The Drive 100: The Best New Cars of 2015

If you didn’t know, now you know.

byThe Drive Staff| PUBLISHED Dec 23, 2015 5:59 PM
The Drive 100: The Best New Cars of 2015

Over the last 10 days, the writers and editors of The Drive have brought you the essential guide to the year in car culture. We conclude The Drive 100 with the most highly anticipated list of all. Drumroll please…

Ferrari 488 Spider

It’s almost too easy to choose a Ferrari as my fave—a “No shit, Schumacher” kind of thing. But the 488 Spider leaves me no choice. Yes, it’s a $275,000 fantasy that exists beyond any rational plane of car ownership. And keeping my clutch and accelerator feet in the real world, I cast a juror vote for the Mazda Miata as North American Car of the Year. But like its 458 Italia predecessor, the Ferrari—GTB coupe or Spider—lays serious claim to being the world’s best supercar. First, it’s prettier and sexier than any rival from McLaren, Lamborghini, Porsche or Audi. I could go on about the Ferrari’s turbo revolution or its performance metrics, but it’s ultimately not about that. Rocking the 661-horse, mid-engine Spider through northern Italy was the kind of climactic conjugal visit that freed my mind, body and soul from the prison of everyday performance. It’s the secret sauce of Ferrari—comfortingly traditional, but liberal with new ingredients—that rivals have spent seven decades trying to replicate.—Lawrence Ulrich, chief auto critic

Runner Up: McLaren 570S

Strafing roads and racetrack in Portugal, I liked the 570S more than the far pricier 650S. The steering is quicker, the exterior design more cohesive, the handling playful and pure. And lord is it fast, as you’d expect from the lightest car in its set: 9.5 seconds to 124 mph, a second quicker than a Corvette Z06 or Porsche 911 Turbo S.—L.U.

Mazda MX-5 Global Cup Car

Ok, so there are technically three Mazda Miata MX-5s on this list. Relax, people. This entry is a track-ready, turnkey race car that comes straight from the Mazda factory floor in Hiroshima. It is the answer to the question that men and women never thought to ask: Can I just buy a Truly Great race car for not too much money and go out and race it? Yes, you can. The MX-5 Cup car is a factory-built, race-ready dynamo. This is a gentleperson racer’s dream: a turn-key race car that costs less than a luxury sedan.—Mike Guy, editor

Runner Up: 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport

Pick a light pickup truck. Any light pickup truck. Despite the off-puttingly fake hood scoop, old-school steel ladder frame and the robust competition (New Chevy Colorado and best-selling-vehicle-in-America Ford F-150), I choose this: the four-wheel-drive Tacoma TRD Sport.—M.G.

Audi TT

Not because it’s such a great car to drive. For my Volkswagen Golf-derived vehicles, I’d rather have an Audi S3 or even an A3 convertible. But the interior of this car is the first to truly reimagine a dashboard and controls for the 21st century. A giant reconfigurable LCD screen sits in the pod behind the steering wheel, delivering every piece of information you need whenever you want it (or not, when you don’t). And LCD readouts, knobs and buttons are integrated into the center of the vents to adjust the thermostat airflow and even the seat heaters. Every other car’s iHMI now feels retrograde. We thought Audi was getting staid in its interior designs, but the brand just blazed a whole new swath of inside awesome—one that promises to increase with the rollout of the new A4, Q7 and beyond.—Brett Berk, writer-at-large

Runner Up: Land Rover LR4

We love relics, especially ones with luxe leather seats, a grunty supercharged V6, a four-wheel-drive system with the ability to drive up the side of the great Pyramid of Giza and a relative bargain $50,000 starting price. I rarely consider buying the fancy vehicles I test drive; I actually configured an LR4.—B.B.

Mercedes-AMG GT S

This car fires on all cylinders, pleasing all senses. Let me count them down. Sight: The lines are perfect. It’s ultra modern and a throwback to the 300 SLR racing coupe of the Fifties, at the same time. Sound: The handbuilt 4-liter biturbo V8 with AMG Dynamic Exhaust delivers a symphony I could listen to forever. Touch: Mmmm, Nappa leather. Smell: After an hour hammering those fat six-piston disc brakes, the aroma of pads scented my garage with a glorious perfume. Taste: I loved this car so much, I may have licked it from front to rear. And no, I’m not ashamed to admit as much.—A.J. Baime, editor-at-large

Runner Up: Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang

The GT350 became a legend the day it appeared in 1965, back when Carroll Shelby was still kicking. With this new iteration, the car has become a modern classic. We drove it on road and track, and it’s truly a dream machine. Just ask the Ferrari tifosi we encountered lining up to buy one.—A.B.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Here's the thing about the Mazda Miata, the reason it's in our Best New Cars list three times: To find a car that’s as much fun, you have to pay three times as much as the Miata’s $25,000 base price. You really want to spend $75k on your wheels? Fine. Buy three Miatas and have $150,000 worth of racing fun with your buddies. Now add fantastic fuel economy, a newly handsome body, reliability and fantastic ergonomics. Just do the math: It’s the sports car bargain of the decade, the only car that brings exponential amounts of joy to anyone that drives it.—Chris Cantle, West Coast editor

Runner Up: Ducati Scrambler

The Scrambler doesn’t make the list for one reason: It’s not a car. By every other metric it’s an easy winner. Stylish, sporty, inexpensive and endlessly charming, the Scrambler is everything we love about motoring on two wheels. Still not convinced? Style icon Lapo Elkann’s Italia Independent special edition should push you over the edge. —C.C.

