Looking back at this year’s Jalopnik Reviews, we found that Miatas, McLarens and bi-turbo Mercedes-Benzes proved excellent as always. But we also discovered the sweetness of a $50,000 Subaru WRX and found out whether 1990s Hondas lived up to the legend.
Since we’re committed to being an impartial outlet that covers every aspect of car culture, we don’t give out formal awards for best new cars the way most outlets do. After all, who gives a shit? Nobody buys something because it was the North American Car or Truck of the Year. We’ll all be dead eventually, so buy whatever you want and enjoy it as long as you can.
But in lieu of that, we like to list the finest cars—old and new—that we drove between January and now. We hope you’ll find it useful, and we’re glad you were here with us on our adventures.
Here are our favorites for the year.
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and I am powerless against its influence. So many Cars & Coffee chin wags now begin with lines like “Yeah my buddy, had a ’99 Si,” and I am absolutely guilty of contributing. My friend had one of these in high school. A blue one, just like this. We eventually wrecked it.
It was my first taste of “fast.” Even though, objectively, it really wasn’t. But it was undeniably loud and light and just freaking fun as hell. That was as true earlier this year, when I drove Honda’s museum piece, as it was in 2005, the year I spent raising hell on the back roads of my home town in one of these.
Long shift throws, palpable body roll, horsepower hiding at extremely high RPMs... Long live sport compacts.
I did not think anything could redeem a $50,000 asking price on a freaking Subaru WRX, but I can’t deny that my best driving day of the entire year was by myself, on Angeles Crest, in this car. Not in any of the supercars, not in any of the classics... I put in an entire workday lapping the mountains north of Los Angeles because the WRX Type RA exists in this perfect groove between “too much” and “just right.” This car delivered a combination of confidence and challenge that was simply addictive.
The steering is consistent, heavy and predictable. Throttle response is explosive. The brakes bites like vice grips. I love it.
Before I passed the mic I have to throw honorable mentions to the Icon Bronco and McLaren 570S Spider... Both exceedingly different executions of “perfection on wheels;” both felt like superlative caricatures of everything we love about driving.
-Andrew P. Collins
Yes, it’s an extremely Jalopnikian take to be all “the best car of 2018 is a car that’s damn near 50 years old,” but if we’re just talking about the best cars we drove, not the best cars to own, then the Triumph GT6+ is up there. I totally get why “they just don’t make them like they used to,” in this case, because if this was a new car it would be terrible.
There’s no place for your legs no matter your height, for instance, which is a problem if this car is going to be driven by a species that has them. There’s barely any sound insulation. Sometimes it smells like fuel. The whole thing vibrates and there’s no headliner to speak of whatsoever, and the safety technology is pretty much limited to “don’t crash.”
But it’s a great study in what we’ve lost. You feel every little thing going on with both the car and the road, often before you hear or see it. It’s loud and rumbly and growly, and that’s not because engineers sat there with 8,000 microphones in a lab for 12 years. It’s extremely light. You feel like you’re going a million miles an hour while you get passed by a pissed-off Toyota Highlander that’s been stuck behind you for the past couple of states.
Once again the 2019 Mazda Miata is probably as great a driver’s car as possible under $100,000 in this day and age. And while yes, it’s always going to be chasing cars like the Triumph GT6+, there’s a reason those two cars will never be the same, and that’s because they’re of entirely different eras.
So while the Triumph certainly snorts about you more, the Miata has suspension that, uh, works. It’s comfortable and fun and smooth and it doesn’t lean like you don’t want it to. And now that they’ve finally added some power to the diminutive little roadster, you really do feel the oomph.
I hate that I liked it so much. I hate that I’m putting this here now. It’s so basic, so reductive. OF COURSE, the $130whatever-thousand Porsche is going to be good. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t.
But what’s more wild is just how good this thing is. It’s perfectly balanced and wildly powerful and makes a great noise and it really does have some of the best steering in a car I’ve ever driven, let alone in 2018. I don’t want to put this car on this list, but here it is.
The Porsche 911 GTS is incredibly good. It’s make-you-bite-your-lip good. It’s “you’ll-hate-yourself-for-not-buying-it-now-because-this-asburd-price-is-as-cheap-as-it’ll-ever-be” good. At least, until Porsche makes a new one next year.
