RawAutos 2011 Test Drives In Review

 

For the end of our year, we’d like to show you the finalists for our 2011 Test Drives In Review. All of the writers and contributors at RawAutos are picking the best of each segment for you to see.

What a hell of a year it’s been, right? Protests on Wall Street, riots and middle east uprisings, tsunamis, earthquakes, crazy tornado season, Osama bin Laden was killed, Steve Jobs died, and a U.S. Senator tweeted his wiener (no pun intended). There was so much more news, but not much of it would pertain to cars.

However, 2011 was the year of car reviews for RawAutos. We had 18 total car reviews, 17 of them being brand new cars (the other was my personal 2009 BMW M3 in the comparison test with the 2011 Ford Mustang GT). Think of this as a sort of RawAutos Cars of the Year Awards, the ones we’ve personally reviewed.

2012 can only prove to be better, but until then, we need your help picking the very best cars in each segment for our 2011 year in reviews. Below you’ll find the full list of categories for which the cars can win. Feel free to click on the name of each car to check out the review, or just scroll through the browser images for each one.

Premium Luxury Car

2011 Porsche Panamera V6

What we said:

The Good: Charming dynamics; you’d never know it wasn’t a V8 from inside or out; performance is better than a V6 should be.

The Bad: Navigation can be a little awkward to figure out and work; not so hot soundtrack from out back; pricey options list; rear visibility not so great; don’t buy the V6 if you really want a four door 911.

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2011 Audi A4 2.0T

What we said:

The Good: Safer feeling than any other car in its class; top notch knee bolsters; 8-speed automatic allows for good fuel economy; perfectly sized trunk; Styling is killer

The Bad: 8-speed automatic not as well suited for sportier driving; seats have very limited side bolsters; non-attractive colors used for infotainment screen; steering wheel is BIG

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2012 Audi A7

What we said:

The Good: Sexy styling coupled with a fun character; Similarly optioned cars from Porsche and Mercedes-Benz can be a teacher’s salary more; iPhone levels of technology and ability.

The Bad: Somewhat stiff ride with the bigger wheels and tires; A decent amount of road noise; Google Earth nav showed fewer points of interest than Google Maps on my iPhone; The 3.0 T badge is annoying when there’s a supercharged badge on the sides.

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Mid-Size/Econo-Luxury Car

2011 Kia Optima EX

What we said:

At the end of the day, is the new for 2011 Kia Optima going to steal buyers away from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz? No, not quite. Not yet, at least. But it will make the people going to buy an Acura at $30,000+, or the Hyundai Sonata within the $20-35,000 price areas think twice. But the most likely hurt is the pile-driver it may put on the Honda Accord. The Honda Accord is, and should be, the direct competition to this car. I have no doubts that the Kia Optima will only move up the ladder from there to become the best that Asia has to offer for less than $30,000 worth of elegant sportiness.

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Sports Car

2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0

What we said:

And there you have it, the car that easily takes the cake, at this price range. Let’s be honest, had the Mustang GT been closer to 50 grand, it would have been a bigger dog fight between it and the M3. But let’s get one thing straight, Ford made one hell of a sports coupe. The Sync and Mach 1 sound system are fantastic, as is the ability to stream music from my iPhone via Bluetooth for way less than $40,000, a feature no 2008-2010 M3 has. The seats are terrible, though. As comfy as they are, they’re nowhere near as hold-you-in-place bolstered as my 2008 Bullitt Mustang’s were. I will say, too, get some xenons if you’re ordering the Mustang GT, because the stock halogens aren’t too great on back roads at night.

