Family Wheels’ favourite cars of the year

2016 has been a great year for us at Family Wheels. We’ve surpassed a million views on the YouTube channel, over 5,000 people are now subscribing and we’ve had a chance to drive a lot of fun cars to boot! So here’s our annual awards list for your New Year’s perusal. Thanks for all the support and here’s to a great 2017!

Best surprise of the year: 2016 Mazda CX-9

The CX-9 has been redesigned for 2016 with these amazing, roadster inspired exterior lines but once you step inside, it’s also way more roomy than you might expect. Seven passenger seating comes standard and even that third row is much more spacious than many of its competitors despite its compact, sporty look.

It has a new 2.5 Litre turbo charged engine which I expected to be a bit underpowered for a car of this size but it wasn’t at all. The CX-9 is zippy and fun yet incredibly fuel efficient with an average of 9.2 L/100 km over our week of driving. Then there was the interior… and this is why the CX-9 is also winning our best interior of the year award…

Best interior: 2016 Mazda CX-9

While standard equipment is very competitive in the CX-9, the attention to detail that we saw in our top of the line Signature trim was second to none: super comfortable Nappa leather seats (the highest quality leather ever used in a Mazda vehicle), real brushed aluminium accents and open pore rosewood that Mazda says was sourced from a Japanese guitar maker. And at just of $50,000 for the Signature trim, the CX-9 is punching way above its weight. These are the kind of touches we would expect in a luxury SUV that’s $25,000 to $30,000 more than this car. A very pleasant surprise indeed! Click here for our full CX-9 review

Best new car: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

The Pacifica has been rebooted for 2017 and despite sharing its name with the failed Pacifica SUV from the early 2000s, it’s very much a minivan. Now, Devon and I both swore off of buying a minivan when Roger was on the way… a lot of families refuse to go down this road but the supportive seats, classy interior, surprisingly sporty ride, monstrous cargo capacity and clever little touches like a fold away roof rack system, optional built-in vacuum cleaner, enough USB ports to charge a small town’s smart phones, even a spot right by the driver’s door to store your wet umbrella had us second guessing our boycott on the minivan – which is exactly what Chrysler was hoping to do with its Pacifica reboot. Click here for our full Pacifica review

Best value: 2016 Honda Civic and the 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Honda has really upped its game with what you’re getting in its vehicles and so we’re awarding this one to two new redesigns that really floored us in terms of bang for your buck. The tenth generation Civic was released for 2016 and it looks great with a price starting at just under $16,000. But it was the top of the line Touring trim that most impressed us. At $26,900 we had a peppy new 1.5-L turbo engine, leather, soft touches surfaces throughout, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, a camera mounted on the right side mirror that displays what’s in your blind spot whenever you turn the right indicator on. That’s a serious shot over the bows of the Korean brands! The tenth generation Civic has made a big splash so I guess it’s no surprise it won the North American Car of the Year award for 2016. Click here for our full Civic review

Then there’s the Ridgeline, which has been redesigned for 2017. Once you realize that it’s not meant to be a truck driver’s truck – more of an SUV with the back chopped off – it is a smooth, quiet feat that still has some respectable payload and towing capacities. But it’s the Ridgeline’s standard equipment that really impressed me. Starting at $36,590, the Ridgeline includes all wheel drive, a seven inch infotainment system, back-up camera, remote starter, push button start, heated front seats, Apply Carplay and Android Auto, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, forward automatic emergency braking, etc, etc. That’s an impressive list that would have me leaning toward the base trim. Honda has done some great things in terms of value for your dollar over the last couple of years and the Civic and Ridgeline are perhaps the finest examples of that. Click here for our full Ridgeline review

Most fun: 2016 Ford Mustang

This was a review that I went into with my tongue firmly in cheek. The Mustang isn’t much of a family car but holy cow was it a riot. Redesigned for 2015, the sixth generation Mustang looks amazing and it has found a dollar to fun ratio that’s hard to beat. The Mustang starts at under $26,000 but our convertible GT tester was closer to $49,000. The 5-litre V8 was loud with bottomless power and I couldn’t wipe the 8 year old’s grin off my for the whole week. And YES, you can fit a car seat in the second row… but good luck convincing your partner that it’s much of a family hauler. Click here for our full Mustang review

Biggest disappointment: 2017 Toyota Prius V

I was really excited to get into the Prius V – a station wagon with the same trunk space as the Outback with fuel economy that’s hard to beat – but it was a massive disappointment. While the Prius lift back, the traditional Prius we’ve seen pave the way for the hybrid movement, got a total redesign for 2016 which makes it zippier and even more efficient than ever, the Prius V is pretty much the same car that we’ve seen since its launch in 2012. The interior feels cheap, it’s very noisy, the seats are not at all supportive, it is a total snoozer to drive and its fuel efficiency isn’t keeping up with the Prius lift back. 6.3 L/100 km over our week of testing versus 4.5 L/100 km coming out of the lift back – which comes in a few grand cheaper, by the way. In short, if you want a Prius V, seriously consider looking at the lift back as well. It’s the future of Toyota whereas the Prius V is like looking back in time. Click here for our full Prius V review

Didn’t want to give the keys back award: 2017 Audi SQ5

Our award for the best all rounder that really worked for our family goes to the sport tuned version of the Audi Q5 SUV. And this choice might come as a bit of a surprise – given that the Q5 is starting to look pretty dated with no big changes for years now. The interior technology is lagging behind many of its competitors and the exterior needs a refresh, but man, was this a fun car! Put your foot down in the SQ5 and you won’t think you’re driving around in a pretty big five passenger SUV with excellent second row comfort and impressive cargo capacity. The supercharged 3-litre engine delivers gobs of power right off the line, the sport tuned suspension keeps the SQ5 riding flat through windy country roads and the big, chunky brakes bring you to a sudden, satisfying stop. Meanwhile, the SQ5 still has Audi’s amazing all wheel drive system. It still has a top safety pick plus rating from the IIHS. And it can still tow 4,400 lbs.

So you really can have it all in this car. But be prepared for changes in 2018, the Q5 is getting totally redesigned. And while the looks and interior tech should see a big improvement, it’s also going to be made in Mexico rather than Germany. So if you want one of the tried and true Q5s, your time is limited for buying the old version. The good news is an SQ5 version is expected in the new Q5 as well as an even nuttier RQ5 which is even more performance oriented. Click here for our full SQ5 review

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