Before Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2020 is announced on January 2, we thought we’d look back on our past winners to gauge our preferences and examine our benchmarks for how we evaluate cars.
Over the last nine years the winners have ranged from coupes and wagons to convertibles and hatchbacks. Oddly, only one sedan has won, though not for a lack of nominees.
Cylinder count has ranged from four to eight, and there have been superchargers, turbochargers, and all-American naturally aspirated engines.
If there's one common theme it's this: All were, and still are, worthy of a spot in the garage
There's no question as to why the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 took the honors for 2019. Based on the superb C7 Corvette, the ZR1 cranks everything to 11 with incredible power—755 supercharged horsepower—and track performance for anyone but a professional hot shoe. Most people will find their talent runs out far before the C7 Corvette ZR1's. It's also perfectly livable on the street (though maybe not on the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires) with a comfortable interior, reasonable cargo space, and acceptable visibility for a supercar. It's the Hot Wheels car from the poster, but in real life, for less than $150,000.
2018 Honda Civic Type R
The legendary Honda Civic Type R finally landed in the U.S. to take the honors of Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy 2018. It might start life as a Civic, but the hot hatch turbo-4 features Honda's VTEC system and can shove occupants into their seats with 308 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The transmission? The only option is a 6-speed manual, bless Honda's hearts. The Civic's bones are good, but the Type R takes things further with an aggressive body kit, track suspension setup, and grippy seats that will hug McDonald's-fed American bodies. The Honda Civic Type-R is entertaining, livable, and a value at around $35,000.
2016 BMW M2 Coupe
While BMW was focused (at the time) on electric cars such as the i3 and big-selling crossover SUVs such as the X3 and X5, the M2 coupe is proof the German automaker hadn't forgotten how to make a proper sports car. The M2 sings with its turbocharged inline-6 as it begs the driver to push it harder. While a dual-clutch gearbox is an option, the “terrific” 6-speed manual has short, smooth throws and its stubby, leather-wrapped shift lever snicks positively into gears. The handling is what sealed the M2's fate as Motor Authority’s Best Car To Buy 2017. Whether on the street or the track, it didn't rely on fancy adaptive dampers to control its ride. It connected the dots apex to apex the old fashioned way, though the steering was a bit too heavy and numb despite being direct and predictable. Brilliant brakes were another standout feature despite days of thrashing on the track and street. The i8 might have been BMW's halo car for 2017, but the M2 was our kind of halo car.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro
For 2016 the scene was essentially right out of Thunderdome. Two cars rolled in (the Chevrolet Camaro SS and Ford Mustang Shelby GT350) and only the Camaro SS rolled out as Motor Authority’s Best Car To Buy 2016. With the C7 Corvette-sourced 455-hp LT1 V-8, the Camaro SS could be called a sledgehammer among hammers with a 0 to 60 mph sprint of about four seconds. The body was smaller and the overall car was more than 200 pounds lighter than the fifth-gen Camaro, which made it the best-handling Camaro we'd ever driven (not exactly a high bar outside of the fifth-gen Z/28). While the body looked similar to the previous car, the interior was more modern with all the latest technology. Without options it had a price of about $37,000, but that could be inflated quickly.
2015 Alfa Romeo 4C
Sometimes in life, things come down to qualitative elements. For 2015 the Alfa Romeo 4C wasn't the quickest, the fastest, or the most powerful nominee, but its carbon fiber monocoque chassis, mid-engine design, and low curb weight made for a knockout combo punch. It's also gorgeous with a design worthy of a Ferrari badge for a fraction of the price. The manual steering rack of the 4C made it a chore at parking lot speeds, but on the open road it translated to a light and lively setup that gained weight and resistance as grip increased. It was refreshing when compared to the over-simulated electric steering setup in most of the other nominees. Quick, precise shifts, instant throttle response, and a bare-bones interior simply added to the experience. In short, the Alfa Romeo 4C won because it was an exotic car that didn't carry an exotic car's price tag.
2014 Porsche Cayman
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG
2014 Porsche Cayman
Things were complicated in 2013. So much so that both the Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG and Porsche Cayman were named Motor Authority’s Best Car To Buy 2014. It was an exceptionally close race to the point where both were named winners as the team couldn't come to an agreement regardless of how many hours were spent arguing. The CLA45 AMG is a rock-star supergroup jamming for all it's worth with luxury, style, performance, and handling all together in a balance. At the time the entire setup was greater than the sum of its parts. The all-wheel drive controlled the firecracker of a 2.0-liter turbo-4 and its 355 horsepower. The price of entry was a reasonable $48,375. But as the CLA45 was a generalist at being terrific, the Porsche Cayman was surgical. It featured laser-like reflexes, some of the best electric power steering in the world and a balanced chassis thanks to its mid-mounted 275-hp 2.7-liter flat-six engine.
2013 Porsche Boxster
In 2012 Porsche took its second win in a row with the Boxster. The convertible summed up almost all of what a luxurious, fun, and timeless sports car should be. The driving experience was distilled to sun, wind, feel, and sheer speed. The 265-hp 2.7-liter flat-six was where things started, but the larger 3.4-liter flat-six with 315 hp is where you really wanted to be. With its dual-clutch transmission, the more powerful Boxster S could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds, which was nearly supercar territory not long before this time. The Boxster was (and still is) a beautiful car to look at, inside and out, and was surprisingly comfortable for its size.
2012 Porsche 911
The seventh-generation Porsche 911 was simply the best in every category in almost every way. Porsche engineers refused to bow to the laws of physics with the (then) new 911. The brilliant electro-mechanical power steering system delivered only a slightly diminished steering feel that was characteristic of the legendary 911. The quick-revving flat-six was available with either 350-hp or 400-hp, and when paired with the lightning-fast dual-clutch transmission it delivered telepathic gear changes from the wailing flat-six motor. Immensely capable as a sports car, but completely livable as a daily driver with a nice interior and more interior room than the previous 911, it took the win with ease.
2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
In the first year of Motor Authority's Best Car To Buy award the world was a different place. There was an American luxury wagon and coupe with a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 producing 556 horsepower to the rear wheels via a 6-speed automatic (bad choice) or a 6-speed manual (good choice) transmission. Looking back it seems as if it were the Twilight Zone. That era's over, dead and gone, but its memory lives on. With a sharp design, nice enough interior, and all the power one could really ask for, there wasn't a question as to why the outrageous Cadillac CTS-V Wagon and Coupe won our first award. There wasn't a better value for anyone seeking a premium luxury car with serious performance capability.