The Drive's Favorite Cars of 2017
From supercars to econo-boxes, 2017 was filled with notable new rides.
In 2017, the staff of The Drive was lucky enough to test drive more than 100 new cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, and so forth. Many of them we drove along the highways and byways we're most familiar with—the streets of New York City and the parkways beyond it, the country roads of New England, the winding switchbacks and canyon curves of Southern California. Others, we traveled far to climb behind the wheel; much of Europe has been cursed with our boisterous presence over the last 12 months as we blasted along racetracks and across roadways blessedly barren of foreign law enforcement.
Suffice it to say, we're a lucky bunch.
So with the year winding down, we sat down and came up with our favorite cars we drove in 2017. Obviously, a fair share of exotic speed machines and supercars made the list—any year you can drive a Ferrari 812 Superfast or a McLaren 720S is liable to be a good one—but a fair number of prolechariots made the list as well. Each of us ranked our top rides from fifth to first, in order of personal preference.
Here, then, for your reading pleasure, are The Drive's Favorite Cars of 2017. You're welcome, America.
Lawrence Ulrich, chief auto critic:
5). Honda Accord
Drive the all-new Honda mid-sized sedan—especially the 2.0-liter version that offers a choice of either a six-speed manual (praise the Lord) or a 10-speed automatic—and you may wonder why people bother with “entry-luxury” sedans, some of which aren’t as comfortable as the Accord or don’t drive as well.
4). Lamborghini Huracan Performante
I’m certain that I’ve never picked two Italian supercars for such a short “Best Of” list. But like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, the Huracan Performante—every bit as crazy-faced as Close's character, but less volatile—won’t be ignored. Defying its own history, and every patronizing assumption, the Lamborghini ranks among the world’s most compelling supercars, able to one-up the competition everywhere from racetracks to valet lines.
3). Kia Stinger
This year, no affordable car combined style, performance and practicality like the Stinger. Priced from $39,895 for the 365-horsepower Stinger GT (or $33,000 with a turbo four), Kia’s luxury hatchback romps to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, and to a gaudy 167-mph peak. If there’s any justice, the Stinger will cap its coming-out party by being named 2018 North American Car of the Year.
2). McLaren 720S
Each new McLaren turns out better than the last, and the all-new 720S (priced from $288,475) is no exception. The styling shows McLaren taking sexiness as seriously as they do aero function and carbon-fiber construction. The interior is a marked upgrade over any previous Macca, including the 650S. Performance melds the royal and hooligan extremes of British nature, with 710 horsepower from a twin-turbo V8, a 2.8-second assault on 60 mph, and a 212-mph top speed.
1). Ferrari 812 Superfast
Driving Ferrari’s front-engine, V12, 789-hp masterpiece in its native land of Italy, as I was lucky enough to do earlier this year, is like eating the world’s best spaghetti carbonara off a $450 million DaVinci painting, and washing it all down with a $1,000 bottle of Barolo Montfortino. Fast, gorgeous, and exotic as all hell, it's every bit of what a modern supercar can—and should—be.
Mike Guy, editor:
5). Airstream 19’
Let’s skip the sad story behind why we know much about the 19-foot Airstream travel trailer. Suffice to say I spent three months boondocking (Google that) on Brooklyn streets in one. Silver, bullet-shaped, unmistakable, an attractor of crowds and creeps, aficionados and weirdos, the Airstream—like jazz and Alcoholics Anonymous—may be one of the only truly American things in the world. At the risk of sounding like an ad, to me, it is an embodiment of four-wheeled freedom (if you have a Toyota Tundra pickup to haul it) and a design so meticulously detail-oriented to compact living that there’s a nook for absolutely everything you could ever need.
4). Volvo V90
What’s wrong with America?, you ask. Let’s start with our out-of-hand dismissal of the station wagon. Car companies have gone out of their way to make great station wagons, and yet we still opt for the all-compromise crossover. Take the Volvo V90 station wagon (please). It is practical, efficient, has legit cutting edge interior design, and is one of the most beautiful cars made in the past decade. What’s wrong with you, America? Why don’ you understand this?
3). Bugatti Chiron
Every generation or so there is a thing of beauty so goddamn beautiful it makes you want to just stop right there. I’ve had it. I’ve had enough. Sitting in the Bugatti Chiron—a $3 million curio and the only car this year that actually earns the word “exquisite”—on a quiet secondary road in the hills north of Los Angeles, I had that moment. The engine was running, though I wasn’t moving. The 8-liter quad-turbo W-16 rumble-hummed behind my head while I examined the titanium blades and magnesium frame of the tiny vent along the top of the door.