I have been saying for years that the mid-engined Porsche Cayman is the superior Porsche, and after driving the 2018 718 Cayman GTS around for a week, I will never back down from this opinion. The thing was light on its feet and felt like you were wearing it rather than driving it. It had the perfect amount of power and acceleration and made even the most mundane of commutes fun. It’s very expensive for a little two-seater, but damn is it a joy to drive.
People who converted to the EV life make a lot of noise about how they’re so much better than ICE cars blah blah blah but, honestly, I wasn’t amazed by how much better the Tesla Model 3 was over a regular car. I was more impressed by how it’s utterly comparable to one.
The acceleration was amazing and it was spooky that it was dead-silent when you drove it, but it’s also great at just being a car. It just needs a key fob and the big touchscreen could use a few updates.
I think once the charging infrastructure expands, range anxiety will effectively go away forever. Maybe people living in cities might even be able to own them, too.
I get a lot of complaints from readers about how modern cars are missing “life” and “soul” and, after driving a second-gen Toyota MR2, I finally knew what everyone was talking about. The thing was like an angry animal, especially when the boost came on. Once that happened, it felt like hitting the warp-drive button, even though you weren’t going that fast. The sound is furious and wonderful and the car just looks great: Low-slung, mid-engined and with T-tops. I get it now. I get the hype. It’s 100 percent justified.
Oh, God. I am putting a Mustang in my list of best cars of 2018. But it’s true. The Mustang astounded me with how much I liked its looks, power, sound and transmission. Get it with the manual, if you can, because it clunks and thunks and whirrs like something truly alive. The naturally aspirated V8 means that the power is linear as well as robust. And it’s spacious enough to be daily drive-able!
The original Mazda RX-7 is not a fast car. And that is okay. Because what it lacks in speed and power it makes up for in sheer personality. Lumpy idles. Smooth acceleration. Low, very low, body weight. A short distance between shift lever and steering wheel. You can rock out in this car, drive it at ten-tenths and you’ll never get pulled over for speeding. It’s your own private party and it’s tiny and you don’t need anything more than that.
Most of the staff of Jalopnik has spent some time behind the wheel of the Kia Stinger, and as far as I could tell, all of us really enjoyed it. My experience was special, though, because I went out to Colorado to drive it around a temporary snow course Kia had set up. While the trip was specifically meant to show off the car’s all-wheel drive capability, they also let us turn off its traction control.
Did I learn anything? Well, I learned sliding through corners in somebody else’s car is a lot more relaxed at slow speeds in the snow on a course with zero obstacles, and it was probably the purest fun I had all year because of it.
I was in Portugal to drive the all-new 2019 BMW 3 Series earlier this month. As good as the new 330i is, the new M340i has almost as much power as an early M90 M3 from a decade ago. That’s coupled with revamped driving dynamics and characteristics of the new 3, like improved steering, a stiffer chassis, and extremely rear-biased optional all-wheel drive.
It was so good, the U.S. journalists delayed our departure by two hours because we forced BMW to let us all take a second turn around the racetrack. It was also the second-most sideways I’ve been all-year, behind the Stinger in the snow.
Okay, so did I maybe think it was good just because I drove it around the track a lot, and virtually any car is going to be considered “fun” if all you do is drive it around a track?
Like I said, maybe.
Funnily enough, the BMW M340i wasn’t the only car I drove on the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal this year. The other car was the Jaguar I-Pace, which I enjoyed not only for its weirdass styling, but also because Jaguar found a way to take a 4,800-pound crossover and make it feel quick, agile and decently engaging to drive.
It’s a good electric car, and the result of a totally crazy and different direction I wouldn’t have ever expected from Jaguar, and I love it.
Whenever I contribute to these year-end best car roundups, I try to pick one new car and one old car I really loved. And I was fully prepared to give my new car award to the Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet. It was everything I could conceivably want in a car, though for $200,000 it had better be. But then I thought—that’s a fast, expensive Porsche. Of course it’s good. You all know that, and so did I going in. No surprises there.
