2015 BMW M4Enlarge Photo
BMW M4. There is no denying that the current generation BMW M4, with its twin-turbo inline-6, is faster around a track than the last-generation V-8-powered M3. We've experienced it, hitting higher speeds at familiar tracks than we could in the last car. There are several reasons for that performance. The 6-cylinder has much more torque than the V-8 and its 425 hp figure is probably understated. No mater how much power it has, its acceleration is thrilling, and the M4 can launch from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 3.9 seconds.
What we hate. We still like the M4, but not as much as we liked previous generations of BMW's sport coupe. The problem is a lack of driver engagement. It's not as easy to tell what each wheel is doing, especially as they near the limits of grip, as it was in the past. We also find that it's hard to pick a drive mode. Sport Plus makes the ride too harsh and the shifts too aggressive, while Comfort mode mutes the engine's power. Perhaps worst of all, the M4 sounds like a tractor—not the snarling performance monster it is supposed to be.
Cadillac CTS. The Cadillac CTS is an American sport sedan that beats its European rivals at their own game. It handles like a smaller car, and offers a choice of strong engines. At this point, the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class could take lessons from the CTS on how to deliver an engaging driving experience. At the top of the lineup is the CTS-V, which is a track demon with a supercharged 640-hp V-8 under the hood. That's our favorite CTS, but we can't find a bad apple in the whole lineup.
What we hate. There is one bugaboo, though. The Cadillac User Experience infotainment system can be slow to react and it complicates some simpler functions, like programming a radio station. We're also not fans of the slider controls that sit below the center screen. It's hard to be precise with the touch-and-swipe motion used to control them.
Porsche Panamera. With its front-engine layout and V engines, the Panamera doesn't have true Porsche hardware. That doesn't matter, though, because it delivers true Porsche performance. This big luxury sedan (it's really a hatchback) offers great handling and plenty of power. Heck, the Turbo provides supercar acceleration, hitting 60 mph from a stop in 3.6 seconds. On top of that, the Panamera is truly luxurious inside, with fantastic materials and tons of space.
What we hate. Unfortunately, Porsche made concessions to create all that space. As the legend goes, Porsche chief Wendelin Wiedeking required the car to have enough rear seat head room for his 6-foot-6 frame. That gives the car an odd bulbous look that takes away from what would otherwise be a sleek design. Inside, the Panamera's infotainment system is behind the times, leaving it with a sea of buttons that take awhile to decipher. Thankfully, a second-generation Panamera is on the way and it solves both of those problems.
2017 Subaru BRZEnlarge Photo
Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86. The Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 (nee: Scion FR-S) are fraternal twins developed jointly by Subaru and Toyota. Both are an absolute blast to drive, with some of the best tuned electric-assist power steering on the market, agile moves, and skinny tires that make these cars easy to drift even with just 156 pound-feet of torque to overcome the grip. Talk to the automakers and they will argue that the light weight of these cars makes them pure sports cars, with no extra pounds to get in the way.
What we hate. We agree with that idea—sort of. No matter how light they are, we want more power, and the easiest way would be to add a turbocharger. That would up the fun considerably. Imagine a BRZ STI with a 250- or, dare we say, 300-horsepower on tap. Most buyers would have to increase their tire budgets considerably. We'd gladly add another 100 pounds for that kind of power.
2014 Tesla Model S P85D, road test, Dec 2014 [photo: David Noland]Enlarge Photo
Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
2014 Tesla Model SEnlarge Photo
Tesla Model S. We appreciate the Tesla Model S as the car that made electric motoring cool. It doesn't hurt that it's a pretty darn good car, too. Space is plentiful, and that big, vertically mounted center screen is at the forefront of the industry by keeping drivers updated with a ton of information. The car's big battery pack eliminates the need for frequent charging stops (let alone gasoline), and it provides immediate power that is a match for just about any internal combustion engine on the market. The handling is quite good for a large, heavy car, too, partially thanks to the low center of gravity created by the low placement of the battery pack.
What we hate. But there are some issues. Tesla is a startup, and poor fit and finish of early examples reflect the fact that this company is still learning how to build cars. And Telsa can skimp on the equipment, too. Heck, the company sold this $70,000-$100,000 car without a usable center console for a few years. We may not appreciate some of these issues, but Tesla's buyers don't care, and they act as advocates for the brand and electric cars in general.