Kiplinger’s Best in Class winners top the rankings in each of our 12 categories. The rankings are based on performance, value and safety, as well as driving impressions from our own road tests. The Best in Class winners are our top picks among models that have a track record of at least one year or redesigned vehicles with powertrains substantially the same as the previous generation.
All except two of our Best in Class winners also earn Top Safety Pick designations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (no sports cars or truck-based SUVs made the IIHS Top Safety Pick cut this year).
Volkswagen’s compact sedan is firing on all four cylinders. It has generous interior room (38 inches of rear legroom) and cargo space (its 16 cubic feet rivals the space in midsize models), high resale values, and German driving dynamics. The TDI’s 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine gets stellar fuel economy and produces 236 pound-feet of torque to get you off the line fast.
Getting 41 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving and priced less than $27,000, the Camry Hybrid gives other midsize cars a lesson in value. It has 200 horses under the hood, a roomy backseat that can be folded down (unlike in many hybrids), and ten airbags, including side airbags for the rear passengers and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.
From music to travel to telecommunications, technology has transformed entire industries and disrupted traditional ways of doing business. Just ask record labels, travel agents and home telephone service providers. And now it’s the car’s turn.
Whether it was 4G connectivity and “big data” coming to vehicles or large tech companies making a stake in the connected car space and the move toward autonomous driving, 2013 saw several significant turning points that prove that technology will change driving as we know it. Here’s my take on the top five car tech trends we saw this year.
Connectivity. You can’t have a connected car without connectivity. And with the smartphone and tablet market reaching a saturation point, wireless carriers have set their sights on the car as the next mobile device — and hence a new market for data plans — as drivers increasingly want to stay connected. 2013 kicked off with GM and AT&T announcing a partnership to bring 4G connectivity to cars in 2014, and wrapped up with Audi doing the same at the Los Angeles Auto Show with an unnamed carrier partner.
Autonomous cars. While it’s been three years since Google revealed in late 2010 that it had logged almost 150,000 miles testing its original self-driving Toyota Prius, in 2013 most mainstream automakers revealed their autonomous vehicle ambitions. More than a half dozen major car companies as well as electric vehicle startup Tesla announced automated driving technology, introduced a self-driving research vehicle or both. And Nissan said it will have several self-driving vehicles on the market by 2020.
Over-the-air software updates. Because of the disparate differences in product lead times between the technology and auto industries — 12 to 18 months versus three to four years — cars are always behind the times tech-wise. While manual software updates have been used for several years with systems like Ford Sync, over-the-air updates that occur automatically make it easier for car owners and car companies to keep in-dash electronics current. An example of this is when Audi rolled out a new feature via an OTA update that allows a driver to find, reserve and even pay for a parking spot in advance. Tesla did it too when it added an update to deal with fires issues for the Model S.