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My Favorite Rides of the Year

At this time of year, everyone wants you to know about the best cars, trucks and SUVS of the year. AutoPacific has already taken a big step in that direction, but with a twist: Partnering with Intellichoice, AutoPacific shared the best vehicles of the year, as picked by you – and that’s saying something! The Awards are called the Motorist’s Choice Awards and this year included the Lexus LS430, The Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 4×2, the Infiniti QX56 and the Audi A6 4.2 Quattro. Where else can you go to get the best possible input from your own peers about the latest vehicles in the marketplace? Since you’re here, we think you’ve come to the right place.
Watch the Podcast: AutoPacific & IntelliChoice Motorist’s Choice Awards


My Personal Choices for Best Rides of the Year
It’s part of my job to drive a new vehicle nearly every week. In some cases, more than one vehicle at week gets the once-over, not only by me, but by a number of the analysts and experts at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific. As the resident speed-guy, I might have a slightly different take on things and while I do try to avoid going to court, I do need to put my foot down. And that’s part of what my list is about. The other things I’m taking into consideration are everyday drivability, cost, and return on investment. And as you know, everyone is concerned about fuel costs and gas mileage. Not me! Not yet… So, let’s get to it.


Fave Drive of the Year: Audi RS4
This is one fantastic ride. It starts by getting into one of the best fit and finish cockpits anywhere in the world. Supple leather-covered seats that hold you perfectly. It gets better when you start the RS4 and listen to the remarkable burble of its 4.2FSI V-8 engine. The stereo is awesome, too, but I would almost never listen to it, such is the musical symphony belted out by this high-revving 420hp masterpiece. And, finally, the smile just widens from ear to ear when you snick that short-shift six-speed into first and dip into the throttle. Wham! This car is fast. And, thanks to Dynamic Ride Control and Quattro, even novice drivers will feel like Emanuele Pirro at LeMans. And, even though sixty-six large isn’t cheap, it includes just about everything – and this car might be a keeper. Go drive one.
Watch the Podcast: Audi RS4
Most Unique Drive of the Year: Mini Cooper S
There’s no car like a Mini. Never mind the heritage or the movies (great car chase scenes, however!), this car is unlike anything else you can get. And driving it is a bonus – the real fun comes before you even own it. Just cruise over to the Mini website and spend a few hours building your own Mini. The options, colors, stripes, add-on bits and pieces make this truly a personal vehicle. If you want a car nobody else has (as far as you know), then look no further. And while the ride is a bit harsh for passengers, this is a great driver’s car. I can’t wait to drive the new model. Still, the existing version has terrific wholesale value. Make mine Lightning Blue with black stripes and John Cooper Works “everything” on it – even the steering wheel.
Watch the Podcast: Mini Takes the States
Watch the Podcast: MinI GP Introduction
Most Bling/Bang of the Year: Ferrari
The car wasn’t new. The not so nice convertible top was up. It was really hot outside. Still, the Ferrari 360 Spider was an experience not to be missed. I’ve driven a number of Ferrari models over the years and they have changed. Early cars rated between a B and a D- in fit and finish inside. They were all about the body and the engine – perhaps one reason why so many were considered to be like a fashion model. They were terrific to drive, but you had to compromise yourself. It was, in all respects, very much like a high-rent relationship.
Starting with the F355, things have been changing at Maranello. The 360 Spider I drove on the runways of the old Marine Corps Air Station El Toro was perfectly balanced, nicely put together (except the lame top), and there were no compromises when driving. Its 3.6 liter V8 engine puts out about 400 hp. It sounds fantasic. This is a car that will get ahead of you if you aren’t a very well versed and experienced driver. I found it to be slightly twitchy at the limit, but that may have been the tires used. It was nothing like the Audi, but equally amazing to drive – more so, even. Go rent one.
Watch the Podcast: Ferrari vs. Corvette
Best Deal of the Year, Part One: MazdaSpeed 3
It’s less than thirty grand by a LOT – and it’s faster than a Subaru WRX. It has seats that have BMW quality and you can almost buy two of these before you get a BMW as fast as this. This is one clever car. From the unique air-induction system to the nice, clean interior, Mazda put a lot of thought and care into the creation of this car. It’s small – but that won’t bother people who want to enjoy their driving experience every day and don’t want to take out a second mortgage to do it.
It has a powerful 263 hp 2.3 liter direct-injection turbo motor, 18-inch wheels, ABS, DSC, TRS, and other three-letter acronyms that will keep you reading the manual while waiting for the police to finish writing your speeding ticket. This is a front-wheel drive car and I typically hate them – but not this one. The torque-steer can be managed, and if you work at it, you’ll become a better driver in the process. Dealers will shortly begin selling a cold-air intake and big-bore exhaust system as well – good for an additional 30 hp. Yikes!
Watch the Podcast: MazdaSpeed 3
Best Deal of the Year, Part Two: VW GTI
It’s less than thirty grand, fully loaded. It has lots of space for people and stuff. It has great seats, a terrific steering wheel and a fantastic six-speed manual transmission. As an option, you can get the best sequential dual-clutch tranny anywhere if you ask for the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). The two liter 200 hp motor sounds slightly buzzy, but it revs nicely and is very responsive. Red Caliper disc brakes work really well and although the car has a bit of “consumer-protection” push when you drive it hard, it is really fun – and a great daily driver. Get the four-door. If you hurry, you can nab a nice guitar as a bonus. Even though this car isn’t as fast as the MazdaSpeed 3, it’s a terrific drive and if you’re hunting for a car that really performs under 30K, you should check both of them out.
And this coming year’s best…
It’s going to be quite a year. The auto industry is undergoing a lot of change and the explosion of Crossover and SUV performance vehicles is on the rise. Diesel power may take a front seat and I am stoked about the some of the wonderful things coming from BMW, Mazda, Porsche, Mini, Ford, and even our friends at GM. Muscle Power will be back in a big way in 2007 and I intend to visit the gym with some of these new models. So, “Happy New Year” to everyone and join us for the best personal insight and commentary on what makes the cars you drive what they are… for better or worse.
Watch the Podcast: 2007 Detroit Auto Show (Coming in January 2007)
NOTE Regarding the Motorist’s Choice Awards: and AutoPacific created the Motorist’s Choice Awards to determine the vehicles that delivered both the highest satisfaction and lowest cost of ownership. The collaboration between the two respected firms, who have each been authorities on the U.S. car market for the last 20 years, takes selected owner satisfaction data from AutoPacific’s surveys of new car and light truck buyers and combines it with’s rating methodology to create a new measurement that speaks to both the hearts and minds of car buyers.

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