Digital Trends 2015 Car of the Year Awards

It’s 2015. Cars have evolved from rudimentary metal boxes with wheels and seats, designed solely to move people from point A to point B, into platforms for technology in which we also transport people. Billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man-hours go into every aspect of modern car creation. And it’s this investment of blood, sweat, and treasure that have turned even the most plebian automobiles into stylish, techy, and reliable runabouts that keep our families safe, keep the air clean, and – in some cases – inspire in us awe and joy.

Just a few decades ago, the job of choosing a best car could simply fall onto the shoulders of gearheads and car nuts, concerned only with cornering and horsepower. Now, though, simply evaluating a car’s performance and drivability misses a whole host of significant other factors. Enter Digital Trends.

Recognizing this gap in consideration for factors that real-world drivers prize most, Digital Trends set out to define the best cars and components on the market. From style, to safety, value, driving dynamics, efficiency, and performance, and of course technology, we looked at everything you want from the ride in your driveway.

With these things in mind, we compiled our three favorite vehicles from five different categories: Car, SUV, Performance, Luxury, and Alternative Energy. We then collected the cars and spent four days in Palm Springs, California comparing them against one another, whittling down each category into one single winner. Though it was easier said than done, we eventually left southern California with five winners, along with our favorite infotainment system and engine.

Without further ado, here are the finalists and winners.

Car of the Year
2015 Audi A3

Car of the YearCar of the Year was perhaps the most difficult category for us. Both the Legacy and Golf are downright fantastic cars, with tons to offer buyers – for an outstanding value. When it came down to it, however, the A3 took the cake.

Let’s start on the outside. We all agreed that, no matter the angle or lighting, the A3 is a stunningly handsome and stylish car. It perfectly blends together Audi’s premium looks with a versatile and compact form, easily maneuvered and parked.

On the interior, the A3 continued its charm offensive with a spare but highly styled cabin that felt light and spacious, especially given its outward dimensions. We found its seats comfortable, fit and finish exceptional, and tech wholly accessible and intuitive. We were especially fond of the Google Earth-powered navigation, onboard 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and Bang & Olufsen sound system. It’s all powered by a state-of-the-art Nvidia processor and infotainment architecture that will support updated chips throughout the lifecycle of the car.

Though the base A3 offers front-wheel drive and a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder, we were especially fond of the optional 2.0-liter turbo-four, six-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission, and quattro all-wheel drive. With its 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway rating, we were impressed with the A3’s ability to be both efficient and sporty.

When it came down to it, we found the Audi A3 to be delightfully refined, athletic, comfortable, versatile, stylish, and tech-savvy. Essentially, it was all the car we could ever want.

Finalists

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen Golf
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

Though not the winner, the Golf came damn close. We love the Golf for its cavernous interior, exceptional drivability, and its subdued yet premium styling. Unfortunately for the Golf, the winner’s trophy was yanked from its hands due to a lackluster technology performance. With better infotainment, the $28,810 Vee-Dub could have walked away with it.

2015 Subaru Legacy

Subaru Legacy
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

For an as-tested price of $33,380, the Legacy offered an outstanding value. Not only do buyers get a safe, mid-size four-door sedan for that price, they also get a heap of tech – including the Infotainment of the Year-nominated StarLink – but also Subaru’s infamous symmetrical all-wheel drive system. However, we could have done for a bit more daring interior styling.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

SUV of the Year
2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport

SUV of the YearEver-tightening Federal fuel economy standards don’t mean Americans have lost any love for the SUV. And, delightfully, vehicles like the Land Rover Discovery Sport prove they don’t have to. This machine represents the compromise-free future of SUVs. We fell for the Disco Sport’s concept-car styling, it’s midsize stature, efficient and peppy turbocharged four-cylinder, plethora of tech, and stylish and versatile interior.

Many modern crossovers manage to banish the heavy 4×4 components and fuel-thirsty engines of their truck-based SUV forebears, but they also lose off-road capability in the process. With the smart use of tech, Land Rover’s Discovery Sport sheds the weight of its predecessors without losing its river-fording abilities.

On the road, the Disco Sport proves as comfortable as it is off-road capable. The 240-horsepower four-cylinder engine and the nine-speed automatic transmission pleasantly surprised us both in terms of acceleration and efficiency, which was aided by the auto start-stop system and plenty of cruising gears.

Like all Land Rover products, the Discovery Sport impresses with attention to detail, in terms of design, fit, and finish. The tested HSE LUX model even included a drool-worthy panoramic moon roof, which ran the entire length of the vehicle.

Tech adds to this refinement, too. A standard 8.0-inch touchscreen in the center dash features the latest iteration of Land Rover’s InControl infotainment. With it, occupants can control any number of features, including nav, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi hotspots, and monitor one of the many cameras embedded in the exterior of the Disco Sport. Heck, even the steering benefits from digital brains – the Disco Sport will steer itself into parallel parking spots.

