These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022

These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022

We drove plenty of cars in 2022, but some totally defied our expectations.

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Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Steve DaSilva

Here at Jalopnik, we have the unique pleasure of getting to drive a whole lot of different cars in a whole lot of different places. Some are fine. Some are mediocre. But there’s another subset of car that we don’t always talk about: The ones that surprise us the most.

Surprise can be both good and bad. Sometimes, you’re hoping a car would be a lot better than it turns out to be: faster, more comfortable, less confusing. Sometimes, you’re not expecting a whole lot, but you walk away with a shockingly favorable impression. Maybe you’re an anti-truck person who gets sent on a pickup press trip, only to realize you kinda dig the whole “I’m an invincible master of the road” feeling. Maybe you think you love EVs only to walk away from a promising one feeling a little let down.

Today, we’re going to talk about the cars that surprised us most — and what shocked us most about them.

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Elizabeth Blackstock: Toyota bZ4x

Elizabeth Blackstock: Toyota bZ4x

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The Toyota bZ4x isn’t a bad vehicle in any way — it’s just a perplexing one. Toyota’s very first all-electric vehicle wasn’t really a stunner, which is surprising from a company that has consistently nailed and defined the hybrid market. The vehicle was surprising to me because it left me confused. It’s probably a little more expensive than it needs to be, especially considering the build quality issues that have plagued the bZ4x and the controversial use of plastic cladding. It didn’t really have anything unique to set it apart from the crowd.

As I wrote in my review: “ If you’re an avid Toyota fan that’s looking to go fully electric, you’re going to love this. If you want better prices, higher luxury, more range, faster charging, more competent technology, better tax credits, more capable off-roading, or a sportier drive, you’ll be able to find that elsewhere in this ever-growing market niche. I really liked the bZ4X — it just hasn’t given me a reason to buy it yet.”

So, the bZ4x was surprising to me — not because it was bad, but because it seemed like a confused effort from a company that really needed to nail its first EV.

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Erin Marquis: Lamborghini Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae

Erin Marquis: Lamborghini Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae

The open doors on a blue Lamborghini Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae reflected in a pond
A Lamborghini Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae photographed in Italy.
Image: Lamborghini

It’s been a pretty difficult year for me, and nothing reminded me why this is the greatest job in the world quite like driving a Lamborghini Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae around Italy back in April. The Aventador Ultimae is history, art, and true enthusiast vehicle all rolled into one.

The Ultimae is the last Lamborghini to be manufactured with its legendary naturally-aspirated V-12 engine. The last of its kind — a victim of emissions regulation and smaller, more powerful engines — this model sported one of those cool glass rear hoods to show off its beastly heart. Lamborghini only planned to build 350 coupes and 250 roadsters. Lamborghini sent out invites to previous owners to buy the vehicles and the 600 slots all sold almost immediately. Then almost all of the Ultimaes were lost when the cargo ship Felicity Ace caught fire in February destroying thousands of European vehicles on their way to overseas customers. Lamborghini spent this year remanufacturing the Ultimaes, a process that finally ended in September of this year.

This was my first time reviewing a Lamborghini and it would be the last one built with the naturally aspirated V-12 engine that made the Aventador a legend. Nothing sounds quite like that big, breathy 770-horsepower engine. I got to hear it echoing off of hilltop castle walls and winding narrow village streets as well as going flat out in monstrous Bologna rush hour traffic, and it was a car that managed to connect with me time and time again, no matter where I took it.

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Owen Bellwood: Kia Sorento PHEV

Owen Bellwood: Kia Sorento PHEV

A photo of a white Kia Sorento PHEV SUV with a pop-up tent on the roof.
Photo: Owen Bellwood

It’s been a funny old year, 2022. From heading back to school to learn to drive on the other side of the road, to getting to drive a gleaming Maserati into the hills for a weekend of backpacking and rafting — you know, normal Maserati things. But while that was a very fun review, I don’t think that car was the most surprising thing I drove this year. That accolade, instead, goes to the Kia Sorento PHEV, which I also drove up to the hills for a weekend of hiking — there’s a theme here.

I took the hybrid Kia with a Roofnest tent strapped to the roof up to the Catskills to test it and the tent out during a spot of camping. While the tent left me wanting a little more, the car did not disappoint.

At the time, everyone else here found it funny that this was the biggest car I’d ever driven, but SUVs of this size aren’t all too common in the UK thanks to our twisty turny city streets. So, it was a bit of a shock when I first climbed inside. But, once in there, I was greeted by one of the nicest interiors I’ve experienced at this price point, including two of the most comfortable, vented seats out there.

On top of that, the Kia Sorento PHEV was also pretty fun to drive around those mountain roads, even if it did lumber around the corners a bit at times. But, it also managed more than 30 miles on electric power alone, which is nice to have if you want to silently sneak through town, and it looks pretty damn smart. Finally, I’m starting to get the SUV hype.

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José Rodríguez Jr.: Ford F-150 Raptor R

José Rodríguez Jr.: Ford F-150 Raptor R

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Jalopnik / José Rodríguez Jr.

