SEDANS & COUPES
Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG 4Matic Coupe, $160,900
Normally two separate categories, this division is dominated this year by a single champion—no easy task. The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class touring coupe achieves this with a 577 hp bi-turbo V8 that dashes and eludes like Manny Pacquiao and protects with a stiff defense. But the S63 isn’t about muscle and handling alone; it pampers up to four adults with luxury-level accommodations. After experiencing firsthand the “hot-stone massage” seats and cabin atomizer aromatherapy, we’ve learned to appreciate the S63’s softer side. Alas, we know M-B’s full stable of electronic coaches—more like nannies—are the precursor to autonomous travel. But for now the driving game doesn’t get much better than this.
SPORTS CARS & CONVERTIBLES
Alfa Romeo 4C, $55,195
The gorgeous Italian exchange student you loved in high school isn’t coming back, but Alfa Romeo finally is after years away. The stunning 4C, the brand’s first U.S. import in two decades, arrives stacked in the back courtesy of a mid-engine-mounted 237 hp turbo four capable of zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds. This lightweight carbon-fiber-framed pistol uses flowing body curves, highly stylized alloy wheels and a monstrous engine roar to announce Alfa’s grand return. Behind the wheel it’s obvious the 4C is a machine built for high-speed cornering, not casual trips to the corner store, which is more than enough to earn our esteem.
CUVs & SUVs
Cadillac Escalade, $72,970
While other automakers focused on crossover improvements, Cadillac moved a more refined big man back into its rotation. The totally redesigned Escalade embraces Caddy’s hard-angled design language and recalls the boxed-out silhouette that first made this seven-seater an all-star. Assembled in Texas, the unapologetic Escalade now boasts a belt-buckle-size crest and giant tail lamps. The real jewelry includes reliable 4G LTE wi-fi, a luxury cabin deserving of the car’s price point and a powerful 6.2-liter V8. It’s a rebound that’s more than worthy of the highlight reel.
BMW i8, $135,700
Thank you, BMW, for recognizing that respect for mother nature doesn’t have to come wrapped in a burlap sack. In delivering its dual-powered (a 1.5-liter three-cylinder and an electric motor) plug-in hybrid, the brand historically known for its M-powerment shows that green may indeed be the new black. With vertical-lift doors, clever LED illumination and an overall aesthetic that mimics Venus emerging from the clamshell, the i8 grabs as much attention as any sports car or exotic auto on the road. Pulling a zero-to-60 time of just 4.2 seconds, the eco-conscious and sustainable four-seater will make a visceral run at many of them too. The i8 proves that green doesn’t have to be as dull as a kale salad.
SPLURGE: T-SHIRT VS. TUX
Lamborghini Huracán, $237,250
So your annual bonus has left some extra cheddar in your pocket. Perhaps it’s time for that Aventador you’ve been eyeing. Call us crazy, but after prodding both of Sant’Agata Bolognese’s latest builds, we’d be apt to splurge on the less pricey Huracán. Enter the eye of this man-made tempest and experience perfectly controlled chaos. Toggling through the car’s ANIMA driving-mode selector changes its 602 hp V10’s demeanor from Strada (rough translation: sweatpants and espresso) to Sport and finally to Corsa, a race mode that sprints you straight to the gym.
Rolls-Royce Ghost II, $291,350
Take your shoes off. No, seriously. Although it’s the dressier, more buttoned-up winner of the category, everything from floor to ceiling in this refreshed Ghost from RR’s Goodwood plant will make you want to loosen up. The plush high-pile carpeting is toe-tickling, and the leather is as soft as warm butter. Running late for your ferry to the Vineyard? Not even a mash of the throttle will kill your vibe, as the Ghost’s behemoth twin-turbo V12 doesn’t lunge or surge; it just disappears. And yes, in contrast to the Phantom, it is socially acceptable to pilot this one yourself.
CAR OF THE YEAR
Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, $115,195
Most honeymoons last all of a week. Our passionate fling with the Porsche 911 Carrera has run strong for seven years and counting. Tricks such as a turbo here and a crazy robo-roof there have kept the fire alive, but it’s the latest incarnation, the GTS, that has inflamed our ardor. Marketed as a bridge between the Carrera S and the track-tricked GT3, the flat-six GTS is noticeably faster, wider and better tuned than most of its variants. But what gives the Carrera GTS unique appeal over the queen bee GT3? The option of a stick shift. Yes, we know, as lowly humans we can’t outperform Porsche’s intuitive, lightning-quick PDK gearbox (we’ve tried), but cars were invented to outmode the horse, and plenty of cowboys still enjoy saddling up, no? Reined in, the 430 hp GTS gurgles with an almost nostalgic note at idle, but it screams for more with every curve and straightaway you throw at it. We’re drunk in love all over again.