I experienced around twenty week-long car loans this year and each ride had its merits. Still, if I had to fill my dance card, here were my five faves. (Click car names to see the original review.)
Saab 9-3 Aero XWD
It’s so sad that GM can’t float Saab, such a storied brand. And the 9-3 is such a thrill to drive. Its sporty responsiveness is like a drug. The cross-wheel drive system includes all-wheel drive, gripping the road like a guy with a remote during figure skating season. Fine-tuned springs and self-leveling gas shocks make every turn a slingshot thrill.
As Tested $49,165
Audi TT 2.0T Quattro Coupé
Its secret is lightness: The TT’s inline 2.0L 4-banger produces 200 hp@5100 rpm and 207 lbs of torque per ft@1700 rpm. Not a lot of power compared to … pretty much anything. But in such a spare frame, it ostensibly means a rocket under your right foot. A highly responsive accelerator delivers 0-100km/h in a hair-parting 6.1 seconds. Consider driving in your socks for extra sensation.
Base price $49,350
Price as tested $59,600
Lexus 350 GS AWD
It’s quiet inside this hermetically sealed pill. When a power-start button launches a bum-wobbling growl, it’s cleverly attenuated but not fully tamed. The result is a 303hp@6200 rpm ride that’s addictive. Despite the big engine, with only some small attention to your accelerating and braking, it drinks like a cautious monk. The double-wishbone suspension is sport-tuned to cheat gravity and inertia in turns, the rubber practically sucking the asphalt.
Starting at $54,450.00
Mini Cooper S – Mayfair 50
Like many of us turning 50, Mini celebrated by making some cosmetic changes while keeping the good stuff beneath. The 50 Mayfair Special Edition costs $5,000 more than the Mini Cooper S ($10 more per year celebrated) but enthusiasts won’t mind a bit. Collectors will eat it up.
Price As Tested: $34,900
Buick: 2010 LaCrosse CXS
With its chiseled profile and substantial, aristocratic nose, the LaCrosse displays as much outward flair as a Mercedes C-class. Inside it’s a bit like a cruise ship: hot huge and slow, just elegant and designed to put passengers at ease. It’s a smooth and quiet drive – deceptively quiet given the virility of the engine. A 3.6 litre V6 engine with direct injection releases 290hp@6,300 rpm. An easy-to-use sport transmission lets you paddle every spare ounce of sweat from each precision gear.
Image courtesy of Matt Desmond.