2016 Digital Trends Car Awards

Ride along as we test 15 of this year's top cars to find the best of the best

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Performance

Forget how handy they are for carrying people and groceries, these cars are all about going fast. Our picks are paragons of strength, speed, and agility.

Nominees

Mercedes AMG GT S

The Mercedes AMG GT S is the automaker’s latest and greatest grand tourer. Equipped with a 4.0-liter twin turbo V8, this ludicrously luxurious car is deemed good enough to join the Formula 1 grid as a safety car. Solidly crafted, the GT S is a serious performer, but that doesn’t mean it’s above having a good time.

Lamborghini Huracán 580-2

A follow-up to the Gallardo, the Lamborghini Huracán is already rewriting the records set by its wildly successful predecessor. The all-wheel drive 610-4 might be better suited for the track, but this 580-2 still gets the job done, and its rear-drive focus makes it all the more exhilarating. If the Gallardo was Lambo’s lighting in a bottle, then the Huracán’s a goddamn thunderstorm.

Ford Shelby GT350R

The Ford Shelby GT350R is about as meat-and-potatoes as supercars go: clutch, stick, a whopping 5.2-liter V8, and not much else. That brute force approach to performance doesn’t mean it’s all muscle and no brains, though. Aerodynamic design and a host of lightweight materials such as all-carbon-fiber wheels compliment the meticulous engineering found throughout the chassis. Make no mistake, this car isn’t out there to make you look like a rock star. If you want to get the most out of this Mustang, you’ll have to tame it first.

Winner

Mustang GT350R Performance Award

Ford Shelby GT350R

When it came down to our performance cars, we all agreed that the Lamborghini was the most exciting and the Mercedes AMG GT S was the most fun to toss around the track, but the Ford Shelby GT350R was the most satisfying around the circuit. It didn’t have much in the way of amenities, and it wasn’t the most comfortable on long journeys, but the mighty Mustang stunned us with just how capable it was when it was finally free to cut loose.

The engine delivered amazing, raw power that was perfectly balanced with its performance-tuned suspension. Throughout our testing, the car adhered to the track like it was glued to it, never giving us a sense that we were pushing its limits. With a six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, and tons of horsepower on offer, the car’s purist setup wasn’t there to complement the driver. Instead, those behind the wheel had to demonstrate a certain skill level, which the car magnified, making you feel amazing after track maneuvers. After all, you earned it.

In-car tech

If we’re not talking about technology in cars, we’re only telling half of the story. When it comes to entertainment, safety, or connectivity, technology is as big a part of the automobile nowadays as the drivetrain, and these were our favorite gizmos among the gears.

Nominees

Cadillac CT6 – Rear camera mirror

Cadillac packed loads of exciting and useful tech into the CT6, but what impressed us the most was the rear camera mirror. This takes your regular analog mirror and turns it into a high-def wide view of the space behind you. The feature lets you see 300 percent more, and won’t be obstructed by anything or anyone in the back seat. It’s certainly one of those “why didn’t we think of this before?” kind of gadgets.

Audi Q7 – Audi Virtual Cockpit 

Warping the classic instrument cluster several years into the future is the Audi Virtual Cockpit, a 12.3-inch driver-focused display that is the driver’s source for car info, 3D maps, and a myriad more functions. It isn’t the only fully digital gauge display on the block, but it is arguably the best.

BMW 750i – All of it

There is a gluttonous amount of tech to be found in the BMW, and while it was almost too much for the sake of luxury, for tech toy nerds, it was a playground with gesture controls that sense your hand movements in the air, Touch Command tablets to rifle through all the features, and apps to control the car while outside of it.

Winner

bmw 750i in car tech award

BMW 750i

Seriously, there are a lot of gadgets in this thing, and they all create levels of excitement that made us exclaim “Did you see that?!” each time we discovered a new one. We knew we were in for a treat the very moment we were handed the unique, futuristic display key, which had us tinkering with car functions and status menus before we even sat in it. The first time we wound a finger in the air to change the volume, we were amazed, and we chuckled gleefully as we controlled every aspect of the interior with the 7-inch removable tablet from our massaging passenger seats. As far as tech toy boxes go, this one is hard to beat.

Engine

At the literal heart of every car tested is a meticulously crafted engine designed for efficiency, power, or as a component of an intricate hybrid system. During our testing, a few stood out from the rest.

Nominees

Volvo XC90 – T8

As with everything else, Volvo took its own unique approach to engine design with the T8, throwing in a little bit of everything instead of just picking the best choice. Want to add a supercharger or some turbos? How about direct injection? Maybe hybridize it with an electric motor? Volvo took all of these things, added them to a 2.0-liter four cylinder, and made motoring magic.

Ford Shelby GT350R – 5.2 liter V8

The Shelby GT350R’s powerful 5.2-liter V8 is old school done right. Producing 526 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, this booming power plant was equally as good at putting smiles on our faces as it was propelling the Mighty Mustang around the track.

Audi Q7 – 3.0-liter TFSI

The 3.0 liter TFSI engine in the Audi Q7 is a six-cylinder workhorse that dutifully delivers both comfort and power. It cranks out 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque effortlessly, and still managed to return a combined 21 mpg at the end of the day.

Winner

Ford Shelby GT350R 5.2 liter V8 engine award

Shelby GT350R

For all the technical marvels we had on hand, the Shelby’s 5.2-liter V8 powered its way to the top of the list with sheer brute force. The stellar engineering that went into this classic engine style comes through every time it roars down the road, and opening the throttle is a pure, visceral joy. Trends in engine development may now favor smaller engines affixed with turbochargers to score a balance between power and fuel efficiency, but nothing is more satisfying than a big ol’ V8. Power arrives instantly on demand with the press of the pedal, and the sonic blast that fires out the back of the Shelby is so powerful you might think the car is being propelled by sound alone, if you didn’t know better. If the V8’s days are numbered, it is a privilege to spend time with one of its finest examples.

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