All Stars

2017 AUTOMOBILE All-Stars: The Others

Not all of our contenders went home winners, but they’re all special in their own right

It’s not easy to win an Automobile All-Stars award. This year, we bestowed the honor upon just six of the 23 invitees to our annual showdown. But the remaining 17 contenders all deserve praise. Of the dozens upon dozens of new cars brought to market in 2016, they were the few strong enough for our vehicular rumble. Applause, then, for these competitors, several of which came oh so close to claiming a piece of our hardware.

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“One of the biggest surprises of All-Stars, the Bentayga is so much more than just a badge-engineered MLB Evo-platform SUV. It handles, accelerates, rides, and drives better than any car its size has any business doing, all while retaining that intrinsic ‘Bentley-ness’ we love so much.”

Bentley Bentayga
The Bentley Bentayga weighs nearly 3 tons, but behind its cetaceous muzzle is a twin-turbo, 600-hp, 6.0-liter twin-turbo W-12. When the Bentayga needs to outrun a harpoon, it lifts its muzzle, makes a great bellow, and delivers terrifying acceleration. Not even the utmost Porsche Cayenne prepared us for an SUV such as this. “How does it go through corners without a wisp of understeer?” asked associate editor Jonathon Klein. Lots of electronics at work is how. So, relax. In fact, three days and nights in the belly of this beast would be no hardship whatsoever. “This is arguably the best luxury vehicle on the planet, regardless of segment,” editor-in-chief Mike Floyd said. The Imperial Blue interior of our test vehicle was shockingly posh. The quilted leather upholstery and brilliant, gleaming bezels imparted a clubby, Pall Mall exclusivity, reminding us how a character in a 17th century comedy said, “I am the worst man in the world at repenting, till a sin be thoroughly done.” – Ronald Ahrens

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“If you can only have one car to do it all, the A4 is an excellent choice. It’s fun to drive, with a low seating position and a light, nimble feel on the road. The power — 252 hp and 273 lb-ft — out of the 2.0L turbo-four is unreal.”

Audi A4
“Since 1996, the A4 has been one of Germany’s best cars, and it still is,” remarked contributor Steven Cole Smith after a run through our All-Stars test loop in Audi’s compact sedan. Other judges were split on how much fun the A4 was to hustle on winding back roads, but the Audi garnered nearly unanimous praise for its tech-laden interior and luxury appointments, which outclass many competitors in this space. Unfortunately, nearly all present also thought the Audi’s styling is about as unique as a chocolate-chip cookie and not nearly as tasty. In the end, despite its light, nimble feel on the road and a powertrain that won attractors for its smoothness and power, the Audi just didn’t spark any passion in the majority of our judges. Automotive design editor Robert Cumberford summed it up best: “Fast, stable, impressive in a lot of ways but overall left me indifferent.” – Rory Jurnecka

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“Toyota hasn’t spent this much time redesigning the Prius since the first one came out in 2004. It looks better inside and out than it has in years. More important, it now drives much, much better than any previous Toyota hybrid.”

Toyota Prius Prime
Among all the haute metal in attendance, the red Prius Prime stuck out, for better or worse. Everything about the regular redesigned Prius is still there, including a surprisingly stout chassis, but so are new concerns. Despite a beefier 8.8-kWh battery pack that returns 22 miles of electric-only range, the Prime feels sluggish and required a heavy right foot to navigate our high-altitude test environment. Inside it’s loud, plasticky, and oddly styled. The pinched front fascia and excessively busy styling didn’t yield many fans, either. Still, the updated chassis and plug-in drivetrain show Toyota isn’t married to the “who cares; they’ll buy it anyway” mentality. “Once you get over the Prius stigma, the Prime is actually a pleasant place to motor, despite its exceedingly techy overtones and overwrought styling,” contributor Basem Wasef said. Competitors have caught up to — and in some cases surpassed — the Japanese behemoth, but Toyota deserves credit for defining this format. – Conner Golden

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“The latest GT-R: Godzilla had his teeth cleaned and applied a touch of deodorant.”