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2011 Chevrolet Corvette

What we said:

While some may sit there and think, “Why is the only sports car coming in last?” Well, in short, because it’s not versatile enough. There’s no breakup between the hatch and the cab, and I know first hand of what it’s like to have something come flying forward at you when you make a panic stop in a Corvette. That’s not to say it isn’t a good every day car, because it certainly is. With great gas mileage, comfortable seating, and easy to use everything, the Chevrolet Corvette is no pile o’ junk. However, give me a 2012 with the new interior updates (better seats and steering wheel) and we’ll see how this test plays out then…

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2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

What we said:

Yes, the SLS AMG coupe was and still is a thrilling space ship landed on Earth. But it’s clear that the real SLS AMG to lust after and loathe is this remarkably sexy roadster.

But it’s not only a Côte d’Azur fun show here; the SLS Roadster gets around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in just 7:43 according to director of engine development at AMG Friedrich Eichler. The coupe can do it in 7:36 officially, so the roadster doesn’t just fall apart into a wet noodle for want of a solid roof and adding 88 pounds of curb weight. Even though the actual structural weight added to the space frame aluminum chassis is only 4.5 lbs, the stiffness suffers only minimally when I start hammering it through the many famous curves of these coastal roads. I was definitely prepared for the infuriating waggle of the frame I always hated on the SLR McLaren Roadster. But it honestly doesn’t happen here. There is just a bit of give in the structure here and there, but nowhere near what happens on an SLR or Aston DBS Volante.

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2011 Mazda Miata SE

What we said:

All-in-all, I had a blast with the Mazda Miata Special Edition for a whole week. I had no issues with the people looking at me a little awkwardly as I had a creepy grin on my face, having just come from either a tight cornering exit-ramp, or a long b-road. My money’s on you having a great time, too, my friends. If you’re a man and are skeptical, just go drive one and see how much you love it. Ladies, uh, well we all know what you think already. So for $31,720, the Special Edition is worth the added 225 bucks for the shiny colors and beautiful interior color. I’m not sure if any are still available, so I’ll say that you should go out and buy A Mazda Miata. Thanks to Mazda for “Staying With the Stick” and continuing to give us these great sports cars the way we want them.

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2012 MINI Cooper S Coupe

What we said:

The Good: The Mini Coupe is just plain fun; 29.3 mpg average is quite good after a couple hours on the track, hard mountain, and speedy highway driving; Rear hatch has more room than you’d think.

The Bad: At $32,400 the Mini Coupe is a bit steep for just two seats with a harsher suspension and the same amount of power; Some really don’t like the styling; Could be a little more track focused.

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Utility Vehicle/Truck

2011 Ford F-150 King Ranch

What we said:

The Good: Big, manly and sturdy; Brakes that could stop the Earth’s rotation; Power that could get it spinning again; Comfortable cabin with limo rear seating; Optional 6.5-ft bed and side bed steps make this truck more usable every day.

The Bad: 16 mpg average; Isn’t what you’re always looking for these days, in terms of size; Is a truck that can drive over slower cars a bad thing?

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2011 Kia Sorento EX AWD

What we said:

So there you have it. The 2011 Kia Sorento is actually better than its competition from Honda. Sure the interior could be a little nicer without so many plastics, but for a price of $34,925, it’s very comfortable and well suited for almost any job. But while the Sorento beats out the Honda, it’s still second to the Mazda CX-9 who is the king of this market.

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2011 Kia Sportage EX AWD

What we said:

So while certain things of the car aren’t perfect, for the as-tested price of $29,990, it’s a pretty good deal for what you do get in terms of style, options and interesting features. Something that really is great at this price point is hill assist/descent, as well as a center-locking differential.

While the 2011 Kia Sportage may not be the best value for your dollar now compared to its competitors, keep in mind that ALG, a company specializing in analyzing automotive data and determining residual values has placed the new Sportage at 61% for a three year lease. That’s up where Hondas usually are…

So how good is the new Sportage? I’ll have to give it a 3 out of 5. It’s good enough to work for most people, but not quite enough to be the right tool for each job.

