Forward Progress: 14 Most Improved Cars of 2014

Forward Progress: 14 Most Improved Cars of 2014

To us, “Most Improved” brings to mind the awards given out to mediocre students, the ones who managed to claw their way from near-failure to, well, just slightly above near-failure. Sure, the kid with straight A’s was given an Outstanding Achievement award, but everyone has to win something these days, right? In the car world, though, “most improved” means something a little different. Most of the 14 cars on our list were good in their previous iterations, but have nevertheless made massive advances in their newest forms. Perhaps most significantly, these cars show that automakers really do listen to criticism from the media and customers alike. (You’ll see some 2015 models on our list, but they’re on sale now or will be imminently.) Without further ado, the 14 most improved cars of 2014:

2014 Cadillac CTS 3.6

Cadillac CTS – The sweet-driving, 2014 10Best Cars–winning 2014 CTS is less of a shot across the bow of the Germans than a fusillade, not just because it now outdrives stuff like the Audi A6 and the BMW 5-series, but also because Cadillac can credibly charge Audi and BMW money for one. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the CTS’s improvement is that the outgoing sedan was itself a 10Best winner. CTS PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – Floppy seats, a less-than-ideal driving position, and a cheap-feeling interior? These once Corvette signatures have all been eliminated in the C7 Corvette Stingray. Previous high points like the sonorous small-block V-8, exotic-baiting handling, and sexy styling have all been cranked to 11. The latest Vette breezed onto our 10Best cars list with nary a whisper of objection. STINGRAY PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Chevrolet Impala LT

Chevrolet Impala – Want an idea of just how much better the all-new 2014 Impala is than the last one? Hit up your nearest rental-car counter, request a “mid-size,” then acclimate yourself with that sedan’s crushing mediocrity. (Chevrolet will continue to build the old one for fleets, so no rush.) Then head to a Chevrolet dealer to sample the 2014 model, which narrowly missed a first-place finish in a recent large-car comparison test. The big Chevy looks great inside and out, and its driving manners are proof that GM’s chassis engineers are perhaps the best in the world. IMPALA PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Ford Fiesta ST

Ford Fiesta ST / 1.0L EcoBoost – While the regular Fiesta was updated for 2014, the real step forward—or rather, steps forward—came with the addition of the wonderful new Fiesta ST and the fuel-sipping and quirky Fiesta 1.0L EcoBoost models. The former gets a 197-hp turbo four, a six-speed manual, and a lowered and stiffened suspension; the latter boasts an innovative and tech-packed 1.0-liter turbo three-cylinder engine that promises hybrid-shaming fuel economy. FIESTA ST PHOTOS, INFO ››

2015 Hyundai Genesis 5.0

2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan – Although Hyundai’s first-generation Genesis was a competent first crack at the luxury-sedan segment, the new version is a good luxury car, period—no disclaimers needed. Hyundai left the Genesis’s already excellent engines alone and instead focused on refining the interior and the driving experience, even turning to Lotus for suspension-tuning help, while maintaining the car’s solid value. GENESIS PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Jeep Cherokee – Jeep’s Liberty SUV was crude and largely unloved, so it makes sense that the brand would reach into its history for a name to apply to the Liberty replacement. Yet the Cherokee could only deviate further from the original Cherokee if it were a three-wheeled convertible semi truck. But different is good in this case—the Jeep is capable of proper off-roading, looks appropriately tough, and drives like a mini Grand Cherokee. CHEROKEE PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged

Land Rover Range Rover Sport – Certainly not lacking in style or panache, the original Range Rover Sport didn’t quite live up to the “Sport” portion of its name—mostly because it was weighed down by, well, a bunch of weight. The new, aluminum-intensive Sport—which now shares its bones with the full-on Range Rover, instead of the Land Rover LR4—is lithe, quick, and truly sporty. RANGE ROVER SPORT PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Lexus IS350 F Sport – Similar to the Fiestas also on this list, we’re singling out a specific member of Lexus’s new IS sports-sedan family. That would be the top-dog IS350 F Sport, which defeated the BMW 3-series and Cadillac ATS in a fiercely fought comparison test. Its athletic reflexes and powerful engine deliver real excitement, and combined with a refined ride to win the day. It’s a huge improvement over the humdrum previous-gen IS. IS350 F SPORT PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring hatchback

