This year, BestRide’s reviewers – Nicole Wakelin, John Goreham and Craig Fitzgerald – drove pretty much everything there was to drive in the new vehicle landscape.
We agreed on a lot. We disagreed on more. Check out our preferences, and see if we’re all wet, or we’re 100 percent on the money. You can also hear us argue about our choices in Chad Kirchner’s podcast, which we’ve linked at the end of the article, too.
Nicole Wakelin: The Hyundai Elantra GT boasts great style, good fuel economy, and affordable pricing. It has all the features people want in a subcompact and proves a small, affordable car doesn’t have to be boring. If you like to drive, then you’ll like driving the Elantra GT.
Craig Fitzgerald: It’s counterintuitive, but in this case, you want to go with the car with the smaller engine. The Hyundai Elantra GT in Sport trim has a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, versus the 2.0-liter in the base GT trim. It bumps the price up by almost $3,000, but it’s worth it. It’s an absolute blast to drive.
John Goreham: Subcompacts are an interesting category these days. From my perspective, the Chevy Bolt is the one to beat. However, even after crazy dealer discounting and government incentives, the Bolt is still 50% more expensive than most subcompacts coming in at about $27K. This year I fully tested the Toyota Corolla iM manual and Honda Fit Sport manual. Both are under $19K. The difference was apparent. The Corolla iM had more standard features, standard active safety, and felt higher in perceived quality.
Winner: 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT
Nicole Wakelin: The Honda Civic in its all-new hatchback form was hands-down my favorite compact this year. It looks great with aggressive, sporty styling and it has a turbocharged 4-cylinder with a 6-speed manual that driving enthusiasts will love.
Craig Fitzgerald: I’ve never been a Civic fanboy, and I’m still really unenthusiastic about the styling, but I have to agree that the Civic is the best compact car you can buy for 2018. I spent time in two different trims. The CVT is fine, if you like that sort of thing, but the six speed manual is a hoot. Honda has famously avoided turbocharging for years, but the Civic truly benefits. Its a great car.
John Goreham: Honda’s new Civic has raised the bar substantially in this segment. I drove both the CVT and stick shift versions and both blew me away. The feeling of solidity and quality is amazing. The fun-to-drive aspect is hard to top, and Honda has sorted out the details in this car. The new 1.5-liter turbo is a gem and no other car company has anything nearly as good at this price point. One other car that impressed me was the new Hyundai Ionic Electric. It has a range of about 135 miles in real-world driving and is pricey, but in terms of overall driving feel, it is the best compact in the market. It is even better than the Civic. Of course, you have to live in California to own one and it comes with all the other EV headaches. My pick is the Civic.
Winner: 2018 Honda Civic
Nicole Wakelin: I have to give a nod to the incredible job Toyota did with the new Camry, but the Honda Accord is the winner. The Accord’s new turbocharged engines make this mild-mannered sedan an enjoyable drive and when paired to the available manual transmission, it’s downright fantastic.
Craig Fitzgerald: I’ve never selected the Toyota Camry for anything other than “Most likely to be your mother-in-law’s next car,” but the Camry for 2018 has to be the most transformed automobile in the last 20 years. It looks great, it drives way out of its weight class, and in the XSE trim, the interior is absolutely stunning, a place where the Camry has always left a lot to be desired. The Accord is a great car, but I’d take the Camry on a cross-country trip in a heartbeat.
John Goreham: My short drive in the Camry blew me away. In its top trim, it is an amazing value, has the most power of the top-sellers, and is the best-looking to my eye. However, having done a full test of the new 2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Touring it is my pick for the best midsize car. The new Accord has a fantastic drivetrain that will make former owners of V6 Accords (like me) very happy. Active safety is standard and the interior has almost everything I want in a luxury car except a heated steering wheel.
Winner: 2018 Toyota Camry
Nicole Wakelin: The Volvo S90 T6 AWD Inscription might have a ridiculously long name, but it’s a great sedan. It’s elegant and uncomplicated with an incredibly smooth ride and good handling. It manages to be a luxurious car without being flashy and is the kind of sedan you don’t mind spending time in when your commute drags on forever.
