The Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Highway winds 100 miles or so through the Santa Rosa Mountains just south of Palm Springs, California, through bone-white sands and boulder-strewn deserts and towering canyons reaching thousands of feet into the air. The highway has more curves than Sofia Vergara — you can see them over our shoulders in the picture atop this post — and vistas that open up above hundreds of miles of empty plain and prairie, often without a soul in sight for days.
It would be a terrible place to hitchhike. But it’s the perfect spot to test drive cars.
I spent the better part of three days here in the desert, in the 95-degree heat under cloudless skies as blue as the Caribbean, with five of the world’s best car journalists and a dozen of the world’s finest automobiles — over a million dollars’ worth of steel and seatbelts.
Our mission: to pick the best of the best.
Modern automobiles aren’t just tires and boxes to get us from point A to point B, you see. They’re part of our lives, and increasingly technology platforms that tie into our smartphones, warn us of danger, hell, many even do the driving for us. Yet other car reviewers still look at them as they did in the ’70s: torque and horsepower and powertrains. We wanted to rate the entire package the way you would across a variety of metrics: drivability, value, technology, safety, styling and more.
Introducing the Digital Trends Car of the Year awards, the product of thousands of miles of road tests.
We looked not just at the car but at the features and technology that make the entire ride so wonderful.
To that end, I’m pleased to present the first annual Digital Trends Car of the Year awards, the product of thousands of miles of road tests. I met up with the team in Los Angeles in early April — Stephen Edelstein, Peter Braun, Andrew Hard, Alex Kalogianni, and Nick Jaynes. We spent days ripping through curves on the Banning-Idyllwild, which is also known as the Roy Wilson Memorial Highway, in cars that cost from $20K to more than $200K, from VW and Jaguar and Audi and GMC and more. We circled Big Bear Lake and dropped in on Big Bear donuts (you had me at ham and cheese croissant, Tim). We drove through San Bernardino National Forest, which appeared to have more scrub grass and shrubs than forest to me. And we left a lot of rubber in the mountains.
I’m personally in awe of the fearlessness of Chris Viglone, who recorded the entire event, sometimes while hanging out of the back of a moving Bentley at 50 miles per hour. His tireless energy kept us going as much as the horsepower beneath the hoods.
And a big thank you is due to lead automotive editor Nick Jaynes, without whose tireless work none of this would be possible. He organized the whole event, arranged the Corvettes and coupes, somehow battling a fever the entire time.
So without further ado, here’s the first annual Digital Trends Car of the Year awards! Did we miss your favorite? Or hit the nail on the head? Sound off in the comments. And make sure to stay tuned tomorrow, when we announce the winners in every category, including the coveted Car of the Year for 2015.