It’s that time of year again, when after the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, Car & Driver chooses what it deems to be the 10 best cars on sale for 2014.
“For a full week each fall, we lock the office, turn off our phones, and engage in the most comprehensive and focused driving in the car-evaluation business,” Car & Driver says. That week is over, and the results are out. The tests cover vehicles of ”the fullest picture extant of the best cars on the market for under $80,000 … which offer the most value, that elegantly and comprehensively fulfill their missions, and that engage their drivers in spirited conversation.”
Two Mazdas made the list, but for the first time in eight years, the Miata is not one of them. Audi made a strong showing, while American firms also put in their share. “Five all-new cars replace a few stalwarts, redefining excellence for the entire industry. And fully half of our awardees start under $25,000.” The following cars that made the cut are listed alphabetically.
1. Audi A6/S6/A7
“The S6 is a leather-covered cannonball,” Car & Driver reports, and we’d be inclined to agree. However, the praise extended past the high-performance variants to A6 and A7, as well. All three are based on the same underpinnings and presumably share a lot in common on the ground floor. Sheer refinement, the “least frustrating infotainment system [Car & Driver has] ever used,” and “exemplary steering and body control” make the Audi midsize sedans a favorite at the magazine.
“The Audi mid-sizers’ only downside is cost,” Car & Driver writes.
2. BMW 3 and 4 Series
“I initially feared that the 4-series might be mere marketing posturing. Is there any substance here? Answer: Yes. Oh, God, yes,” said John Philips, apparently quite taken with BMW’s new models. Car & Driver commends the cars as staying true to BMW’s heritage of building cars “the way common-sense enthusiasts would,” and with numerous body variations, there’s almost certainly a BMW for every buyer.
3. Cadillac CTS
Cadillac (NYSE:GM) has certainly come a long way, much to the excitement of the judging panel at Car & Driver. “At its birth in ’03, the CTS seemed to prioritize numbers ahead of the driving experience,” members said. And my, how times have changed: Since GM stopped using the numbers as the be-all, end-all and paid some attention to the actual driving dynamics, ”the CTS is now unequivocally the best-handling car in the mid-size luxury segment.”
4. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Chevrolet’s new Corvette is an improvement on the old car from just about every angle. Case in point: “If I tried in the C6 what I just did on a wet road in the C7, I’d be in a tree right now,” said Car & Driver‘s Eddie Alterman.
“The thing is just so well honed. Not only is its electrically assisted steering system unexpectedly sensitive, you can practically feel the thousands of man-hours spent developing its Michelin tires, its stiffer structure, and, on Z51 models, its electronically controlled limited-slip differential,” the publication gushes.
5. Ford Fiesta ST
Hot hatches have never been higely popular stateside, but Ford (NYSE:F) is looking to change that — and from Car & Driver’s latest report, the company is doing a pretty good job so far. Powered by a 1.6-liter inline turbocharged four and weighing a bit less than 2,800 pounds, the Fiesta ST “is light and tossable, with a highly competent chassis that can out-party cars costing twice as much,” according to the publication. However, the ST is far from just a potent engine shoehorned into a small car — Ford says that the ST has 164 unique components, from its added aero bits to the Recaro seats.
6. Honda Accord
Fresh off a Green Car of the Year win for the Honda (NYSE:HMC) Accord line, the guys at Car & Driver have bestowed the Accord with the honors of being a top buy in 2014, as well, as the positive press for Honda’s flagship continues to accumulate. Dubbing it “the economy [BMW] 3-Series,” Car & Driver went on to describe the Accord as “light, thrifty, fun, practical, and incredibly durable. Honda sealed its reputation with the Accord, and the car has consistently adhered to its core values through nine generations.”
7. Mazda 3
“Mazda’s venerable roadster [the Miata] dropped off our list this year, not for being eclipsed by a direct competitor, but in deference to its new siblings — cars brimming with the sort of vigor and personality that the Miata brought to the summer of 1989,” Car & Driver says, referring in part to the new Mazda 3. Mazda’s refreshed design language was the real focal point, and “in some ways, the 3 is the more impressive car here. Whether it’s the hatchback or sedan, we can’t stop admiring the long hood and Italianate grille of the new 3.”
8. Mazda 6
While the Mazda 3 was well loved by many on the panel, it was Mazda’s new 6 that stood out. Not oriented for neck-snapping power, the 6 is designed more for finesse and balance, Car & Driver observes, noting that the formula works perfectly. “The 6 not only looks like a million bucks inside and out, it drives like it,” the publication says.
“Mazda’s long-held reputation for selecting suspension bushings is on prominent display in the 6, which has an imperturbable chassis that is always comfortable and controlled,” Car & Driver continues. ”Its steering, suspension, and structure coordinate deftly. A six-speed manual is available, yet its automatic shifts so quickly and effortlessly that the 2.5-liter four feels more robust than any 184-hp engine has a right to.”
9. Porsche Boxster/Cayman
Porsches are designed to be drivers’ cars, hands down, no compromises. The latest generations don’t disappoint, either. “The Porsches are the winners among these winners,” Car & Driver says as Jeff Sabatini adds that, “if every car were a Cayman, we would achieve world peace.” The Porsches reportedly offer a natural driving experience from components and technologies that usually “make other cars feel synthetic” when implemented. “The secret to this duo’s success is that they somehow manage to feel so organic, so genuine, in a world full of simulated, electro-distant experiences,” Car & Driver writes.
10. Volkswagen Golf GTI
Finally, the Volkswagen GTI, an enthusiast favorite for many decades. This marks the eighth year the the GTI has been awarded a slot on Car & Driver’s 10 best list, as the Golf “remains an unlikely partnership of practicality and refinement.” Of course, the performance is on par with the hot hatch standard that you’d expect, as it started the movement back in 1976. The Golf GTI “still begs to be booted around like a hacky sack. The damper calibrations feel like the outcome of engineers who really care, with roll gorgeously controlled, yet the ride remains creamy and the brakes don’t fade.”
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