DRIVING NORTHWEST: The top 11 cars of 2010

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 Car specialist

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KING5.com

Posted on December 30, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 30 at 3:23 PM

It’s another year under the overpass, time to look back at the best vehicles of 2010. It will be remembered as the year the auto industry started to get its mojo back. That doesn’t mean it was smooth as fresh asphalt. Toyota was rocked, Hyundai and Kia rocketed, and Chevy dropped their “Like a Rock” ads.

My year-end rap up is a Top 11 list, “This is Spinal Tap” fans will understand. This year was tougher than any other because the level of competition is so fierce these days. Needless to say, nearly everyone is on their A game. My decisions are made looking at a number of attributes including performance, design, value, and fuel economy. There’s also a base price cap of 75 grand.

I did not drive the highly regarded Chevy Volt and Ford Explorer, so they can’t make the list but I suggest checking them out when they hit showrooms if you’re looking vehicles in those segments. There are other vehicles that nearly made the list such as the 2011 Dodge Charger, Dodge Durango and Chrysler Town & Country. In the end I couldn’t spend the time needed to thoroughly evaluate them on the jam-packed press event.

If there’s anything you take away from this collection it should be that the game is in play and that compelling well-designed cars and SUVs are coming from many different manufacturers. In short, test drive a lot of cars before plunking down your hard earned cash.

The list is alphabetical and I’ve provided base MSRP prices (yes, they include destination and delivery charges).As intense as 2010 was, 2011 will see the battle for your garage heat up even more. In the end, it’s this competition that makes all of us the real winners. To see full length videos of most of these vehicles go to DrivenCarReviews.com for the “director’s cut” version of the stories.

Audi S4 ($46,600) This performance sedan returns to the Top 11 list. Attractive and athletic, it continues Audi’s tradition of well-crafted cabins. In short, it’s everything a luxury-sport sedan should be. The distinctive LED band in the headlights are beginning to be copied by everyone else. For who don’t need the extra doors, go for the elegant S5 coupe. Standard Quattro all-wheel drive is a bonus on both wet and dry pavement.

Cadillac CTS ($36,040) Making the list 4 years straight, the stealth fighter-shaped Caddy is a joy to pilot. The interior, with its hand stitched instrument panel and dramatic light show on start up is a crowd pleaser. Pick from the sedan, sport wagon and striking coupe. Extra good are the performance V models, just remember to budget for a speeding ticket or two.

It’s been a long time since GM made a competitive small car (if ever) but they’ve finally done it with the Chevy Cruze ($16,995). Comfortable, fuel efficient, and very quiet, it’s handsome inside and out. The LT1 model I drove had unexpected features like Euro-style turn signals that give three flashes with just a tap, and a back seat that offers a folding armrest, power port and plenty of storage nooks. Cruze is another example of how things are changing in the industry.

Ford Mustang (Coupe $22,995) New engines and a number of refinements make the 2011 Mustang a joy to drive. Pretty good for pushing 50 years old. The V6 pumps out 305 horsepower, many won’t even miss the 412 horse V8. Along with Ford’s improved Sync interface, the classic pony car has become a modern muscle car with plenty of finesse. Both coupe and convertible are affordable giddyup.

Honda Fit ($15,850) Honda’s small hatchback had completion with Ford’s new Fiesta but Fit stays on the list due to it’s amazing flexibility. This rig looks bigger inside than it does on the exterior and the origami seats flip and fold to accommodate all kinds of cargo. It’s fun to drive too. Looking for affordability, versatility, and fuel economy? This Honda is a great Fit

If the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee (2WD $30,995) is any indication of what the new Chrysler has in store, the future looks good. The interior is a huge improvement and the sheet metal gets a rugged chiseled shape. But people buy Jeeps for their legendary off-road prowess and thankfully that remains solid. Surprisingly, on-road comfort doesn’t suffer. Grand Cherokee can tackle just about anything and never looks like it’s breaking a sweat.

Kia Optima ($19,690) The family sedan choice could have easily been cousin Hyundai Sonata but I prefer the unique 2011 Optima design and it’s more athletic suspension tuning. To a person, everyone who road in my well equipped EX tester though it was a $40,000 car. Try 27K. Available with regular and turbo engines (in January), the sculpted look, blizzard of features and bargain price of Optima are all but unbeatable.

Kia Sorento (FWD $21,790) Like Optima, style, value, and loads of features set Sorento apart. Available with AWD and seating for up to 7, it’s Kia’s first vehicle to be assembled in the US. The comfortable, capable Sorento will haul a family in style. Want something smaller? I struggled between this and Kia’s Sportage for this slot. In the end the better ride quality, road feel and passenger capacity of Sorento won out over the Sportage’s killer design and fuel economy.

Nissan Quest ($28,550) They may have a stigma but nothing beats a minivan for making family life easier. Like a good parent, Quest goes about its duties with balance and warmth. There’s easy to configure seats, an upscale interior that’s most luxurious in class, and a quiet, controlled ride quality. Some may question its polarizing exterior shape, I’ll refer those people to the new Honda Odyssey. Quest comes out of the blue to challenge the established play date players.

Both sporty and refined, the Volkswagen GTI ($24,460) is a friend to the enthusiast on a budget. It’s great fun to throw into tight turns, and the cabin looks expensive. This is a car that practically begs a driver to drive it briskly. Available in both two and four door models, sell it to your spouse as practical. Because it is. Tough to choose between the crisp 6-speed manual or dual-clutch DSG automatic-style transmission.Either way, the GTI will show you a good time.

Volvo S60 ($32,300) Forget about their safety reputation for a moment, this curvaceous Swede looks great. Available with all-wheel drive and a 300 horsepower turbocharged 6-cylinder it drives great too. The classy interior features Volvo’s signature waterfall center stack with storage behind it. All right, it isn’t a Volvo without safety breakthrough. The S60 detects pedestrians and automatically slams on the brakes to avoid them at speeds under 20 MPH. Even without this tech, the 60 is a 10.

 

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