BMW took major risks in redesigning its M4, formerly the M3 coupe, by replacing a V-8 with a twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder. As consumers have learned from other vehicles that have made similar changes, the bottom line is what really matters. The new M4's bottom line is higher horsepower and more torque at a lower rpm, yet improved fuel economy and favorable front/rear weight distribution. This on top of all the other aspects that made the preceding generation a leader: The choice of a six-speed manual or brilliantly executed dual-clutch seven-speed automatic team with rear-wheel drive and a chassis that benefits from decades of refinement on the world's most challenging courses. Especially when equipped with the optional adaptive suspension, the M4 proves a feasible daily driver in regions with appropriate weather and pavement. BMW has a triple threat with thoughtfully executed preconfigured driving modes, independent control of the various systems plus customizable modes that can be activated through two buttons on the steering wheel. Just as the 3 Series and 4 Series remain the luxury sport sedan and coupe to beat, the M3 and M4 remain the ultimate-performance variants to beat, even as new competitors enter the game.
The media and consumers alike are lit up with excitement over the refreshed 2015 Dodge Challenger's throwback styling. Dodge manages to walk the fine line between old and new seamlessly by integrating modern amenities expected by today's discerning consumers. Niceties such as keyless entry, push-button start and heated seats will be appreciated by any driver. The horizontal dash design layout is a direct nod to the 1970s Challenger, and while visually consistent with the era, the technology housed inside it is a contemporary update. Chrysler's intuitive Uconnect multimedia system is now the heart of the home. Throw in the sophisticated and brag-worthy Dodge Performance Pages app and you'll be itching for some track time in this rocketlike brawn of a sports coupe. While no one wants to go back to the bad side of the 1970s (oil embargoes and worse), why not let your hair down and continue the celebration with a Challenger parked in your driveway? Imagine peace, love and pony cars: Your psyche will thank you.
The redesigned Fit preserves most of what's made it an exceptional small car for nearly a decade: excellent sightlines, nimble handling, generous standard features and a spacious, functional interior. All of that joins a more sophisticated ride quality and impressive new technology. Thanks to an overhauled drivetrain, gas mileage leapfrogs most competitors to as high as an EPA-rated 36 mpg combined city/highway with a new continuously variable automatic transmission. Even more impressive, the Fit does that with punchier passing power and better transmission response than we've come to expect from CVTs. Drivability isn't the only innovation. Honda's available LaneWatch system uses a mirror-mounted camera to show what's lurking in your passenger-side blind spot. In back, the automaker's Magic Seat still folds up for taller cargo or down for a flat, wide floor with the sort of space that rivals some small SUVs. Shoppers looking for a stripped-down car will find cheaper options elsewhere, but the Fit's value comes in just how well equipped it is. About $16,500 gets you the entry-level LX model with power windows and locks, remote entry, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth and a backup camera, which are all features that are often optional in this segment. Add it all up and the 2015 Honda Fit easily made the nominees for our editors' top award.
The last C-Class had a hard time keeping up with competitors such as the BMW 3 Series, which felt more athletic, more luxurious and more capable than Mercedes-Benz' most popular global model. But no longer; with the new 2015 C-Class, the luxury automaker has stunned the public and pundits by producing a stylish new compact luxury sedan that plays second fiddle to no one. No more poky acceleration, understeer, soggy brakes or other problems that relegated the C-Class to last place in our $46,000 Sport Sedan Challenge. The new C-Class dances with the best in the segment, a truly impressive change. The new, swoopy Mercedes-Benz family style seen on the bigger S-Class looks dynamite on the smaller C-Class, but the real shocker comes when you open the door; the automaker brought the same level of opulence to the interior as well. Even base models have high-quality materials, outstanding craftsmanship and an attention to luxury details that was lacking in the previous generation. The new C-Class is more than just a pretty face, however. Mercedes-Benz also has thoroughly reworked the chassis and powertrains, creating a car that feels as substantial as it looks.
