REV YOUR ENGINE
HOTTEST CARS OF 2017
By Clifton Mark & Photos by Shawn Lachappelle
From luxury cars to family SUVs and full-size trucks for work and play, here are more than a dozen of the hottest cars of 2017, with their new-and-improved features and styling. A gift that might not fit under your tree, but would add color and light to your driveway all year. The cars were photographed at the William H. Buckley Farm on Route 50 in Ballston Lake.
The Porsche 911 is the direct descendant of the iconic and highly collectible “bath-tub” Porsche 356 convertible of the late 1950s. The 356 was a light and extremely agile sports car, but it was relatively underpowered by modern standards. In 1963, Porsche introduced the 911, the first of the high-powered Porsches. Every era’s version of the Porsche 911 became the standard by which high-performance sports cars were measured. The 2017 911S again sets the standard. New for 2017 is the twin-turbocharged three-liter six-cylinder engine that provides 370 horsepower and 331 lbs.-ft. Of torque. The 911S manages straight-line speeds (0-60 mph in the four-second range and a top speed of 190 mph) that match or exceed many of the “exotics.”
Unmatched is the car’s handling. Porsche magically tunes the handling to the point where both experienced and novice sports car enthusiasts can appreciate and enjoy it. With the six-figure list price, the 911S Cabriolet is expected to include most of the typical luxury features. The 911S does not disappoint. The appointments include a touchscreen infotainment center, zoned climate control, an ergonomically designed steering wheel and your choice of leather, wood or carbon interior accents and modern safety features. However, those features are somewhat irrelevant. Buying a Porsche is about buying world-class performance. A unique feature of all Porsches is the New Vehicle Delivery program. Customers can choose to pick up their new vehicle at the Porsche Driving Experience Center in Atlanta or Los Angeles. New Vehicle Delivery customers receive a total VIP experience, which includes a 90-minute experience in a Porsche on the driver development track. You can read a detailed first-hand account of the experience in the Oct. 21, 2016 edition of the New York Times.
Maserati achieved renown because of their 20th-century racecars, especially those driven by the legendary Juan Manual Fangio. But it is their grand touring cars—sporty road cars—that provided their reputation for automotive accomplishment. The Quattroporte SQ4, an all-wheel-drive four-door sedan, is Maserati’s latest version. BMW has been making a decades-long creep—and more recently, Audi—toward making cars emphasizing comfort over sportiness, like Mercedes. Maserati is the remaining European luxury carmaker that still builds cars that are entertaining on sharp hilly curves as well as relaxed on six-lane highways. Although the Quattroporte is large, longer than a BMW 7-series and weighing well over 4,000 lbs., car enthusiasts’ publications raved about the tight, sporty handling. A 410 hp, twin-turbo V-6 provides plenty of oomph for the highways. A very Italian touch is the exhaust note, which car enthusiasts would describe as melodic. The exterior design is the rare combination of aggressive performance and Italian elegance. The Quattroporte has all of the usual comfort, safety and entertainment accoutrements, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The interior is what one would expect from an Italian luxury car. You have a choice of a variety of soft hand-stitched leather seats, real carbon fiber or a variety of wood trims, even designer Italian silk inserts. Maserati’s strongest asset is that it is decidedly unique and definitely Italian, not German nor Japanese.
Sexy is not a term usually associated with a Mercedes since they stopped producing the190 SL Roadster. With the C300 Cabriolet, the current perception that a Mercedes is only a boxy symbol of comfort, opulence and technology no longer applies. The car is so seductively elegant that one could imagine a customer buying one without test-driving it. The C300 Cabriolet is not just a summer car. The standard heated seats and the AIRSCARF neck-heating system enable top-down driving during the shoulder seasons. For even more open-air comfort, there is an optional AIRCAP draft stop system. When the weather demands that the multi-layer, insulated top be down, one should expect the usual quiet, refined Mercedes ride. With a 241 hp, twin-turbo engine, the C300 Cabriolet provides spirited driving. The 4MATIC, Mercedes’ version of all-wheel-drive, enhances drivability under all conditions. The interior boasts the latest in information and entertainment technology. The seats are marvels of engineering comfort and superior materials. Of course, Mercedes’ arsenal of safety/driving aids is standard Mercedes cars are known for engineering, comfort and quality. Now, with the C300 Cabriolet, they can be called beautiful. BMW and Audi offer cabriolets in the same price range but the C300’s stylish looks outshine them.
The Infiniti Q60 is Infiniti’s replacement for the G-series cars. Amazingly, the Q60 has a lower base list price, under $40,000. For that price, you get a comfortable, competent handling, rear- wheel-drive, 208 hp luxury sports coupe. For an additional $13,000, you will get the Q60 Red Sport 400 AWD, a 400 hp, all-wheel drive lust-worthy performance car. There are six other versions in between the two extremes. The common feature of all the iterations of the Q60 is the Dynamic Digital Suspension. The suspension has stiffer springs than the other cars in this class. So the car is very well behaved on the tightest turns. The dampers are computer controlled for a comfortable and luxurious ride, even on the roughest roads. The interior is designed and crafted with all of the care that one would expect from a car in this class. The safety features are state-of-the-art and so is the infotainment system. The Q60 has an appealing low, wide aggressive look, which is unusual for cars in this class. In total, the Q60 is quite a value for a luxury sports coupe.