Nissan GT-R Nismo
If performance alone was the criteria for becoming an All-Stars winner, the GT-R Nismo was a shoo-in. “Holy hell, is this thing fast,” contributor Nelson Ireson said. Wasef added, “The Nismo’s ability to launch out of corners is downright breathtaking.” The GT-R received a slight redesign, interior upgrades, and increased sound deadening for 2017, and the changes carried over to the new Nismo. They’ve made the car more refined on the road than before, but age and dated looks ultimately hurt the car in the overall standings. “Old and feels it,” Ireson noted. Contributor Ronald Ahrens went as far as to say, “The Nismo looks like someone’s project car.” Price is not a strong deciding factor when it comes to All-Stars, but $175,000 also raised some eyebrows. Still, we could muscle it through the track’s tight sections at obscene speeds. There are still plenty of reasons to buy a GT-R. – Andy Pilgrim

“Speaking of cars that Cadillac needs right now, the XT5 is one of the most important redesigns the company has undertaken in quite a while. The results aren’t world beating, but it’s a nice midsizer with enough amenities and Cadillac class to be a showroom winner.”

Cadillac XT5
While not exactly groundbreaking, Cadillac’s SRX replacement has its high points, including a comfortable cockpit, an epic, ultra-view sunroof, and a cool rearview-mirror camera. Under hood, the XT5 is motivated by a version of GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 delivering 310 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Its headlights resemble flaming flamingo heads at first glance, and from the side the door handles are staggered and follow a slanted line to its taillights. One editor described the crossover Caddy as “pleasant and practical, in an attractive package.” Cumberford disagreed about the $69,895 Platinum model we tested: “I found it uninteresting. I don’t think they’re there yet.” Features editor Rory Jurnecka said, “Not overwhelmed. Lethargic powertrain and dated feeling interior.” We also disliked shifting the XT5 into gear, as its push-button shifter feels like operating a worn-out 1980s arcade joystick. – Ed Tahaney

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“The Pacifica proves just how useful and appealing minivans have become. It’s really a kind of limousine for families, and anyone with half a brain would rather have this for family transportation than even the best SUV.”

Chrysler Pacifica
Renaming Chrysler’s people-hauler was a good idea as long as the tried-and-true hardware was repackaged inside this sleek new body. Although it’s 69.9 inches tall, a slight increase over the discontinued Town & Country, the Pacifica seems to have a low profile and evinces an aspect that’s as urbane as Jerry Seinfeld’s wit. “It has a wonderful interior layout—maybe the best of the All-Stars contenders for accessibility of controls,” daily news editor Conner Golden said. With scrumptious, coffee-colored upholstery and trim, this test vehicle was thoroughly pleasant and could be pressed into duty as a lounging area when the house gets overcrowded. Despite the body shell’s large apertures, this is a stiff structure. The atmosphere is as hushed inside as the barrel-vaulted lobby of Detroit’s splendid Guardian Building. The Pacifica’s 3.6-liter V-6 produces 287 hp — ridiculous for a minivan and plenty enough for this 4,330-pounder to scoot up and down a mountain road at an engaging clip. But steadiness and stability rather than sportiness characterize its road manners. How pleasing it would be to take the Pacifica on a long trip. – Ronald Ahrens

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“As with the XE, the F-Pace offers the right blend of comfort and sport. It feels confident when pushed hard but doesn’t make sacrifices when you just want to amble around town.”

