We've always disliked the word "snapshot." A picture isn't an instant in time. It's the tail end of a lot of talent and preparation, a good measure of luck, and a little bit of magic. It can raise pulses and change minds. It even can turn some awkward-looking rides from the real world into mythic, gorgeous machines.
Pictures aren't always worth a thousand words--trust us on that one--but some are worth more than their pixel weight in chills.
With 2011's bumper crop of luxury and performance vehicles, we've spent more than a few hours editing down photos of some of the most beautiful, and not so beautiful, new vehicles in the new model year. We've even taken some that capture essence that's undetectable even in person, the SD card the only witness.
With the year drawing to a close, we're taking a look back at some of the most memorable car pictures of the past year, counting down the breathtaking images that had that real power, whether it was to show us a completely different side of a vehicle, or to reveal some of the magic we hadn't yet discovered.
We’re sure you’ll have your own favorites--some of which were probably plastered across your desktop at some point--but these are Motor Authority's top picks for the best car pictures of 2011:
24) Starting off our list is the Tesla Model S "Alpha" build. It telegraphs how far Tesla has come since the original Roadster, and makes the upcoming sedan look simply brilliant.
Tesla Model S Alpha build
23) While many of us don't own pickups, we can always dream of heading off-road in a big and brawny truck to taste the freedom it brings. This image of the 2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor encapsulates that dream perfectly, while also staying upwind of a serious trail of dust.
2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
22) This one's a little more wistful. If only we had the chance to attack Circuit Paul Ricard in the new 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series. As this picture reveals, it’s certainly a thrilling sight and with the circuit’s famous Blue Zone in the background, it abstracts into a Photoshop piece of Pop art.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe Black Series
21) The Mercedes E-Class Coupe has had the opposite of a chilly reception--but here, its polar-oid pose, while undergoing climate testing, informs civilians of the extremes to which automakers go when testing new products.
Mercedes-Benz wind tunnel climate testing
20) What would be a list of the best car images without at least one Lamborghini? In this case it’s the Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4, which we photographed at its world debut at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show. In the news moment, it broke through the Geneva hubbub with the menacing look of its face, the doors that appear to form a pair of wings, and the bright paint finish.
Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 live photos
19) We’re certainly envious of owners of the 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, and this image of the car in its ‘Green With Envy’ paint scheme is simply rubbing it in our faces.
2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 with Green With Envy paint job
The blur of the wheels also hints at the performance of the vehicle, which in this case is a 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 with 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque on tap.
We may never get to own such a beast, but at least we can dream.
(By the way, there are still 18 images remaining in our list so make sure you hit the "Next Page" button once you get to the bottom.)
18) Moving down the list, we land on the spectacular 2012 Audi R8 GT. You wouldn't want this in your rearview mirror--that menacing attitude shoots through this electric image, putting the Audi supercar on the offensive.
2012 Audi R8 GT
17) The Renault Megane Renaultsport 265 Trophy isn’t sold in the U.S., but after seeing this, we bet you’ll want that to change. It perfectly conveys the relationship of the French sports car with its Megane Trophy racing sibling.
Renault Megane Renaultsport 265 Trophy
16) This sunset beauty was taken by talented photographer Alex Bellus. It silhouettes the evolution of the 1990 Nissan 300ZX to its current 2011 Nissan 370Z beautifully, and the setting sun the background makes it all the more special.
2011 Nissan 370Z And 1990 Nissan 300ZX. Photos by Alex Bellus
15) Number 16 on our list is another race track snapshot, this time with the stunning Aston Martin V12 Zagato in race trim appearing as though it's about to jump out of the screen. The winding road of the Nurburgring-Nordschleife in the background clearly highlights the origin of this track-tuned special.
Aston Martin V12 Zagato race car
14) MINI has certainly managed to make its new 2012 MINI Cooper Roadster look like a whole lot of fun with its image of the car cruising an empty road with its top down on what looks to be a perfect, sunny day.
2012 MINI Cooper Roadster
The image also does a great job of making the car seem very sporty, although being a MINI we’re sure many of you would have thought that automatically.
If a Roadster's not your thing we think the images MINI has produced for its Cooper Coupe are pretty hot, too.
