In December we invited you to vote for the 2008 Tech Car of the Year from our five nominees. Well, no upset this year, as our staff judges agreed with the voting public: the 2009 Nissan GT-R is our Tech Car of the Year. Nissan has been putting top-notch cabin tech into its Infiniti models, and applied the same gear to the GT-R. But that's only the beginning, as you can almost feel the circuitry running through the GT-R's advanced suspensions and road-holding systems. Likewise, the engine is a pretty impressive piece of engineering, bringing in supercar acceleration from a V-6, not to mention the new double-clutch gearbox.
The GT-R has some faults, such as the overly stiff ride, which isn't really mitigated by the Comfort setting for the suspension. And we had some staff disagreement about that double-clutch gearbox: Brian Cooley found problems with using it in traffic, while Wayne Cunningham felt it worked very smoothly. But we couldn't deny the tech tour de force that the Nissan GT-R represents.
Among the other nominees, we all liked the creature comforts found in the Lincoln MKS, such as THX audio and gas prices fed right into the navigation system, but it lacked the under-the-hood tech of the GT-R. Ford may redeem itself with an upcoming twin turbo V-6 for the MKS. The BMW M3, especially with its double-clutch gearbox, is very, very good, but it needed the cabin tech update it's getting in 2009. The Infiniti EX35 has some impressive new tech, and the Dodge Ram is surprisingly gadget-filled for a pick-up, but none of these cars quite came up to the level of the Nissan GT-R.
The Car Tech 10
There was a lot more going on in the past year beside five really, really good tech cars. So that's why we have The Car Tech 10, a set of inconsistent awards for various achievements in automotive technology.
Vintage (but not really) V-8
Any car that can get Brian Cooley to dig out his 1970s togs deserves some kind of mention. The Dodge Challenger made us want to roll a pack of cigarettes into our T-shirt sleeves and jump in the car through the window. We found ourselves saying things like "groovy" and "boss." But retro-styling aside, the Challenger gets a tech-car treatment with all of Dodge's latest cabin gadgets.
Runner up: 2008 BMW M3 Coupe
We spent a lot of time agonizing over these two cars, even pitting them against each other in a prizefight. The M3 has long dominated its self-created category, but Mercedes-Benz's AMG division did a fantastic job on the new C-class. That 6.2-liter V-8 and easily controlled driving gear gave it a little edge over the M3. Late in the year we tested an M3 with BMW's new dual-clutch transmission, but that wasn't enough to regain the title. We also considered the Lexus IS-F, but it just doesn't compare with these two titans.
Car we didn't expect to love
At CNET Car Tech, we just don't do trucks, and are even skeptical about SUVs. But we couldn't ignore the Ram's new tech package. After getting the truck in, we kept finding more things to like about it. There were little things, like a powered rear window and built-in toolboxes. There was impressive tech, such as the satellite TV and traffic reporting navigation system. But maybe we just liked exercising our inner cowboys, sitting 10 feet higher than all the other cars on the road.
Runner up: 2008 BMW X6 xDrive35i
Most cars fit into easy categories, making the jobs of we lazy journalists easier. Sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, and even the new crossover category are easy to deal with, but some cars just don't fit in. The Mazda5 is the premier troublemaker this year, being kind of like a compact minivan, or a tall hatchback, or a pretend SUV, or a, uh, a...well, that's just the problem. Besides it being difficult to pigeonhole, it seemed like a practical car. The BMW X6 really wanted to win this category, with BMW referring to it as a Sports Activity Coupe (WTF?), but we felt it was just trying too hard.
The GranTurismo is by far the prettiest car we've ever had in the garage, and that fact was borne out by all the comments we got while driving it around. A toll taker on the Golden Gate Bridge expressed appreciation for the GranTurismo, and she must see hundreds of cars a day. While it costs more than $100,000, it is one of the cheaper Pininfarina-designed cars you can buy.
Runner up: 2008 Audi A8 L W12
As nice as your car may look from the outside, you'll spend most of your time looking at the inside. Most car interiors are hideous amalgamations of plastic and faux metal, but the Jaguar XF impressed us by doing away with plastic almost entirely. The cabin is covered in wood, leather, and metal, with solid-feeling switchgear. We also appreciated its trick automatic vent openings and rising transmission dial, not to mention the fine audio system. The Audi A8 made a good showing, especially regarding its audio system, but too many plastic control surfaces brought it down.
Worth losing your license
Runner up: 2008 Audi R8
With some cars, speed limits will make you cry. With its advanced driving gear, the Nissan GT-R is perfectly safe at 100 mph, but the authorities think in terms of the lowest common denominator, so winding country highways get plastered with 55 mph speed-limit signs. You will be more than tempted by the Nissan GT-R, its spectacular acceleration alone inviting a firm foot on the gas. But better check how many points you have on the license before crossing that line. The Audi R8, with its hard-core sports-car looks, will likewise have you edging ever faster, until flashing red lights in the rearview mirror demand a sheepish pull over to the side of the road.
Fly under the radar
Some cars try to look fast with big wings or ostentatious wheels, but others keep their cards closer to the vest. The Chevrolet Cobalt SS is our favorite sleeper of the year. It may look like a typical cheap American compact when it pulls up to the light, but a 2-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine and launch control sends it fast off the line. It's no slouch in the turns, either, showing up cars like the Honda Civic Si. In this same vein, we were also impressed by the Lexus GS 460 and the Volkswagen Tiguan S. The Lexus may look like an old man's car, but it handled the turns on the track expertly. The Tiguan belies its small SUV style by handling like a Jetta.
We had been anticipating this latest generation of the Evo for a long time, looking at the auto show concepts and poring over spec sheets, which boasted a rally-tested all-wheel-drive, dual-clutch transmission, turbo-charged four-cylinder banging out close to 300 foot-pounds of torque, and a pretty good cabin tech package to boot. When the car showed up in our garage, it met all of our expectations. We took it over a vicious, winding, single-lane road with ascending hairpins, and the car handled it all with aplomb. On the track, the Evo took the corners easily, only bogging down a little on the long straightaways, where you have to be quick to upshift.
Car for a green planet
This year's fuel-saver champ wasn't a hybrid or a diesel--we were most impressed with the restyled Honda Fit. With well-placed instant and average fuel-economy gauges, we honed our hypermiling skills to get the little car more than 40 mpg while maintaining freeway speeds. Being a tech-focused site, we were also impressed that Honda now makes the Fit available with navigation, showing that a low-end car can have the same electronic conveniences as high-end cars. The Fit looks good, too, and offers practical space inside for cargo and passengers.