Hot Hatches
  • Hot Hatches
  • As much as I love the Audi R8, the hard truth is that I'll probably never be able to afford one. The same goes for other drool-inducers like the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, Porsche 911 or Aston Martin... anything. And I don't care.

    Frankly, no segment of vehicles pulls off the fun-per-dollar equation better than hot hatchbacks.

    Their no-frills, no-nonsense interiors are perfect for me – someone who actually uses a car's full functionality. I haul drums, take friends on road trips and don't want to spend my weekends painstakingly detailing a full-leather interior. I buy cars to drive them, and I don’t worry about them getting dirty every now and then.

    Hot hatches have taught us to seriously appreciate the beauty of a low-displacement, turbocharged engine mated to a proper manual transmission. Think about it – with all this talk about manual gearboxes going the way of the Dodo, there’s only one hot hatch that isn't available with a row-it-yourself gearbox (I'm looking at you, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback). Furthermore, hot hatches have the power of nimbleness behind them, which makes for serious fun when you are pointing headlights-first down a canyon road. Besides, when you’re facing long stretches of tight turns, you want a short-wheelbase, zippy car — not some lummox like a Gallardo.

    I'll never turn down the opportunity to drive a stupid-fast supercar or outrageously priced luxury sedan, but in my life, they're just a waste of money. Hot hatches are just more fun, and I'm thankful that we still have a plentiful batch of these pocket rockets to go around. Take a bow, Mazdaspeed3, Mini Cooper S, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen GTI and the like – this Thanksgiving, my heart goes out to you.

    – Steven Ewing
Gran Turismo 5
  • Gran Turismo 5
  • This year I'm thankful for things that took forever to get here that finally got here. The Chevy Volt. The Ford Fiesta. Heck, as sad as it sounds I'm probably most thankful that Gran Turismo 5 is finally spinning within my PlayStation 3. Before hell froze over. And while the game has been in my possession for fewer than 24 hours, the early returns show that the driving simulator may have the goods to live up to its considerable hype. And while GT5 took over five years to get here, its timing couldn't have been better. It is, after all, the holiday season, and I can't think of a better way to withdraw from family functions (with my nephews)  than with a brand new racing game.

    – Chris Shunk
Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
  • Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
  • I am thankful that an automaker has some faith in the wagon buying American public. Our offerings are slim, and getting reduced every year thanks to the demand for crossovers but Cadillac stepped to the plate and served up a heaping dish of V8 awesome. Let me rephrase that – it didn't simply step to the plate, General Motors grabbed the pitch one-handed out of mid-air, tilted its head back and belched forth a fiery, 556 horsepower roar, then swatted a shot out of the ball park. The Cadillac CTS-V Sport wagon fits friends, dogs, groceries, golf clubs, luggage... and runs from 0-60 miles per hour in four seconds. If that wasn't enough, Cadillac is kind enough to offer it with a real-deal six-speed manual gearbox.
    Thank you General Motors, and thank you Cadillac. The CTS-V wagon is turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and a deep puddle of good ol' American gravy.

    – Jeff Glucker
That the wait is over
  • That the wait is over
  • I'm thankful that the wait is over. After years – has it only been years? – of hearing about the new plug-in vehicle era, both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf are finally here. The EPA has certified the efficiency ratings, the vehicles are being built and customers have placed their orders. It won't be long before these two cars, the first in a long line of mass-produced plug-in vehicles, are let loose into the wild. Now, we get to see what it's like to actually live with them. Are they are great as people say? Does "range anxiety" wear off once you understand just what it means to drive with a battery instead of a gas tank in your car? Or, in the case of the Volt, does the complicated hybrid technology really reassure you day in and day out? I'm thankful that we have these questions to answer – and that we're going to get answers real soon.

    – Sebastian Blanco
Backup Cameras
  • Backup Cameras
  • When automakers loan us a vehicle to review, they usually load it up with all the options. Stuff like sunroofs, navigation systems and the most expensive wheels are usually included. Likewise, we've gotten used to backup cameras in most cars. These systems use a camera embedded somewhere around the license plate that shows you a view of behind the car that you'd never see with your own two eyes while sitting in the driver's seat. They're incredibly useful and have no doubt saved a few kids' bikes (and kids) from being run over by parents. The other week, I drove a base model Hyundai Sonata GLS. With no backup camera in a relatively large sedan that isn't known for its great sight lines, I spent the entire week paranoid while backing out of my driveway and parking spots. The backup camera is one piece of technology I'm thankful and I hope it continues to keep trickling down into less expensive autos.

    – John Neff
Motorcycle Safety Foundation
  • Motorcycle Safety Foundation
  • There's plenty to be thankful for this year, but personally, my grateful notions tend to flow toward the fine people that make up my local Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Some quick wheeling and dealing landed a cherry red 1982 Kawasaki GPZ750 in my garage in the place of two worn and battered Triumph Spitfires, and without a lick of motorcycle experience I would have been up the crick without an M on my license without the patient instructors at the MSF. After securing some spouse-mandated life and health insurance, I now count myself among the crazies that enjoy a quick afternoon ride. While my confidence builds with every stint in the saddle, the basic skills I learned in one weekend have paid dividends time after time.

    --Zach Bowman
Against all odds, Saab lives
  • Against all odds, Saab lives
  • I’m not generally one to subscribe to the concept of brand loyalty. When it comes time to purchasing anything from toothpaste to television sets to automobiles, I simply buy the product that best meets my needs and desires within the scope of my budget – labels be damned.  So you can imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself unexpectedly caught up in Saab’s “will they”/”won’t they” drama earlier this year.

    You see, despite not offering any vehicles of particular merit for many years now, Saab’s serial life or death soap opera meant that I had to confront the fact that I have a long-held latent affinity for the brand. I blame my father, who introduced me to the joy of these esoteric imports growing up (a couple of 1970’s 99s including an EMS three-door).

    So this year, I’m particularly thankful that Victor Muller, Jan-Åke Jonsson and countless devoted souls pulled together to achieve a minor miracle – extracting Saab from General Motors during a time that saw a number of higher profile brands head for the Great Crusher In the Sky. It also says something to me that while there was little palpable public outcry calling for GM to save Saturn, Hummer or Pontiac, the comparatively flea-sized and well out-of-the-mainstream Swedish brand remained enough of a passion point to trigger countless ‘Save Saab’ demonstrations around the globe.

    Saab is far from out of the woods, of course, with lower-than-expected sales early in the turnaround effort, limited brand awareness and a sluggish global economy still causes for ongoing concern. But the company has a full breadth of promising offerings in its near-term product pipeline and no shortage of ideas and gumption from its leadership and design team. Better still, those with their hands now on the wheel appear to truly understand what Saab is, what it could be – and perhaps just as importantly, what it shouldn’t be.

    The globe’s automotive tapestry is a far richer place with Saab in it, and I couldn’t be more thankful that the company has a new lease on life.

    – Chris Paukert
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