Mazda 3 – Since the nameplate’s arrival in 2004, the Mazda 3 has been among the very best compacts due to its fun-loving chassis and zesty styling. The third-generation model builds on the former while also delivering tons of refinement and features for the same money charged for most of the (largely inferior) competition. The 3 appears on our 2014 10Best cars list. MAZDA 3 PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring

Mazda 6 – Everything we said about the Mazda 3? We’d use the term “ditto” here, but then that wouldn’t be very informative. The 6 combines a heavenly front-drive chassis and a classy interior to deliver a class-leading experience similar to that of the good-at-everything Honda Accord—except the Mazda actually stands out in a crowd. The 6’s predecessor was sportier than most mid-size cars, but always felt slightly undercooked; today’s 10Best-winning 6 was baked to delicious perfection. MAZDA 6 PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Mazda CX-5 – If you think we’re going a bit Mazda-crazy here, we understand your concern. But given that the CX-5 shares componentry with the excellent 3 and 6 and is similarly excellent, we couldn’t exclude this replacement for the thirsty CX-7 and Ford-based Tribute. This year, the CX-5 made another huge leap forward by way of its newly optional 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which delivers the power lacking from the standard 2.0-liter unit. CX-5 PHOTOS, INFO ››

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – How do you improve the Ram 1500? Add a diesel engine to its option sheet. The resultant 1500 EcoDiesel boasts awesome towing figures, a subdued soundtrack, and up to 28 mpg on the highway, a 3-mpg improvement over the next-most-efficient Ram, the base V-6 model. That may not sound like a lot, but 12 percent is a bunch in the truck arena, and that doesn’t even take into account the added torque. 1500 ECODIESEL PHOTOS, INFO ››

2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited

2015 Subaru Legacy – It’s difficult to not consider the sleek new Legacy a cut above its chunkily styled predecessor. The old Legacy traded on its standard all-wheel drive and Portlandia-style quirkiness, but the new one stands proud on its own merits. Sure, it moves closer to the mainstream space occupied by Honda’s Accord and the Toyota Camry, but it keeps just enough Subaru-ness to remain unique, all while performing non-granola-related tasks better. LEGACY PHOTOS, INFO ››

Tested: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE with new 1.8-liter Turbo Four
2014 Chevrolet Impala 2.5L LT Tested: Skip the Rental Counter
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk V-6 Tested: One Tough Dart

2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen Jetta – When Volkswagen’s current-generation Jetta debuted, we decried it as a step back from the Euro-tastic model it succeeded. Well, VW has finally added back most of the good stuff it stripped from the entry-level 2011 Jetta, including a more sophisticated multilink rear suspension, higher-quality interior materials, and rear disc brakes. The Jetta also dropped the thirsty and somewhat unrefined inline five-cylinder volume engine in favor of a smooth and torquey new 1.8-liter turbo four. JETTA PHOTOS, INFO ››

2015 Ford F-150 Platinum

BONUS: 2015 Ford F-150 – We admit that adding Ford’s new F-150 pickup to this list is a bit of a stretch—we haven’t even driven the truck yet—but its technical awesometude can’t be denied. Today’s F-150 among the oldest full-size pickups on the market, and it followed a formula much the same as most F-150s that came before it. The new one, however, promises a massive reduction in mass from an industry-first all-aluminum cab and bed. It remains to be seen how the F-150 changes the pickup market, but for now, it’s hard to ignore a promised 700-pound weight loss. F-150 PHOTOS, INFO ››

Forward Progress: 14 Most Improved Cars of 2014

About Alexander Stoklosa