CNET announces its Tech Car of the Year for 2011, plus the Car Tech 10, 10 additional awards for various achievement in automotive tech.
Wayne CunninghamManaging Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
ExpertiseReviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainmentCredentials
North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
ExpertiseAutomotive technology, smart home, digital health.Credentials
2012 Audi A7
Our choice for CNET Tech Car of the Year goes to the 2012 Audi A7, a car that shows superb technology throughout. The list of nominees this year included many very advanced cars representing an impressive leap over last year, proving that the automotive industry is on a hot streak. Improvements in power-train tech play a big role, which helped the Chevy Volt take a top spot in our reader poll, but the connected car seemed like the most relevant and broad-based trend, which is why our staff leaned toward the A7.
There is so much going on in this car, it is difficult to enumerate all of the techie goodness. But the most astounding feature is Google Earth integration with the navigation system. As you drive, the navigation system shows satellite photographic imagery of your immediate surroundings. And soon to be implemented is Google's Street View function, which pops up a photograph of the destination address as you get close. The Google Earth navigation system relies on the car's own 3G data connection, which also powers a number of other features, including a sort of localized Wikipedia, listing information for nearby places.
The A7 features quite a bit more cabin tech, including an optional Bang & Olufsen audio system and a very unique and useful cabin tech interface controller. But Audi has been attacking all fronts, and the car's engine and transmission have their own share of technical prowess. Direct injection and a supercharger let Audi get away with a relatively small engine, meaning decent fuel economy, while maintaining substantial power. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which has been further refined, is also worthy of mention. It doesn't hurt that the car is one of the best-looking vehicles on the road, and it certainly caught the eyes of our staff.
The Car Tech 10
There was a lot more going on in the past year besides 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.
2011 Chevrolet Volt
It may not have gained as much popularity among the public at large, but for tech-fascinated CNET readers, the Chevy Volt is the one. Any engineering-minded driver will listen closely to the power train, looking for that moment when the battery runs out and the gas engine takes over as a generator. The car encourages obsessive record-keeping to see just how many miles it can go gas-free, and how its electricity use stacks up in cost against gas.
Watch this: 2011 Chevrolet Volt
2011 Kia Optima EX
Kia has done quite well over the last year, releasing multiple model updates all emphasizing very good quality and modern tech, at prices that consistently undercut the competition. Those attributes paid off with the Optima, Kia's offering in the very popular midsize sedan segment. None of the reader reviews gave it anything less than five stars. Runner up in this category is the 2011 Ford Mustang GT, which earned fewer five-star reader reviews.
Watch this: 2011 Kia Optima EX
Car with the most personalities
2011 Mini Cooper Clubman JCW
Some cars might feel sedate on the freeway, then sporty on a mountain road, but the Mini Cooper, with the Mini Connected feature running, actually speaks with the voice of three different personalities. Hearing a British-accented voice commend us for a fast start, or a female voice comment on the weather, was a highly amusing treat. Covering many lonely miles, these voices might offer some comfort, as well. Mini Connected can be had as an option in any new Mini Cooper, but we first tried it in the Clubman with the John Cooper Works performance package.
Watch this: 2011 MINI Clubman John Cooper Works
Something something Italian
2012 Fiat 500C
Fiat chose its 500 model for its return to the U.S. market, and it was a good choice. Bringing something like the Panda over would have made people think that Fiat was just another boring economy car brand, but the 500 shows style and panache. People newly introduced to Fiat will think of the brand as something fun. And the price of this little cup of espresso shows people that inexpensive does not necessarily equate with cheap.
Watch this: 2012 Fiat 500C
2012 Volkswagen Beetle 2.0T Turbo
It was a big surprise to see a Fender-branded stereo system in the Volkswagen Beetle. And it was even more of a surprise how good it sounded. This is the kind of system that competes with home audiophile systems. It brought out the deepest layers of tracks with excellent fidelity, making us do a few more laps around the block until a good song finished. Honorable mention goes to the Bang & Olufsen system in the Audi A6, but we chose the Fender system, because it is a bargain.
Watch this: 2012 VW Beetle Turbo
The Tardis award
2012 Scion iQ
Like the Doctor's Tardis, the Scion iQ transported us through time and space, although to a much more limited degree, but its most relevant feature was seeming much bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside. It was perfect for a densely packed city like San Francisco, as we didn't worry about parking when we took it out. Our entire video crew, four average to tall-size guys, could sit in it at the same time, and our professional trunk getter-inner squeezed himself into the cargo area, sans backseat passengers.
Watch this: 2012 Scion iQ
Best car, according to Wayne
2011 Nissan Juke
Proving that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, where others saw an ugly frog, Car Tech editor Wayne Cunningham beheld a charming prince. The little Juke SUV may be proof that Nissan has outsourced its design to a series of unconnected Indonesian islands, but Cunningham could not stop talking about the car all year, bringing it up in multiple podcasts before being shouted down by Antuan Goodwin and Brian Cooley. Imagine Cunningham's excitement when Nissan announced the Juke-R?
Watch this: 2011 Nissan Juke SV FWD
Car Tech's best production asset
GoPro HD Hero2
Every week, we hit the road to bring you the Car Tech podcast and video reviews. To capture the action, we need a camera system that's small and rugged, that's easy to use, and, of course, that delivers crisp, high-quality HD video. The GoPro HD Hero2 is one of the newest models in the sports camera market, but it quickly superseded the Contour GPS and Contour+ as our go-to-camera for our in-car video needs thanks to its dramatically improved graphic interface that, while more complex than Contour's slide-and-go system, gives us total control of the camera's various recording modes. Toss in the GoPro system's nigh-indestructible polycarbonate shell and you have a camera that can also be attached as confidently to a bumper as it can to a windshield.
Watch this: GoPro HD Hero2 sports camera
Love for low-tech award
2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
We're all about car technology here at CNET Car Tech, but once in a while a brilliant low-tech car comes along, shakes things up, and gets our adrenaline flowing. Judged by our regular standards, the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 does everything wrong: it's got no cabin tech, poor fuel economy, and an old-fashioned power-train. But twist its key and give the throttle a squirt and none of that matters. The Boss 302 is a car with singular purpose: driving. It offers no distractions from that purpose, but it also places very few electronic nannies between you and the 444 ponies under your right foot. The Boss demands your attention (and the attention of everyone within the audible range of its V-8 bark) and if you give it that undivided, this modern muscle car will reward you with one of the great rides of your life.
Watch this: 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302
Daily driven track car
2012 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec
"Fast, good, or cheap. Pick two." That's the dilemma enthusiasts face when choosing a sports car. The 2012 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec comes along and says, "I'll have all three, thanks." Not only has this hotted-up and stripped-down version of Hyundai's rear-wheel-drive sports car platform been upgraded with enough go-faster goodies to make it track worthy, it's also equipped with more than enough cabin tech to make it a competent daily driver for your average smartphone-toting techie. What's more, it does all of this for almost $8,000 less than its closest competition, the Nissan 370Z Track!