These Are The Best Cars We Drove In 2019

MotorTrend’s Car, Truck, and SUV of the year testing is all about objectivity. We strive to answer one question: “What’s the best vehicle according to our strict battery of tests and judging criteria?” But, for this exercise, we’re just playing favorites. Of the hundreds of cars, trucks, and SUVs we drive each year, only a few truly capture our hearts—and for a myriad of reasons, too. Keep reading to find out which cars the editors of MotorTrend picked as their favorites from this year.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

In my mind, cars are supposed to make you happy. A lot of cars do, too. I’ve been lucky enough to drive the new Porsche 911, Acura NSX, and even the mid-engine Corvette this year. They all put a smile on my face, but none of them seduced me the way the Jeep Gladiator did. I used to hate trucks. They’re big, inefficient, and way too serious. Then I drove a bright orange Gladiator Rubicon and haven’t smiled that much since. It’s got more charm than it can tow, and I don’t care how fast it isn’t. Every time I drive one I’m just happy it exists and I’m behind the wheel. There isn’t another car I think about as much as that silly Jeep, and I yearn to have one in my garage. With that said, how can it not be the best car I’ve driven all year? —Nick Yekikian

2019 Mazda Miata RF

The Mazda Miata is very small. I am very not. As such, I’d never driven one because I assumed any attempt would irrefutably prove Pauli’s exclusion principle. But when a 2020 Miata RF Club passed through the MotorTrend garage, I had to find out what makes the car so beloved—laws of physics be damned.

Ever wondered what the height limit is for a Miata? Apparently it’s 6’10”. Folding myself in was a challenge, though getting out was far harder. I was having too much fun.

My first Miata was revelatory, recalibrating my sports car preconceptions. The sensations it imparted were like no other I’ve experienced. It spoke to me, letting me know how my limits matched its own and how its abilities contrasted mine. For every input, a direct output. A harmonious delight that cars exponentially more powerful or expensive didn’t deliver.

I need one for myself. Look for my head sticking up above the windshield. —Alex Leanse

2019 Nissan Altima S (rental car)

I’ve never been so happy to drive a rental car as I was during a vacation stop in Portland. Our day trip outside the city began with my delight at an upgrade at the rental-car counter—I had reserved a super-cheap subcompact economy car, but alas, none were available. Instead, I was directed to a new Nissan Altima or outgoing-generation Kia Optima for the same price. I went with my instincts, choosing the car with excellent fuel economy, comfortable seats, Apple CarPlay, and a CVT that made it easy to drive smoothly while my husband slept. We overindulged on cheese at the Tillamook Creamery and returned muddy and exhausted from our misty hike on the Oregon coast, but that Altima was a pleasant rental-car surprise. Although it wouldn’t be my first pick to actually buy, the Altima S did what the best daily drivers do: make life easier and more comfortable as you get from place to place. —Zach Gale

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

In a world so focused on electrification and autonomy, getting in a car so in tune with the driver that it feels like it’s part of your soul feels so refreshing. That’s the reason why the Porsche 718 Spyder is the best vehicle I’ve driven this year. From its high-revving 4.0-liter flat-six and sublime six-speed manual to its telepathic steering and supremely balanced suspension, the 718 Spyder is the definition of a purist sports car. The fact that it rides so well yet has outstanding body control even with the dampers in its sportiest setting shows that sports cars don’t need to beat you up to give you exceptional handling. —Stefan Ogbac

1970 Porsche 917K

I cannot stress this enough: even in my line of work, this never happens. No one tosses you the key to a 50-year-old Le Mans-winning race car fresh out of the museum and turns you loose on a cold, damp, difficult racetrack. But Porsche did. Even if the 917 was awful to drive, it would’ve been my highlight of the year (and possibly my career). That it’s incredibly easy and rewarding to drive just makes those few laps the defining moment of my year. —Scott Evans

1968 Pontiac GTO

Picking my favorite drive of the year hasn’t been easy. I’ve mentally hopped around from the Ford Fusion Hybrid police car that I “raced” to the Grand Canyon, to the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison that crossed the Mojave Road with me, and the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera that I piloted in the latest World’s Greatest Drag Race. But then I remembered I drove a car this year that never in my wildest dreams I’d ever imagined driving—a 1968 Pontiac GTO as part of our Ultimate Car of the Year program. Simply put, the GTO was everything I always imagined. Impossibly cool, loud as hell, and an absolute joy to drive. It’s true what they say—they don’t make them like they used to. —Christian Seabaugh