Jaguar F-Pace
New to the luxury SUV fray, the F-Pace has an oddly unresolved feeling. Is it going for comfort or performance? Does it want to be a Lexus RX or a Porsche Macan? Its body has the right proportions, yet the tidy looks are more Mary Ann than Ginger. Doors slam with flimsy irresolution, and dynamic responses are also neither/nor. At first blush, the steering is light, brake pedal soft, and suspension underdamped. The 22-inch wheels suggest monster-truck intentions, but the F-Pace is tipsy and wobbly on just one slug of whatever fuels the Grave Digger. Slapped in the face, though, it sobers up and performs smartly. The same conflict is evident inside the cabin. It’s utterly conventional, yet the trimmings are quite nice throughout. This one had a plush headliner and wrapped pillars, a fine dashboard covering, and pleasant leather-upholstered seats with perforated inserts. The second row, however, was none too roomy. We think of the F-Pace as a territory that just received national status and will figure out a strong identity as it matures. – Ronald Ahrens

“The twin-turbo V-12’s power is instantly intoxicating, the exterior is functional but form-first Aston sexiness, and the blue-and-white brogue interior of this DB11 feels equal parts Russian mafioso and peer of the realm.”

Aston Martin DB11
Holy smokes! Aston Martin’s new DB11 is outrageous. Half the citizenry will condemn it. The other half will beg for a ride and forever boast of the experience. They will also say, “You wouldn’t believe how insanely small the back seat is in this $215,000 car.” Yes, the DB11 is truly singular. Fender creases hark back to the DBR1, but the arching roofline is starkly modern. The car doesn’t always inspire confidence, however, especially in the chilly temperatures we encountered. “The DB11 was terrifyingly unpredictable. Too soft in the hardest setting and too twitchy. It frayed my nerves on the track,” said Golden, who echoed the sentiments of many. The quilted headliner matched the seat inserts’ flowing pattern. The satin-finish, chopped-carbon inlays fixed in place on the dash and doors were likely crafted on Jupiter’s moon Titan. We fired up the twin-turbo, 600-hp, 5.2-liter V-12, stomped the pedal, and survived monstrous acceleration in combination with the car’s harrowing inclination to oversteer out of the turns. Not long ago, some outlets had Aston Martin headed nowhere in new product development. The DB11 scuttles that argument.– Ronald Ahrens

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“Infiniti’s Q60 is a sporty coupe rather than a sports coupe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is a small, racy-looking two-door that would be easy to live with and that delivers a compelling package to a large segment of buyers.”

Infiniti Q60
It’s unlikely you’ll take your Infiniti Q60 on the track, but this is a fast sports coupe, so no apologies for thrashing it on the circuit. Infiniti probably wishes we hadn’t. “Properly quick, but the phone number the Q60’s electronic steering dialed has been disconnected,” senior editor for digital Kirill Ougarov said. “The fact it fried its brakes reinforces the notion that hardcore enthusiasts will find Infiniti’s overall package lacking in the left-seat department,” Wasef said. Yes, it’s bigger and heavier than a proper sporty car, but bigger and heavier cars didn’t let us down at the limit. Part of the issue — and a big reason it torched its brakes: The Q60 won’t allow its stability control system to be fully disabled. Infiniti got the styling right, but did that have to come at the expense of some of the mechanicals? The engine drew praise, as did the interior and the supportive seats. When driven at a back-road-appropriate 80 percent, the Q60 feels pretty good. The closer you get to 100 percent, the more apt you are to shop for something else. – Steven Cole Smith

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“The E300 is an absolutely wonderful four-door with good accommodation for four full-size people, excellent ride and handling, adequate luggage space, and an air of superior quality.”

Mercedes-Benz E300
The Mercedes-Benz E300 was a genuine contender for All-Stars honors but fell just a bit short. One reason why is the capable but unmemorable 2.0-liter engine. Several argued the overall car is quite good, but there’s something missing from the turbo-four. The busy nine-speed automatic does its best to maximize the available 241 horses but doesn’t quite make it fun. Otherwise, complaints were mild: “Baby S-Class? Eh, not yet. But it’s damn close,” noted Klein. “Nothing really blows you away about the E300, but it’s a lovely car to spend time in,” contributor Marc Noordeloos said. This less-is-more Mercedes — and its less-than-intuitive controls — is just fine for the average customer but likely a letdown for the enthusiast. The E400? That might have been a different story, and the AMG E43 almost certainly would have been. But we suspect Mercedes will cry about the consumer-savvy E300 all the way to the bank. – SCS

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“A huge step toward seriously battling the German big boys, and though it may not stand out in the All-Stars crowd, the G90 at the very least punches above its weight and will go a long way toward keeping the Germans honest.”

