BestRide of 2016

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This year, BestRide’s four reviewers – Nicole Wakelin, John Goreham, Craig Fitzgerald and Philip Ruth – tested a lot of cars and trucks on both US coasts. We bring four distinct sets of preferences to our evaluations, and at this year’s end, we wrote up our favorites in each category.

It points to our disparate opinions that we ended up split when choosing one BestRide, so we went with two. Check out our preferences, and see if you agree.

SUBCOMPACT CAR

Nicole Wakelin: If you’re looking for an affordable, small car, then it’s hard to beat the 2016 Ford Fiesta. A starting price of only $13,660 makes it ideal for those on a budget and it offers features like smartphone connectivity while keeping that price low.

Craig Fitzgerald: You don’t have to look far to find a lot of dislike for the 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage, and a lot of it’s justified. It’s definitely unrefined. But if you’re looking for daily transportation without burying yourself in six years worth of insurmountable debt, there are no other choices that offer this level of equipment for this little outlay of cash, with a 10 year warranty. Better subcompacts exist, but not without spending 20 percent more.

Philip Ruth: The 2016 Honda Fit is as practical as cars come, with cargo space that’s roomy and flexible. Its available LaneWatch side camera keeps an eye on bikers in your blind spot, and niceties like heated leather seats keep the top EX-L from feeling cheap. It’s not as zippy as the Hondas of a decade or so ago, and its infotainment system isn’t the best, but overall the Fit delivers much of what small-hatchback buyers want.

COMPACT CAR

John Goreham: The 2016 Kia Soul is a hard vehicle to define. Is it a crossover? Is it a car? We’re not sure, but we know that it takes the best from each category it plays in and makes for one heck of a useful, fun vehicle. We’ve tested the Kia Soul’s EV version twice, and it stole our hearts. Yes, it is range-limited, and that will need to evolve for it to be right for everyone, but the EV drivetrain makes this spunky little runabout even more fun to drive.

Nicole Wakelin: The 2016 Mazda3 offers a stylish design, beautiful interior materials, and affordable pricing. It’s also fun to drive, which is of course a point of pride for Mazda. There are less expensive compacts out there, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that is as comfortable and driveable as the Mazda3.

Craig Fitzgerald: Year after year, the Mazda3 keeps returning as my favorite vehicle in this class. There are better choices if you’re more interested in comfort than spirited driving. Both Toyota and Honda offer nice entries, and we hear the Chevrolet Cruze is nice, though we can’t get Chevrolet to deliver one to evaluate. But the Mazda3 is the clear winner if your commute includes as many corners and offramps as it does straight stretches of highway. At $22,395, the Mazda3 Touring 2.5 Hatchback isn’t the cheapest compact on the market, but it’s certainly the most fun.

Philip Ruth: Despite landing at the bottom of the latest Consumer Reports Owner Satisfaction Survey, our tested 2016 Acura ILX A-SPEC was notably fun to drive, with a fast-acting combo of 201 horsepower and a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic. True, the ILX’s styling has become familiar, and our test car was absurdly overpriced at a hair under $36K, but maybe the recent dip in compact-car sales will make the prices on remaining 2016 ILXs more realistic.

MIDSIZE CAR

John Goreham: Most of the test cars we get are fully loaded. But this year, we got a bare-bones 2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T S with no options, and it knocked my socks off. At just $23,260, this sedan offered more than any commuter or family needs, and many things that were once only found on luxury sedans. Rather than tolerating the base Passat, it was a pleasure to drive and easy to live with. Now using regular unleaded and earning a 29-mpg combined EPA rating, it is one of the best bangs for the buck in the U.S. market.

Nicole Wakelin: Plenty of cargo room, a comfortable interior, and an intuitive infotainment system put the Hyundai Sonata at the top of the list for midsized sedans. It’s a great value, with even the base model including a touchscreen for the infotainment system.

Craig Fitzgerald: Hear me out on my nomination for the 2016 Dodge Charger: It’s essentially the same size as the heavyweights in the class (Toyota Camry, Honda Accord). It offers vastly greater configurations to suit a wider range of drivers, from economy buyers to fans of all-wheel drive, to tire-smoldering muscle car enthusiasts. It’s also a great value. The configuration I’d opt for would be the 2016 Dodge Charger R/T, which provides Dodge’s fantastic 5.7-liter, 370hp V-8 for the stunningly affordable price of $33,895. You could be over that with an Accord Touring and not have that amazing V-8.

Philip Ruth: Lots of solid choices here, and the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back again was a paragon of performance, comfort, technology and economy. But the Honda Accord Sport still edges it out with its golden driving dynamics and dialed-in ergonomic design. I would have preferred the Sonata Sport’s more compliant ride on the bumpy trek down California’s I-5, but the Accord Sport is the one I’d want as my scrappy daily driver.

