The Digital Trends Car Awards are all about picking the best of the best.
Each year, our editorial crew keeps busy by getting wheel time in as many vehicles as possible and sharing that experience with you. As the year wears on, clear favorites emerge, and our annual awards are a chance to both celebrate those cars and see which are truly the best of the best.
We can’t gather every single car we’ve tested over the months, so we narrow the selection down to the best in specific categories. These cars, to us, are already winners, which is why our selections are so diverse. From there, we spend some extra time reacquainting ourselves with just what we loved about each, and deliberate about which dominate their respective categories.
Our 2017 celebration took us to historic Lime Rock Park, the historic race track nestled within the bucolic backroads of western Connecticut. The mix of a fun, fast-paced circuit on hand with serene sweeping woodland roads made it the perfect place to re-test our collection of cars. After many miles, more than a few laps, and plenty of laughs, we picked our favorite cars of 2017, including our overall favorite.
Car of the Year
Audi R8 V10 Plus
Saying one car is “the best” is a difficult thing to do. It’s why we have categories: different cars meet different needs. With that said, our pick for Car of the Year was the one out of the whole lot that really impressed us the most. It could’ve come from any category as long as it just wowed us — and this year the Audi R8 V10 Plus was the car that did so hands down.
The Audi R8 V10 Plus is a performance car that not only excels in every aspect, it balances them out perfectly. The centerpiece is a mid-mounted 5.2-liter V10 that produces 610 horsepower 413 pound-feet of torque. Audi’s patented Quattro all-wheel drive system sends power to the wheels that need it most, providing the grip the R8 needs to make you a track superstar.
All of this is orchestrated from within an efficient, comfortable cabin that blends just enough luxury with the practical needs of the driver, making it easy to switch from a spirited sprint to a casual cruise. Striking that balance so masterfully is what endeared us to the first generation R8, so much so that we were concerned that Audi might ruin a good thing with an update. We’ve never been so glad to be wrong.
Watch our full test of 2017’s Car of the Year to learn about the Audi R8 V10 Plus.
Mazda’s CX-5 charmed us with its sharp-looking exterior, engaging handling, and satisfying utility capability. All of this is available without breaking the bank, either: Its highest trim level starts below $30K.
Mazda’s SkyActiv engineering philosophy cuts every bit of inessential weight to improve fuel economy and enhance driving pleasure. This means the CX-5’s relatively light, 3,500-lb figure doesn’t require a whole lot of grunt to get moving. Its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine makes the most of its 187 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, making it genuinely fun to fling around corners. Mazda’s G-Vectoring system helps move things along by shifting the torque around for better weight balance, smoothing out cornering maneuvers.
The CX-5 exceeded all our expectations, offering more fun, style, and character than one would expect at its price point.
Watch our full test of 2017’s Best SUVs to learn about the Mazda, and its competitors.
Best Luxury Car
Volvo’s approach to luxury won us over with the S90 sedan. While loaded with neat tech features and impressive engine power, it was the supple interior, smooth ride, and quiet cabin that made us feel as if we were seated in the lap of luxury.
The S90’s brainpower is best illustrated with its incredible safety technology. Pedestrian detection can spot a city-dweller in your path and even come to an automatic full stop, depending on the speed. That technology’s upgraded to include any large animals that might cross your path on the outskirts of town, too, so both man and beast can breathe a little easier.
The luxury sedan also includes improved pilot assist capability, combining lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control that works at up to 80 mph, taking the tension out of long highway jaunts.
It’s not audacious; it’s calm and understated, and that’s why we like it.
Watch our full test of 2017’s Best Luxury Cars to learn about the Volvo, and its competitors.
Best Performance Car
The McLaren 570S is rough around the edges, but in the best way possible. The focus on performance with a thin layer of street-legal civility makes the experience feel unique. That it drives like an attacking cheetah doesn’t hurt, either.
The McLaren isn’t a more raucous version of a softer car, and it’s clear that performance came before comfort. We love how the 3.8-liter twin turbo V8 loudly produces 562 horsepower, the not-so-subtle styling, and the responsive handling; the 570S has an amazing pedigree and more than lives up to it. The fact that it’s the entry-level offering of a three-tier product lineup shouldn’t lead anyone to think this vehicle lacks in the “badass” department: This road car comes alive on the track, and it makes you earn it, too.
Watch our full test of 2017’s Best Performance Cars to learn about the McLaren, and its competitors.
Best Alternative Energy Car
Chevrolet Bolt EV
The Chevrolet Bolt EV hits all the marks by being a nice, practical hatchback that happens to have over 230 miles of emission-free range. A $30K price tag means owning a long-range EV is open to a wider customer base, too.
Plug-in EVs are just about everywhere these days, but shoppers must choose between mainstream pricing and range. EV on the cheap? Don’t plan on going far. Looking for long range? Well, now you’re in Tesla territory.
Chevy’s Bolt EV lets you have both, with little compromise. Tesla may offer the same with the Model 3 once deliveries are underway, but the Bolt’s here now. It helps that it’s also quite a functional hatchback that’s very easy to live with.
As our electric infrastructure grows, we can easily see the Bolt becoming a regular fixture on our roads.
Watch our full test of 2017’s Best Alternative Energy Cars to learn about the Bolt EV, and its competitors.
Best Daily Driver
Chrysler’s Pacifica is a breath of fresh air in the rather hum-drum minivan segment. It showed that the much maligned family hauler can actually have a stylish exterior and be a pleasant space to occupy. Toys like a built-in vacuum, push-button stow-and-go seating, and USB ports for days go a long way to show that the folks behind the Pacifica had a good long think about what would make life easier for those who’d rely on it for their daily adventures.
It all works, too, because at the end of the day, the Pacifica is still a great minivan. It seats eight comfortably and is easily configured to maximize storage capacity. A 360-degree surround view camera makes it easy to park, and a parking assist function makes it even easier. Forward collision warning with active braking is also on hand to protect your precious cargo.
Watch our full test of 2017’s Best Daily Drivers to learn about the Pacifica, and its competitors.
Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
Out of a field that included everything from a classic American V8 to a tiny four-cylinder engine with both turbocharging and supercharging, we picked the fuel-cell system in the Honda Clarity as our top powertrain. Fuel-cell vehicles aren’t new, but with the Clarity, Honda went a long way toward making them practical. The entire powertrain fits under the car’s hood, freeing up interior space. It’s also one of the first fuel-cell powertrains engineered with relatively large-scale production in mind, making it an important step in the development of hydrogen cars.
Best In-Car Tech
GM Rear Camera Mirror
You may have expected some highfalutin’ luxury gadget to take this spot, but instead we’re giving it to one of the most practical, simple, and useful automotive features to be introduced in years – GM’s Rear Camera Mirror. The device looks just like a normal rearview mirror at first glance, but when you flip the small switch at the bottom, an LCD screen comes to life inside the mirror housing. The screen projects a high-quality, low-glare, wide-angle feed from the vehicle’s aft camera, allowing the driver to see exactly what is behind regardless of ambient light or obstructions. You can’t see your reflection in the mirror with the display on, but after you’ve gotten used to it, you’ll wonder how you managed without it before.