2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

Undisputed highlight of the year: being in Finland, above the Arctic Circle, in a winter wonderland, on a series of drive courses set up on the ice, with keys to the all-electric 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S. Our instructions: drift. Again and again. When in doubt, give it more “gas.” Keep your eyes off the snowbanks and you won’t end up in them. There were a few more inadvertent donuts than the exercises called for, but no snowbanks were harmed. The car drifts beautifully. —Alisa Priddle

2019 Porsche 911 GT3

Despite all the fuss about the new COTY Corvette, and the Best Driver’s Car 992-generation Porsche 911 (both of which I admire greatly), the finest car I drove this year was the outgoing 991.2-generation Porsche 911 GT3. The engineering team in Weissach had sharpened the knife on the older GT3 until it has approached near-perfection. Firing up the 4.0-liter naturally aspirated engine brings a rasp of God’s Own Sawzall delivering 500 horsepower (520 for the GT3 RS) and a ludicrous 9,000-rpm redline. The GT3 also offers the magnificent PDK that will make you forswear manuals forever. On any road, straight or crooked, the GT3 delivers the undefinable feeling that this 911 will not be defeated under any circumstance. This street-legal race car skitters predictably, grabs ferociously, and thrusts thrillingly. It is an indomitable creation. Much as I love and respect the new-gen 911, Porsche’s old GT3 has its clutches firmly around my heart. —Mark Rechtin

2020 Chevrolet Corvette

I’m old enough to have been young and impressionable when all those magazine articles first appeared breathlessly heralding the impending arrival of a mid-engine Corvette. I’ve also had the good fortune to be among the very few people outside General Motors to have been entrusted to (gently) test drive most of the early mid-engine ‘Vette prototypes I read about as a schoolboy. So it’s a near miracle that the finished production C8 Corvette not only lived up to, but perhaps surpassed my astronomical expectations of it. That this $60-$90,000 car made just as positive an impression on my younger colleagues—whose entire experience with mid-engine sports coupes has been in Porsche Caymans, V-8 Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and maybe a McLaren or two—is truly astonishing. This Corvette is destined to do to the sports-car segment in the 2020s what the Acura NSX did in the 1990s: command quantum improvements in quality, performance, and/or value. Look for this car to appear on our next “most significant cars of the decade” list, circa December 2029. —Frank Markus

2020 Honda Civic Si

I jumped one of my best drives of the year, but Frank has already claimed it. So the other great drive goes to another C-car, the 2020 Civic Si. I was lucky enough to flog one around Circuit of the Americas, while chasing my colleague Ceso, and found it endlessly entertaining. Nothing like a peppy turbo four-cylinder, snickety-slick six-speed manual, and predictable, responsive handling. All for around $25,000. Deal. —Ed Loh

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450

I was about to pick the Porsche 911, until I remembered the hassle of not being able to fit my sports gear or friends. The Mercedes GLE 450 is more my speed: a home away from home. It impressed me in myriad ways, from its strong and smooth acceleration to its top-notch amenities including soft-close doors, wood trim, massaging leather seats, heated and cooled cupholders, and an enormous touchscreen with augmented reality navigation. It’s so luxurious I almost mistook it for the flagship GLS. But what I like most about this SUV is its ride quality. When equipped with the optional air suspension, you might not even notice potholes or road imperfections. —Kelly Lin

Mercedes-AMG GT3 Race Car

We all dreamed about what we were going to be when we grew up. Astronaut. Fire fighter. Aviator. Me? I wanted to be a racing driver. Then life happened. Job. Mortgage. Kids. But for a few short hours last year I got to live the dream in the Mercedes-AMG GT3, a $440,000-plus factory-built race car.

Under the hood is a thunderous 550-hp race version of AMG’s legendary 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V-8, cradled in a special chassis with full house race suspension, brakes, electronics, and aerodynamics. I expected to be intimidated by this winged monster. Instead, I was exhilarated.

The big V-8, its NASCAR party-mode soundtrack spitting from a pair of side-pipes, delivers ballistic thrust with nuanced throttle response, and with the slick tires up to temperature, the chassis is ninja-quick in its responses. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 has the pace, precision and poise a pro driver craves. But the true genius of this car is that, unlike some other GT3 race cars, its performance envelope is a broad runway the rest of us feel empowered to explore, not a racer’s edge we’ll struggle to find.