Crossovers and pickup trucks are the hottest-selling vehicles in 2016. And the Lexus RX is by far the top-selling luxury crossover. Consequently, Toyota did not make any major changes for 2017. But there is an important addition. The 2017 RX350 has more standard safety features. These include a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. The Scout GPS Link, an app that integrates a smartphone’s navigation into the RX, is now standard. Also, there is now a front-wheel drive F-sport version. The RX350 is equipped with a 295 hp 3.5-liter engine that provides lively but not hyper performance. It is constructed in the typical Toyota fashion using top-quality materials inside and out. The interior is swathed in soft-touch upholstery, and the seats are especially comfortable and supportive. The suspension provides a surefooted and supple ride. The vehicle has a reliability record typical of all Toyota products. These are probably all of the reasons why the RX350 is number one.
Lithe and light are not terms one typically uses to describe luxury crossovers. Though not actually lithe, the Cadillac XT5 is one of the rare vehicles in this class that weighs less than 4,000 lbs. The XT5 is Cadillac’s replacement for their best-selling SRX. The nearly 300 fewer pounds, and a revised suspension and frame, make the XT5 a much sportier handling car than the SRX. The XT5 is still a Cadillac, so comfort is not neglected. The interior is filled with leather, carbon, aluminum and real wood. The seats are supportive and comfy. The infotainment system comes Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-ready. There is even 4G LTE WiFi. Safety features include lane-keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert, side blind zone alert, pedestrian collision mitigation, and auto front and rear braking. For us Northeast drivers, all-wheel drive is standard with the Platinum trim, the highest-level model. The 310 hp V6 engine provides plenty of pep. On the road, the car is exceptionally quiet. The longer wheelbase provides even more legroom. The XT6 is an improvement on the SRX on all fronts.
The body style of the Honda Civic smacks of raciness and sportiness. That a 174 hp turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, mated with a slick shifting six- speed manual, is available on all 2017 Civic body styles indicates a serious commitment to sportiness. The current trend for all manufacturers is to skew the handling characteristics towards comfort. Honda bucks the trend with the Civic and tunes the Civic towards performance. The tight, precise handling and minimal sway provides the impression that one is in a sports car, not a practical, wallet-friendly vehicle. Of course, the Civic is eminently practical, like all Hondas. With the rear seats down, the Civic can accommodate a couple’s gear and luggage for a weeklong ski vacation, including each person’s quiver of skis, not just a pair of skis. The Civic is a recipient of an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating. For 2017, Honda is bringing back a sport hatchback. Even with four-doors, the hatchback, as with the rest of the Civic line-up, should get an average mpg in the mid-30s. The Sport hatchback’s 1.5-liter turbocharged engine provides 180hp versus 174hp of the non-sport version. Enthusiasts’ publications predict the Sport hatchback’s 0-60 mph in the mid-six second range. That’s spunky, but not “Fast and Furious” quick. For that, the end of 2017 should bring a 200hp Si version of the Civic. The hang-on-to-your-seats Type R may also reach our shores by the end of the year.
For 2016, Honda re-did the Pilot with a sleeker, more crossover-like body style and a slew of mechanical improvements. The 2016 Pilot received rave reviews. So what can Honda do to improve on that for 2017? They added more safety features throughout the Pilot line-up, even though the 2016 Pilot received an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award. The Pilot may look like a crossover: the interior space is cavernous for a mid-size SUV. With third-row bench seats, the Pilot has seating for eight, except for the Elite. The Elite is the Pilot’s highest trim version and replaces the second-row bench seats with two captain’s chairs. Total cargo space is 83.9 cubic feet with the second and third-row seats folded down. Although the Pilot is designed primarily for utility, Honda did offer a modicum of fun for the driver. The 3.5-liter V-6 powers the vehicle with a near six-second 0-60. Enthusiasts’ publications rated the Pilot as the fastest of all the three-row vehicles. Average mileage should be over 20 mpg, which is outstanding for a big, heavy vehicle loaded with luxury features. The only quibble people had with the 2016 Pilot was the lack of a blind spot monitor in all but the highest trim level. For 2017, it is standard on all trim levels except for the basic. For anyone who wants a vehicle based on a car platform, offering maximum cargo and people-carrying capacity, comfort and drivability, the Pilot is hard to beat.
