The trick is knowing which model in a given segment and price range is best suited to what you need. Every year it changes, too. Some models get upgraded and refreshed, others fall behind as their maker focuses on new endeavors.
This year we saw plenty of both. Tesla gave us “Ludicrous Mode” on its latest Model S sedan, and Ferrari gave us new turbocharging technology on its 488 stunner; Cadillac replaced the SRX SUV line with the forthcoming XT5, and BMW dropped the “long wheelbase” distinction on its biggest 7-Series sedans.
Best Serious Sedan: BMW 750i xDrive
The 750i comes with a massive V8 engine that pulls 445 horsepower and will hit 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. It has multiple drive modes that adapt automatically to your driving style and an 8-speed automatic transmission built on all-wheel-drive. That’s all great. But it’s the up-front tech (self-parking system, gesture-driven technology) and in-back features that matter most, such as the enormous panoramic sunroof spanning from the front to the two rear executive seats, both of which massage and one of which can fully recline (there’s even a custom scent selector). BMW’s biggest sedan feels as posh and businesslike as a Lear jet in the back and drives as light and nimble. There is nothing on the town car market today with the same supreme engineering and understated dignity.
Best Sport Coupe: BMW M2
BMW introduced the 2-Series last year as a way to upgrade everyone from the 1-Series and compete more directly with the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C350 coupes. The efficient and affordable M235i costs less than $50,000, even with such upgrades as Harman-Kardon sound, park assist cameras, and heated seats. What’s more, its eight-speed turbocharged inline six engine packs 320 hp and gets to 60 mph in four and a half seconds. Moral of the story? It’s small, tight, and powerful, like a punch from a welterweight. Once you hit the gas, you’re not going to want to get out.
Best ‘Impractical’ Coupe: Mercedes AMG GT
This is the purest sports car Mercedes has ever made, even more than the iconic 1960s-era SLs it evokes—and no, there’s no back seat. It has a 7-speed AMG-built transmission and paddle shifters that push its aluminum body to nearly 200 mph. (Zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds.) There are three drive modes and adaptive carbon-fiber brakes, a carbon-fiber drive shaft, standard crash avoidance, and a performance exhaust system loud enough to let everyone know you’re coming. The suspension and chassis are tuned to racing precision. It feels born to be on the track, even more edgy than a 911. Buy the AMG GT S because it’s faster and, more importantly, more fun to drive than any other production car Mercedes makes.
Best ‘Practical’ Coupe: Aston Martin DB9 GT
For the latest version of its Bond-worthy DB9, Aston made the DB9 GT, a coupe as precise to drive as a laser and just as effective. It shares the same V12 engine as its standard sibling paired with an automatic 6-speed transmission and rear-wheel drive. The car gets to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds; top speed exceeds 180 mph. Driving it feels like jumping into the middle of a big-budget film chase scene—the DB9 is alluringly raw. It’s also “practical” because it does have a “back seat,” but I’d keep passengers to a minimum.
Best SUV: Tie
Bentley’s 6.0-litre W12 behemoth gets 600 horsepower on an all-wheel-drive, eight-speed automatic transmission. It’ll go to 60 mph in four seconds and hit a top speed of 187 miles per hour. It is the world’s fastest SUV and easily the most luxurious: hand-stitched trim, accoutrements galore (picnic basket and champagne, anyone?), more of them than any other SUV in its class. In this car, Bentley combines the ultimate interior with the ultimate in performance. After all, it would never stoop to distribute anything less than the superb, made-for-royalty coaches it routinely turns out in coupe and sedan form. The massive, surprisingly handsome new Bentayga only ups the ante.
Tesla Model X
When it finally comes out in 2016, the Model X will have 250 miles of range and massive horsepower. Company founder Elon Musk has said it’ll hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds (even faster with Ludicrous mode) and will have a top speed of 155 mph. If true, that sprint time will beat the plush Bentayga. And if it is as good as the exceptional Model S sedan (and if you’ve got a place to charge it), this will be the SUV to buy when you want something big—and earth-friendly. There’s currently nothing on the market like it. Consider it money well spent.
Best Exotic: Ferrari 488 GTB
This 660-horsepower V8 coupe will hit 60 mph in 3 seconds. Wonderful. More importantly, as the first Ferrari in years to use turbocharged power rather than natural aspiration, it gets 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway—progress for this elite exotic and better than most of its compatriots. It’s Ferrari’s statement that you can combine massive power with Italian good looks and raw performance without creating a total gas-guzzler. Baby steps, right? For a new Ferrari that is furiously drivable yet enjoyable on a daily basis, this is the one.
Best Convertible: Bentley GT Speed
The GT Speed is the fastest four-seat convertible on the market today, even though it weighs a whopping 6,300 pounds. (It hits 60 mph in 4 seconds.) Pretty inside and out, it has red carbon ceramic brake calipers on 21-inch alloy wheels, a diamond lattice grill, and polished LED headlights that accent the trim bodyline and big British muscular haunches. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something in this price range that can match both the caliber of craftsmanship, the roguish good looks, and the potency of its 626-horsepower V12 engine.