There are but a few pure wagons on the market these days, and if it weren't for the popular Outback, you likely wouldn't see many at all. Subaru does the most with this practical body style, providing ample passenger room and cargo space wrapped around an all-wheel-drive system that can handle the worst weather that drivers will likely encounter. It's a formula that has won over shoppers in the past, including several Cars.com editors in recent years. Now the redesigned 2015 edition has a few things the model has never had before, namely a first-class multimedia system and a competitive interior. No longer do shoppers have to make a trade-off on top tech versus practicality with the Outback. Improvements to the engine and transmission mean the standard all-wheel drive doesn't hamper fuel economy versus front-wheel-drive competition. The known-to-be-noisy cabin is quieter than ever before. These are the major improvements that Subaru needed to accomplish with the 2015 Outback, but the updated exterior styling and small changes such as moving tether anchors from the roof to the rear seatbacks only help to cement it as one of the top models we've tested this year.
With Volkswagen's redesign of its Golf hatchback, the brand has tailor-made the car for the U.S. market. Its price is lower, but the Golf retains the kind of upscale finishes VW devotees expect. As in prior versions, VW lets you have it the way you want it -- as long as it's a hatchback. The base gas engine is a smooth-revving, eager turbocharged four-cylinder that's rated at an EPA-estimated 25/37/30 mpg city/highway/combined with the manual transmission. An optional turbo-diesel improves fuel economy to 30/45/36 mpg with a manual transmission. An automatic transmission is optional, and two- and four-door body styles are offered. Inside, there are soft-touch surfaces where you'd expect to find them, and overall interior quality is a step above the class. The Golf's footprint is small, making it great for city use, but it lives big, with comfortable seating for adults and a 22.8-cubic-foot cargo area. Volkswagen dropped the 2015 Golf's starting price to $18,815, including a destination charge. That's $2,000 less than its predecessor, but it still drives and feels like a premium compact car. The new Golf may not look especially new on the outside, but all the improvements become clear the minute you get behind the wheel.
Engineers at GM were given the chance to start with a blank sheet of paper to create the all-new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. For the purposes of this award, we've chosen the larger-volume GM player in the form of the Chevy. Although the two pickup trucks have nicely stylized differentiation in their overall look, 99 percent of everything under the skin is identical. The Colorado offers two engine choices. The base models get the 200-horsepower, inline-four-cylinder, while the uplevel powertrain option is an all-aluminum 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 305 hp -- both with a six-speed transmission. The all-new ladder frame is not shared with any other GM model but does have characteristics and design cues similar to the half-ton Silverado. The front suspension is a downsized short- and long-arm coil-spring configuration, while the rear uses the familiar corporate solid axle. The truck comes in extended- and crew-cab models with two wheelbase options. The Colorado starts at just less than $21,000 (including destination), but most importantly, it jump-starts a category that has been moribund for the better part of a decade. We've been crusading for this midsize truck for years; GM has done a great job delivering.
The long-awaited 2015 Ford F-150 is finally here. It is packed with new technology, features and powertrains, and is built in two completely refurbished production plants. The big news about this redesigned half-ton pickup is that it is the first mass-produced pickup to use high-strength aluminum for all body panels and bed construction -- the most obvious benefit of which is weight savings but, interestingly, the truck also drives and sounds different. The weight loss has allowed Ford to create a smaller EcoBoost engine (a 2.7-liter V-6 with 325 horsepower and 375 pounds-feet of torque), which offers better fuel economy and just enough towing and payload to accommodate the largest percentage of typical pickup users. Ford offers three V-6 engines (one naturally aspirated and two twin turbos) and one 5.0-liter V-8 in the F-150 lineup. Another major plot point to this new F-150 story is the hugely improved interior, one that includes more storage, a more densely packed information center, more luxury and work-truck features, and an optional 360-degree camera. Lastly, Ford has packed the bed with more storage options, a few segment-first conveniences and LED lighting features never before seen in the segment. This is an impressive new truck in a highly competitive segment.