GMC Acadia Courtesy of Mangino Buick GMC of Ballston Spa
The 2017 GMC Acadia is shorter, much lighter—as much as 740 lbs. lighter— and more fuel efficient than its predecessor. Much of this is the result of sharing the 2017 Cadillac XT 5’s hi-tech, performance-oriented chassis. The result is a more comfortable ride and agile handling. The new sleeker look, while not deviating too far from GMC’s conservative roots, can be called handsome. The new Acadia now offers most of the techy safety features. The interior is available in whatever luxury trim a buyer desires. Reviewers called the infotainment system “top-notch.” Although it is no built on a car platform, it retains much of the off-road capabilities of the former version. The 2017 GMC Acadia, though smaller than its predecessor, is still a large vehicle with seating for seven. What buyers gain is an easier and fun-to-drive, good-looking and practical vehicle. What the new Acadia loses in overall cargo space, it gains in more usable space. Underfloor bins, numerous storage cubbies and reclining/sliding second row captain’s chairs increase overall versatility. As with most GM vehicles, 4G LTE WiFi, Apple Carplay and Android Auto are available. The base price is lower than most of the competition, but the customization and model options can bring the price to equal all of the competition. Unlike the previous edition, the 2017 Acadia is equal and in most cases superior to the competition.
Are you looking for a mid-size SUV that uses a traditional body-on-frame pickup truck construction and is capable of true off-road action? In this world of crossovers and SUVs based on car platforms and construction, the Toyota 4Runner is just one of a couple of serious off-road options. Like other vehicles in the truck universe, changes come infrequently and are usually incremental. New for 2017 are the TRD Off Road and the TRD Off Road Premium. These are 4Runners with upgrades for improved off-road capabilities and additional luxury appointments. For an authentic die-hard off-road vehicle, the TRD Pro is still available. They all have the Crawl Control, which controls the engine speed and braking force to help maintain speed under difficult off-road conditions. The solid rear axle, increased clearance and limited differential indicate the seriousness of the 4Runner. If driving on the rutted, unpaved road to your winter house is all the off-road capability you need, there are non-TRD 4Runners with various trim options. All 4Runners come equipped with comfort and convenience features that belie their ruggedness. One should never forget that a 4Runner is a Toyota and can provide years of reliability regardless of how it gets used.
Full-size pickups are currently fashionable and are hot sellers. However, their true roots are as a hard-working vehicle. The Ram 3500 is the favorite of buyers who will actually use their pickup for work. In fact, it was picked as one of Contractor’s’ Top Fifty new products in 2015. The Ram 3500 is the humongous offense tackle of pickup trucks. The towing and payload capacities exceed any non-commercial demands. The Laramie’s standard 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi engine provides plenty of power. An optional 6.7-liter Cummings turbo diesel guarantees huge, not big, job capability. Amenities like heated seats, leather wrapped heated steering wheel, dual zone temperature controls, halogen projector headlamps, and nine-speaker with-subwoofer sound system belies the workhorse lineage. Handling and fuel efficiency is typical of trucks in this class. If you need a big boy truck, the Ram 3500 Laramie is hard to beat.
The Silverado 1500 LTZ is a workhorse pickup that comes with near hedonistic amenities. If you need a pickup for hauling lumber, firewood, tools, etc., a regular cab WT is a great choice. But if towing your boat or RV south for a vacation is your primary use, the LTZ is your vehicle for doing it in comfort and style. With standard heated, 10-way adjustable power leather trimmed seats, remote starter, HD and Sirius radio, 4G LTE WiFi, and a plush, quiet ride, it is easy to forget that the LTZ is a capable work vehicle. With the standard 5.3-liter V8 engine and towing package, the LTZ will effortlessly haul a load up and down any hilly interstate. And because the LTZ comes with bright, machined aluminum wheels, chrome trimmed molding, grill and surrounding mesh, and sculpted hood, you would be doing so in style. Although the LTZ comes very well equipped, Chevy offers numerous options for a buyer to further personalize the truck. Full-size pickups are America’s number-one-selling vehicles. You can bet that very few of them are being used as just work vehicles. Most are bought as luxury vehicles with utility capability. The choice for many buyers is the LTZ, a near-perfect combination of brawn and comfort.
Nissan introduced the Titan over a decade ago as an alternative to the Detroit full-size pickups. However, Nissan treated it like a stepchild and it never caught on. Finally, with the new 2017 Titan, Nissan is serious about competing in the full-size pickup business. To demonstrate their commitment, the Titan comes with a five-year, 100,000 mile, bumper-to-bumper warranty. That implies that the parts are stronger. In fact, the overall impression of the Titan is that it is a bigger and stronger truck. The new body style has the currently popular “larger is better” look. Larger is the standard 390 hp V-8 engine. It provides straight-line performance on-par with or better than the competition. Also new is the cargo bed, which received rave reviews for its thoughtful features. They include a kick out bed step, LED lights placed under the bed rails (to eliminates shadow) and Utili-Track rails and cleat tie-downs. Depending on one’s choice of options, the interior ranges from comfortably utilitarian to plush comfort. The new Titan certainly is now competitive with the competition. But why would someone buy a Titan instead of the others? Reviewers have stated that for buyers stepping up to a full-size truck, the Titan is very easy to drive. With so many vehicles to choose from, and so many options, one thing is certain: Americans love their wheels.