If you’re dreaming of a shiny new car in the driveway this holiday season, dream big. To inspire, we've assembled a collection of mechanical sugar plums worthy of an informed auto-enthusiasts' wish list.
Consumer Reports' engineers and editors drive well over 100 new cars every year, and we’ve found many exotics don’t live up to the image. Here are seven dream machines that do, listed in in ascending order of price.
Updated icon: Ford Mustang
Base MSRP range: $23,600-$41,600
You don’t have to be made of money to dream of owning a Mustang. And after sampling several updated 2015 models, so far they live up to the legend. Spirited handling, an accommodating interior, and power galore are Mustang hallmarks. And they’re all here, no matter which engine you choose. Purists will pine for the Mustang GT with its walloping 435-hp V8. But the humbler engine choices are hardly a compromise, whether you pick the punchy 300-hp V6 or the new 310-hp turbocharged four-cylinder. The interior is more spacious and decidedly less low-rent than the outgoing car, with a well-balanced mix of high-quality materials, modern amenities, and old-school charm. As always, sun lovers can also choose a convertible. The Mustang is the car you lusted for as a kid, and it is has grown into the stallion that can live up to your fantasies.
Everyday sports car: BMW M235i
Base MSRP range: $32,100-$44,900
Razor-sharp handling, a mighty hammer of slick six-cylinder turbo power, and right-now brakes all helped this littlest BMW shine against every other sports car in our testing—especially at its price. That includes the poster-boy Porsche 911 and the muscle-bound Chevrolet Corvette. A little jittery but never harsh, the ride is extremely civilized for a sports car. Inside, the seats and controls fit most enthusiasts like a custom tailored suit. It even has a modest back seat that’s useable in a pinch. Look for a convertible to land at dealerships this spring.
Uber sedan: Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec
Base MSRP range: $51,800-$103,200
Ranking second among luxury sedans in our tests only to the Tesla Model S, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class succeeds for many of the same reasons: It coddles occupants in quiet tranquility, slices corners with confident precision, and with its diesel engine, it sips less fuel than some basic four-cylinder sedans, at 30 mpg. You can also choose a gas-powered V6 or V8 that is even quieter and smoother, with thoroughbred acceleration. And E-Class now caters to dreamers in the North Country, with all-wheel drive optional even with the diesel engine. A staff favorite, the E-Class puts comfort, function, and good reflexes over glitzy flash. It isn’t overtly sporty, yet it proves at least as capable on the track as many competitors that claim to be sports sedans.
Luxe family hauler: BMW X5
Base MSRP range: $53,200-$69,100
The X5 is the ultimate road machine that can do everything you need and never break a sweat. Its quick, linear steering and responsive handling never leaves you feeling like you’re piloting a bus. The turbocharged six-cylinder engine gives you turbine-like thrust in any gear. If you want more power or better fuel economy, you can opt for a throaty V8 or a torquey diesel. Even the gas-powered six-cylinder gets a 21 mpg overall – the best of any luxury SUV we’ve tested that isn’t a hybrid or a diesel. The X5 treads gracefully over broken pavement. And it has two miniscule third-row seats for emergency carpool duty. No matter how many kids you have yelling in the back, the X5’s available forward-collision warning and surround-view camera help make calm out of chaos – and you might just avoid an accident. Just be careful with the options list; things add up so quickly that you can think of the base price as practically just a teaser.
American powerhouse: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Base MSRP range: $54,000-$64,000
The seventh generation of this American performance icon holds its own against European machinery that costs half again as much. Even in “base” Stingray trim, the Corvette blasts from 0-60 mph in a beat over four seconds, hits a blistering 116 mph in a quarter-mile, and corners like a banshee with motorsports pedigree. The 460-hp V8 bellows a throaty exhaust bark that’s entertaining enough that we kept slowing down just so we could blast forward again and listen to it over and over. Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system delivers an essential collection of the latest Internet apps for the road. In its latest iteration, the Stingray’s interior, trimmed in leather and racy carbon-fiber, is finally sumptuous enough to warrant the car’s $70,000 price tag.
Green game changer: Tesla Model S
Base MSRP range: $69,900-$104,500
More than the coolest green car on the block, the Model S has the goods to back it up: Beyond having about three times the energy efficiency of the average new car, the Tesla has the power and reflexes of a sports car; the silent interior, cushy ride and creature comforts of a true luxury car; and more space than a lot of SUVs. A 200-mile range, fast charge times, and available roadside Superchargers with free electricity mean range anxiety is largely limited to lower-budget electric cars. With sleek looks and all the latest electronics that Silicon Valley has to offer, the Tesla checks all the right boxes in our testing, proving you don't have to be geeky to be green—as long has you have the greenbacks.
Grown-Up Dream Car: Porsche 911S
Base MSRP range: $84,300-$194,600
Among the most dreamed-about cars in history, the Porsche 911 hasn’t lost any of its mojo in its most recent redesign. It’s still the fastest, best handling, and quickest-stopping car we have tested, with instantaneous responses. More than ever, its reputation as a livable, every-day sports car is well deserved. Modern electronics let you plug in your music or destination with equal ease. For such an exotic sports car it’s pretty easy to get in and out of and has great visibility. The suspension doesn’t beat you up. And it’s pretty quiet, at least until you crack open the throttle, when the classic Porsche flat-six engine bellows its own unique brand of R&B through the back firewall. 911s have always been fast; this one now sounds the part, as if Porsche had been afraid no one could tell. For sports-car buffs, it’s still the ultimate dream machine.
Visit our Holiday Gift Ideas page throughout the season to find the best deals, time-saving advice, and much more.
Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.