Craig Fitzgerald: I’m sneaking this in here because I liked it so much, but my Luxury Car pick was eaten up with something else. The BMW M760Li xDrive is absolutely absurd in both price and performance, but if I were to suddenly have Steve Mnuchin’s money, this is the car I’d buy. Pure insanity carefully hidden deftly inside a car that most people wouldn’t look twice at.
John Goreham: Large cars are not on many people’s radar screens these days since crossovers offer more usable space in a smaller footprint, among other advantages. The best large car I tested was the $69K Volvo V90 Cross Country T6 AWD Wagon. What I loved about the new Volvo V90 “T6”, which used to stand for “turbo six” was its tiny, but powerful, four-cylinder engine. It was great in every scenario. Volvo’s infotainment system has also come a long way in a very short time.
Winner: Since John and Nicole selected the wagon and sedan version of the same vehicle, we’re awarding this category to Volvo the S90 and the XC90
Nicole Wakelin: Crossovers are everywhere so this is a tough category to pick, but I’m giving the win to the Subaru Crosstrek. It’s priced well, has unique styling compared to the competition, and can genuinely go off-road. It also has a surprisingly peppy engine that makes the Crosstrek more responsive than you’d expect.
Craig Fitzgerald: I never liked the Crosstrek. It was slow, cheap and noisy, and I couldn’t figure out what was possessing tens of thousands of people to buy them. The 2018 changed my mind. It’s a vastly improved car in every way. There’s no meaningful increase in power, but the reduction in weight makes it feel a little more powerful. The big surprise for me: I’m a charter member of the CVT Hater’s Club of America, but I liked the CVT in the Crosstrek a lot more than the six-speed manual. It’s much better suited to the available engine power.
John Goreham: The “problem” with this segment is the smaller subcompact crossovers don’t get better fuel economy than the compact ones and cost about 90% as much. I drove the new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek on-road briefly and it impressed me. Then I was able to drive it on a Land Rover designed off-road course in New York State and it I was floored by its off-road ability. I cannot imagine many owners will ever do the things I did in the woods this great crossover. Its abilities are so far beyond what is expected for normal fishing, hunting, and off-road exploring it is hard to overstate. The standard X-Mode is like Toyota’s Crawl Control in that it walks the vehicle around in the worst conditions managing the wheel torque and wheel spin beyond what a driver can do herself. With Subaru’s outstanding available EyeSight safety system, and a look many love, the new Subaru Crosstrek is my pick for best in class.
Winner: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek
Nicole Wakelin: I spent a lot of time behind the wheel of the Nissan Rogue and it proved to be one of my favorite cars this year. It’s comfortable, well-equipped, and roomy. It gets top marks for seating that doesn’t grow tiring even after hours on the road. There’s also the Rogue Sport for those who want a more petite version of the Rogue.
Craig Fitzgerald: If you’re looking for modest performance, numb steering and the okayest handling in the business, buy a compact crossover. Yet, I have to give Nissan the thumbs up in the Rogue for one reason: its ProPilot semi-autonomous features. I wouldn’t buy features like that for myself, mind you, but if it keeps a compact crossover driver from drifting into my lane or rear-ending me in traffic, I’m all for it.
John Goreham: Two compact crossovers stood out from the crowd in my testing. The new Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V are both pretty special. The Tiguan is now available with a third row of seats and has the exact length and width of my beloved 2007 Toyota Highlander. It is the perfect size, and its ride was spot-on. The CR-V seemed to me to have it all in a 5-passenger family vehicle. Its drivetrain is perfect. The CVT and 1.5-liter engine are BFFs and it is a pleasure to drive in all situations and get the top mileage in the segment. It is also one of the largest compact crossovers now (feels weird to type that). The top trim is an amazing value at about $35K and the mid-trims are even more of a value. At the top price point, you get a luxurious interior and Honda’s near-autonomous driving aids. The CR-V is the total package and my top pick in a segment where every vehicle is good or great.
Winner: 2018 Nissan Rogue
Nicole Wakelin: The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk wins this one because some crazy genius over at Jeep thought putting a 707-horsepower Hellcat engine in a full-size SUV was a good idea. It is simply brilliant with the capability of a Jeep, the luxury of a premium sedan, and the power to attack the track.
