PM’s crack automotive department tests and evaluates more than 100 new cars and trucks every model year. Here’s the best of the best – or at least the ones they couldn’t break.
Best luxury vehicle: 2010 BMW 335d
In the future, the word “luxury” might describe automotive qualities quite different from what we imagine today. When sedate and sensible fuel sippers dominate the automotive landscape, luxury could define the ability to produce sports car acceleration with exemplary fuel economy. The BMW 335d is ahead of that curve.
Under the hood is a twin turbocharged 3,0-litre inline six-cylinder diesel, with a mammoth 576 N.m of torque that can return solid economy. In fact, on a recent 630 km PM test, we saw 7 litres/100 km. It takes only one brief prod of the right pedal to know the BMW has an incredible motor. The rush of torque is not unlike an old-school big-block V8’s. Reeling in lesser cars is not only effortless, it’s tantalisingly fun. And this diesel model fits right in with the rest of BMW’s 3 Series lineup, offering fluid, organic steering and a chassis that encourages you to press on just as hard as the road and your bravado will allow. Yet this BMW rides comfortably and absorbs potholes with a muted “thump”.
Luxury cars don’t have to be one-dimensional. The 335d blends luxury, performance, fuel economy and fun into one very rewarding package.
Base price: $43 900 (about R324 586)
Best vehicle design: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro
The success of a new car design, especially a sporty one, depends on its ability not just to turn heads, but to inspire an almost primal lust in everyone from a college kid to his grandfather – hitting all the age groups in between. The new Camaro does just that – and it’s become one of the few cars outside the supercar ranks that will almost always elicit a conversation at the gas pumps.
Under the watch of GM design boss Ed Welburn, Chevy imagined the new Camaro as a thoroughly modern take on the 1967 original. And it looks amazingly close to the 2006 concept car. GM engineers somehow avoided the compromises that tend to dilute a designer’s original vision as it makes its way into production. The inset front grille and the outboard round headlights offer a real link to that first Camaro, yet the big wheels and taut proportions perfectly convey 21st-century muscle.
Good design extends to the interior too: The view through the windshield is 1960s cool, yet it’s the subtleties that make this car feel so right. Of course, a Camaro wouldn’t feel right at all if there wasn’t some serious firepower under the hood. The top-dog SS models have a big 315 kW 6,2-litre V8, and even the base cars receive a potent V6 that returns 7,9 litres/100 km highway.
Base price: $22 245 (about R154 474)
Most versatile car: 2010 Subaru Outback
Long before the term “crossover” became synonymous with rugged, car-based utility wagons, Subaru had the Outback. To many, that original 1995 Outback was the first real crossover, blending the best attributes of an SUV with the nimble handling of a traditional car and the capability of Subaru’s rally-bred all-wheel-drive expertise.
This latest model only widens that capability envelope. Riding on beefy tyres, and with a suspension tall enough to produce a Hummer-humbling 22 cm of ground clearance, the Outback is not a corner carver. Instead, the Outback is a sweet-natured wagon with poised road manners that scrambles effortlessly along dirt roads and up some pretty difficult trails. With the wheelbase stretched over the previous version’s, rear-seat comfort is substantially improved. Fold that seat down, and the Outback can swallow 2 020 dm3 of camping gear, gardening supplies or pinewood planks.
Subaru owners are determined to wring every last ounce of value from their purchases – there’s plenty of value and versatility in this new Outback.
Base price: $22 995 (about R170 000)
Best value: 2010 Kia Soul wins Automotive Excellence Award
It’s not often that a car’s moniker actually matches its personality. But, for the Kia Soul, the name fits. Sure, it’s one of the least expensive new cars on the market, but it packs quite a lot of substance into that bargain-basement price tag. Inside, the materials used are one solid notch above the class. Kia offers two engines. We prefer the more potent 142-hp 2.0-litre inline Four that comes standard on Sport models.
The Soul Sport is surprisingly fun to drive. The firm suspension and robust motor make short work of switchbacks. And yet, on a recent 480-km fuel-economy marathon test drive, the Kia Soul Sport returned a very solid 7,6 litres/100 km. When three testers piled into the back seat they found plenty of comfort – even on longer trips. And with those seats folded, the Kia can handle 1 512 dm3 of cargo.
When you back up the head-turning styling with grin-inducing performance and a modest price, you’ve got one very smart buy.
Base price: $13 300 (about R98 337)
Best performance: 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500
The 21st-century muscle car wars have a new superpower to contend with: the Mustang Shelby GT500, the baddest of all Mustangs. This 403 kW street terror will rocket through the quarter-mile in just 1