2). Ford GT
The $450,000 Ford GT is one of the most fascinating American cars ever made. Conceived in under two years—from ideation to completion—the new Ford GT emerged from a top-secret basement skunkworks in Michigan and was revealed to a shocked audience at the Detroit Auto Show in January of 2015. The finished product is a stripped down carbon-fiber carnival ride with a mid-engine twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 that produces 647-horsepower and 550 pound-feet of good ol' American twist. I drove it on a track in a snow storm in Utah and to this day it was one of the top three most patriotic feelings I’ve ever had.
1). Range Rover Velar
When Land Rover first announced it was building a small crossover to fill the white space between the Range Rover Sport and the tiny Evoque, a lot of people wondered if there was actually any space there at all. After spending a few days driving the Velar and gazing at it lustfully, it became obvious that this Range Rover does more than fill a product gap: Land Rover has made its most beautiful car yet. The understated design, the chop-top roof, the low profile and ultra-refined interior—this is next-gen design minimalism in all the best ways.
Josh Condon, deputy editor:
#5). Maserati Levante S Q4
I'm a hard sell when it comes to crossovers—especially those that espouse the suspect notion that such inherently compromised vehicles can or should perform as a driver’s car. And yet, Maserati’s first foray into the genre forced me to rethink a few things. Credit the fact that the sculpted Levante looks and drives more like a tall-riding hatchback than a bland grocery-getter, not to mention the heaping doses of sonic drama and motivation from the 424-horsepower, Ferrari-built twin-turbo V6. (Sport mode is an understatement—the uber-stiff and hyper-responsive setting should really be called the Holy-Hell-Agro-Snarl-Track mode.)
Inside the snug cabin, the driver is treated to that most rare of modern automotive interior commodities: authentic style. Open-grain wood, supple hides like a perfect leather couch, durable, Zegna-sourced silks on the seats and doors—everything contributes to the clean, ergonomic, and understated layout while still delivering exactly the emotion and taste level one expects from true Italian luxury. In an increasingly crowded field of upstart, luxe-minded crossovers, the Levante delivers a uniquely sophisticated experience.
#4). BMW R Nine T Pure
2017 was the year I took a deep plunge into the two-wheeled world. Among a whole host of amazing bikes I was able to test—including the Indian Scout Bobber, Ducati Monster 1190, and Honda CRF250L Rally—the BMW R Nine T Pure proved itself the most willing, comfortable, and generally fun companion.
The Pure is essentially the stripper model in the R Nine T line—one color option, a heavily-edited electronics package, no bells or whistles—but one that proves its charm is inherent, and not the result of gimmicks. Power delivery is smooth, linear, and robust; the build quality feels bulletproof; the upright riding position is comfortable even after hours on the road; and for a heavy bike, it’s remarkably nimble in city riding. Plus, the 110-hp engine sounds the business, and is well-sorted for torque through much of the climb to the 8,500-rpm redline. There are handsomer R Nine T models—the Scrambler I tested certainly qualifies, and the Racer model is an achingly sexy throwback—but there might not be a better one. The fact that you can build out the Pure as you see fit only adds to the value.
#3). Alfa Romeo Giulia Diesel
First thing first: No, you can’t buy the diesel variant in of the Giulia in the States. But the “best cars” brief said to choose among the favorite vehicles driven this year, and the week I spent on vacation in Northern Italy with the charming and lovely Giulia oil-burner certainly qualifies. One can argue the relative value of the gas-burning engine options all day long—the 280-hp inline-four or the 505-hp, twin-turbo V6 in the bonkers Quadrifoglio edition—but what impressed me most about the Giulia, aside from its Italian sex-bomb styling and near-magical chassis tuning, is true of all variants: The way in which it felt like a completely different proposition from every other sport sedan on the market.
Other competitors are, like the Giulia, athletic and nimble and communicative—though rarely are they this communicative—but unlike many other high-end sports sedans, the Alfa never felt like it was overcompensating with technology in the pursuit of manufactured thrills. Nothing rang artificial or hyperbolic. The joy of driving the Giulia comes from a connection to the car that feels organic and essential at any speed, in a way very few modern cars at any price are able to achieve. It was, above all, an effortless sort of elegance. In other words, a true Alfa Romeo.
