Much like kicking Anakin Skywalker into a river of lava, we end 2016 with some bittersweet memories of the good times in between the bad. Yes, we do march into an impending dystopian future, but we drove some nice cars on our off days.
Fun isn’t obsolete yet, folks! We still had cars to drive, and there were some truly magnificent machines in our lives over the last 12 months. When times get strange, perhaps the best way to sustain sanity is to reconnect with your irrational passions. Like turning gasoline into noise, just because.
It’s what we do. It’s what you do. Or if it’s not, we’ll do our best to bring you along. Here were some of our favorite rides in 2016. –Andrew Collins
I was so out-of-my-mind excited to drive the new Raptor that by the time I actually got into the driver’s seat, I was starting to doubt it’d be able to live up to the hype I’d created. But why waste time flipping through the thesaurus; simply put, the truck was pretty much perfect. Nicely laid out and comfortable interior, easy (and adjustable!) steering, power on power on power and off-road... good grief, guys. It took my intermediate driving skills and made me look like I was living in a Baja 1000 highlights reel.
Ford’s people pulled off one of the most challenging jobs in engineering– cram fierce off-road capability and on-road compliance into a package that’s livable. Actually, make that luxurious.
Maybe the honeymoon will wear off after another session with this thing. But I definitely need to borrow one again. —Andrew Collins
I still don’t know what’s more ridiculous– the fact that Mercedes-Benz actually built this thing, or that the company’s PR team let me babysit it for a week.
And by “babysit” I mean drive straight into the Nevada desert chasing Mint 400 race cars around before very nearly running out of gas. (Somebody didn’t think to re-calibrate the fuel gauge for this wacky truck’s special axles and enormous tires.)
But we made it home without incident, took a victory lap down Rodeo Drive and I’d never felt more like a living caricature than I did rocking back and forth in a long-travel luxury truck getting mobbed by tourists. Every cliché you think you know about Beverly Hills is true, and being able to out-flash everybody in that Hunger Games villain’s lair is a legitimately remarkable accomplishment by Mercedes.
I always try to tell myself that flamboyance is a waste of energy, but the G500 4x4² was so far over the line of what’s “reasonable” that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself driving it. And oh yeah, it actually held its own off-road too. Even on the wrong tires. —Andrew Collins
“Don’t meet your heroes,” they said. Don’t listen. The 2002 has been my favorite car since I could make muffler noises with my mouth, and driving this lovingly-restored example just reaffirmed everything I hold sacred about this model in my mind. Even though the car I drove was saddled with a ridiculous stereo system in the trunk.
Consistent sewing-machine sounds from under the hood, direct controls, wonderful balance and one of the best car designs ever really took to the light modifications this particular one had been blessed with. —Andrew Collins
Stop groaning! I know a stock Wrangler might look like a lame choice in the company of “Best Cars,” but it’s important.
We spend a lot of time talking about the simple pleasures of archaic, mechanical, raw cars from days gone by. But I never take my own junk heap out of Los Angeles county because I’m afraid it will strand me someplace where the hills have eyes.
You see where we’re going with this, right? The Wrangler’s so wonderful because it captures the spirit of “old and gritty” while actually being reasonably reliable and yes, even fuel efficient compared to a real vintage truck.
The Wrangler might not be fast or comfortable compared to a modern sedan but it’s got plenty of capability, even before you start throwing a catalog of aftermarket crap on it. And just like my old Scout, every ride feels like an adventure. Just not necessarily a near-death-experience. —Andrew Collins
The last-ever Mitsubishi Evo was basically a rolling dinosaur, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Not when that dinosaur could still stomp buildings with the best of them.
The high engagement point of the Final Edition Evo’s clutch and tight steering make you feel ready for anything. The car looks ugly and brash, it was loud as fuck inside and the seats felt cheap. But you’ll be too excited tracking down the next twisty road to care about any of that. The only problem I had with it was the price. —Kristen Lee
I drove a McLaren 570S around for a while and quickly thought I got the whole picture. Oh yeah! It’s fast. Oh yeah! The steering tells me about the road ahead. Oh yeah! I totally get this car.