LARGE CAR

Nicole Wakelin: The 2016 Nissan Maxima is a large sedan with sporty styling that helps it stand out from the competition. The interior is top notch and it has ample power for easily breezing into highway traffic and making the drive fun no matter how long the trip.

Craig Fitzgerald: The 2016 Kia Cadenza is the forgotten car in this class, and it’s a tragedy. I drove it back to back with the all-new Genesis, and while I truly enjoyed the Genesis, the Cadenza was an amazingly impressive car at a nicely affordable price. All that luxury and a class-leading warranty, plus some real incentives to get them out the door make the Cadenza a car that should at least be on your research list.

Philip Ruth: I second Nicole’s 2016 Nissan Maxima nomination; I loved my Maxima SR test car’s jazzy styling and cozy interior. Onlookers comments wherever it was parked, the interior touch points felt rich, and the Maxima SR’s V6 engine and athletic suspension made it a willing partner in crime. I was lucky enough to have two Maxima SRs this year, and the second one just made me like it more.

SUBCOMPACT CROSSOVER/SUV

Nicole Wakelin: Offering the flexibility of a larger SUV with a smaller footprint perfect for those who live in more urban areas, the Mazda CX-3 is a top pick. It boasts a surprisingly low starting price of $19,960 and drives more like a car than an SUV with ample power and a striking design.

Craig Fitzgerald: When I think about year-end superlative lists, I have to go back and think about all the cars I’ve recommended to friends over the last 12 months. The class most people in my age bracket are interested in is this one, and the vehicle I most often recommended over the last 12 months was the Mazda CX-3. It has the room for four (five in a pinch) and cargo volume that the more recognizable competitors in this class do, but where those vehicles are numb and uninspiring to drive, the Mazda CX-3 is actually, seriously, legitimately fun to operate.

Philip Ruth: I really liked the Mazda CX-3, but I couldn’t find a proper driving position for my long-torsoed frame, so I’d choose the Audi Q3 instead. Keep the options in check, and you could be treating yourself to a subcompact crossover that gives up nothing to luxury sedans with its supple interior and substantial feel. Performance with the turbo four is perky, and the Q3 handles with confidence. The Q3’s lack of active safety features is its biggest ding.

COMPACT CROSSOVER/SUV

Nicole Wakelin: The Honda CR-V combines exactly the features crossover buyers crave. It has roomy rear seats, good cargo capacity, and excellent fuel efficiency. Prices starting at $23,845 keep it in line with the competition and make it affordable for families on a budget.

John Goreham: The 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Ultimate with AWD is a screaming bargain at $41K. It is also the perfect size. With plenty of knee room for the driver and a large second row, the Santa Fe Sport is nearly as large as the three-row crossovers on the market, but without the back row. The 2.0L-Turbo engine is a gem and the Santa Fe is fun to drive.

Craig Fitzgerald: I still hate, hate, hate the Jeep Cherokee’s front end styling, but what I can’t argue with is how that styling makes the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk work as an off-road vehicle. It adds ground clearance and approach angle that no other vehicle in this class (aside from the Jeep Wrangler) can compete with. My week driving it, I found myself falling for it more and more, but what really sealed the deal for me was writing Rob Calhelha’s story about tackling a Jeep Jamboree with a lightly modified Cherokee Trailhawk. It’s a lot more vehicle than it’s getting credit for.

Philip Ruth: The Subaru Forester faces stiff competition from its stylish and trendy competitors, but my week with a Forester 2.5T had me thinking it’s the one I’d choose, if for no other reason that I could actually see out of it: where most compact crossovers embrace a kicked-up beltline that can turn the interior into a black-plastic cavern, the Forester keeps the sills low and the windows big. Subaru’s typically thrummy engine will please the brand’s faithful, and EyeSight helps the Forester score the IIHS’s vaunted Top Safety Pick+ rating.

PREMIUM CROSSOVER/SUV

Nicole Wakelin: It’s hard to beat Land Rover when it comes to luxury SUVs, and the 2016 Range Rover HSE Td6 is hard to beat, period. It comes with a new turbocharged V6 diesel engine at a time when diesels are in the doghouse, but this one shouldn’t be. It’s quiet and powerful with horsepower and torque to spare if you’re planning on towing. The inside is gorgeous with plush leather seats, power everything, and an upscale vibe that makes even the nicest of living rooms look uncomfortable and drab. Drive a Range Rover and you have truly arrived.

John Goreham: Premium crossovers started wit the Lexus RX series and the newest iteration is still the world leader in the five passenger, midsize class. Reasonably priced at about $52K, the 2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD comes with the highest safety rating possible, plus the reassurance of a real-world safety record that no other vehicle in the world can top. We packed our tester to the gills for a week in the woods of New Hampshire. We fished out the back of it and did many miles of soft-roading. It was always practical and comfortable. On one outing we drove it to the top of Mt. Kearsarge. At the top we parked next to another RX 350 that had two kayaks on top. Yes, this Lexus is very at home in the outdoors.

