The Drive's Favorite Cars of 2018
We drove a ton of cars, trucks, and SUVs this year. We liked these more than the rest.
In light of the accelerating madness that is modern life, sometimes, it's nice to reminisce. Especially now, at the end of the year, when the calendar's about to flip and Auld Lang Syne about to spill off everyone's lips. After all, it's human nature to look back, to caress history in our hands and explore its well-worn edges over and over. The present is ever-fleeting and the future always a day away, but the past, well, that's ours to keep.
Here at The Drive, for example, our thoughts naturally turn back to the new cars we drove in the last 12 months. Between the media junkets thrown by manufacturers to give journalists first crack at their new wares and the vehicles we snag for days at a time as part of our regular editorial duties, our staff is lucky enough to drive hundreds of new cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans in any given year, representing the length and breadth of the passenger vehicle market. In 2018, as in almost any year, most of those cars were decent; some were unremarkable; and in one case, so disappointing, there wasn't even enough meat on the bone to finish the review in spite of a dynamite headline.
But amongst all the mediocrity, the unremarkable, and the hardly-notable, there were a few cars this year that outshone the rest. A few cars that dazzled each of us, for one reason or another. So, as has become tradition, our staff has put together a list of our favorite cars of the year, along with some reasons and rationale behind these choices.
Without further ado, we present: The Drive's Favorite Cars of 2018. You're welcome, world.
Will Sabel Courtney
Lamborghini Huracan Performante
The Performante is no stranger to these sorts of lists; Lawrence Ulrich extolled its virtues last year after sampling it on track and street alike in Italy. Between its screaming naturally-aspirated V-10, dynamite handling, and cutting-edge active aerodynamics, it's every bit the sort of car you'd expect to set a production car Nurburgring lap record. What you wouldn't expect, however, is that it's also shockingly good for a 1,000-mile road trip. Six days criss-crossing the southern half of California in it proved as much, revealing the Category 5 Huracan to be far more playful on back roads and comfortable on long hauls than Lambos have ever been. Sure, cargo space is so sparse, you have to repurpose the passenger's seat as a luggage rack. Realistically, though...how many shirts do you need?
Ford Mustang Bullitt
I'll fully admit to believing more is more when it comes to muscle cars—love ya, Exorcist Camaro—but the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt might be the Goldilocks scenario when it comes to the crowded market of American V8 dream machines. Its 480 horsepower can't compete with the Hellcats of the world, but connected to the six-speed stick that's your only transmission choice, it's more than enough to tear past almost everything else on the road. (Plus, it gives you more chances to hear the engine sing than in those supercharged monsters, where you can't stay in the throttle for more than a couple seconds before hitting do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 territory.)
Factor in the reasonable $50K price, the capable handling that comes without a punishing ride, and the fact that it's probably the sweetest-looking Mustang since McQueen's own all those decades ago, and the Bullitt Mustang earns a place in my heart. (If not my garage, because, y'know, I live in Brooklyn.)
Ram 1500 Limited
Fiat Chrysler changed the game when it introduced the all-new Ram 1500 at the Detroit Auto Show nearly a year ago, effectively making every other pickup truck at least a little bit obsolete (and no doubt causing an instant panic in FoMoCo and GM's truck divisions). While every trim of the new Mopar rig impresses, it's the top-of-the-line Limited that wow the most. Sure, it ain't cheap; the one we tested rang up the register at $68,340. But no other vehicle on sale today offers the combination of capability and creature comforts as this rig—at any price.
Its mild-hybrid V8 powertrain, exceptional cabin space, smooth-riding active air suspension, high-tech infotainment system and fancy-pants interior furnishings make it every bit a match for American luxury sedans like the Cadillac CT6 and Lincoln Continental...but it also offers the towing capability, payload capacity, and off-road powers of a body-on-frame pickup.