Genesis G90
Despite its generic styling, weird shift knob, and short sunroof, the 2017 Genesis G90 is one smooth luxury sedan. Body roll? You bet. The soft suspension and handling is reminiscent of a mid-1980s Buick or Chrysler. “The Koreans have made a very nice Detroit car that Detroit can’t or won’t make,” Cumberford noted. Under the hood, there’s a 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V-6 with 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, all mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The $69,050, four-door Caddy killer is good, but we still dislike its cheesy theme music and jingle at startup and shutdown — a trendy contrivance that needs to end. That said, “It’s tuned right with a cushy ride, La-Z-Boy-style seats, and a relaxed, classy vibe,” Jurnecka noted. It’s hard not to think of the pop band of the same name while sitting behind the wheel of the Genesis, but this solo brand is still more Mike and the Mechanics than Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel — for now. – ET

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“This is a flawed car, no doubt, but one with a boisterous, charismatic personality that begs you to gloss over rough spots and enjoy its ability to cause a ruckus. The Levante feels far smaller and lighter than it has any right to.”

Maserati Levante
The Levante may have been the oddest duck in this All-Stars class. Bentley claimed the “How much is too much?” title by just showing up, but the Levante answered a question we’ve never heard anyone ask: Why doesn’t Maserati build a 2-ton-plus SUV? The interior is full of new ideas, some of which actually work, and the exterior is handsome. And yet: “I didn’t feel very engaged with this Levante, only that I was in something new and different and vaguely Italian,” observed Jurnecka. But then Golden said, “Really didn’t expect to like the Levante as much as I did. Power is great, and so is the steering. I’m not entirely sold on the styling, but I think it works.” The Ferrari-derived engine is a masterpiece, a fantastic-sounding V-6. Handling is good up to the point where tires and suspension no longer mask the weight. “Handled well, showing me mild understeer, but tossable to the point you can toss an SUV,” reported contributor Andy Pilgrim. Interesting at worst, useful and unique at best, in the end it’s an SUV, which means it could double Maserati sales, admittedly a low bar to clear. – SCS

2017 All Star Contenders 01
“Jaguar’s XE offers plenty of power, engaging steering, a great balance of ride comfort and body control, plus a very elegant design inside and out.”

Jaguar XE
Challenging the mighty BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 is a bold move indeed, but the Jaguar XE surprised us with its nuanced steering feel, composed chassis, and harmonious road manners. Although those strengths make it a surprisingly satisfying driver’s car, the XE lags in more subjective areas: character and charisma. Despite its eminent composure and finely tuned suspension, it seems Jaguar’s engineers enjoyed freer rein than its designers, an imbalance that left much of the Automobile team cold. Despite calling it a “nice car, good to drive, decent looking,” Cumberford added, “no real panache, no compelling reason to want one.” But as executive editor Mac Morrison noted: “I was unprepared for how much fun the XE is on the track, legitimately rotating easily into corners when I expected boring understeer.” Despite its competent dynamics, this German-like sports sedan lacked that certain je ne sais quoi we’ve come to expect from the leaping cat. Though the XE is an engaging driver and refreshing departure from the usual sport- sedan suspects, it doesn’t quite
sit on the All-Stars summit. – Basem Wasef

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“Argue about the Continental’s fuddy-duddy image till the cows come home, but the fact remains: This cushy, comfy, squishy big sedan is easy to drive for long periods of time, largely because it doesn’t attempt to tick too many performance boxes.”