Instead I’ll salute the new car that surprised me the most, which was the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Look, I know, declaring a Nissan Versa Note competitor that just so happens to have an electric motor instead of a gasoline motor “the BEST” is weird, but stay with me here. Up until now most of my experiences with modern EVs was in loaded, expensive Teslas—and those are great! But the Bolt absolutely delivers on a promise of electric transportation, practicality and affordability.
A week spent in this thing was a real delight and, charging issues in New York City that reflect the deeply flawed premise with which GM conceives of its main electric offering aside, it opened my eyes to how good our electric future can be for everyday people, one day, maybe. It’s probably the best thing General Motors has done in years.
After having done it, I can tell you that you should absolutely drive from one side of the country to the other at least once before you die. Our Bavaria vs. America was one of the most fun, relaxing and even liberating adventures I’ve ever been on. But I’m not sure I’d be saying that if our old steed hadn’t been so damn tough.
In 2,800 miles from Seattle to New York City, the only issue—besides shady wipers and intermittent heat—was a squeaky belt up front. Not bad for a car that’s older than anyone on my staff. This car is proof of how good and tough old cars can be if they’re maintained right, and how they can handle a lot more than we might expect even today.
I gotta get back out on the road next year. Anyone have an old car they need transported?
Prior to May of this year, I won’t lie- I didn’t understand the whole wagon craze, I would look at wagons from afar and think “eh, I don’t know...” That all changed, though, when I spent one blessed night with the Jaguar XF S Sportbrake. My word, this machine is an absolute joy. All of the tech I could want, luxury, and I can’t complain about the amount of space either. I wasn’t a huge fan of the rising up, dial-shaped gear shifter, but hey you can’t win ’em all. Thank you Jaguar, for changing my mind. I miss this car every day.
The 2018 Volkswagen Up! GTI is small, pissed-off, and possibly the only perfect new car that exists in this fallen world. Sure, it’s not sold in the United States. Sure, it’s zero to 60 time (8.6 seconds) doesn’t scream at you off the page. Sure, its output of 114 horsepower from its tiny 1.0-liter inline three-cylinder seems small.
But consider that, like all fun cars, the Up! GTI really hits its stride in the high revs. Consider that driving slow cars fast is the way you want to live. Consider that there’s an honest case to be made that the Up! GTI is a practical decision, given that its base price is $17,749 in the U.K., and it’s roomier than you’d expect. Yeah, there are other cars you might consider—a Fiat 500 Abarth chief among them—but for my money, the Up! GTI is the pound-for-pound king.
1955 Volkswagen Beetle 36 HP Salt Flat Racer “Once More”
I know I’ve got a bad habit of putting old racing Beetles in my Best Cars lists, but, look, if I get to drive one, I can’t help it if they always manage to charm me pantsless. And this year was no exception. While at the Salt Flats in Utah I got to drive this old Beetle, a car with a name: Once More, because this car had driven around the globe three times. Once More was part of the 36 HP Challenge, a speed record category for old 36-horse engine Beetles.
It was fantastic. Surprisingly quick (well, quick feeling), nimble, visceral, fun, and spraying charm like a firehose. This old blue fella, tearing ass across the lunar vastness of the Salt Flats, really, it just doesn’t get any better, even with less horsepower than the A/C blower motor makes on a modern car.
When I think about what car impressed me the most this year, the answer is incredibly easy: the Tata Nano. I was impressed because the Nano, at about $2,500 new, is by far the least expensive production car ever made. Sure, thanks to dumb ideas of status it never sold as expected in its home market of India, or, really, anywhere, but I don’t care, because this thing is a triumph of engineering.
I drove it on Tennessee highways at highway speeds and didn’t die, not even a little. That right there is incredible. It’s useful, roomy, efficient, and, at least to a doofus like me, fun to drive. I love this thing. Any idiot can make a good car if money is no object; when money is a massive constraint and you still get something as good as this, that’s an incredible achievement.
I don’t know if it’s against the rules to put your own car in here, or even if we have any rules about this at all, but even if we did I’d say screw it and do this anyway, because, I’m not ashamed to say it, I love my Pao.