Craig Fitzgerald: If you’re going to opt for a premium SUV, you’ve got to go all the way and choose the 2016 Range Rover HSE Td6. The diesel is all-new for 2016, and it’s the only spun-bearing available in this class. We can have arguments about whether or not diesel makes sense from an economical standpoint, but if you plan on hauling anything behind the Range Rover, 440-lb.ft. of torque at 1,750 RPM makes the fuel economy argument moot. I’m not in the right tax bracket to afford one, but if I was, there’s no way I’d be driving an Escalade over this.

Philip Ruth: The Acura MDX consistently pulls down strong sales for Honda’s premium division, and a week with a fully-optioned 2016 Acura MDX Advance highlighted its appeal. The MDX is a large crossover that you can hurl around, as its Super Handling-All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) suspension is more than a match for the 290-horsepower V6’s muscle. The MDX drives with no slop or slack, and that’s nice to find in a vehicle with three rows of seats.

SPORTS CAR/SPORTY CAR

2015-Jaguar-F-Type-Lead-Bestride

Nicole Wakelin: The 2016 Jaguar F-Type has a choice of powerful engines with even the base model providing an exhilarating experience. The interior is beautiful with rich materials on every surface and driving this little two-seater is nothing short of thrilling. This is how you make your neighbors jealous.

Craig Fitzgerald: I’m in love with the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, but for 2016, I can’t let the year go by without singing the praises of the Ford Focus RS one more time. As our friends at Team O’Neil figured out in December of 2016, the Focus RS has the goods to compete with full-blown rally cars, while providing occupants with effective climate control, satellite navigation and a killer sound system.

Philip Ruth: Many versions of the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang passed through here in 2016, and they would all brighten anyone’s driveway. But the most visceral driving experience came from a wagon, the 2016 Volvo V60 Polestar. Trimmer dimensions and an edgy engine response made this Volvo more engaging at lower speeds than the muscle cars, and every ounce of the Polestar seemed to want to go faster than you already were. It’s giddy fun, even if you’re just on an IKEA run.

LUXURY SEDAN

Nicole Wakelin: Alfa Romeo hasn’t been back in the US for long, but it’s sure making a big impression. The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a sexy little Italian luxury car that oozes style. The interior is gorgeous and there are two engine choices available, including a 505-horsepower variant for the Quadrifoglio that will make you yearn for the nearest track. 

John Goreham: A weird quirk of automotive testing is that the expensive luxury and performance models often disappoint. It can be difficult to tell why they are better than the more affordable models, often built by the same automaker on a shared platform, when tested in the real world we drive in. Not so with the Genesis G80 3.8 HTRAC. This midsize premium vehicle is a clear leader in refinement, comfort, and real-world handling. That it is sanely priced and made by an automaker that now outscores almost every established premium brand on quality surveys is just icing on the cake. — John Goreham

Craig Fitzgerald: I’m an old-school luxury car fan from the Brougham era. I don’t really want my luxury car to perform like a European sports sedan. As much as I loved the BMW 7-Series I drove earlier this year, I think I’m stepping into line with Philip Ruth and John Goreham with the 2017 Genesis G80It’s everything I want a true luxury car to be, at half the price of the European competitors. If anyone’s paying attention, Genesis is beating Lexus at its own game.

Philip Ruth: I fell in love with the look and feel of the Volvo S90; the exterior reflects an elegant confidence, and the interior is brimming with details that are rich and unexpected. But the S90 feels incomplete with its turbo four-cylinder engine, which has plenty of urge but not enough refinement. So I’ll echo John Goreham in extolling the Genesis G80 5.0, which is a solid package across the board. I sampled both the V6 and V8 G80s, and the V8’s explosive acceleration would get my vote.

COMPACT/MIDSIZE PICKUP

Nicole Wakelin: The 2017 Honda Ridgeline is back after a two-year hiatus with better styling, great features, and a ride so smooth it puts some cars to shame. The in-bed audio system along with power outlets and a built-in trunk that doubles as a cooler make this the ultimate tailgating vehicle.

John Goreham: Like a hockey player who loves to get under the skin of his opponent, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is a midsize pickup that almost mocks the entrenched body-on-frame pickups from its rivals. It is simply better at everything than they are. It’s quicker and more fuel efficient. It hauls lumber better. It is far ahead in safety, and even the headlights are better. The Ridgeline is a fantastic vehicle that will have lower sales than it deserves because the folks that buy these pickups can’t get past its lineage. Their loss. This would have been my BestRide of the Year pick if the Genesis G80 hadn’t appeared in my driveway.