Tesla Model 3
It's easy to be cynical about Tesla, especially if you spend your time immersed in the world of automotive news. To anyone else who feels similar, I recommend the same cure I found: Spend a day driving a Model 3. After racing from NYC to Boston and back again in a long range, rear-wheel-drive version of Elon Musk's "mass market" electric car, I was half-near willing to plunk down a deposit on one myself.
Granted, at an as-tested price of $55,000, it's still a long way from the $35K everyman electric car Elon's long promised. But given the extraordinary technology, the clever user interface, and the unexpected joie de conduire to be found behind the wheel, a sub-$60K price tag seems more than reasonable for what you get. Even the eternal electric car bugaboo of range anxiety is all but gone; between the 75-kWh battery's real-world range of around 300 miles, Tesla's ubiqiutous Supercharger network, and the intuitive navigation system that factors charging stations and times into your travels, long road trips can be knocked out with barely a hint of anxiety. Sure, you've got to stop a little longer than a gas-powered car every time you need to refuel...but just think of it as a Ferris Bueller break.
Bentley Continental GT
For 14 years, the Bentley Continental GT has served as the heart and soul of the brand, simultaneously redefining it for the 21st Century and selling in startling numbers (for a Bentley, at least). But the all-new third-generation version vaults this gran turismo into a new league. No longer does it make do with a massively-modified platform originally designed for the Volkswagen Phaeton; instead, the new Conti shares genes with the latest Porsche Panamera. That Zuffenhausen DNA rears its head the moment you dial up Sport mode and chuck it into a turn, and the Big B plants, grips, and zips through with verve that defies belief. Don't go thinking this GT is just a rebodied Porker, though; it's Bentley through and through, from the firm-yet-smooth highway ride to the effortless, endless power of the twin-turbo W-12 to the unmatched, sybaritic materials and design elements of the interior. (Spend the $6,270 on the three-panel rotating infotainment screen. You're worth it.)
It has a couple foibles, of course; at low speeds, the Porsche-derived dual-clutch transmission is more brusque than you'd expect of a car from Crewe, and the 22-inch wheels and accompanying rubber-band tires on my test car caused an irritating amount of cabin noise on broken pavement. But as editor Mike Guy put it in his first drive review, the overall car's so good, such minute imperfections are really the only things left to quibble over.
Ferrari 488 Pista
Ferrari’s mid-engine, V8 “Special Series” models—from the 360 Challenge Stradale to the 458 Speciale—have whetted the appetites of supercar fans who reliably order Italian. The 488 Pista, the most purely thrilling and seductive car I drove all year, raises that lofty bar: It’s beautiful and badass in equal measure, from its natty racing stripes to a 710-hp, 3.9-liter twin-turbo engine, the strongest production V8 to ever rocket from the Ferrari factory. Trimming 200 pounds from the standard 488 puts a dry-weight Pista at just 2,816 pounds, a touch lighter than even McLaren’s mighty, carbon-fiber-formed 720S.
That power-to-weight combo coaxes the Pista to 62 mph (or 100 kmh) in 2.8 seconds; but the real boldface number is a 7.6-second run to 124 mph (200 kph). During my drive, the Pista gobbled laps on Ferrari’s Fiorano test circuit and blew my mind in the Italian countryside, where I was tempted to just keep going and never return to the Maranello factory.
My hunch is that the Genesis G70 will win the 2019 North American Car of the Year Award, for which I’m a juror, by a landslide. (The G70 is one of three finalists, along with the Honda Insight and Volvo S60/V60). That NACTOY award would be richly deserved.
But before the sloppy praise, a quick caveat over the Genesis’ standard, spiritless 252-hp turbo four: This is the most out-of-its-league engine in the luxury class, well behind more-sophisticated turbo fours from BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Fortunately, there’s also a muscular twin-turbo V6 with 365 horsepower, in a G70 3.3T that starts from $44,745. That’s about $5,000 less than any comparable German rival. And it’s a testament to the G70’s overall performance goodness—including chassis tuning by former BMW M Division guru Albert Biermann—that even the four-cylinder G70 is an absolute joy to bend into a curve, or to settle into for an all-day drive.
