2010 marks our fourth annual Best New Cars list -- my picks for the best new and redesigned cars for the 2010 model year. A dozen cars made the cut for 2010; here they are, in alphabetical order.
Making a good convertible isn't easy, which is why its so pleasing to see a drop-top like the Audi A5 -- one that gets it almost 100% right. From its fast-opening soft top to its sprightly, fuel-efficient engine to its well-sorted chassis, the A5 is everything a modern-day convertible should be -- practical, fun to drive, and reasonably affordable, at least by luxury-convertible standards. A brilliant car through and through.
2. Audi S4
The new S4 represents Audi's attempt to tone down the car to better compete with less-expensive rivals like the Lexus IS350 and Mercedes C350. How well it does that is up for debate, but a sizeable price cut has transformed the S4 into one of the best performance buys on the market. The new supercharged V6 makes it quicker than the old V8-powered S4, while an outstanding suspension and Quattro all-wheel-drive makes it quicker in the corners than many of its 400+ hp rivals. There's even an optional trick rear differential will make it as tail-happy as a rear-wheel-drive car. And the best news of all: You can put one in your driveway for well under $50k.
I used to think that restoring the Buick nameplate to relevance would be only slightly easier than raising the dead -- but having driven the 2010 LaCrosse, I have no doubt that General Motors can pull it off. The LaCrosse gets it right where many of its Japanese competitors get it wrong: Bold, beautiful styling, an interior that combines luxury and style, a suspension that delivers a smooth, quiet ride with responsive handling, and an infotainment package that's among the best in the business. There's nothing remotely old-fashioned about the 2010 Buick LaCrosse except the price -- the LaCrosse delivers good ol' fashioned American value.
There are two reasons the Camaro is on this list. First is value: 300 hp for $23,000 and 426 hp (from a proper Corvette-sourced V8, no less) for $31,000. That may well be the best bang-for-the-buck in automotive history. Second is the fact that most automakers position "halo cars" like the Camaro at the top of their lineup, but Chevy didn't do that with the Camaro. You can argue that the interior is a little cheap and the feature lineup a little sparse, but by keeping the price down, Chevrolet has ensured that most people who want a Camaro can put one in their driveway, rather than just on their desktop wallpaper. Chevy, we are grateful.
The Fusion H.ybrid has been a long time coming, but it's been worth the wait. The Fusion Hybrid gets the best fuel economy of any mid-size hybrid sedan, topping the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Nissan Altima Hybrid by a sizable margin. It's hybrid drivetrain is superior in driveability as well as efficiency, and its customizable dash display is innovative and entertaining. When you add in options like SYNC voice control for your iPod and phone and navigation like SIRIUS Travel Link, it's clear that Ford has the technology edge. The Fusion Hybrid may not have been the first mid-size hybrid sedan, but it's definitely the best.
6. Ford Mustang
For years now, the thorn in the Mustang's side has been its solid rear axle, the same technology ol' Henry used on his Model T back in nineteen-ought-eight. It took just over a hundred years, but Ford has finally tamed the solid axle, and this is the first Mustang about which I can honestly say that archaic rear suspension makes no difference. Well, almost no difference. The point is that the 2010 Mustang can be hustled through the curves better than its independent-rear-suspension-equipped rivals from Dodge and Chevy. Factor in the beautiful retro dash, the old-school V8 exhaust bellow, and those cool sequential taillights, and this is the best Mustang since the '64 original.
Hyundai has always been about good value, but this is one segment I never expected them to tackle -- the affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car. $22,750 gets you a nicely equipped car with a potent two-liter turbo engine, the form-factor of choice for cars like the Volkswagen GTI and Audi A4. For 26 grand, you get a 300 hp V6 that will keep up with an Infiniti G37. And the suspension is just as good as the engines -- this is no scary-handling, old-technology, third-world rear-drive setup; it's a properly-sorted sports car that can give the Mazda RX-8 and Nissan 370Z a run for their money.
8. Kia Forte
Improvement is generally an incremental process, but every once in a while an unlikely automaker will make an unexpected leap -- and the Kia Forte is a perfect example. Many people think Kia is the Korean word for "cheap", but the Forte is a solid car that can stand up to scrutiny against the competition. It doesn't quite surpass the leaders -- which, in my opinion, are the Honda Civic and the Mazda3 -- but it stands door-to-door with established players like the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra, and it does so with a lower price and more standard safety equipment than any of its rivals. If Kia stays on this path, Toyota could be in a lot of trouble.
America needs to start using less fuel, and the best way to do that is to switch to smaller cars. The problem is that while today's compacts have the space of yesterday's mid-sizers, they lack the amenities. At least they did until now. Mazda's Mazda3 compact can be had with features we're used to seeing in premium mid-size cars -- things like high-quality leather, navigation, keyless ignition and rain-sensing wipers -- plus it's fuel-efficient and great fun to drive. If all small cars were this good, I bet a lot more Americans would buy them.
I had enough money to buy a garage-full of cars, my daily driver would be an Mercedes E-Class. The all-new 2010 Mercedes E is a big leap over the old car in terms of styling and available features, but the tranquil interior and smooth, quiet ride are unchanged, giving the new E the same combination of elegance and serenity that made the old E-Class my favorite luxury car. As an added bonus, both E350 and E550 models cost more than $5,000 less than the cars they replace. The old E was the standard by which I judged luxury sedans -- a mantle that has been taken over by the new E-Class.
11. Porsche Panamera
People are still arguing about whether Porsche should have produced a four-door car, but if they were going to do it, at least they did it right. Porsche's engineers started with a clean sheet and designed a car that reads like a Who's Who of good ideas. The Panamera features powerful direct-injection engines that deliver gobs of power with surprisingly good fuel economy; an air suspension that provides both a luxurious ride and true sports-car handling; and an elegant leather-lined interior with an exceptionally well-thought-out control layout. Add in four comfortable seats and a big cargo bay with convenient hatchback access, and you have proof that small sports cars aren't the only thing Porsche does well.
12. Volkswagen GTI
Volkswagen introduced America to the concept of the hot hatchback, and with the all-new 2010 GTI, they're still setting the standards. The new GTI doesn't lead the pack in terms of power, but it sets the pace for the fun-to-drive factor thanks to its excellent handling, tolerable ride, and remarkable lack of front-wheel-drive bugaboos like torque steer and corner-exit wheelspin. And with a price tag of $24,000 -- which includes three years of free maintenance -- and ever-improving build quality, it takes the lead in a category where I never expected a Volkswagen to excel: Value.