Craig Fitzgerald: As far as I’m concerned, Range Rover hasn’t made a single wrong step in years. The Range Rover Sport HSE is a phenomenal vehicle, and considering you can build a Ford Explorer that has a sticker price before incentives that costs $58,000, $71K doesn’t sound so expensive for a true premium vehicle like this. What lesser SUVs don’t do is perform this well when the highways and dirt roads turn really ugly. Most Range Rover owners never experience what at vehicle like this will do in true off-road conditions, and that’s a shame.
John Goreham: I have driven a lot of luxury and premium crossovers in the past couple of years and they are all so good it almost defies logic. The best handle as well as a decent sports sedan and offer so much comfort and such a great driving position and visibility they beat the sedans and wagons by their same makers. The Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE seemed to me a screaming value at $71K, and I am as cheap a Yankee as you will ever find. Its handling is fantastic in rural areas and on the highway, where I spend 99% of my driving time. Yet, they are hugely popular in cities.
Winner: 2018 Range Rover Sport HSE
SPORTS CAR/SPORTY CAR
Nicole Wakelin: Why is there no luxury sports car category? I need to recognize the Aston Martin DB11 V8 for being one of the most glorious cars I’ve ever driven. If it’s good enough for James Bond and Tom Brady, then it’s good enough for me. For the rest of us, I pick the Lexus LC 500 for it’s no-holds barred sports car appeal. It is long and low and plenty fast with an interior that coddles you in luxury. It’s the kind of car that gets your blood pumping and turns heads wherever you go.
Craig Fitzgerald: I was not sold at all with the concept of a folding hardtop in the Miata RF when I saw it debut at the New York Auto Show. I liked the look, as it was reminiscent of the M Coupe concept based on the original NA Miata that never saw the light of day. But complicated folding tops seem antithetical to such a pure roadster. However, I have to grudgingly admit that I was wrong. It’s a terrific little car that loses nothing to the soft-top roadster, and gains a more secure top. If it was me, I’d still buy the soft-top, but I can’t argue that this isn’t the coolest sports car for normal money this year.
John Goreham: I had a great year of testing in sports cars both on and off the track. Best value goes to the Ford Focus RS. Best cruiser to the Mustang GT Convertible. Best overall is the Mazda Miata RF, but you have to be able to fit in it and many are not comfortable with its tight interior.
Winner: 2018 Mazda Miata RF
Nicole Wakelin: The 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class coupe is wonderful. It has that elegant, understated Mercedes-Benz style with one of the prettiest interiors available. It’s also comfortable with a smooth ride when you simply want to cruise and all the power you need to have some fun in the corners. Pricing on this one starts at just under $60K, but it looks like you spent a heck of a lot more.
Craig Fitzgerald: Has any auto manufacturer gotten more mileage out of a platform than Dodge has with the Challenger? In the last month, Dodge has released two new versions of the Challenger, on a platform it inherited from Mercedes-Benz during the early stages of the Bush administration. We’ve been telling people to buy a Challenger and put winter tires on it for years. We stick with that advice, but if you live in the snow belt and always longed for a Challenger, now’s your chance.
John Goreham: No “luxury” car I drove made me happier than the Dodge Challenger GT AWD. I drove that car in two trims over two weeks and also on a snow-covered pair of racetracks. A driver at the event went a little nuts and then stuffed it into a snowbank so hard it had to be shoveled out. Then I drove that very car home and it was smooth as silk. The Challenger GT AWD has cozy premium microfiber suede interior materials, the best infotainment system at any price point, and was larger and more comfortable inside than anything “luxury” I drove. It had every luxury feature I cherish and more. And it costs just $40K with AWD.
Winner: 2018 Dodge Challenger GT AWD
Nicole Wakelin: The Lexus LS 500 is every inch the luxury sedan. It looks impressive on the outside and it’s oh-my-God beautiful on the inside. It’s most fun to drive in the F Sport trim, but if you’re not driving, the rear seats are like personal easy chairs. They had me lounge back there and put up the footrest to relax and fully experience the incredible audio system and I nearly fell asleep.