In the end, we loved every aspect of riding in the well-packaged Discovery Sport. Even though we never used it for off-roading during our testing, we loved feeling that, at the drop of a hat, with the Land Rover, we could go just about anywhere.

Finalists

2015 Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

Good-looking, well-constructed, and comfortable to ride in, the Honda CR-V came very close to overshadowing the Disco Sport. Every time we got out of it, though, we had a hard time remembering the drive itself. We admit; a forgettable ride is perfect for most buyers. For us, though, we wanted something a bit more memorable to take the SUV crown.

2015 GMC Yukon Denali

GMC Yukon Denali
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

If buyers want a big, luxurious truck that is unapologetically American and bossy, there’s nothing else on the road quite like the Yukon – not to mention one loaded to the gills with cutting-edge tech.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

Performance Car of the Year
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

digital-trends-perormance-car-of-the-yearAs our nominee list demonstrates, modern automotive performance comes in all forms. None, however, is perhaps as iconic as the Corvette. With it’s sleek, muscular lines, there’s no confusing its high-performance pretentions. And although previous Corvettes posed more than they performed, the Z06 is as athletic as it looks.

The Z06 produces 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque from its supercharged 6.2-liter V8. And, in our tester, all that power was routed out to the rear wheels through a GM-designed eight-speed automatic, which shifts faster at full throttle than a Porsche PDK gearbox. Those figures don’t even begin to tell the Z06’s performance story, however.

Where the Z06 stole the crown from its competitors was in both handling and technology. Thanks to the bright and easy-to-read Head-up Display (HUD), I could see that I was able to pull over 1.1 Gs in the corners, as I rallied the Z06 up the hills outside Palm Springs. And thanks to its Performance Data Recorder (PDR), I was able to watch it all back on the in-dash 8.0-inch touch screen afterward.

During our debates, from a performance vehicle standpoint, we agreed the Z06 did it all. It sounds like a B2 Bomber, looks like a supercar and handles like one, too, but can also calm down and comfortably cruise when the driver isn’t feeling exceedingly ornery. Considering all of those factors, its base price of $79,000 is an absolute steal.

Finalists

2015 Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe R

Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe R
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

The F-TYPE Coupe R is a gentleman cad. And we mean that in the best possible way. It’s perhaps one of the most stylish cars on the road today, as well as one of the shoutiest. And while it might not corner quite as competently as the Z06, there’s little not to love about Jag’s latest sports car.

2015 Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

The STI is an affordable compact sedan that was designed to go toe-to-toe with Porsche 911s four times its price. In most ways, it meets or gets darn close, at least in terms of handling. Though we wish the STI were a bit more forgiving on the freeway, it still has our admiration, because it is one of the most fun cars on the road today.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

Luxury Car of the Year
2015 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible

digital-trends-luxury-car-of-the-yearAwarding a Bentley the Luxury Car of the Year award might seem like a gimme. Let us assure you, however, it narrowly squeaked out the win against two seriously compelling competitors, each with their own set of impressive strengths.

Though the Audi was faster and the Mercedes has more tech, none was as luxurious, offered quite the same on-road experience, or felt quite as cohesive as the Bentley. From the handcrafted woodwork to the supple leather seating, there is no part of a Bentley that isn’t simply exquisite.

And that’s the impression you get before even firing the engine – all 12 cylinders of it. What an engine it is. Of all the vehicles to be nominated this year, none also had its powerplant considered for Engine of the Year, except for the Bentley. The 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 engine produces 626 horsepower. All told, it can push the GT Speed to 60 mph from a standstill in 4.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 203 mph. The W12 offers this performance with a seemingly impossible smoothness and an exhaust note that is more concussive than shout-y.

Impressively, the Bentley can handle the bends, too, as its air suspension can be dialed from cloud-like levels of cushioning to sports car-like levels of stiffness. And thanks to extra sound deadening, the GT Speed Convertible is actually quieter than the Coupe.

No matter how you slice it, the GT Speed won us over for its ability to make the driver feel like a king, whether out on the open road with the top down, or in a board meeting, just thinking about the Bentley that awaits outside.

Finalists

2015 Audi S8

Audi S8
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

We were downright flabbergasted by how fast the S8 accelerates. It will scream to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, which is fast by sports car standards, let alone long luxury sedans. Delightfully, its exquisite interior is just as enjoyable at saner speeds – we loved the copper-woven carbon fiber trim and the techy but accessible MMI system. And all of that offered in a car that looks fit for Darth Vader.

2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe 4MATIC

Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG 4MATIC Coupe
Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

The Mercedes S-Class is known for its technology and refinement. The Coupe, however, takes that reputation and brings to it a level of style missing from the sedan. And, since this is the AMG S-Coupe, that means it’s also blisteringly quick. Though not as quick as the other cars in this category, we loved the S-Coupe’s cornering capabilities, especially the adaptive side bolsters on the seats, which grip the driver’s body in the bends.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

Alternative Energy Car of the Year
2016 Toyota Mirai

digital-trends-alternative-energy-car-of-the-yearIt might not be the fastest car, or the best looking of the bunch, but we are awarding the Mirai with Alternative Energy Car of the Year for its forward-thinking design.