This one’s easy, and is spot on what Elizabeth described: I hate trucks. I loathe loud, garish machines, and yet I loved the 2023 F-150 Raptor R. And even against my wishes, the V8 Raptor managed to beat the Bronco Raptor for me.

I was weaned on pickup trucks — on Chevy C10s and gnarly Ford F-150s that should’ve been called Lobos. My dad was a truck guy (and later an XJ guy), so I grew up touring the U.S. in vehicles with durability in mind rather than comfort. Of course, I started driving with a love of SUVs and single cab pickups.

When I finally went on a road trip in a full-size sedan, I couldn’t believe how much more comfortable sedans were on the highway. Twelve hours hugging the Gulf of Mexico on roads between Texas and Louisiana went by in a flash, and were actually enjoyable in a car. I swore off pickup trucks as specialized tools.

Then the F-150 Raptor R came along and shattered my idea of a gnarly truck, which I would’ve relegated to certain environments only. The F-150 Raptor R is more comfortable on the interstate than either the Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco, both of which are some of the most capable machines off-road.

Those aren’t pickups, but they are rivals of the Raptor R off-road, where the Raptor R does an incredible job despite its size. The implications of a V8-powered pickup in 2022 aren’t the best. We need cleaner cars, more EVs, but the Raptor R is at the zenith of what combustion-powered machines could do. And it would have been a dream for a much younger me and my family, taking long drives across the U.S. in a pickup.

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Andy Kalmowitz: Cadillac Lyriq

Andy Kalmowitz: Cadillac Lyriq

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Andy Kalmowitz

Every few years a new Cadillac comes along and everyone says, “this is finally the vehicle that will put Cadillac back on the map.” Those folks are usually wrong, but not this time. I went into my time with the Lyriq a bit skeptical. I didn’t think there was any way General Motors could actually pull off a luxury electric crossover that felt every bit as expensive as it was (about $62,500).

Well, I was partially right. It didn’t feel every bit as expensive as it was. It felt better than that. The Lyriq is here to usher in a new era at GM’s luxury marque, and it seems to be more than up to that daunting task. I’ve even written about how the Lyriq has left some of Cadillac’s legacy products feeling antiquated.

The Lyriq is quick in a straight line, fun enough in the corners, loaded to the gills with every piece of technology you can think of, built well and has over 300 miles of range. GM has a winner on its hands with the Lyriq, and it’s just the beginning.

The Lyriq is also a great showcase of the Ultium platform, which is going to be the underpinnings for just about every GM EV we will see in the future. This midsize crossover is paving the for the General Motors of the future. Forget what you thought about this company before, the Lyriq is different.

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Lawrence Hodge: Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige

Lawrence Hodge: Kia Sportage X-Pro Prestige

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Lawrence Hodge

I know some of you are probably saying, “What could be surprising about another crossover?” Hear me out.

Kia could have just made another crossover that blends into the sea of other midsize crossovers but it didn’t. While this describes the other trims in the Sportage lineup, Kia threw me for a loop when it let me get behind the wheel of the X-Pro. I had some serious questions when their reps told us we were going to put these things through their paces at an off-road park. But Kia delivered. And I say this as someone who doesn’t really care for crossovers.

I’m not saying this is some Ford Raptor or Jeep Wrangler competitor. But what we do have here is a mall crawler that can handle a slightly tough trail if it needed to. Kia didn’t need to throw on things like BF Goodrich all-terrain tires, skid plates, locking rear differential, and off-road cameras. But they did. This thing could have easily been just another look like it wants to go off-roading appearance package or something. And while not many of the Sportage buyers will experience what the Sportage X-Pro can do off-road, I appreciate that it even exists because given the segment it could have easily been something else.

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Adam Ismail: Mazda3 Turbo

Adam Ismail: Mazda3 Turbo

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Adam Ismail

The Mazda3 Turbo is not a bad car; far from it. It’s just a car nobody seems to want, and even this hatchback evangelist can’t make excuses for. At a time when Mercedes is retiring the A-Class on our shores, and BMW and Audi move about 15,000 2 Series and 10,000 A3s a year, respectively, the premium compact has never been less relevant.

Typically, the people shopping for vehicles like these prefer the body style for its predisposition for spirited driving; otherwise, they’d likely choose a crossover. But the Mazda3 Turbo isn’t sporty in the least, despite its 250 horsepower and healthy 320 lb-ft of torque. It’s not especially comfortable, either. It’s a pain to see out of, and its all-wheel-drive nature has only made it feel portlier — not more confident — in bends. The only things it really has going for it are its gorgeous exterior and interior fit-and-finish that rivals the best from any German brand in this segment. That, frankly, isn’t enough.

The Mazda3 also receives new competition from the Acura Integra, which I’ve still yet to drive. Given a choice between both, I’d struggle to pass up the Mazda on account of the fact it doesn’t look like a lowered Accord Crosstour, but my colleague Steve DaSilva was smitten with the Integra’s backroad charm in his review. Plus, Acura at least offers three pedals in that car’s top spec. The Mazda3 Turbo never had to be the GR Corolla or anything; a pulse would’ve sufficed.