Best Alt-Fuel Star: Tesla P90D
The P90D hits 1.1 Gs at max acceleration. It goes zero to 60 mph in a blistering 2.8 seconds (this, sirs, will keep it apace with a Lamborghini Huracan and a McLaren 650S). The car runs for 300 miles on electricity and requires almost zero maintenance. Plus, it’s as spacious and well-made on the inside as a Mercedes town car, with that massive touch-screen control panel at front that is surprisingly easy—and fun—to use. Even better, it’s made in California and uses no fossil fuel. There is nothing like it. Enough said.
The 2016 Bentley Mulsanne Speed is a $335,600 sedan that acts like a much smaller car, with rear-wheel drive and a 530-hp V8 engine with 8-speed automatic transmission. Yet that’s beside the point compared with the back seat: That’s where you access such charms as the champagne cooler, automatic foldout polished-wood worktables, the polished wood grains, and $30,000 entertainment system. You can make the entire car bespoke to your color and texture preferences, if you want. Plus, it has floor mats you can sink your hand into. Compare it with the Rolls-Royce Phantom, which is another exceptional though more showy car. Choose this one to be a little more demure.
Sleeper Hit: Chevy Camaro
This is the closest Camaro has gotten to being a true sports car. The makeover comes thanks to several loans from luxury counterparts: a 455-horsepower V8 engine from the Corvette Stingray and a chassis from the Cadillac ATS. The new front-engine, rear-wheel-drive setup, multiple drive modes, and an adjustable magnetic-ride-control suspension system make for a huge muscular upgrade, totally masculine, deafeningly fast, and solidly built. It’s more fun—and much more interesting to drive—than the new Ford Mustang. If you’re under 40 and wouldn’t normally consider it, don’t knock it before you try it.
Hear me out: Chevrolet has dropped a V8 into the rear-wheel drive ‘Vette, which gets 455 horsepower and 460 pounds-feet of torque. It’ll hit 60 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds (this is much faster than an Audi R8, Porsche 911 Carrera, or BMW M3). Top speed is 200 miles per hour. It also has a new rev-matching function, which increases shifting efficiency and finesse. But all that is meaningless until you drive one and feel for yourself how good it is—it’s memorable unlike any other car I’ve driven. There’s a reason it has so many die-hard fans. Don’t resist.
The term “sporty” means different things to different people. At Rolls, it means a V12, 624-horsepower engine in a 5,500-pound, 17-foot-long car. That seems like much, but believe it: The Wraith hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which beats a Porsche 911. And inside, it has ambient lighting; jet-liner reading lights and Deco-inspired roof lights; wood-paneled reverse-opening doors; and a headliner made (they say) of stars. This is neither your typical sports car nor your typical Rolls. It’s the blessed best of both worlds, in one. Bentley makes good coupes, too, but for feeling (and being treated) like pure modern day royalty, there’s only one Rolls.
Recent auction numbers indicate an uptick in Porsche 911 and 356 values that isn’t about to change. Vintage German-made car values climbed from $150,000 in 2007 to $625,000 today; the 1974-77 Porsche 911 increased the most in average sale price of any classic car this year, with a jump of 154 percent over 2014 values. That beats anything from Aston Martin, Ferrari, or Lamborghini. (And even models as late as early 2000 Carrera GTs have been hitting near the million-dollar mark.) Yes, the popularity has been growing for some time, but it’s not too late to get in on it. And I suggest you do.
Best New Collectable: Superformance Cobra
The glamorous little roadster is built by Superformance and comes with official licensing from Shelby, allowing it emulate the 1960s Cobra 289 racers down to the smallest detail. The California company has made roughly 4,000 of the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive cars—each customized for its owner. They come with a 375-horsepower Ford V8 engine, classic Tojeiro-styled round-tube chassis, and a light body perfect for after-hours jaunts and weekend thrills. This is the perfect vehicle to drive if you love the look of vintage cars but don’t want all the worry and strain associated with breakdown-prone mechanics.
Best Motorcycle: Tie
You could compare this new Ducati Scrambler with the older Triumph Scrambler ($9,099) and the Honda CB1100 ($10,399) or to the Royal Enfield Continental GT ($5,999). But this one is more stylish and powerful than those, while being the lightest (375 pounds) and least expensive ($8,495) Ducati on the market. With an oil-cooled 803-cc engine taken directly from the Monster 796, it’s easy enough to ride for novices, but interesting enough around turns and over terrain for the more-advanced rider. Consider it the best all-around value for the segment.
The Ural with sidecar is a perfect all-around motorcycle: It goes in the snow, goes over sand and mud, and can carry your best friend, be it human or canine. Ural’s CT model has a 749cc 41-horsepower engine with a 4-speed clutch transmission. It has a slow top speed (70 mph), but the amount of fun it provides more than makes up for the fact that you’re not popping wheelies at 100 mph. It’s a good plaything for dates and outings with nonriding friends and a good tool for backwoods chores and inclement weather. My guess is that if you get one, you’ll find you ride it more often than your two-wheeled motorcycle.