Driving that same McLaren 570S on a wet clay dirt track, as I did at Eldora earlier this year, I quickly realized everything I thought I’d figured out had just been the car lying to me with traction control and big tires.
In a no-grip, bumpy track situation the 570S is one of the most pointy, powerful, terrifying, wonderful cars I may ever drive. Traction control off felt like standing on a very tall cliff and putting my toe over the edge. —Raphael Orlove
This was the car that the legendary Markku Alen rallied back in the ’70s and it’s not much but a box with super archaic front suspension, a live rear axle, and a totally uncorked old four-cylinder. But in its simplicity, there’s perfection. Balance, sound, everything. This is what I want all cars to drive like. —Raphael Orlove
1988 Volvo 240 Wagon
My buddy has an ’88 Volvo 240 wagon. Nothing special about it. Stock. Automatic. Most importantly, it drove us to Alaska and didn’t break down.
All we had to do was put gas in it and it went all the way up the Cassiar Highway. It had enough sidewall and ground clearance to go camping in reasonably remote end-of-the-dirt-road/end-of-the-world spots. At a certain point, you can’t want anything more of a vehicle. —Raphael Orlove
I’ve become more of a BMW 2 Series fan of late and was not expecting to enjoy the new 340i as much as I did. It’s as close to a perfectly balanced sports sedan as you’d want.
The car has enough power out of its new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six to melt the tires, if you so desire, and enough tire and suspension to keep you planted in the corners, if that’s your thing.
It’s not an M and the price is a little steep, but if you’re leasing a new car every two years, make one of these your next. –Matt Hardigree
The Honda Ridgeline isn’t sexy. It’s basically just a Pilot SUV with a bed instead of third-row seats and a cargo hatch. It’s modestly styled, comfortable, safe and well built. But what made the Ridgeline such a standout for me was its towing capability, which went way beyond what I expected of this little unibody “truck.”
The Ridgeline towed my 3,000 pound 1966 Ford Mustang on an 1,800 pound trailer over the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia all the way to Detroit. Despite my worry that we were towing awful close to the truck’s maximum rated capacity, the Ridgeline yanked that pony over the mountains with no drama whatsoever. Even scoring decent fuel economy under the circumstances. The biggest surprise wasn’t the amount of weight the Ridgeline could pull, but rather how composed the truck remained with the extra load. –David Tracy
The Honda Civic Type-R is like the Hellcat of front-wheel drives. Barely touch the gas while accelerating from a stop and you’ll rip those tires loose, sending the front end violently bouncing up and down.
Frankly, the car has too much power and not enough grip to get its butt off the line. But that’s about the only fault I found because in the corners, the Type-R is a masterpiece. The combination of low curb weight, fantastically powerful engine, wonderfully bolstered seats, huge Brembo brakes and a divine six-speed shifter that made it one of the best cars I’ve ever driven ever, forget just 2016. –David Tracy
I put $2,000 into this Jeep and it gave me back 4,000 of the greatest miles of my life: An epic trip from Detroit to Moab, a week of off-road driving, and back. Oh yeah, and it hasn’t died yet!
Despite its completely rotted unibody this XJ Cherokee kept trudging on mile after mile, grueling off-road trail after grueling off-road trail. Sure it was slow, handled like a large oceangoing vessel and chugged fuel like no car under 10 tons should, but the Cherokee was dead reliable and absolutely unstoppable on the rocks of Moab.
Of any car I drove this year, I had the most fun in this old clunky Jeep. It simply never ceased to amaze me with its capability. To this day, I wonder what the XJ’s true limits really are because even on those challenging off-road trails in Moab, I don’t think I fully tested them. –David Tracy
Think of the last time you got a subcompact from the rental counter and definitely took the extra insurance because you weren’t about to spend any time in that thing at less than full-throttle. Canada’s Micra Cup took the uniquely hilarious experience of tripodding a tiny peanutmobile around every little turn and grew it into a one-make racing series using identical race-prepped Nissan Micras.
