It’s a heavy burden to bear when your job is to drive brand new cars supplied by manufacturers for a week – fully detailed and with a full tank of gas. No, really, it is. (Why does no one ever believe that?) Well, it can be when the vehicle delivered to you all shiny and new turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. It’s rare to road test a horrible new car, as most new models have plenty of things to recommend them even if they aren’t to your particular taste, and as an impartial journalist you should approach each vehicle in the mindset of a person who would be interested in such a car. It's not all doom and gloom. Often times you find yourself really enjoying driving a car you were sure you weren’t going to like. This was very much the case with a mint green 2015 Fiat 500 1957 Edition: thanks to an enjoyable 5-speed manual and handsome brown leather interior (only Italians could make that work), it was the car’s quirky demeanor which made it lovable, despite having only about 100 horsepower. This list of our favorite new cars (and most disappointing new cars) have all been road tested this last year by the author. Automakers do listen to complaints from journalists and consumers so don’t think your voice won’t be heard if you don’t like something about your new car. There are message boards for all new cars that manufacturers read, and you can also contact their customer satisfaction centers. Because if you don’t tell them what disappointed you, who will?
Our Favorite Cars for 2015
2015 Mazda 3: This car is the perfect, quintessential daily commuter that will turn your drive to work into a joyful experience instead of a dreaded one. For 2015 the larger 2.5 liter 185 horsepower 4-cylinder is now available with a six-speed manual but we found the base 2.0 liter 155 horsepower engine more than adequate all while averaging 40 miles per gallon during a week of driving. The interior is gorgeously built and appointed and considering the features on iGrandTouring models the 3 is affordably priced.
Image: James Hamel
2015 Kia Optima SXL Turbo: Admittedly there are better all-around family sedans out there on the market that do better in terms of ride, handling, efficiency and value. At nearly $37,000 fully loaded this Optima Turbo is shocking for more than just its sticker price. It’s the fact that we would happily pay this much for such a highly stylized, gorgeously appointed grin making machine when it doesn’t have a premium badge on its nose. From the quilted Bentley-esque interior to the addictively powerful 2.0 liter turbocharged motor, you can’t find a cooler looking family sedan with this many gadgets anywhere at this price.
Image: James Hamel
2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI: If fuel economy is what you are after check out the all-new 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI which is not only less expensive than the outgoing model but also quieter, more efficient and faster. The car handles very well thanks to a suspension donated from the GTI and in gear acceleration is quite impressive. 50 miles per gallon on the highway without the need to hypermile is easy to achieve.
Image: James Hamel
2015 Acura TLX (4-cylinder): When equipped with the standard 2.4 liter 201 horsepower 4-cylinder engine and Acura’s all-new 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission this luxury sedan drives like nothing else on the road. Whereas other luxury models copy BMW and Audi attempting to feel heavy and only managing to do so in the most artificial way, the TLX is like a boxer all light on its feet. The steering, handling and the way the car glides over the road is effortless yet utterly involving as is the excellent gearbox which is a hoot to manipulate via the paddle shifters. What’s better is that a nicely loaded Acura TLX with the essential Tech Package (navigation, premium ELS audio) is yours for just about $35,000. A similarly equipped BMW 328i costs over $50,000.
Image: James Hamel
2015 Honda Civic Si: Simply put, the Honda Civic Si has the best manual transmission available on any realistically affordable road car on sale today. Mated to a 2.4 liter 201 horsepower 4-cylinder that thrives on revs, rowing the gearbox is nothing short of a true pleasure. If you want fun in your next commuter try the Si Coupe, if you need more of a family car do keep in mind it also comes in four door form. All for about $23,000.
And the Car that Was Most Improved: (2015 Chrysler 200C AWD): After spending a week in a lavishly equipped 6-cylinder version of the 200 all memories of its rental car nightmare precursor the Sebring was banished from our minds. The interior is simply gob-smackingly gorgeous with a Jaguar-like center knob for a gear selector, sumptuous leather upholstery and every single safety feature available today on hand and then some. Not only did our tester have a system to automatically parallel-park but it could also do “regular” parking duties as well. We might find that extremely lazy and disturbing if the car wasn’t otherwise so fun to drive and sexy to boot.
Most Disappointing Cars for 2015
2015 Nissan Versa Sedan: This may be one of the lowest priced new cars in America but it feels, drives, looks and is equipped just as you imagine a cheap car from 15 years ago would be just to encourage you to buy something more expensive. If you can’t afford more than the Versa sedan, buy used. If you can swing it go for the Versa Note hatchback which has a nicer interior, drives better and is much better looking. 2015 Subaru Impreza: Sure, the Impreza is perfect for those who live in the snow states thank to its full time all-wheel drive but there is another compact car that also offers that feature (the 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer SE) and despite the fact that the Mitsu hasn’t had any significant redesign since the Clinton administration we found it much more fun to drive. The Impreza’s manual gearbox felt like it had been lifted straight out of a tractor and engine and road noise swarm the cabin at freeway speeds. And it also isn’t exactly good looking. Subaru can and has done better. 2015 Toyota Corolla: When Toyota launched the Corolla they stated that they asked current owners of the car what they wanted to change and they said they wanted more exciting styling and a better back seat. So Toyota gave the exterior a more contemporary look and made the back seat roomier and reshaped the seatback to add comfort. And that’s about it. Engines carried over pretty much, the base model still only offers a four speed automatic and even the upper level trims with the CVT are about as exciting to drive as a tub of tapioca pudding. But they are cheap. 2015 Cadillac ELR: In a rare market misfire from a resurgent Cadillac, the Chevy Volt based ELR coupe may have the sexy exterior lines to make people want to own it but at $75,000 to start it priced itself well out of the market. Granted, the interior of the ELR is truly gorgeous but few could figure out who the market was for this model and it seems that would be wealthy couples who want to appear eco-conscious. Apparently there aren’t many of those who don’t already own Teslas. James Hamel is a freelance road tester, auto journalist, and Motor Press Guild full member. Find past work at Autobytel.com and current work at iSeeCars.com. Contact James at [email protected].