BMW 3 Series
The all-new 3 Series sedan—which I just drove in Portugal—was my most pleasant surprise of 2018. That goes double for the new M340i version: It’s a ringer, a 382-hp ass-kicker that drives like a lightly disguised M3, only with a richer exhaust note and a more-livable ride. On track in Portugal, the M340i kept pace with another full-blown M Division car—the formidable, 405-hp M2 Competition—and it’s nearly as fast, including a ripping 4.2-second dash to 60 mph in xDrive AWD trim. The 3-Series sheds up to 120 pounds, and adds welcome upgrades in luxury and tech, including a finely integrated dual-screen display. An ingenious Reversing Assistant lets the Bimmer automatically drive backwards for up to 55 yards, following the exact path you took going forward: Wind your way up some forested lane or tricky driveway, even park the car for the night, and the BMW takes all the nervousness and neck-strain out of it when it’s time to back your way out.
Best of all, every new 3-Series is—cross my heart—legitimately fun-to-drive. The taut chassis and alert steering that had been leached from the previous model, leaving BMW fans bitter and bereft, is restored. Judge for yourself beginning this spring. That’s when the 2019 330i goes on sale, at a $41,245 price that’s identical to last year’s model, despite major upgrades and a healthy power bump for its turbocharged four (to 255 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque). That’s followed around June by the 2020 M340i, starting from $54,995, or $12,500 less than a current M3.
Creamy riding, cleverly designed, and as plush inside as some luxury cars, the all-new Ram is surely causing sleepless nights at Ford and especially Chevy, whose new Silverado comes off as class clown versus the Ram’s A-student. Inside, the Ram flaunts such (optional) niceties as a Tesla-baiting, 12.0-inch infotainment screen with Wifi, tooled leather, rich wood, a 900-watt Harman Kardon audio system and double the console and cubby storage of key rivals. The Crew Cab’s insane, 45.1-inches of rear legroom tops not only every competing pickup, but every full-size luxury sedan, including a Mercedes S-Class.
The 395-hp Hemi V8 is a bad dog that barks through dual exhausts, while Active Noise Cancellation and electronic mass dampers sooth unwanted noise and vibration. The Ram’s class-unique, coil-spring rear suspension virtually eliminates the head-toss that dings its leaf-sprung rivals, and delivers an unbeatably smooth ride. Finally, a mild-hybrid power assist, via the eTorque system—standard with the Pentastar V6, optional for the V8—delivers seamless Stop/Start action and mpg gains, including up to 25 highway mpg for the V6. Ford and Chevy, the ball is in your court.
Aston Martin Vantage
Sexier and more exclusive than a Porsche 911, and just as exciting to drive, the Vantage represents a signal achievement for Aston Martin. This is a serious sports car for hot shoes, not a loafer-ready GT for traditional Aston gents. A remarkably rigid, all-aluminum tub supports a 4.0-liter, 503-hp, biturbo V8 bequeathed by Mercedes-AMG. A carbon-fiber prop shaft delivers that grunt to rear wheels, which in turn wind the Vantage to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, and a 195-mph top speed. Weight balance is 50/50 front to rear, the steering ratio a snappy 13.1:1, with adaptive Bilstein dampers and a GKN limited-slip differential. This Aston lives for speed, and draws a crowd when it’s standing still.
Yet it’s also comfortable and livable, with solid outward visibility and cargo space. And while it’s expensive at $153,000, that price undercuts a 911 Turbo by $10,000. A Vantage convertible is in the works, along with an optional seven-speed manual transmission. A gorgeous, 195-mph Aston Martin, with a stick? Sign me up.