#2). Honda Civic Type R
Very few cars—hell, very few of anything—feel special the moment you interact with them. The greatness of the Civic Type R is immediately apparent, on a gut level, from the moment you sit inside. Then you start driving it—on back road twisties, or a long and straight highway run, or maniacally bombing around Lime Rock Park—and you realize you’ve somehow underestimated the damn thing.
Such is the power of the Type R, with its insane grip, lovely, snappy shifter, and sport seats that lock you in place like a Lego. The smooth, punchy turbocharged inline four produces 306 horsepower and 295 lb-ft (it somehow feels like half again as much, on both counts) while the Dual Axis front-strut suspension magically banishes torque steer, the bane of all other front-drive hot hatches. It has the ability to mercilessly devour a road course, but without feeling like a concrete surfboard on the highway. The Civic Type R is far and away the ugliest new car in recent memory, and, proud aesthete though I am, I do not care. Such is the power of this car.
#1). Cadillac CT6 (with SuperCruise)
With all due respect to the very fine CT6, it would not make my list without the SuperCruise semi-autonomous highway-driving functionality. But such is the game-changing nature of SuperCruise that you could put it into literally any car on the market, and that car would earn my top spot as Best Car of the Year. It cannot be overstated: SuperCruise represents a fundamental leap forward for the American commute.
Cadillac engineers identified a specific type of driving most benefited by semi-autonomous functionality—that is, highway commuting—and then built a system exactly for that type of driving, and no other. The system makes itself available only when it recognizes it is on a closed highway with a divided median—on-ramps and off-ramps only, so no intersections and no oncoming traffic—that has been mapped by Cadillac partner Usher using hyper-accurate GPS. (All qualifying stretches of road have been mapped, and are continually updated.) It’s hands-free, so there’s no confusing whether you are in charge or SuperCruise is. If your hands are on the wheel, then you’re driving, and the myriad onboard safety systems are your backup; if your hands are off the wheel and SuperCruise is engaged, then the system is driving, and you have become the backup. (And you being an engaged back-up is necessary: the car won’t change lanes or swerve around objects, and can get confused when lane markings disappear, as often happens in construction zones, so you need to be ready. If you do take over, the system will automatically re-engage when you’re once again centered in a qualifying highway lane, which is no small feat in terms of convenience.)
You can’t fool it, either. A Driver Attention System constantly scans where your face and eyes are directed; if you’re paying attention anywhere other than in front of you—like, say, looking down at your phone—or if there’s anything obstructing your face—like, say, a phone held in front of you—it will flash a warning before disconnecting.
But those are all just details. In the day-to-day, SuperCruise is incredibly well thought-out, does one specific job remarkably well, doesn’t over-promise its capabilities, and can significantly reduce commuter fatigue. If Cadillac were smart it would put this system in every car it currently sells, at no extra charge, because it could fundamentally change the market: Now that I know this technology exists, I don’t know that I could buy any car meant for a daily highway commute that does not offer it.
Will Sabel Courtney, senior editor:
5). Lincoln Navigator
If were the list of “Most Improved Cars Driven in 2017,” the Navigator would own the podium. The new mega-Lincoln still stands taller than Honest Abe in his stovepipe hat, but the giant proportions belie this giant’s agility and acceleration. (450 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque make up for a lot.) The exterior style is a tad controversial—some find it ugly, but I dig it—but there’s no arguing with the fanciness inside. Between the elegant design, the decadent materials, and the high-tech features (the all-digital instrument panel is a masterpiece of minimalism), the Navigator’s cavernous guts are nice enough to make this rig’s hefty price look like a bargain.
4). Land Rover Discovery
After years of living under the generic names of LR3 and LR4—the automotive equivalent of “John Smith” if I ever heard it—Land Rover’s middle-weight family hauler has reclaimed the proud Discovery moniker in the American market. Of course, we all know what Shakespeare said about names—and this new Disco would smell every bit as sweet no matter what badge it wore on its bifurcated hatch. It’s both more capable off-road and more comfortable on-road than almost any other SUV, and the diesel version’s mighty torque reserves and impressive highway mileage make it the best case in town for oil-burning passenger vehicles. Hell, it even looks damn good…though, not quite as much so in pictures.
3). Honda Civic Si
It’s not hard to find a good car for less than $25,000 these days, but greatness is something else entirely. Greatness, though, is something the Civic Si has in spades. Distilled down to the bare essence of what you need from an entertaining car—don’t bother looking for leather seats or an automatic gearbox—this Honda combines a willing personality and stylish looks with a zippy engine, stellar handling (but not at the expense of ride quality), and enough room for a family of four. It’s not the fastest car on sale today…but for real-world driving fun, it ranks right up there with the best.