The Micra Cup feels more like a tastefully modified road car than a race car, and that’s the joy of it. It’s tiny, it’s tossable. It screams every direction change, gear shift and pedal application through soft springs. There’s nothing more hilarious than driving a slow car fast, and the Micra Cup series is the most brilliant application of that theory to-date. -Stef Schrader
I’m usually more than happy to return loaner cars. Vehicles borrowed from the “press fleet” are usually burdened with too many annoying features to please the aging journosaur who prioritizes dashboard quality over the driving experience. It’s obvious that they’re not my car, and were never meant to be my car. Not so much with the F-Type S.
It wasn’t just rakishly gorgeous car on the outside, it was easy to live with and use every day. Most importantly– it came with three pedals. You know what’s been missing from my life? A small car that looks good and comes with a manual transmission. Please give the F-Type S Coupe back. Please?
Full review coming soon. –Stef Schrader
When the inaugural LeMons Rally swung through the most brutal lengths of the Nevada desert into Death Valley, there were many tales of woe involving breakdowns, overheating and other vehicular maladies. But not from our car.
The Baja Bug we’d borrowed from Class 11 (Stock VW Beetle) off-road racer Jim Graham didn’t even flinch, even when the ambient temperature hit a higher number than this car’s speedometer ever could. The worst that happened to the Bug in this over 1,100 mile trip was a bit of extra oil consumption by its 1915-cc flat four engine and a brake pad that came loose. It’s a truly car born of the desert.
I need a desert racing Beetle worse than ever now, and if you’re doing anything anything else the week of the next LeMons Rally, what are you even doing with your life?! –Stef Schrader
The Ariel Atom is what happens when you strip everything non-essential out of a car, and dedicate the entire thing towards stripping your face-flesh from its bones the second you find the nearest twisty road.
The Ariel Nomad is what happens when you remove the “road” bit.
It is silly, stupid fast, with the added option of being able to pound through mud and dirt and sand and leaves and whatever else you can find. Since it’s got a bit more up-and-down motion every time it moves, it feels even faster than its Atom brethren. I had a nasty cold before I drove the Nomad, and I’m pretty sure I was running a bad fever. The Nomad, and its sheer speed and insanity, cured me. –Michael Ballaban
Alright, I’m just going to put this into perspective real quick. The SL63 will rip stupid huge donuts all day long using its 556 horsepower and and 664 pound-feet of torque, all while gently using silly air bladders embedded in the seats to make sure your torso is capable of staying upright. It’s absurd. It’s great.
Everyone’s going nuts over the still-new AMG-GT, and that’s pretty great, too, but for $150 large the old hand is the one you want to live with. –Michael Ballaban
Normally, when it comes time to pick cars to drive for my me-driving-cars-weblevision show, Jason Drives, my first thought is almost always “what’s going to make me miserable or confused?” That’s because I’m usually convinced people will only want to watch me if I’m in some sort of peril or pain. Christopher Runge’s amazing handmade car left me delighted and engaged, so in that sense, it was an absolute failure.
In every other sense, though, the car is an absolute triumph. It’s inspired by the post-WWII home-built Volkswagen-based specials war-weary people built and raced, and Chris’ modern interpretation is the stripped-down essential soul of what a racecar is.
It’s handmade throughout, with a tube chassis and English Wheel’d and hammered aluminum skin wrapping a mid-mounted air-cooled flat-four. It’s like wearing motorized speed pants; driving this car is deeply mechanical and visceral. It’s almost more prosthetic than car, and it’s also likely one of the most raw, uncut, pure doses of driving joy I’ve experienced.
Also, it was cold as fuck when I drove it, so I’m happy to say people were still able to see me in a bit of pain. –Jason Torchinsky
Say what you will about 2016, but I did get to drive a metric crapton of fascinating cars: a Trabant, a Lamborghini Urraco, a propeller-driven car, and even two amphibious vehicles. I have to say, though, that one of the best experiences had to be driving this 1964 Amphicar. Specifically, driving it into the water.
I really love the charming little Amphicar, with its fussy little tailfins, hooded headlamps, and rear-mounted Triumph motor. On land, it’s not that great, really. I mean, it’s not bad, but it’s like any number of somewhat pokey mid-’60s convertible leisure cars. But where the Amphicar shines is at one very crucial point: when you drive it into the water.
