It’s a tough job and they love to do it. Each year, the automotive department of our US parent makes its annual Automotive Excellence Awards. In the process, these petrolheads test drive just about every new vehicle on the market – and even a few that won’t be available for six months or more. In fact, they spend most of their days behind the wheel – on back roads, racetracks, even remote trails to test 4x4s. We learn a lot about what makes a good car. But more important, we get a clear picture of what makes a great car. And only great cars win the Automotive Excellence Awards. Staff members prepare a list of contenders – and then they debate. Vigorously. In the end, they pick the most significant, compelling and deserving cars and technologies in each of 10 categories. Sadly for South Africa, many of these vehicles aren’t available here. Here’s a selection of ones that may well be.
The Porsche Turbo, Corvette Z06 and Ferrari F430 have a brandnew playmate. The GT-R is Nissan’s supercar. It channels 475 kW from its 3,8-litre twin-turbo V6 through a six-speed paddle-shifted transmission and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. The bogey? Zero to 100 km/h in well under 4 seconds and a top speed of almost 320 km/h. To achieve those performance parameters, Nissan had to prioritise the exterior design of the GT-R for that mission. The bodywork is slick, with a very low drag coefficient of 0,27. According to Nissan design boss Shiro Nakamura, “The element of functionality is core to the GT-R.” Translation? The body panels aren’t for style. They’ve been crafted to serve performance. For instance, he notes that the kink in the rear pillar helps rear airflow. The air scoops on the side fender not only send air around the tyres, but also help cool the twin-turbo Six. “Designing a car is always a balance between engineering and aesthetics,” he says. “But, with the GT-R, we had very little conflict. We knew this car had to be Nissan’s technological showcase. Our designers worked very closely with the aerodynamicists to ensure the proper airflow and downforce essential for a car of such high speed and of such excellent high-speed stability.” The functionality of design carries over to the interior, too. But with a techy twist: augmenting the traditional gauges is a multifunction performance display (turbo boost, all-wheel-drive torque split, steering angles, etc.) developed in conjunction with the guys who designed the Gran Turismo video-game graphics. In summary, the GT-R design may favour function over form, but the result is a stunningly modern and purposeful supercar. We can’t wait to get behind the wheel.
Fun to drive
Mitsubishi lancer evolution
Though it isn’t the same adolescent bad boy it once was, the all-new Evo X is still a thrill to drive. Not only is it sporty, fast and agile, but it now has a more refined, more sophisticated look – and the tech hardware to match. The most notable change is the all-new 2,0-litre turbocharged and intercooled inline Four, rated at 220 kW and 406 N.m of torque. A new sixspeed twin-clutch Sportronic shift transmission, similar to VW’s Direct Shift Gearbox, delivers quicker shifts than most manuals, but with the smoothness of an automatic. And Super All-Wheel Control regulates drive torque at each wheel by controlling a network of handling technologies, such as an active centre differential 4wd, active yaw control, active stability control and ABS. It lets you push the car harder for longer before pulling you back from the edge. Bottom line: it’s drive-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, four-wheel fun.
Luxury sports sedans have historically been the undisputed turf of German and Japanese car manufacturers. America simply never had the right car to stand toe-to-toe in that ring. Until now. This is the Cadillac sport sedan we’ve been waiting for. The new CTS is a perfectly proportioned design wrapped around a world class rear-drive chassis. Caddy can now stand tall next to any comparable sedan from Mercedes-Benz or BMW. The new CTS comes in either rear- or all-wheel drive with two versions of its 3,6-litre V6. The base engine makes 196 kW and can be optioned with a manual transmission or an automatic, as can the direct-injected (DI) version, which makes 227 kW. Our pick? Order the DI engine. The six-speed automatic, with its downshift rev-matching capability, is so good you’ll forget about the manual. Caddy offers three suspension grades, too, and we found the sportiest FE3 calibration the most rewarding and most befitting a sport sedan. But inside is where a true luxury car separates itself from imitators. By the way, the CTS was also a strong contender for our Design category. It’s handsome from any angle.
The CTS has a beautifully designed interior – quite possibly the best GM has ever done. Small touches such as the interior lighting that surrounds the wood trim make the experience that much richer. We can’t wait for the M5-dusting V8- powered CTS-V. We hear over 375 kW is on tap for that one.
Toyota land cruiser
Land Cruisers have always offered a dichotomy: They’re Toyota’s most luxurious SUVs on the road, yet also the most capable in the dirt. The new one feels every bit as bulletproof and adept as its predecessors – maybe more so.
Much of the four-wheeling talent comes from a chassis with excellent wheel travel and some seriously trick technology. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which was previously available only on the Lexus GX 470, can essentially loosen the anti-roll bar’s grip on the suspension for increased axle articulation and, hence, more traction when off-road.
Then, the system can tighten the anti-roll bar back up for highway use. When one of those big tyres does lose traction, the four-wheel traction-control system senses slippage quickly and does its work unobtrusively. The neatest 4wd feature, however, is the Crawl Control, which is like a cruise-control system for off-road driving. Turn the dial to one of three preset ultralow speeds, and the Land Cruiser maintains that speed uphill or downhill, leaving just one responsibility for the driver: steering. The system gives the Cruiser tractorlike proficiency. The only downside? It takes almost all the challenge away from the driver. Not a bad problem to have when you’re buried deep in the boonies.
The M3 provides that rare combination of near supercar performance, organic feedback and posh trappings, all wrapped in sheetmetal that means business. In simple terms, The M3 is still very much a driver’s car.