These cars shocked us by performing better than we expected.
Before we get behind the wheel to test a car, we typically have some idea of what to expect based on the specifications and impressions we've gathered while driving other vehicles from the same manufacturer. But these initial predictions do not always pan out in reality and some cars often shatter our expectations.
The 2019 CarBuzz Surprise of the Year award is for the vehicle that surpassed our expectations more than any other. Runner ups in this category include the Kia K900, Genesis G70, and the Nissan Versa. We also wanted to mention the FCA-PSA merger, which was perhaps the biggest surprise piece of industry news in 2019.
There were three vehicles that seriously impressed us this year and one that left us gobsmacked by its overall performance.
The 2020 BMW Alpina B7 is a very special version of the 7 Series that has been fettled by the manufacturing company Alpina. This was the first Alpina model we ever had the chance to drive and based on first impressions, we think it's better than an M car. The B7 is powered by a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, which is tuned to deliver 600 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It is incredibly punchy with a 0-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 205 mph but the car is also among the most comfortable we've ever driven. M cars have a bad habit of feeling too stiff on the road but the B7 rides like a marshmallow floating on a cloud.
We had a feeling we'd enjoy the Alpina B7 but we didn't expect it to become our favorite BMW model on sale. BMW prices the 2020 B7 at $142,695, so this is a very serious investment only a handful of people will be willing to make. While some of those might consider the V12-powered M760i, the B7 is a far rarer beast and one that will give them the most pleasure.
It is easy to explain why the 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid is a Surprise of the Year finalist - it offers similar fuel economy as a Prius but it drives like a Corolla. We have no issues with eco-conscious cars but the Prius always went about it in a rather annoying fashion. Its styling isn't what we'd call attractive, it isn't quick, and it flops around corners. Enter the Corolla Hybrid. It shares a drivetrain with the Prius, so it isn't especially quick, but it does achieve 52 combined mpg and it's relatively fun to drive.
The Prius will still average 56 mpg but we'd happily trade that four mpg for more attractive styling and improved driving dynamics. Plus, during our first drive of the Corolla Hybrid, we managed to see an average of 58-mpg, beating the EPA estimates. After driving the Corolla Hybrid, we can't imagine ever buying a Prius again. It's that good. The 2020 Corolla Hybrid is also cheaper than the Prius with a starting MSRP of $22,950.
Even before the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer was released, many people bemoaned the fact that it wasn't going to be a body-on-frame truck like the original K5 model or the upcoming Ford Bronco. With all of the option boxes ticked, the Blazer can reach around $50,000, so it can be pretty expensive too. So why is it our winner?
Many automakers claim their design is visually striking and will cause people to turn their heads to look at it. During our week of testing the Blazer, we can confirm this did actually happen. Not only did people in traffic take note of our Red Hot RS trim tester, but we were also complimented and asked about it in numerous parking lots.
The interior is also the best we've witnessed from any recent General Motors product in both design and quality feel. It even offers 39.6 inches of legroom in the back - that's an inch more than a Lexus LS 500. There's also some great technology like a high-resolution bird's-eye camera system, digital rearview mirror, and self-parking. The price is a bit high compared to competitors but Chevy likes to offer huge incentives, making the Blazer a good value in our eyes. It may not be the Wrangler-rival some wanted it to be but we think the Blazer is exactly what Chevy needed to build right now.