting Price: $72,175
Sales: 5,027 (up 166.7 percent)

Why I like it: Bigger, faster, cheaper, and more fuel-efficient than the model it’s replacing, the new CLS550 sedan is a natural for luxury-car shoppers willing to pay a premium for distinctive styling. It’s a beautiful car that combines the swooping curves and radically sloped roof line of a two-door coupe with the convenience of a four-door sedan. It also jumps from 0 to 60 in just 5.1 seconds.
2012 Porsche Cayman R
2012 Porsche Cayman R
Starting Price: $67,250
Sales: 3,045 (down 6.3 percent)****

Why I like it: The hardtop equivalent of the Boxster Spyder, the new Cayman R is a stripped-down racing-oriented version of the Cayman S that’s slightly lighter and more powerful. You really have to be into racing to justify opting for the R over the S, but when it comes to Porsches, fanaticism in pursuit of performance can be a virtue.

****Figure is for all Cayman and Boxster models
2011 Chevy Corvette Grandsport convertible
2011 Chevy Corvette Grandsport convertible
Price: $59,995
Sales: 12,126 (up 4.1 percent)*****

Why I like it: I make it a practice to test-drive at least one Corvette per year, and I have loved them all. The Corvette Grand Sport Convertible accelerates from 0 to 60 in 3.95 seconds, yet also gets 25 miles-per-gallon on the highway. Launch control, which provides extra traction during quick takeoffs, is standard. Few vehicles on the planet provide more fun per dollar spent than this one.

*****Includes all Corvette models