2). Mercedes-AMG GT R
The GT R may, at first blush, look like a tacky cash-grab version of the GT S sports car that's been designed to suck money from the planet’s douche-laden class of wanna-be street racers, but in reality, it’s an exquisitely hewn piece of engineering that manages to achieve a near-perfect balance between track capability and street use. As you’d expect from any car that can lap the ‘Ring in 7:11, it can scream down any highway or byway at multiples of the speed limit; unlike most track attackers, however, it’s also shockingly easy to drive while puttering about, once you get past the subterranean seating position. Add in a design that looks like a 300SL transforming into the Incredible Hulk, and you’ve got one hell of a great supercar.
1.) Gunther Werks 400R
How could this car not take the top spot on my list? Gunther Werks (a spinoff of Vorsteiner) may not be a household name yet, but considering their first product is a wide-body 993-generation Porsche 911 with a screaming, 430-horsepower naturally-aspirated flat-six, its seems likely they’ll go down in the halls of Porschephile legend. The car, created as a modern interpretation of what a hypothetical 993-gen 911 GT3 RS would be, bridges the best of yesterday with the cutting-edge of now; the sumptuous body panels are made of carbon fiber, while the stripped-down interior feels every bit how you’d expect a racing-inspired Porsche to look circa 1995. Every move the car makes, no matter how tiny, flows through the controls to you as you push it through the turns. And the harder you push it, the more it gives.
Kyle Cheromcha, staff writer:
5). Buick Regal TourX
As the newest member of The Drive staff, my rides have been decidedly more proletarian than the higher-end, exotic fare you've seen making up much of the rest of these lists. But that doesn't mean my year's been without its hits, and a day with a pre-production Buick Regal TourX at GM's proving grounds in Milford, Michigan showed that the classic American station wagon is still alive and kicking (by way of Germany, of course). The rebadged Opel Insignia is now the flag-carrier for that lineage of low-slung haulers, offering standard torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive, a punchy turbocharged four-cylinder, and an upmarket interior for under $30,000. If you've given up Buick for dead, consider this (along with the Regal GS) a flickering heartbeat.
4). Chevrolet Tahoe Custom
The Drive Editor Mike Guy probably thought he was punishing me by sending me to the Mojave Desert at the end of the summer to test out the bare-bones Chevrolet Tahoe Custom, which is the General's attempt at bringing down the starting price of its full-size SUV with a true stripper model. But what do you know—take away the fancy rims and leather seats and unnecessary options from the Tahoe, and its character changes entirely for the better. It feels like an honest, well-made, distinctly American work truck, one that you're not at all afraid to get messy or dirty. In a time where it seems every SUV is built to give you as many trinkets and shiny objects as possible, the back-to-basics approach was like a breath of fresh air as I died of heatstroke in the desert.
The newly-turbo'd 2018 Mazda6 is going to get a lot of buzz at it rolls out onto dealer lots next year. But reader, if you need a midsize sedan with a blast of jinba ittai philosophy, chances are you can score an excellent year-end deal on the outgoing 2017.5 model. It's true that the current Mazda6 only has 184 horsepower compared to the 250 horses put out by the upcoming model, but a car like the Mazda6 is more about the handling, and it's at the head of the class in that regard. After flogging the bejesus out of it on The Drive's top-secret mountain handling course in Southern California (located just up the Pacific Coast Highway, past the Getty Villa), I can honestly say that no midsize sedan has any right to be this fun. This is a car that will make you late for work, if only because you keep taking the long way there. Oh, and it's freaking beautiful.
2). Toyota 86
The answer never seems to be the Toyota 86, which is a shame, because it's basically everything enthusiasts have been asking for: A light, well-balanced sports car with a manual transmission and not much else. Unfortunately, that includes a turbo, and the 86's 200-odd horses have never been enough to appease would-be buyers. It does feel a little slow, missing some low-end punch that would make it even easier to spin out, but the car is something of a joy to throw into a corner. It's supremely easy to flick the rear end out, and just as simple to reel it back in. The "slow car fast" philosophy is in full effect here, and I don't think I've had more fun under 30 mph all year long. On pavement, that is.
1). Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
The next-generation Wrangler is finally here, and it fixes so many of the problems that bedeviled the old JK model and made it feel like more of a toy than an everyday car. But complaining about the Wrangler's rough edges has never made much sense to me—sure, the new model shows you don't have to put up with certain things, but anyone who looks at that brick on wheels should know what they're getting into. They should also know that, as our Eric Adams put it, anyone who owns one of these and doesn't go off road at least once should have their enthusiast credentials revoked. You can't fully appreciate the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon until you're scampering down a rutted, muddy forest trail, climbing a steep, wet rock wall in reverse to reset a line, or taking it off a jump. And just like with the Mazda6, all the attention on the new model should make the outgoing truck an unbeatable bargain.
Mike Spinelli, executive producer
5). Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-Hybrid
The new flagship Panamera is either a ploy to save City of London bankers thousands in sterling on road and congestion taxes, while winning stoplight drag races, or a bid for the Lunar X-Prize. Either way, the Turbo S e-Hybrid is a 5,100-pound technomaniac. Its 3.2-second sprint to 60 mph may not match Tesla for sheer ludicrosity, but when the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 chimes in, you’ll forget Silicon Valley is even a place. Seamless energy blending between electric motor and ICE is a function of technologies proven in the 918 Spyder hypercar. With so much Porsche chassis tech on tap—from active anti-roll bars to rear-axle steering—this massive über-sedan can even negotiate a tight road course. Lamentably, it does so in a manner that’s not merely non-communicative; the systems seem to regret allowing a driver to participate at all. Still, this is a remarkable sedan that will activate both sides of the brain, even while emptying the bank account. It’s just a sample of what’s slated to come from Porsche’s R&D lab.
4). Ferrari GTC4LussoT
It may be the bane of V12 purists, but Ferrari’s new, displacement-tax-thwarting LussoT is a truly fine automobile. Lest we forget that, while engines do matter in sports cars, much of modern Ferraris’ motoring alchemy emanates from the dark art of chassis tech and tuning. The LussoT has all of the V12’s superb baseline kinetics, and all the trick stuff as well: rear-wheel steering, side-slip control, and electronically actuated rear diff. But unlike the V12 Lusso, it’s rear-wheel-drive, which pleases the gods of oversteer. Not to mention, the LussoT is powered by a version of the best turbocharged V8 in the sports-car world. The flatplane-crank, direct-injected banger, with its duo of IHI twin-scroll turbochargers, delivers 602 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque. It may not hit the aural nerve center like the V12 does, but it produces spools of usable torque and a thrilling power curve, thanks to a variable-boost function that makes a run to its 7,500-rpm redline feel like a barrel ride over Niagara Falls.
3). Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
It’s got three-quarters of a Ferrari engine, a compliant chassis, and excellent body control. Its steering is sharp and accurate; it’s lighter than a BMW M3; and it provides tight waves of usable, progressive torque. It’s the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, and while it also has a cheap-feeling interior and an eye-watering price, don’t let that kill the buzz. This is a driver’s sedan, with a streak of modern Maranello running through it. While the Ferrari influence is welcome, its paternalistic stamp on the engine, steering quickness, and chassis brilliance slightly undermines the Alfa Romeo brand. Or it bolsters it. I can’t decide which.
2). Ariel Atom 3S
The Ariel Atom, that famous sports car with an exoskeleton, has been around for more than a decade. If you include Niki Smart’s transport-design project at Coventry University in 1996, from whence the Atom emerged, it’s two decades. Since then, the brilliance of its uniquely visible tube frame, and suspension—unequal-length wishbones and inboard, pushrod-actuated dampers, a setup originally tuned by Lotus—has become legend. The Atom 3S, built in the U.S. by TMI Autotech, is the second-most-powerful Atom ever. Its a turbocharged, 2.4 liter K-series four-cylinder from a Honda Civic Si—producing 365 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet here—delivers brutal performance. Combine engine, suspension, and a total weight of 1,350 pounds, and you get an elemental, supercar go-kart that punches miles above its weight. There’s nothing like it.
1). Porsche 911 Carrera GTS
Yes, it’s all getting a bit tedious. Porsche keeps building exciting and capable sports cars, and we keep raving about them. Even when the GT guys in Weissach don’t put their hands on the merchandise, the 911 is still the benchmark sports car in its class. The 911 GTS takes those great 911 bones, and adds more power and an options package comprising everything a performance-minded driver would order—particularly Sport Chrono and its dynamic engine mounts, launch control, Sport Plus mode, and Sport Response, a sort of push-to-pass button on the steering wheel. All that plus the 911 4S’s 40-millimeter-wider rear track and Turbo wheels with center-locking hubs, which are only pointless if you don’t like things that are awesome. The GTS is not just a package of various options, it’s a gestalt that’s greater than the whole. The perfect everyday sports car. How annoying is that?
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