Digital Trends has long been a fan of hydrogen-powered vehicles. In fact, we drove a predecessor to the Mirai, the HCFV, in Southern California in 2013. Then, like now, we see hydrogen not as a silver bullet but rather as one solid option getting people around with more environmentally friendly energies.

Yes, the infrastructure for widespread rollout of hydrogen across the country might not yet be in place. But with one of the world’s largest and most influential automakers making such a significant investment in fuel-cell technology, as Toyota has done with the Mirai, such an infrastructure is closer to being a reality.

Owners can refuel the Mirai in a matter of minutes, just like gasoline- and diesel-powered cars today. And the car is also backed by a brand that customers will know will exist in a few years time. Both of those, we think, are extremely important to the widespread adoption of hydrogen in the future, and worthy of an award.

Finalists

2015 Tesla Model S P85D

Tesla Model S P85D

What’s not to love about the passenger-scaring Tesla super sedan? It’s both eco-friendly (unless you live in Texas) and also insanely quick. Not only are you getting a fast, earth-friendly, all-wheel drive sedan, when you buy the P85D, you’re also getting onboard with one of the most recognized and desirable brands in the world right now.

2015 BMW i8

2015 BMW i8
Nick Jaynes/Digital Trends

The BMW i8 isn’t just fast, or environmentally friendly, or a stunning design experiment with gullwing doors; it’s all of those things. That is why we love it so much. Doing any one of those might have been noteworthy, sure, but doing all of them in one vehicle moved the i8 from notable to legendary. We just wish it were a bit more efficient.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

Infotainment of the Year
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Uconnect

digital-trends-infotainment-of-the-yearNo automaker has eased the learning curve for all the digital features of a new car better than Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) with its Uconnect system.

With Uconnect, FCA avoided the pitfalls of option overload and distilled the essentials of infotainment into one handsome, accessible package. We love Uconnect not only for its big, 8.4-inch touchscreen, few hardwired buttons, and responsiveness, but also for its clean but not overly sterile interface.

Everything from radio to navigation, Bluetooth, weather, and climate control, are all found quickly and easily and operated. While there may be more cutting-edge infotainment systems on the market with bigger, more high-resolution screens, none is as approachable and understandable as Uconnect. Practical and attractive, with the best user interface on the market, FCA’s Uconnect is the gold standard.

Finalists

NissanConnect

nissanconnect

Nissan’s new touchscreen infotainment system, NissanConnect, may not be revolutionary, however, what it does, it does extremely well. NissanConnect offers both a wide array of features, from live weather alerts to bird’s-eye view cameras, and exceptional design. Unlike so many systems where aesthetics appear to be an afterthought, NissanConnect highlights the company’s modernist interior design in a stylish, feature-rich package.

Subaru StarLink

Subaru Starlink

Subaru’s StarLink infotainment system shows that entry-level doesn’t have to lag behind luxury, at least when it comes to tech. StarLink’s biggest success is its user interface. The touchscreen works just like the average smartphone, allowing for pinch and zoom hand gestures. Really, the only knock on Subaru’s system is that it’s a bit slow. Even so, it has all the same features customers can find on luxury systems at a fraction of the price.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

Engine of the Year
Volvo T6 Drive-E

digital-trends-engine-of-the-yearAs governments around the world ratchet up fuel-economy and emissions standards over the coming years, automakers will need to find a way to lessen environmental impact without trimming power or refinement. After all, customers appear unwilling to part with either for increased efficiency. For us at Digital Trends, no automaker has seen the writing on the wall and stepped forward with an engine family that meets future standards better than Volvo with the Drive-E.

Specifically, we love the twin turbocharged and supercharged T6 variant for its ability to offer six-cylinder levels of power – an impressive 306 horsepower – while returning the emissions and economy of a much smaller engine. We also applaud Volvo for its foresight in designing the Drive-E family to also pair with electric motors, for easy hybridization of its current and future models, which will further the engines’ enviable efficiency.

With the T6 Drive-E engine, Volvo has proved that an automaker can embrace efficiency, technology, and performance and also use the challenges of future mobility to define and enhance its brand identity.

Finalists

Bentley 6.0-liter twin turbo W12

Bentley 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12

Displacing 6.0 liters, and producing more than 620 horsepower, one might think that Bentley’s W12 engine would be a gargantuan thing. Amazingly, however, it’s actually shorter in overall length than Bentley’s 4.0-liter V8. And though the W12 isn’t exactly new, like the Drive-E, in its latest iteration, it does deserve major kudos.

Dodge HEMI Hellcat

Dodge 6.2 liter HEMI Hellcat

You might think that the Hellcat HEMI was nominated simply for its staggering 707 horsepower rating. And you’re nearly right. Luckily, the Hellcat is more than just a performance figure; it’s also a demonstration of Dodge’s engineering prowess, as it not only produces over 700 ponies but also returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg on the highway.

Check out the rest of the award winners.

Editors' Recommendations