Craig Fitzgerald: It’s unanimous: The 2017 Honda Ridgeline is fantastic. If you’re concerned with whether you can put more than a yard of bark mulch in the cargo area, or how you’ll look when you pull up to the front door at the American Legion, there are other trucks that you should consider. The Honda Ridgeline is for the rest of us that make weekend runs to the dump and occasional trips to the Home Depot. Over the course of Christmas, I packed the under-bed trunk with a week’s worth of groceries. I put three guitars and two amps in the rear passenger area with the seats up. I toted five of us to my mother-in-law’s on Christmas Eve, with a trunk full of presents. It’s the truck that a majority of us should be considering, despite the fact that I loathe the infotainment interface.

Philip Ruth: After dog-earing my thesaurus looking for nice things to say about the Toyota Tacomas that came for review – steering response is slow, but at least the ride is stiff – I found the 2017 Honda Ridgeline to require no effort at all to be liked. It seems odd to call it a midsize, as the Ridgeline is 1.6 inches wider than the whale-like Chevrolet Caprice from the 1990s, but the Ridgeline’s roots in the nimble Honda Pilot crossover keep it feeling on its toes. I’d question whether or not the fake seam between the cab and bed is truly necessary, but the seemingly speaker-less bed audio system is one of the coolest car options I’ve seen in some time.

LARGE PICKUP

Nicole Wakelin: The Nissan Titan was completely redesigned for the 2017 model year as a follow-up to the all-new Titan XD. A smooth ride with plenty of towing and payload capacity along with a large array of options means there’s a Nissan Titan that could serve every truck shopper. There’s also the Pro-4X trim for those who plan to head off-road and have some fun. 

Craig Fitzgerald: The full-size truck that blew my socks off in 2016 was the all-new 2017 Ford F-250. The one we tested was a low-option XLT trim in Regular Cab configuration, not exactly the $75,000 King Ranch that profit-hungry Ford wants you to buy. But it’s a truck that was made for work, and you can’t help but love it. The Power Stroke diesel pegs the price at over $51,000, which seems insane for a truck with a rubber floor mat, but the 925-lb.ft. of available torque is an adequate salve to your scalded checking account. If you’re plowing, towing, toting or hauling, this is your truck.

Philip Ruth: The Nissan Titan I drove this year was most impressive for its gorgeous interior; if you’re going to charge nearly $60K for a pickup, then you’d be wise to endow it with sumptuous materials, as Nissan did with the tested Platinum Reserve. The Toyota Tundra I drove got marks for its straightforward feel, and the Ford F-150 had neat touches like the fold-out bed step, but the pricey Titan was the one that could most directly fill in for the luxury sedan an owner would have wanted, if she weren’t bound by needing to haul big loads.

BESTRIDE OF THE YEAR

Nicole Wakelin: Trucks aren’t for everyone, but the Honda Ridgeline could change that perception. It combines the utility of a truck with the comfort of a sedan. It’s an ideal choice if you need to haul a trailer on the weekend but want a comfortable vehicle for the daily commute.

It rides like a sedan and has one of the nicest interiors you’ll find in a truck, even at the lowest price points. There’s also an in-bed audio system and standard in-bed trunk to hold groceries or double as a cooler. Whether you’re getting work done or kicking back and relaxing with friends, the Ridgeline is your huckleberry.

John Goreham – Simply put, no vehicle impressed me more in testing than the Genesis G80 3.8 HTRAC. Genesis has been working very hard to bring to market an exceptional sedan, and it has made many established rivals look a little silly. This car goes way beyond any real-world performance requirements an adult driver would ever need. It also coddles all of its passengers in supreme comfort. That Genesis makes every safety system standard on all its models and still beats the prices of all its peers is why it earns my pick as the Best of the Year.

Craig Fitzgerald: I’m with Nicole Wakelin on this one: The Honda Ridgeline did absolutely everything that I wanted it to do, and then some. If you’re looking for a heavy duty truck, this is definitely not for you, but for suburban dwellers with the need for an occasional truck, the only other suitable option is a gently used Ford Ranger from the early 2000s. The bonus is that you can easily fit the Ridgeline in your garage. Try that with your Raptor.

Philip Ruth: When you’re looking for best, you want the whole package, and that’s exactly what the Genesis G80 5.0 has. From its blistering acceleration to its communicative handling, the G80 5.0 is a cracker to drive. Inside, it surrounds you with attractive materials and straightforward tech. All that’s missing is a storied name that connotes social status, but the Genesis policy of never again having to visit the dealer after the purchase – a rep comes to collect your car and delivers a loaner – more than compensates with the perks that fiscal wealth normally brings.

Tune in next year as we choose our next BestRide, and here’s to a great 2017!

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Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.