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Gas Saver/Economy Car

2012 Chevrolet Volt

What we said:

In the end, I came away very impressed with how the Chevy Volt drives, acts, and the innovation of having gas, mixed with lithium ion batteries, and plug-in capabilities. GM seems to have it all covered, except for the fact that I think this is just slightly better than a good enough product. It’s good, but it’s not great, nor is it the answer, I don’t think. The answer, for me, lay in the future GM vehicles that will take advantage of the current car’s concept of the future. Is it a bad car? By no means. Yet if the Volt, or any other PHEV is to succeed, we need more battery power. I’ve been told that the Chevy Volt uses roughly 60% of its full battery power to increase the overall battery life of the car due to charging. See, each time you charge a battery, you’re actually depleting its abilities over time. This is why I believe Chevrolet need to get government assistance to replenish or replace each Volt’s battery after about 3-5 years under a factory warranty to each owner. This way, it’ll always benefit from proper technology.

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SONY DSC

2011 Toyota Prius

What we said:

Conclusion: The Prius is a mass-produced masterpiece, and in the world of hybrids, it is king. However, if I was in the market for a mid-$20k 5-door, I would never buy a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight… I would buy the Audi A3 because I (and likely you, a car blog reader) am not the Prius’ target buyer. The Prius and Insight are devoid of performance, solely existing to be ecologically and economically responsible and, as a result, take the fun out of driving. In fact, while I was taking pictures of the Toyota Prius, I was quite distracted by a beautiful Porsche 911 Targa that drove by. When a car company produces a reasonably priced, quick, fun-to-drive, practical hybrid with Prius-like mpg stats, only then I’ll be interested. And a 20 mpg Escalade Hybrid doesn’t count. But for non-car enthusiasts, the Prius (and for those on a tighter budget, the Insight) is the perfect choice – fuel economy, an eco-friendly image, cargo space, and all the standard creature comforts.

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Toyota Prius 2010

2011 Mazda2

What we said:

With the 5-speed manual transmission, this car is a blast to drive, though. Say what you want about its gas mileage and looks, but for what it lacks, it makes up for with sheer driving pleasure. It’s amazing, because I found myself driving the Mazda2 to the end of the earth just for the hell of it, for no better reason than to just row the gears of this baby BMW. And when I say baby BMW, I don’t mean it’s a competitor to the German car maker. No, I mean it’s the car every automaker can take a page from. The Mazda2 is a front-wheel drive master. It doesn’t act like your typical front-driver. And while it may not be as wallet loving as the Toyota Yaris, it at least makes sense to your heart. It’s not as roomy and class leading as the Honda Fit, but it does sport, luxury and spaciousness fantastically well. If BMW or any other car company wants to make FWD mpg cars, they might as well just buy a Mazda2 and slap their badge on it. If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. This car is so solid, it’s easier to drive at highway speeds than my ’05 MINI Cooper S. At 80 or so mph, the Mazda2 feels as if it’s right at home. Sure, you know you’re going faster, but the car never really feels overloaded at speed.

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2011 Kia Forte SX 5-Door

What we said:

The Good: The style of an Audi from Kia, again; Features and amenities will never have you second guess why you spent $23,640 on this car; This is a new Kia for a new customer; Tons of fun to drive around country roads.

The Bad: Kia is still questioned by some; I was asked many times, “This is really a Kia?”; Spirited driving has you falling out of your seat; Spirited driving hijacks your wallet at the pump; Awkward seating positions; Gas mileage isn’t the best and could use some work.

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2012 Ford Focus SE Sport

What we said:

The Good: Bold, sexy styling worthy of awards; Drives like a sports car with a good trunk and an extra set of doors; Dude, it’s 20-grand and gets 32 mpg!

The Bad: With tech savvy Sync, computer geeks will enjoy the ease of use; But non-tech savvy will need to fiddle a bit; Needs more rear legroom and nicer interior materials; Needs a bit more power and torque to feel less sluggish.

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I'm a car, music, and Howard Stern aficionado. I also love planes, trains, anything to do with science and engineering, as well as politics. I'm working on my screenplays, TV shows, and a book or two. Stay tuned to when I'm really famous and even more awesome.

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