McLaren 675LT

It’s a vexing question: What does “best” even mean? For me, it’s what I’d buy with my own money, and this year, only two cars climbed into my chest enough to climb into my wallet. But I dropped into the Miata suspecting that’d happen, because that’s what Miatas do; the McLaren, dragging around a $350k price tag, had some serious lifting. Boy, did this thing man up. The P1 may be McLaren’s brains, but the 675LT is the company’s soul. It is speed by guerilla methods, a 650S hemmed and hacked, tested and tweaked into something different entirely. That’s Can Am mentality, Bruce McLaren’s mentality. Sure, it’ll rip off nigh-hypercar lap times; on race tires, it’d make a Porsche 918 Spyder nervous. But that connection to the company, to the history—driving a McLaren is finally an emotional experience. The 675LT is the best dual-purpose street-circuit car I’ve ever driven. Full stop.—Max Prince, senior editor

Runner Up: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Can’t afford a McLaren? Me either. The answer, of course, is Miata—especially this Miata. It makes my brain spray the good chemicals. —M.P.

Chevrolet Volt

The first-gen Chevrolet Volt was more than a solid option for people who wanted to commute on electric power and preserve the right to take California-size, petrol-burning road trips. No EV driver wants to get stuck in the middle of a sweltering desert/frozen waste devoid of chargers. Could happen. There are lots of desolate places without charging ports. The new Volt bridges the EV-petroleum gap more deftly than any car on the market, well enough to bring even the semi-faithful and non-believers into the cult.—Benjamin Preston, writer-at-large

Runner Up: BMW 228i

Among the Ferraris, hot-rod Mustangs and six-figure Benzes, it’s good to have a representative from the cars-you-can-actually-use-and-afford category, too. The BMW 228i, while not particularly ground-breaking, offers a lot of sporty fun for much less than $40,000, and it looks awesome.—B.P.

Volvo XC90

The exterior is handsome, restrained, luxurious and distinctly Volvo. The interior, with open-pore wood, a huge Sensus screen and those shapely Volvo headrests—more of the same. The drivetrain is advanced, fuel-frugal and, above all, the XC90 is about the safest car on the road. Moose, ditches, rollovers: It’s prepared for ‘em all. Though it’s objectively a great family car, I’m most excited about the XC90 as a symbol of what this revitalized Volvo is capable of. There was a time even two years ago when it seemed that all Swedish cars might go the way of well, Saab. This super-stiff luxury trucklette is Volvo’s new backbone, and with it, the company is standing tall.—Ben Keeshin, staff writer

Runner Up: Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe

The just-released AMG Coupe is as fast as anything on the road, with that 4-liter, turbocharged powder keg up front. While small cars have traditionally been BMW’s gig, with Mercedes lording it over the limousine class, the latest crop of AMGs has left things topsy-turvy in a most excellent way.—B.K.

Morgan Aero 8

I was going to write about the Mercedes AMG GT-S, but it’s so obviously great—and so clear that Baime would bring it up—that I’ve got to remain true to form and go with the Aero 8. Yes, The AMG GT-S really is the best new car this year. I love it. It’s what the Porsche 928 would be today if it hadn’t left us in 1995, albeit with a smaller trunk. It looks exactly like what it should look like. But you know what else looks exactly as it should, and always will? The all-new Morgan Aero 8. Morgans never get old, because every Morgan is fully cooked. I’ve owned everything. I’ve driven everything. Compare the Aero to an optioned-out AMG or Porsche 911 Turbo. Leave it parked. The Morgan wins. Turn the key and it sounds like a freight train full of idling Harleys. The Morgan wins. Specs? Ride quality? Handling? Who cares? It’s the absolute definition of unique, exciting and passionate. Oh yeah: For 2015 it was offered for the first time with a motorized roof. Progress.—Alex Roy, editor-at-large

Runner Up: Mercedes-AMG GT S

Since the AMG GT S really tied with the Aero 8 in my book, my runner up is a car whose well-earned ad campaign was stolen back in the day by the Chevy Impala SS. I’m talking about the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG Coupe. Gorgeous. Brutal. Only appropriate in Magnetite Black Metallic. The only car that could be considered appropriate for a Sith Lord in 2015.—A.R.

Cadillac ATS-V

Cadillac has worked hard to shake its snowbird stigma, beginning in 2004 with the CTS-V. Billed as a Bimmer-beater, the bawdy American sedan sent its German counterparts scurrying back to Bavaria to muster some more horsepower. With the introduction of the smaller ATS, Cadillac is on the offensive again. The hopped-up twin-turbo V6 in the range-topping ATS-V churns out a formidable 464 horsepower, besting BMW’s latest M3 by a solid 30. As a self-identifying BMW fan, it almost pains me to say that I had more fun in the ATS-V on summer tires over two cold, rainy days than I did in any number of the F80 M3s I drove on warm, sunny days on twisty roads. It seems backward, but it’s what my fun sensor (a.k.a., my bottom) told me.—Jonathan Harper, social media editor

Runner Up: 2016 Subaru WRX

While the WRX doesn’t quite have the presence of its louder, bewinged sibling, the STI, it’s got a whole lot to offer. Just a tick slower than the STI, the WRX actually has more low-end torque, and you walk away with more jingle left in your pocket. —J.H.

*BONUS* Mazda MX-5 Miata