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The good, bad, and ugly of 2010

Calendar year 2010 is just about toast.

Calendar year 2010 is just about toast.

Time to smear something on it — marmalade, peanut butter, liverwurst, joy, resentment, indifference, whatever you like. Also time to take stock of some of the year’s vehicular highlights and low-lights. First the good, then the bad, then the ugly.

For my money, the Mazda2 was the life of the small-car party this year. It’s the purest expression of what a small car should be — actually small, actually light, and therefore great fun to flick around.

Moving up the food chain to the midsize and near-luxury segments we find interesting debutants, such as Buick Regal, Suzuki Kizashi, and Volvo S60, but Hyundai Sonata is the family-car shot that will reverberate for years to come.

Lots of wild performance cars this year: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Shelby GT500, Tesla Roadster, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Ferrari California, etc. But Cadillac CTS-V Coupe is my pick for 2010’s go-fast machine. What we have here is a failure to compromise — brute American V8 force, refined comfort and style, and sophisticated handling.

Lots of great new and/or revised SUV nameplates surfaced in 2010, but to my mind, the reborn versions of Kia Sportage, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and VW Touareg rocked the hardest in their respective price segments.

Try as they might, it is extremely hard these days for automakers to make a “bad” vehicle. So we’re defining “bad” as either ill conceived, over-billed, or irrelevant. Case in point — the gigantic and unnecessary Infiniti QX56. It makes you question your priorities every time you get near it. You feel guilty just looking at it.

The Scion xD is new to Canada after several years of totally nondescript service in other markets. Some cranky border guard could have refused it entry in Canada by simply asking, “What is the purpose of your visit?” There isn’t an acceptable answer to that question.

Lincoln wants to be a premium brand, like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, etc., but its entry-level model, the revised MKX, is way too entry-level. Like its Ford twin, the Edge, it is built from a platform originally developed by Volvo. Common yet confusing genealogy is not what you want from a premium make.

Like beauty, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder thinks the Nissan Juke is ugly. I know Nissan decided that bold is better than bland, but weird bold is a strategy that never seems to work out in the end.

The Honda Accord’s Crosstour’s rear half just doesn’t make sense. It is supposed to make it look better than a full-on crossover (which it doesn’t), but its sloping design makes it hold less than a full-on crossover. It’s a lose-lose proposition.

But those few discretions aside, it’s been a great year for automotive design and technology. So let’s count our blessings and raise a glass of premium unleaded to the coming New Year.

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