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Introducing Digital Trends Car of the Year awards

Bring only 12 cars, leave only rubber: Our quest to crown Digital Trends' Car of the Year

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.

See the finalistsdt-car-awards-finalists

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.

Chris Viglione

Photographer Chris Viglione prepares for a wild ride.

Jeremy Kaplan / Digital Trends

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.

Digital Trends Car of the Year Finalists

Digital Trends Car of the Year Finalist

Car of the Year

2015 Audi A3

Audi A3

2015 Subaru Legacy

Subaru Legacy

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf

SUV of the Year

2015 GMC Yukon Denali

GMC Yukon Denali

2015 Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Performance Car of the Year

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2015 Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe R

Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe R

2015 Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI

Luxury Car of the Year

2015 Audi S8

Audi S8

2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

Bentley GT Speed

2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe 4MATIC

Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG 4MATIC Coupe

Alternative Energy Car of the Year

2015 BMW i8

2015 bmw i8

2015 Tesla Model S P85D

2015 Tesla Model S P85D

2016 Toyota Mirai

2016 Toyota Mirai

Infotainment of the Year

FCA Uconnect

https://trello.com/c/1KiVrbob/753-independent-researchers

NissanConnect

nissanconnect

Subaru StarLink

Subaru Starlink

Engine of the Year

Bentley 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12

Bentley 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12

Dodge 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat

Dodge 6.2 liter HEMI Hellcat

Volvo T6 Drive-E

2015-volvo-s60-t6