We’re now roughly halfway through our list so there’s plenty more still to come.
13) This image of the 2012 Fisker Karma shows the range-extended electric sedan from an angle rarely seen. It shows it to be quite elegant, despite being rather long, but the real beauty is how the green luxury sedan is featured in front of a backdrop of greenery.
2012 Fisker Karma
12) You'll either love or hate the styling of the new 2012 Ferrari FF in the flesh. This image probably shows off the big shooting brake in its best light, taming the size of its +2 rear end and putting the rule of thirds into effect squarely on its prancing-horse logo.
2012 Ferrari FF
11) Number 11 on our list is this image of the 2012 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport.
2012 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport
It shows the car perched atop a seaside cliff at dusk, an ideal situation to be sitting behind the wheel of any convertible but the fact that it’s the stunning GranTurismo Convertible Sport makes the situation all the more special.
The lighting effects in this image make it particularly breathtaking.
10) Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima broke his own record for the treacherous Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado earlier this year, coming in under the near-mythical sub-10-minute barrier of the 12.42-mile ‘Race to the Clouds’.
Monster Tajima's GoPro Suzuki SX4 Pikes Peak race car
He did it in 9:51.278 in the highly modified Suzuki SX4 pictured above.
The reason we love this image so much is the way the focused look of the car nearly personifies the determination of Tajima as he charged up the course.
9) There’s nothing like a good burnout and no one seems to capture it quite like photographer Alex Bellus. The contrast between the civility of the 2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8’s front and the unholy hellfire at the rear of the vehicle makes this image linger in your mind long after you stop looking at it. Or after you stop smelling tire.
2012 Chrysler 300 SRT8. Photo by Alex Bellus
8) This is the 2011 Mercedes-Benz F125! concept car at its debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. The concept itself was received well enough--the standout element in this image is the contrast between the matte of standard-issue gray suits and the striking silver concept arching its wings for its debut. It's the perfect contrast of the boring corporate world and the stunning products they create.
2011 Mercedes-Benz F125! Concept
7) Like the Ferrari FF, the Pagani Huayra, which also debuted at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, has its detractors, but seeing it here on a lonely highway, the car comes off as incredibly beautiful. It doesn't hurt that the Huayra just so happens to be one of the fastest cars on the planet as well.
2011 Pagani Huayra
6) A big Cadillac convertible, an empty highway, and the sun setting...what's not to love? The Ciel--pronounced “C-L,” the French translation for sky, according to its maker, opens a new chapter in Cadillac’s design strategy, pushing the brand’s Art & Science philosophy to new levels.
2011 Cadillac Ciel Concept
We’re now almost at the end the list as there are just five more images remaining. Continue on to see which one came out on top.
5) Number five is one we’re sure you’ve seen a number of times on Motor Authority.
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
It shows a pre-production version of the new 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and the reason we love it so much--apart from the fact that it shows a ZL1--is due to the color effects and the appearance of the contrasting bright yellow Corvette in the background like it’s just waiting for someone to come drive it.
We're still undecided on which one we'd pick if we could only have one.
You're almost at the end of the list now. Keep scrolling to see which image came out on top.
4) At number four is this image of the 2012 BMW 6-Series. The hills in the background look so inviting and the car looks like it’s ready for a long tour though them, just what a luxurious grand tourer is built for.
2012 BMW 650i Coupe
3) Number three on the list is the ballistic 2013 Nissan GT-R. This particular photo was taken by our friends at Openers, who attended the Japanese launch of the car and got to see it in its ideal environment--a race track.
2013 Nissan GT-R (Japanese spec) - Photo copyright Openers.jp
2) Just missing out on the top spot is this image of the 2012 Porsche 911 traveling a winding road through a beautiful canyon somewhere. It certainly makes us want to be there, even if only to view the scenery and the striking sports car.
2012 Porsche 911
1) And finally, our top image of 2011 is this photo of the 2012 Lexus LFA supercar. Looking as though the car is about to jump out of the screen at more than 100 mph, with its tiny “F” badge fully in focus, this is truly a stunning view of the stunningly expensive supercar.
2012 Lexus LFA right-hand drive model