Lincoln Continental
The new Continental won our nonexistent Most Polarizing Vehicle of All-Stars award, with our crew divided and vehement in its opinions. Not every car must be a performance prodigy to be a good car, but still the majority sided with comments such as: “The Continental nameplate requires a strong effort, especially after a nearly 15-year absence from the market. This was less than Ford/Lincoln’s best.” Much of the criticism came from the design changes made to the production car compared to the stunning Continental concept, which debuted at the 2015 New York auto show. And despite finding the driving experience more enjoyable than expected, many found it difficult to wrap their brains around this all-wheel-drive Reserve model’s final price of $70,900, including $14,060 in luxury options. But this Continental possessed several redeeming qualities, including exceptional seats, siesta-inducing ride comfort, a strong 400-hp V-6 with 400 lb-ft of torque, and an interior that is “better than what Cadillac does, even if it appears a bit too over the top.” – Mac Morrison

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“Possibly one of the quickest street cars on any given road on any given day. The Focus RS is easy to drive hard, eminently tossable, and supremely sorted at the limit.”

Ford Focus RS
Like its sedan cousin from Lincoln, Ford’s newest hot hatch was one of the most divisive cars at this year’s All-Stars gathering. A run down the spec sheet reveals a car that all of our enthusiast judges should have loved: a punchy, turbocharged engine; performance-tuned all-wheel-drive handling; an honest-to-goodness six-speed manual gearbox; and a button that puts the car’s stability control into Drift mode. Drift mode, for crying out loud! As it turned out, as much as most of us wanted to love the RS, the car’s brilliant back-road and on-track dynamics couldn’t justify the lackluster interior, high price, and downright uncompromising freeway ride. As contributor Michael Jordan noted, Ford tuned the Focus RS “to within an inch of its life. The truth is, Americans need more everyday comfort and utility in their cars than this Euro-bred hot rod can deliver.” Fortunately, there’s still the sensational, less aggressive, and less expensive Focus ST, which many judges admitted they would take in a heartbeat over the weapons-grade RS. – RJ

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“At first glance, the CX-9 has no strong personality of its own. But when you compare the Mazda to the mainstream crossovers available from all the other brands, the CX-9 is the only one that seems like it’s trying to do a good job.”

Mazda CX-9
Sometimes being best isn’t good enough. “Mazda’s full-size SUV is stylish, capable, frugal in terms of fuel economy and cost, and comfortable even on long drives,” one staffer said. But the CX-9 didn’t quite make the cut as an All-Star. Maybe another comment explains why: “Good car. No obvious reason to choose it over another, which is Mazda’s perpetual problem. It doesn’t always get buyer consideration, even when the product is a bit above more commercially successful competitors.” Many of us liked the well-finished and easy-driving big box, but it didn’t always feel as good as it should “The turbocharged engine feels mismatched here.” On the other hand, another said: “With just four cylinders hauling all of that tall wagon body around, I expected the CX-9 to be a snore, even if it had the dynamics Mazda is deservedly known for. But the four-banger surprised me, with reasonable pep for a big people-mover. The interior is both handsome and surprisingly premium, with spacious second- and third-row seats.” In the end, the CX-9 just didn’t move the needle quite enough to earn it our ultimate accolade. – Robert Cumberford

“The CT6 hits a few sporty notes and has a cool factor. There’s so much space in the back seat and trunk, it should be overseen by the Department of Interior. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this car.”

Cadillac CT6 3.0TT
In the executive-sedan segment, perhaps nothing created as big a stir as the new CT6 did last year. It’s Caddy’s way of moving rapidly toward the future, and it’s a success, mostly. Give credit to the sharp styling and powerful 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine, putting down an impressive 400 hp. Its straight-line speed and surprising agility puts it toe to toe with any direct competitor not flaunting an AMG or RS badge, while still retaining the fantastic comfort befitting of the Cadillac crest. “The chassis is excellent. This is a car you don’t buy as a sport sedan, but when you find yourself on a twisty mountain road, you’re not going to embarrass yourself,” Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa said. Conversely, “The CT6 is the Cadillac to get, hands down. It’s a well-executed, roomy sport sedan,” Floyd said. The CT6 impressed, but the price left us a little worried. An $80,000-plus bill for a Cadillac might be a hard sell for buyers used to ever-capable Germans. The CT6 is a good car, but we can’t wait to see what Cadillac brings to the table in the near future. – CG

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