Choosing The Winners
What's the best car? Everybody wants to know. It's a difficult question, really. There is no single best car. But when you drive as many different new vehicles as we do, people expect you to have an answer, and we do. The best new car introduced in the past year is our Automobile of the Year. For 2012, the winner is the Audi A7.
As for our All-Stars, any car on sale in America in the current model year -- whether an existing or all-new model -- is eligible to be selected to our prestigious list of ten winners. When we choose our All-Stars, we look for greatness wherever it might be: sports cars, small cars, family cars, luxury cars, utility vehicles. Whatever their category, the All-Stars stand above the crowd, which isn't easy to do in these times of keen competition. The 2012 Automobile of the Year and All-Stars are our answers to the question: What's the best car? Read on to learn why.
AUDI TT RS
All Grown Up
The sporty TT coupe has been on our list of delightful cars since the day we drove it through the Italian countryside and sharp-eyed grandmothers walking along the roadside yelled, "Che bella macchina!" as we passed. Beautiful it most definitely was, a stunner from the fertile pen of Freeman Thomas (now in charge of Ford's dream-car studio), who had just delivered the Volkswagen Concept 1. But the luscious TT lacked the sizzle promised by its charismatic shape.
O, precious day! It seems that Audi can do it all now. Today's TT RS -- freshened with a more sinister face -- lives and breathes R8 from every pore. It is Audi's very own Porsche Cayman -- close, personal, fiery, rewarding, and cosseting all at once. The soul-stirring sound of its turbocharged five-cylinder engine (magnified by an optional sport exhaust) is so stunning as it roars to its 7000-rpm redline that you want to jump out and make someone else drive it past you, just to hear that killer soundtrack from the great outdoors.
Along with twice as much horsepower as the original 2000 TT produced comes virtually twice as much torque -- a massive 343 lb-ft -- fully delivered by 1650 rpm and managed with a six-speed manual transmission that is a quintessential component of this TT's perfection. The TT RS is a brilliant road car with none of the petulance of its hot-dog, bully-boy track competitors. Its superior Quattro traction had us spoiling for a rainstorm. Or a wide, gravel rally road. Nirvana!
The TT RS doesn't cost twice as much as the original TT, but it is very close to twice as much car -- not just a beautiful machine inside and out but a soul-stirring one, the epitome of everything that Audi means to us. It's a perfect tool for driving perfectionists, worthy of a choice parking spot in your dream garage.
-- Jean Jennings
BASE PRICE: $57,725
ENGINE: 2.5L turbocharged I-5, 360 hp, 343 lb-ft
The car guy's car.
How good is the 3-series? If it had been eligible, it would have received serious consideration for Automobile of the Year even though the current E90-chassis edition is about to be replaced by an all-new 3-series sedan. In fact, the current 3-series was named AOY when it debuted in 2006, and it's been an All-Star ever since.
This past year, the car came in eighteen distinct models of coupes, sedans, convertibles, and station wagons powered by five engines ranging from a 36-highway-miles-per-gallon diesel to the 414-hp V-8 screamer in the M3. But all 3-series, whether targeted at hausfraus or would-be racers, share two characteristics: they're rewarding to drive, and they're happy to be driven hard. It's as if a car guy is always in the room when a 3-series is being designed, engineered, and built. How else can you explain why features such as seating position, pedal placement, steering feedback, brake feel, and engine sound always seem just right? Still, if we had to pick one 3-series, we'd choose the 335is coupe for its unparalleled blend of performance, panache, and practicality. The creamy 3.0-liter in-line six generates 320 hp, and the twin turbos spool up so willingly -- making maximum torque of 332 lb-ft at 1500 rpm -- that the car seems almost as quick as the M3, which is priced $8000 higher.
Meanwhile, the sport-tuned suspension ensures that the admirably balanced chassis performs with elan no matter how hard it's pushed, and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is so good that it renders the six-speed manual nearly superfluous.
The current coupe, convertible, and station wagon will remain in production into 2012. And the 3-series may well make yet another appearance -- its twenty-third -- on our All-Stars list. Unless, that is, the all-new F30-chassis 3-series sedan is named Automobile of the Year.
-- Preston Lerner
BASE PRICE RANGE: $35,475-$69,425
ENGINES: 3.0L I-6, 230 hp, 200 lb-ft; 3.0L twin-turbocharged diesel I-6, 265 hp, 425 lb-ft; 3.0L turbocharged I-6, 300 hp, 300 lb-ft; 3.0L twin-turbocharged I-6, 320 hp, 332 lb-ft; 4.0L V-8, 414 hp, 295 lb-ft