Every year, around this time, the automotive editors of the US edition of PM choose what they consider to be the year’s best and brightest. This year, they were unequivocal: Motown is back. After a disastrous 2009, when GM and Chrysler nearly imploded, the Detroit Three nabbed the majority of this year’s Automotive Excellence awards – in a market that’s more competitive than ever. Unfortunately, most of the Motown picks aren’t available in South Africa.
The decision process was straightforward: after each newcar test drive, the team recorded the vehicle’s functionality, technology and value – and what it was like from behind the wheel. Then they gathered and passionately argued over their favourites. It’s not easy – they take their debates seriously – but they stuck to it.
Models not available in South Africa that they picked are the Toyota Sienna minivan, Ford Mustang, performance car, Ford F250 pickup, Cadillac CTS coupé), Infi niti M37/M56 luxury sedan and Chevrolet Volt electric car.
Off-road ability: Jeep Grand Cherokee
No brand is more deeply rooted in off-road adventure than Jeep. The new Grand Cherokee stands at the top of the line-up with not only a much more luxurious and roomy interior, but also more power and, yes, enhanced on- and off-road chops. The new 3,6-litre Pentastar V6 churns out 216 kW and 352 N.m of torque, delivers 14,8 litres/100 km in town and 10,2 litres/100 km on the highway, and will tow 2 270 kg. But we’d choose the 268-kW V8 for its muscle-car hustle – and take the modest fuel-economy hit. For the first time, the unibody Jeep uses a four-wheel independent suspension for enhanced steering and suspension precision. Opt for the Quadra-Lift air suspension, and the Jeep will provide five distinct suspension-height levels, with up to an impressive 27 cm of ground clearance. During a snow-covered sortie in Moab, Utah, the Jeep rocked and rolled its way over the worst obstacles, taking the most challenging lines without so much as a whimper. Best of all, the Grand Cherokee can lower itself back down and provide a pillow-soft luxury-car ride on the way home from the trailhead.
Wallpaper: To download wallpaper images of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. [click here]
Fun to drive: Lotus Evora
What does Lotus know about handling that eludes the rest of the world? It’s a question we asked ourselves after an exhilarating mountainroad romp in the new Evora. Although this Lotus makes several concessions to practicality, such as a small rear seat and even cruise control, essentially it’s a driver’s car. And for 2011, there’s nothing better on the road. Those with the means will enjoy a connection between the car and the road that borders on telepathic. The steering effort linearly increases as the cornering forces build, and the suspension impeccably keeps the tyres squarely planted on the road. The result is a car with high but accessible cornering limits, a sports car that makes even novice drivers feel like heroes. Even better, the Evora smashes the notion that good handling and a supple ride are mutually exclusive – it’s cushy enough to drive to work, yet incredibly entertaining on curvy roads and racetracks.
Wallpaper: To download wallpaper images of the Lotus Evora. [click here]
Value: Hyundai Sonata
In pro sport, the Most Valuable Player trophy doesn’t always go to the player with the best stats; sometimes, intangibles add up to an obvious MVP. Similarly, the Hyundai Sonata was a clear choice for the 2011 PMV – Popular Mechanics’s Value – award. What Hyundai has achieved with the redesign of its breadand- butter sedan is, in a word, astonishing. One glance tells much of the story, as the vehicle looks more like a luxury coupé than a midsize economy sedan. Gone is the V6, replaced with a 150-kW fourcylinder. In the US, you can opt for a turbocharged four-banger with 204 kW, which makes you forget about the lack of a V6 in the lineup. There’s even a hybrid model that gets under 8 litres/100 km. Options aside, the Sonata’s standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control (ESC), traction control and antilock brakes with brake assist. Throw in Hyundai’s 5-year, 150 000-km warranty and it makes you wonder what luxury carmakers will have to do to keep calling themselves luxury carmakers.
Wallpaper: To download wallpaper images of the Hyundai Sonata. [click here]
Fuel efficiency: Ford Fiesta
Just about anybody can make a car fuel-effi cient with the aid of an electric motor, a generator or two and a few hundred lithium batteries. But it takes some real skill to achieve less than 6 litres/100 km – and a 650-km range – from a good ol’-fashioned internal combustion engine.
Not that the Ford Fiesta is exactly old-fashioned. After all, it comes with a dual-clutch transmission and electric power-assisted steering, and its 1,6-litre 16-valve four-cylinder Duratec generates plenty of power with the help of variable- cam timing. In the interest of full disclosure, however, the really remarkable economy fi gure is achieved when customers elect to ditch the five-speed manual transmission and spend the extra on the optional PowerShift, a sixspeed dual-clutch automatic that boosts the car’s EPA mileage ratings to 8 litres/ 100 km city and 6 litres/ 100 km highway. The dualclutch gearbox is a technology that emerged on the Bugatti Veyron supercar in 2005, then gradually made its way into sporty cars from Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Nissan, Porsche and the like for its responsiveness and seamless gear changes. This is its first appearance in the subcompact sedan and hatchback market. Because there is no fancy hybrid or electric tech to finance, the pay-off is immediate: the dual-clutch Fiesta costs thousands less than a Honda Insight or Toyota Prius.
Wallpaper: To download wallper images of the Ford Fiesta. [click here]