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Happy Holidays for the Most Celebrated Cars of 2010

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author photo by Autotrader December 2010

As the calendar clicks over to the holiday season, there are parties going on in the offices of many carmakers. Not least because 2010 was a much better year than the one before in terms of sales, but also because some really interesting models have come out, grabbing the attention of consumers and critics alike. Here are some of the most celebrated vehicles to hit America’s dealerships in 2010.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

It’s been an auspicious introduction for the Volt: Green Car of the Year; Motor Trend’s Car of the Year; finalist for North American Car of the Year. That’s with only 300 cars built and pre-sold. Oh, and a price of $41,000. But this plug-in hybrid represents the next phase in personal transportation and it’s all-American. Not only that, the Volt’s gasoline engine/electric motor hybrid drivetrain is among Ward’s 10 best engines for 2011. Someone at Chevrolet had better go down to Ikea and buy a bigger trophy cabinet.

2011 Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf is not like the Volt. It is an all-electric vehicle. And it’s the first of its kind to be available commercially. Nevertheless, there seems to have been a kind of rivalry springing up between the two. The Leaf is cheaper – $37,780 before federal and state tax credits – but those in the Chevy camp will always respond with two words: range anxiety. It’s not quite as simple as that. For someone with a relatively short commute, the Leaf should be fine 99 percent of the time. Nissan has received more than 20,000 orders and will be ramping up production. The Leaf is also in the frame for 2011 North American Car of the Year.

2011 Honda Odyssey

The Odyssey received a major revision for the 2011 model year, picking up more space and features along the way, and by doing so securing its grip on the best-in-class crown. Believe it or not, it’s also quite nice to drive – way more of a joy than a chore. The main negative is that you must buy the topmost (and therefore most expensive, at $40,755 and $43,250 respectively) Touring or Touring Elite versions to get a six-speed automatic gearbox. But the latter trim level really does come with a lot of great stuff. The Odyssey in general has also won the title of best Redesigned Vehicle of the Year from Kelley Blue Book.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

If there’s one particular model that has sent Hyundai’s sales graph higher than the star on the White House Christmas Tree, it’s the 2011 Sonata. It shares a platform with the Kia Optima and both cars have been challenging the Japanese-dominated mid-size status quo with decent design, good levels of equipment, and keen prices. So far, more than 200,000 new Sonatas have found buyers and the car is on the short list for 2011 North American Car of the Year. What’s more, the Sonata was one of the first cars to earn the full five stars in a new and tougher National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test regime.

2011 Kia Optima

While most people were looking in other directions, fretting about things like government bail-outs and recall fiascos, Kia went and upped its game. Perhaps making a cool little car like the Soul wasn’t so much of a surprise. But the 2011 Optima, that’s another matter. In a class replete with cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, Kia’s new mid-size sedan is shaking things up. One of the smartest moves Kia made was to hire a new designer: Peter Schreyer. He worked on the original Audi TT, so he knows what he’s doing; Kelley Blue Book made this car a finalist in its year’s best redesigned vehicles. Whoever Kia employed to tune the suspension also did a great job. Ditto for the interior design. Then the Optima was loaded up with a lot of standard equipment, yet even the most expensive version starts at only $22,495. The latest Optima news is that it has just received an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rating of Top Safety Pick.

2011 Ford Mustang GT

Automobile magazine has just given the Mustang one of its annual All-Star awards. It was the return of the 5.0 badge that swung it. This V8 packs 412 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque to post a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds. With a starting price of $29,645, a chassis setup that masks old-school hardware and a much-improved interior, the 2011 Mustang GT hasn’t finished collecting plaudits just yet, as a Kelley Blue Book Best Resale Value award proves.

2010 Porsche Panamera

Upscale magazine Robb Report made the 2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo one of its “Best of the Best.” In its first year of production, the Panamera sedan is the second best-selling Porsche in the United States, behind the Cayenne SUV. The Turbo model has a 4.8-liter V8 making 500 hp. It zips to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, then refuses to lose grip – thanks to an all-wheel drive system. The $132,600 MSRP is admittedly not for everyone, but the interior has a high aesthetic appeal.

2011 BMW X3

Now in its second generation, 2010 saw this compact crossover SUV (based on the BMW 3 Series) bloom into a more appealing choice. It is larger than its predecessor, has a smoother ride, offers more standard equipment, yet sells for a little less – starting at $37,625 for the 240-hp xDrive28i. In Kelley Blue Book’s deliberations over its best redesigned vehicle of the year, the new X3 figured in the top 10. KBB also named BMW as the luxury brand with the best resale values.

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

This two-seater supercar has a sensual array of curves from nose to tail. And look at the car head-on, with those distinctive gull-wing doors raised... don’t they look like a pair of bunny’s ears? No wonder Playboy magazine has made the SLS AMG 2011 its Car of the Year. Packing a potent 563-hp 6.3-liter V8, the sprint from standstill to 60 mph is all over in just 3.7 seconds. The magazine also waxed lyrical over the seven-speed manumatic transmission, calling it “hyper-quick.” The cockpit comes in for similar high praise: “royal, yet business-like.” The price of $183,000 is hardly something found in the pocket of Hef’s smoking jacket, but if someone drove up to the Playboy mansion in one of these, they probably wouldn’t need an invite to get in.

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Happy Holidays for the Most Celebrated Cars of 2010 - Autotrader