I’ve had it almost a year now and my ardor has yet to cool. Every trip I take in this happy little 52 horsepower nut is a delight. Everyone smiles when they see it, and aside from some minor little fixes here and there, this thing has been absolutely bulletproof and trouble-free. I drove the crap out of the Pao all year and I’m always ready to hop back in. This car makes me very happy, and I can’t think of any better criteria to make this list than that.
I went to Ireland in October and had the 2018 Citroën Cactus C4 for a week, and I swear to god I fell in love with the damn thing. It feels light as a feather, spacious and comfortable on the inside, and it’s extremely nimble. It was downright wonderful to drive. Did I need it to go fast? Zoom, off it went. Did I need to hug turns along the ceaseless, winding roads of Ireland’s countryside? Yeah, no problem. I want the Cactus C4 brought to America, and I want to hold anyone accountable who hasn’t made this happen yet.
Towing my 1979 Jeep Cherokee through an ice storm with a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk on all-season tires was a terrifying ordeal that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst foe. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that this supercharged V8-powered luxury SUV is an amazing machine.
For some reason, I didn’t put the Trackhawk on our 2017 Best Cars list, but I’m fixing that this year, because this 707-horsepower beast gave me real joy, and not for any particularly complex reasons.
It’s really just all about that motor, and the way its power gets turned into pure vehicular acceleration. Imagine a Hellcat Challenger or Charger, except instead of the rear tires turning to smoke when you mash the gas pedal to the floorpan, the vehicle just hooks up. From stoplight to stoplight, I just hammered the throttle, let that supercharger sing and that engine rev, and allowed the pure joy of acceleration turn me into a better man.
The Mahindra Roxor is basically an old-school flat-fender Jeep with a modern diesel engine, a couple of extra gears in its manual trans, power steering, some comfy seats, and a few other niceties.
When I compared its off-road skills to those of my 1948 CJ-2A, I thought the Roxor could use some bigger tires and a bit more suspension articulation. Plus, I thought the big space behind the front seats could have been used more efficiently. But in the end, I couldn’t help but be charmed by this simple little rough-and-tumble off-roader.
It looks awesome, its got a great diesel motor mated to a solid transmission, it’s more than decent off-road, and it’s just generally built like a tank. It’s not road-legal, but gosh does it have lots of soul.
Okay, so I feel guilty just saying the three best vehicles I drove all year were Jeeps or Jeep derivatives. But come on, a 707 horsepower vehicle with all-wheel drive? A modern incarnation of a flat-fender? I had no choice but to mention these two, just as I have no choice but to mention Project Redwood, my lovely 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer that provided my awesome coworker Andrew and me with a supremely comfortable ride on the roads between Detroit, Michigan and Moab, Utah.
It wasn’t great off-road, and it sucked gas like mad, but the seats. The soft springs. The airy cabin. Gosh was that drive amazing. And man does that vehicle look great, even with half of its mass turned to rust.
— David Tracy
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, no matter the model year, is absolutely absurd. That’s what makes the car so great.
The Hellcat is a budget supercar at $80,000, when you really think about it. But it’s hard to ignore that rather large and annoying part of your brain that says, “An $80,000 two-door Dodge that gets around 11 mpg in the city and comes with two keys, in case you need a break and only want to use 500 horsepower? Really?” But the thing about the Hellcat is, it doesn’t have to make sense. The 2018 version is a 707-horsepower monster, and it’s not here to be conscious of your spending on gas, provide traction or be practical in any way.
It’s here to make you feel like a real, true, supercharged-Hemi-having, V8-loving American who can smoke anybody on the drag strip and also take your drag car to the grocery store—just to make sure everyone knows it’s yours.
And that, friends, is the greatness of the Hellcat.
Nürburgring Rental Suzuki Swift Sport
As far as the car that produced the most satisfying automotive feeling in the past year, it would probably be getting my Volkswagen to drive right, or slowly ambling through Wyoming and North Dakota in a 48-year-old BMW.
But the best car itself has to be the caged and race-prepped Suzuki Swift that Rent4Ring let me run for a couple laps on the Nürburgring. The Nordschleife is one maybe the sketchiest track on earth, blind, fast, and full of other yahoos leaking oil and crashing in front of you, at random. But the Swift’s limits were so much higher than mine that I could safely press harder and harder around the track until I reached something close to nirvana. The best cars in the world can be more humble than you think.