Should I win the lottery, this predictable, bulletproof Mercedes would be my GT3 race car. I can dream, can’t I? —Angus MacKenzie

2019 Tesla Model 3

Although I’ve been at MotorTrend for five years, I didn’t have the chance to drive the Tesla Model 3 until earlier this year, when I participated in a comparison between the Tesla, Genesis G70, and BMW 3 Series. The Model 3 easily won that comparison, showing great handling, power, and impressive technology.

Later in the year, during our COTY judging, the Model 3 advanced to the finals and came in second place just behind the Chevrolet C8 Corvette. But when I drove the base Model 3 home one night, I felt something special that I rarely feel in other cars—the cabin that feels airy with all the glass surrounding it, the instant power delivery, and the expansive range were just a few of the things that caught my attention. It’s also the car of the future, the one that most automakers are targeting when developing their EVs.

For those and many other reasons, the Model 3 was the best car I drove this year. —Miguel Cortina

Byton M-Byte

I’m actually stretching the truth here when I state that this was my best drive of the year because 1) it was actually a ride, and 2) it happened a little over a year ago. I was in the passenger seat of a prototype Byton M-Byte for a nighttime ride around downtown Los Angeles during the auto show. Okay, I’ll produce my certified, car journalist license for modest reality-stretching if I have to.

Before picking this particular 20-minute glide around L.A.’s nighttime Noir streets, though, there’s the very real consideration of how much our collective view of autonomous and connected cars has one-eightied in the year since December 2018. While Waymo is relentlessly advancing (with limited driverless rides now happening in Chandler, Arizona) the news about autonomous vehicles is still shadowed by Elaine Herzberg’s landmark demise against the right-front corner of a Volvo XC90 due to a distracted, phone-watching Uber safety driver. And the skepticism around Level 4 and 5 autonomy has only grown with each delayed target date for its deployment. I’d add that Byton itself has since been colored by controversy over a Chinese investment that triggered the departure of co-founder Carsten Bretfeld.

Still, all the Chinese startups are being buffeted by the headwinds of a slowing domestic car market. And for the EV ones like Byton and NIO, it’s been a Force-5, doubly buffeting from a simultaneous tapering of government incentives for clean-energy vehicles. However, the automotive future I glimpsed that night doesn’t care about a specific name brand or have a delivery date that’s precisely 2020 or five years after that. The autonomous, electrically powered, connected, stress-reducing, traffic-smoothing, time-to-work or sleep or movie-watch car is the inevitable evolution of the automobile. And I sat spellbound, mind-spinning, as I took a ride in its Byton incubator that night. —Kim Reynolds

2019 McLaren 720S Spider

The best car I drove this year is a 1953 Porsche 356 America Roadster. Number 17 of 17 built, 70 horsepower, a lightweight alloy body means the whole thing weighs 1,334 pounds, a windscreen so chopped I could put my chin over it, and I’m one of about 50 people who will get to drive it for the next decade. Perhaps $4M museum cars don’t belong on this list. With that in mind, the best 2019 car I drove in 2019 is the McLaren 720S Spider. I’ve said it a bunch of times, and I’ll say it again: alien technology for the street! McLarens are unique among supercars because when you cut the roof off, they get better. And the 720S was about as good as cars got with a hard top. Blame the ultra-stiff carbon-fiber monocoque. I know I do.

Supercars are funny things. Totally irrelevant of course, yet I can’t stop dreaming about them. That’s how good the 720S Spider is: in a crowded room stuffed with literal dream machines, it stands out. Especially the Luxury Aztec Gold folding hard-top beauty I drove around Los Angeles last Spring. Hot damn. I drove other supercars this year—Ferrari 812 Superfast, Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, Aston Martin DBS Superleggera, Lamborghini Huracan EVO Spyder, Porsche GT3 RS, Bugatti EB110 SS, Audi R8, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 918 Spyder, and McLaren 600LT off the top of my head—and the McLaren beats them all. Hands down (with the possible exception of a Lambo Diablo SV Monterey Edition, but we’re here for the new cars). The McLaren is quicker, it’s better-looking, it handles better, it’s more terrifying, it’s more thrilling to drive, it’s more confidence-inspiring, it’s more comfortable—it’s just everything. Except for cheap—the golden car I’m thinking of stickered at about $411,000. Hey man, fast, cheap, and good: pick two. —Jonny Lieberman














The post These Are The Best Cars We Drove In 2019 appeared first on MotorTrend.

Comments are closed.