And I do mean that one point – the actual moment of leaving land and wading into the wet. The Amphicar is, of course, inherently a compromise – not a fantastic road car, and not so hot a boat. But at that one moment when you drive it down that boat ramp and just plunge headlong into the water, that’s the moment that the car is doing something almost nothing else can do, and in that moment you feel like a fucking amphibious god.
I loved every brief second of those moments I splashed into the water in the Amphicar, and I think it’s something everyone who loves both cars and moisture should experience at least once. –Jason Torchinsky
I didn’t just drive cars this year. I also was lucky enough to get to drive the bigger, more beligerent siblings of cars, tanks and similar mobile machines designed to transform things into piles of bits of former things. Unsurprisingly, it was a blast.
While driving a Scorpion tank over a car and through a house was a blast, by far the most satisfying tank-like thing to drive was this British ‘self-propelled gun’ called an Abbott.
The Abbott is similar to a tank, but it’s smaller and lighter and faster. Driving it was surprisingly straightforward, with just a pedal and two big levers. I’m sure I was never going all that fast in it, but when this brute is bouncing down a backwoods trail and splashing through massive mudholes, it feels like you’re tearing nontrivial amounts of ass, and it’s an absolute blast.
Driving this at full throttle over rough terrain with your head out of the hatch is absurdly good fun and the armed forces should probably provide such rides as rewards for citizens who do a lot of jury duty or something. –Jason Torchinsky
This was, simply put, a turbo diesel mid-engined all-wheel-drive amphibious convertible van with a hydropneumatic suspension and a manual transmission. Need I say more? - Michael Roselli
My Mom’s 2016 Chevrolet SS
I, somehow, convinced my mom to get a new Chevy SS with magnetic ride and a manual transmission. It’s comfortable and spacious enough for long drives, but powerful and nimble enough to make driving on twisty backroads enjoyable. Plus, Blizzak tires for the winter means I, I mean, my mom will get to enjoy 415 naturally-aspirated horsepower 365 days a year. I’m such a good son. - Michael Roselli
Every part of the Boxster Spyder exceeded my expectations. It looked better than I expected, it sounded better than I expected, it turned, accelerated, and rode better than I expected. What a way to send the old Boxster off on a high note. - Michael Roselli
1985 BMW 325e
This was a garbage driving year for me! Being in charge of this place is terrible. Most of my time was spent editing and hiring and doing budgets and memos and planning and getting us through the flaming shit-nado that engulfed our previous parent company. Oh well. I’m so glad 2016 is nearly over, and so excited for what we’re gonna do in 2017. You’ll hear more about that soon.
But I did buy a car in 2016. An old car. A car I’ve been remiss in writing about, but one I’ve been enjoying every day and even teaching myself to wrench on—something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s this 1985 BMW 325e, the one with the unloved and slow “eta” inline-six that tops out below 5000 RPM in the interest of saving fuel. Ostensibly.
I don’t care that it isn’t fast. I don’t care that it doesn’t have the handling chops of the E30 M3 I drove a few years back. It’s a stylish, delightfully fun, engaging driver’s car that I love to death. In a world filled with self-driving snooze pods and anonymous 2.0-liter turbo fours, this old BMW reminds me of why I got into this gig in the first place: because human driving still matters. –Patrick George
Now that I’m done bitching about new cars, let me tell you how much I love this one. The XC90 was as close to perfect as I think a modern car can be in 2016. It looks lovely and sophisticated. It’s insanely comfortable. It comes with a selection of interesting engines that all move just fine. The tech, especially the design of the UI, is all top notch. And it represents one hell of a comeback from a Jalopnik-favorite car brand.
I don’t care much for crossovers at all, or even most luxury cars that aren’t built to go stupidly fast on a track. But I love the XC90. It’s top-notch, and it leaves me excited to see what Volvo does next. More Polestars, for sure. –Patrick George
2011 Ford Ranger
I’ve never considered myself much of a truck person, but when my previous ride—a basic 2003 Focus—went to shit for the last time I could deal with, I was happy to find this lovely thing at a local dealer with just shy of 35,000 miles on it.
The extended cab makes for a comfortable ride for longer drives, and with just over 207 horsepower, gave enough power to accelerate nicely around Metro Detroit roads. I would’ve kept it around a long time, were I not relocating to New York City in the near-future. –Ryan Felton