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9 / 13

Steve DaSilva: Rivian R1S

Steve DaSilva: Rivian R1S

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Steve DaSilva

The Rivian R1S, in its top trim, is a $90,000 SUV with over 800 horsepower and 900 lb-ft of torque. You approach it with the expectation of luxury, performance, and outdoor capability, like an automotive Arc’teryx parka. When you drive it, and it is luxurious, high-performing, and outdoorsy, it’s not a surprise — just the SUV living up to its spec sheet and marketing. So why is it on this list?

Rivian is, for lack of a better term, an embattled startup facing constant setbacks and issues. We’re all used to EV startups that have weird, imperfect production and shoddy, poorly thought-out construction, and no one would be shocked if Rivian’s first two vehicles carried the same issues. So the R1S’s big surprise is its engineering — everything is carefully considered, meticulously crafted, and perfect.

The rear contains an air compressor, for filling your tires back up after off-road adventures. The interior has a charging plug for every passenger, and a reading light in the top of the split tailgate. The black trim along the bottom of the doors opens with the doors, leaving no exposed body surface to coat your pants with mud. Every single detail on the R1S is thought out to an absurd degree, far more than you’d expect from most automakers — let alone startups. The Rivian isn’t surprising for its capability, it’s surprising for its perfection.

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10 / 13

Kyle Hyatt: Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance

Kyle Hyatt: Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance

A wine red 2022 Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance
Photo: Lucid

The Lucid Air was one of those things that I always assumed was going to be vaporware. The car’s gestation period was incredibly long and very public and given how hard it’s been for other, larger new car companies to get off the ground, the chance of failure seemed impossibly high. But, here we are in 2022 and I’ve put well over 1,000 miles on the Grand Touring Performance model, and now I’ve got no choice but to drink the Kool-Aid.

The Air in general is a breath of fresh... well, air. It’s a luxury EV that looks and feels like a real luxury car. It’s a wildly powerful, beautifully engineered and totally flawed machine that shows so much potential that I almost can’t handle it.

I was prepared to nitpick this thing to death, because, let’s face it, that’s my job, but I was so surprised by the overall quality of the experience that I still find myself trying to do the mental mathematical gymnastics necessary to afford a base model.

If Lucid can get its shit together and get really good at consistently building cars at scale, it will be unstoppable.

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11 / 13

Lalita Chemello: Ram 1500 Rebel G/T

Lalita Chemello: Ram 1500 Rebel G/T

Red Ram 1500 Rebel truck with full cab and short bed, stopped on a street with colorful fall trees behind it
Photo: Lalita Chemello

How much Ram is too much Ram? Well, it might just be the 9 mpg Ram TRX. But if you want to take that beastly setup down a notch, and also gain a few extra mpg, you go with the Ram Rebel. When I finally got behind the wheel of this thing, I suddenly felt like I had fully embraced my surroundings. Farm fields surrounding our small village, throw on a flannel and voila, I’m suddenly a real farm girl.

In all honesty, I have had a long-standing dislike of most things related to the Dodge and Ram brands. For me it came down to the personalities I felt it attracted, or the actions of drivers (but you know, that’s just the people driving around southeast Michigan). I missed out on those wasted years.

On a phone call with our EIC, I confessed (like we’re in some sort of holy car confessional), that I finally understood why people love this truck. The Dodges and Rams of my youth, were not made the same as they are now. This Ram was refined, but also way more practical than their counterparts made nowadays by GM and Ford. It’s more spacious so you can actually haul four full-grown American adults. It was also easy to drive down the road (or off-road, if the occasion called for it) My only two quips was a lack of a runner so my 5'4" self didn’t have to climb a rock wall to get into it, and it’s a hell of a lot of truck to park.

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12 / 13

Erik Shilling — Peugeot 2008

Erik Shilling — Peugeot 2008

Image for article titled These Are the Cars That Most Surprised the Jalopnik Staff in 2022
Photo: Peugeot

I needed a car for a vacation in Scotland earlier this year and the thing about renting a car in Europe is that the default is for it to be a manual of some kind. They initially told me it would be a Volkswagen Polo or something similar, which is a supermini that isn’t sold in America. Of course, when I showed up at the car rental place in Edinburgh, that is not what I got, because car rental places really only give you what they happen to have on hand at the moment. A manual Peugeot 2008 it would have to be, the man said, selling it as an upgrade over a VW Polo, because the 2008 is a subcompact crossover and not a supermini. I was a little disappointed to be getting the European equivalent of a Dodge Journey but I said sure. I was surprised how big this supposedly subcompact crossover was. I was also surprised by how much of the space I needed and used, and felt a little grateful to have a bit more car in the Scottish Highlands, where the roads can sometimes get a little dodgy. The rental guy was right that I would thank him later. I did.

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