Craig Fitzgerald: There was no car I was more impressed with this year than the Lexus GS F Sport, but I’m going to defer to Nicole here and say that the Lexus LS 500 F Sport whips the pants off cars that cost twice as much. I like the smaller scale of the GS F Sport, but it’s probably going to go away, and I can learn to live with the bigger car.
John Goreham: For me, the Lincoln Continental stood out. Before one even enters the vehicle, the doors feel substantial and open in a novel way. Inside, the seats are the best I’ve ever sat in. The massage seats are better than anything from any German brand I have tested. I also loved that there is no goofy mouse to learn and that the infotainments system works great, rather than being some sort of a statement. The Continental has the size, ride quality, power, and price point that makes sense to me in a luxury vehicle. I also appreciated the BMW 530i. The BMW was one of the few luxury cars I tested worthy of their high price points. It is impressive at every level. Honorable mention goes to the Lexus GS F as well. Great, aggressive sports car when I drove it on-track, and a car that coddles you on commutes.
Winner: 2018 Lexus LS 500 F Sport
Nicole Wakelin: I’m on a bit of a Ram kick this year. That or they’re just knocking out some great trucks, which is why I choose the Ram Rebel. It has that off-road vibe, but strikes a nice balance between on-road comfort and utility. It can take you into the mud and still works for your daily commute without being loud and uncomfortable. Also, there’s a tire tread pattern on the seats and that’s just plain cool.
Craig Fitzgerald: These two dug the Rebel. I did too, but holy smokes, the Ford Raptor is a total blast. The EcoBoost six — to me, anyway — is every bit as fun to drive as the last generation’s V-8. The suspension is amazing, both on the road and off. I drove it to Portland for a weekend with my family, and even in the SuperCab version we had room for two kids in the back.
John Goreham: Ram Rebel. Strictly because it lives up to the cool name.
Winner: 2018 Ram Rebel
Nicole Wakelin: The 2017 Ram Power Wagon was my favorite truck of the year. It’s targeted to the off-roader with a 12,000-pound winch, electronically locking front and rear axles, and skid plates, but it’s just as ready to be a workhorse. It has a 6.4-liter V8 with 410 horsepower and can tow up to 10,030 pounds. It also looks like it could tow a tank out of a ditch, which I haven’t tried, but next time I get one I’ll give it a go.
Craig Fitzgerald: The Ram Power Wagon is obscenely fun for something the size of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. Nicole details all the…well, details, but I’ll leave you with this: I love that Ram allows you to buy all the Power Wagon goodies on a truck that costs $8,000 less than the Power Wagon. Good for Ram. Nobody else is doing anything remotely like that.
John Goreham: Ram Power Wagon. It makes me want to decouple the front anti-roll bar and climb a snow-covered mountain while towing a log cabin on a skid.
Winner: 2018 Ram Power Wagon
BESTRIDE OF THE YEAR
This year, we’re awarding one vehicle our overall BestRide of 2017. There were some amazing new introductions and revisions for this year, but for our panel of judges, just three vehicles stood out as unanimous winners in their categories: The Honda Civic, the Subaru Crosstrek and the Ram Power Wagon.
For 2017, we unanimously chose the Subaru Crosstrek as our BestRide of 2017. “It’s hard to think of a better vehicle that meets more needs than the Subaru Crosstrek,” said Craig Fitzgerald, editor at BestRide.com. “When I got in touch with Crosstrek owners to find out what they hoped would be improved in the updated 2018 Crosstrek, nearly every single item had been addressed.”
“The all-new Crosstrek gets my vote for BestRide of 2017,” says Nicole Wakelin. “It’s a giant step up from the previous generation combining genuine off-road capability with on-road manners that make it equally good for the family road trip.”
“There were so many great new vehicles to choose from this year it was difficult to pick just one,” says John Goreham. “However, after considering the group of greats, one stands out as special: the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek. With its amazing off-road abilities, smooth on-road manners and outstanding safety, it is the one that earns my BestRide of 2017.”
To hear the three BestRide contributors argue live about their choices, be sure to check out the Future Motoring podcast with our pal Chad Kirchner. This is turning into an annual event, so we’re looking forward to doing it again in 2018.