Nowadays, talking about cars without talking about technology is telling half the story. No longer are cars merely platforms to display optional gadgets. Tech is woven into the automobile just as much as any other component, from laser headlights to digital gauge clusters, collision detection, and looming autonomy. There’s a lot to keep track of as the landscape of cars evolves. If it seems too much to grasp, fret not: Digital Trends’ stalwart crew of car journalists blends its passion for burgeoning tech with its love of the engineering marvels that make up the vehicles we love.
We have the opportunity to drive dozens of amazing cars each year, but without driving them back to back, determining the best in each class is nearly impossible. The Digital Trends Car Awards both celebrate the best cars we’ve driven this year, and give us a chance to see what they’re made of — on equal footing.
This year, we brought 15 of our favorites to Portland, Oregon, where the crew reacquainted themselves with these standout vehicles. We each took turns driving the nominees through the bustling city, along winding highways, and down narrow country roads. Our performance cars even got to stretch their legs beyond the legal limits on Oregon Raceway Park’s twisty track.
For assistance we called on former All Pro Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch — better known as Beast Mode to his friends and fans. Sure, his car of choice is an ’86 Civic, but cut him some slack: Marshawn Lynch loves cars. And we invited Tim Walbridge, president of luxury custom car retailer 503 Motoring and a longtime DT friend, to join the crew.
Picking a winner for each category was still no easy task. With plenty of deliberating to do, the DT Autos team did what we always do when not driving — we poured some drinks, and sat down to argue.
Each nominee could easily fall into a specialty category, but these are the everyday heroes that are relatively attainable and could easily be someone’s daily driver. It sounds easy, but making a car well-rounded enough to win this category is an incredible challenge.
The Mazda MX-5 almost needs no introduction. The Miata has shown stunning endurance throughout the years, mainly due to how well it satisfies even the most stalwart gearhead with the purity of its driving experience. The latest generation of the roadster sharpens its oft-maligned looks, can be packed with optional tech, and introduces a host of refinements to carry on doing what it does best: making driving fun.
Chevrolet’s Camaro debuts its sixth-generation pony car for 2016. Love it or leave it, the previous generation undoubtedly brought the Camaro back from the dead like a phoenix, but it wasn’t without its issues. This new generation surprised us thoroughly. It streamlined the interior, improved the clutch-feel on the manual version, and making use of an incredibly balanced platform.
Honda Civic Coupe
The Honda Civic Coupe easily makes our list, carrying a legacy that splits daily functionality with sporty enthusiasm. Its recent redesign hammers home the fact that affordability doesn’t mean skimping on looks.
Honda Civic Coupe
We all genuinely like the Camaro and all the improvements that the sixth generation brought, and our admiration for the pure driving experience the MX-5 caters to is well known. However, the Civic Coupe offered updated looks, utility, and accessible sportiness. We liked how well-rounded it was compared to the other nominees, and doing these things exceptionally put it on top, making it our daily driver hero.
Our collection of alternative energy vehicles is the most sensible group of cars DT brought out for testing. These are probably not emblazoned on the posters gracing your garage walls, but they are the high-tech trailblazers introducing fuel-saving technology the world really needs.
Like its Camaro cousin, the Chevrolet Volt enters a new generation with a host of improvements including sharper looks, increased range, a lighter body, and better handling. All these make for an EV we’d be happy to have in our driveway.
Audi A3 E-Tron
The Audi A3 E-Tron approaches the hybrid concept not from the ground up, but by starting with a car that’s already proven its quality, then adding the automaker’s E-Tron technology into the mix. The result is a fantastic car that just also happens to be a plug-in.
Toyota’s Prius is almost synonymous with hybrids, and the automaker’s latest version builds on that success. Its updated design, intelligent safety systems, connectivity features, and potential 56 mpg makes it an obvious contender in this category.
We all agreed that in our alternative energy category, the Audi E-Tron was the best car, it just wasn’t the best hybrid. That was easily the Toyota Prius, which probably used a thimble of fuel throughout our testing, but didn’t offer up much in the way of excitement. Chevrolet’s Volt, with its more understated look, enjoyable handling, and 420-mile range, cruised efficiently away with our award. It balances performance with its hybrid-enabled efficiency, and didn’t make us feel like we were losing out on either, which made it a solid winner.