The new 2015 Ford Super Duty F-250 and F-350 have essentially stayed the same, with the significant exception of a new 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke turbo-diesel. To its credit, Ford did not make this a special max-tow package option but made all the changes to the stump-pulling powertrain available to every 2015 three-quarter-ton and one-ton Super Duty pickup across the lineup. The new Power Stroke has a bigger, faster, smarter turbocharger; much better cooling; a new crankshaft; and stronger main bearings, just to name a few of the upgrades. The most direct benefit of all the changes is that it now offers a whopping 440 horsepower (the most in the segment) and 860 pounds-feet of torque (just 5 less than the newly revised high-output Ram Cummins options). Additionally, Ford took the opportunity to upgrade some of the electronic controls to improve throttle response as well, but the best thing about these new upgrades is that there is now a dedicated exhaust brake button that allows for more control on downgrades when carrying tons (literally) of payload or hauling a heavy trailer. Ford also upgraded its King Ranch trim package.
We've opted for the GMC Sierra 2500/3500 Heavy Duty instead of the Chevy Silverado 2500/3500 because we had more seat time in the GMC Sierra HD during our 2014 Ultimate One-Ton and Three-Quarter-Ton HD Challenges. The Silverados, with the exception of a few styling and trim-level features, are essentially the same pickups under the skin. The new Sierra HDs have a completely restyled exterior look that includes a more aggressive and larger front grille, more pronounced hood bulges and wheel arches, as well as a completely reshaped and designed cab structure. We like the LED and projector headlights and more angular wheel arches that are unique to GMC. The cabs now have triple door seals for improved quietness, better door lengths for easier entry and exit, and better structural rigidity. The beds have been re-engineered to offer better payload capacity, incorporate bed steps in the corner of the bumpers and provide strutted tailgates for easier use. The interior of the 2015 GMC pickups has been upgraded to look and feel similar to the 2014 half-tons (which won our 2014 Best Truck of the Year Award), with a vastly improved MyLink interface and configurable gauge cluster. The GMCs also offer a new All-Terrain trim level, as well as the popular Denali premium packages.
The Tacoma always has been a good off-road pickup choice for those looking for a capable 4x4 vehicle with a reasonable price and a long history of off-road racing. Now Toyota is combining those two assets into a single class-leading trim package with help from the performance experts at Toyota Racing Development. The new TRD Pro Series effectively turns a normal Tacoma midsize pickup into just about the best four-wheeler you can buy. The Tacoma TRD Pro replaces the limited-run TRD Baja first introduced in 2012 and takes the setup to the next level. The front suspension gets new, slightly longer coil springs to level out the look of the truck; it also has a set of four aggressively valved Bilstein shocks, BF Goodrich all-terrain tires and interior accents that identify the package as a TRD Pro. One of the smaller details we especially like is the unique "old-school" grille that spells out Toyota, just like the old Land Cruisers did decades ago. All TRD Pro Tacomas have a respectable all-aluminum 4.0-liter V-6 and locking rear differential, as well as bead-lock style rims.
As part of a familial packaging strategy, Toyota's TRD Pro Series package includes the Tacoma, the 4Runner and the full-size Tundra pickup truck. The new TRD Pro trim replaces the good-looking Rock Warrior trim level but provides a more substantial and impressive suspension and capability-driven technology. Like the Tacoma TRD Pro, the Tundra TRD Pro has a unique front coil spring to give the front end of the truck more suspension travel and hit-absorbing power for high-speed runs through the desert. Specially tuned high-performance Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs (for better shock cooling) are at all four corners of the truck, with unique rear-leaf springs providing a softer rear-axle ride. All Tundra TRD Pro packages are equipped with the all-aluminum 5.7-liter V-8, 18-inch rims, 32-inch Michelin tires and a unique TRD Pro Series grille that spells out the manufacturer's name. Of special note: All TRD Pro Tundras have the name of the package stamped into the bedsides, just like the Toyota name is stamped into the tailgate. Interior modifications are limited to unique seat materials, stitching and gauge accents, but the package does include blacked-out badging around the exterior of the truck.