The Biggest Automotive Tech News of 2015

Automotive is the next big segment poised for technological revolution. Tomorrow's car might have four wheels and at least two doors, but as autonomous driving systems, next-generation infotainment, and a mixture of ride-sharing and on-demand ownership grow in both complexity and ubiquity, they're going to look as much like the vehicle currently parked in your drive as that does to a Ford Model T.

This isn't meant to be a list of the "best" cars of the year. If there's one thing I've learned as SlashGear has pushed further into automotive, it's that car enthusiasts are about as fanatical about their favorite brands, models, and specific-versions-of-specific-models as smartphone enthusiasts are about their platform or handset of choice.

What's perfect for you, therefore, might not be perfect for me. Instead, I've picked some of the most interesting, potentially game-changing, and technologically intriguing cars we've experienced over the past twelve months.

2017 Audi Q7 e-tron quattro

A big, luxury SUV might not seem like the epitome of sustainable transportation, but Audi's e-tron might well be the exception. The eco-minded Q7 is built around a complex hybrid powertrain that pairs a traditional internal combustion engine – gas or diesel – with electric drive, and while EPA economy figures haven't been calculated yet, Audi coaxed out a US equivalent of over 138 mpg.

Hybrids aren't new, though, but where the e-tron differentiates itself is in how it pulls together driving data, upcoming route, and high-definition maps to make better use of its electrification. Tell the Q7 where you're headed, and it can look at the road ahead, figure out the right speeds for the twists, turns, and changes in elevation you might not be able to see yet, and drop hints as to when you should ease off the accelerator.

Meanwhile, the onboard smarts make more educated decisions about when to use gas and when to hoard battery power, based on when they'll pack the most punch on your route.

It's a potent reminder of the potential for more detailed mapping beyond just teaching autonomous cars where and where not to drive, and is almost certain to spread not only through Audi's future line-up – which the German firm has said will strongly feature EV options – but into other cars in the VW group.

2016 Cadillac CTS-V

After a 138 mpg eco-minded SUV, a 640 horsepower sports sedan might not seem the most obvious segue. All the same, Cadillac's ridiculously potent CTS-V earns its spot on our 2015 geek-out list for its combination of performance, luxury, and – finally – a real sense of distinctive American identity.

Caddy has been playing the "American luxury" angle for a few years now, but it's only with the most recent models that the product feels like it truly lives up to the billing. The CTS-V doesn't ape an M Series BMW or an AMG Mercedes, focusing instead on what you can do when you put a big V8 in an angry body and hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds.

The speed is what hits you first; the cornering is what saves you. Vast sedans really shouldn't handle like the CTS-V does, but I'm certainly glad Cadillac's does.

It's that combination of crazy power, usable performance, and a brand finally stepping out of the shadow of its long-time German rivals that makes the CTS-V so special.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

GM's first Volt felt a little like an experiment. The 2016 Volt, now in its second-generation, is ready for the mass market. Chevrolet's hybrid system always had its strengths, but now it's been tweaked after owner feedback to be more usable every day.

Importantly, that powertrain is now dressed in a suit with far broader appeal. Sleeker and less controversial than the old Volt, the 2016 car has been accused by some fans of diluting what made the EV distinctive, but that greater maturity is unlikely to dampen sales among people who might never have considered hybridization.

In the wings, meanwhile, is the Bolt. Chevrolet's smaller, cheaper EV will make its official debut at CES 2016 next week, and you can bet we're eager to try it out.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Messing with a classic is a recipe for disaster, but Mazda arguably created the perfect dish with its fourth-gen Miata. The 2016 MX-5 is at its core the epitome of lightweight, affordable fun, paring back the inessentials until you get a car not only drivable but in a price bracket well within reach.

Power might be down, slightly, over the outgoing car, but performance is up all the same. Gone are distractions like the folding hard-top; the Miata is all about simple solutions, like a soft-top you can open single handed.

If you're a keen driver, if you harbor any enthusiasm whatsoever about the open road, then you need to try the MX-5. Just be warned, you might end up buying one as a result.

Mercedes Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion

My last pick for the 2015 list is a car you'll never be able to buy. In fact, there's a fair chance you'll never get to even ride in it. Mercedes' F 015 Luxury in Motion isn't the first concept car from the company to bear F badging, but it's possibly the most memorable.

This, Mercedes told us, is the vision of what transportation looks and feels like when cars are driving themselves. Apparently that means a huge, screen-lined lounge on wheels, with the front seats rotating 180-degrees when the steering wheel is dismissed, and the accommodation feeling more akin to a high-end Scandinavian furniture store than your typical luxe sedan.

What's most astonishing is just how quickly you acclimatize to handing over control to the computer. After the first minute or two of marveling at the fact that you're moving but nobody – at least nobody human – is driving, your attention naturally shifts and before you realize it you're chatting, tapping the touchscreens built into the doors, or doing mundane things like checking your phone.

Would I give up the 640 HP of the CTS-V for a permanent robo-chauffeur? No, if my daily commute was on a race track, but faced with the prospect of stop-start traffic congestion the appeal of autonomy starts to climb. The self-driving car of tomorrow might not look exactly like the outlandish F 015, but I think I'm ready for the flexibility and freedom it will promise.

Disagree with my picks for the most intriguing cars of 2015? Got a recommendation of your own? Let me know in the comments.