Porsche 911 GT3 RS
Someday, when naturally aspirated engines slip into the twilight of obsolescence, to become the vinyl records of the car world, Porsche’s 4.0-liter, 9,000 rpm flat-six will be like an original pressing of Coltrane’s Giant Steps: The highest achievement of an ill-fated form. Those who get why this bucket of parts is monumental will be fighting in the streets over the last few on earth, with everyone else yelling, “Whatever, nerds!” from their hydrogen scooters. Profoundly capable, welcoming, and intoxicating, with wafts of gorgeous mechanical noise permeating the thin glass, magnesium roof, and de-damped interior, the GT3 RS is lighter in weight and more precise in its movements than the standard GT3. It’s Porsche’s most important car, and we’re lucky to have it while it lasts.
High-performance SUVs are a postmodern zen koan, simultaneously existing as what they are and what they are not. Think of the engineering muscle it’s taken to mitigate an SUVs underlying structure—the trick damping; electronically actuated bars; daisy-cutter engine; and massive, sticky-compound tires—all of which renders them unsuitable to the very tasks for which that structure was created. Some call these vehicles “physics defying,” but what they really are is self-defeating. If anyone ever considered what an apocalyptically hedonistic exercise a high-performance SUV is, the modern-day equivalent of a Roman bacchanalia, they’d run screaming from the dealership. The Lamborghini Urus is the best of them all.
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
Aston Martin has big things coming, but for now its survival relies on building the most appealing cars in the GT segment. The DBS Superleggera may not be as icily capable as the Ferrari 812 Superfast, but it does have a more nuanced combination of taut handling and supple ride. It also has an explosive turbocharged V12 and is, without argument, is the most attractive Aston Martin model of the modern age.
Who needs obsolete, last-gen hypercars when you’ve got a McLaren 720S? It’s lighter, faster, and more technically intriguing than the previous 650S, while damn near as sharp, at its most aggressive, as the previous 675LT. It’s an all-around sports car that’s comfortable to drive on normal roads, with performance so blistering, it’s like getting a million-dollar, bespoke specimen for a fraction of the price. And it sounds nearly as good as a Ferrari.
In this modern age of sports-car deprivation, when minimalist corner carvers—much less rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive ones—are rarer than panda sex, the Alpine A110 is a strange and wonderful being. Splitting the difference between the Lotus Exige and Porsche 718 Cayman, the A110 is light and nimble, but compliantly damped and tuned for normal roads. It’s got a functionally austere interior, but never feels like a hollowed-out weekend toy. The worst part about the A110, the first model in the reboot of Renault’s sporting division is that it won’t be coming to America. Enculer!
Judging a six-figure restoration against a new car from the factory is a bit unfair, but I'd be lying if I said that Jonathan Ward's 1965 Kaiser-Jeep Wagoneer restomod wasn't one of the best things I've ever driven, let alone in 2018. Icon 4x4 is known for its Ford Bronco and Toyota Land Cruiser builds, but it's also in the business of making masterpieces. Ward's Reformer series is a self-described skunkworks operation where his team will spend years figuring out how to make a vehicle the ultimate version of itself. Better than new is the mantra, and it's hard to imagine a old Jeep Wagoneer getting any better than this.
The lucky (and rich) owner of this particular project tasked Icon with building a beach cruiser for his family. Simple, right? Nothing is simple with Ward. He and his magic elves stripped the donor truck down to the bare body, custom-fabbed a new steel chassis, threw in a 440-horsepower LS3 V8 engine, and designed a marine grade interior that screams mid-century class. Custom touches abound—the woodgrain, larger wheels, and unique blue paint aren't exactly period correct. But they look like it, which is why Ward is so highly regarded in the growing restomod scene. It's a perfect vision.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Ward's polemic against the lack of spirit and soul in modern car design is well-heard. Thankfully, there are a few holdouts, chief among them the 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. There's a reason every review of the thing is laden with unfortunate sex metaphors—it's a true stunner. The iconic triangular grille, the upright greenhouse, the gigantic diffuser sitting between the quad tailpipes give it a truly exotic flair that calls back to the Giulias of old. It's a rare thing, this kind of seductive style.
Most impressive, though, is how the Giulia Quadrifoglio backs up its good looks with a driving experience that borders on sublime. Throw it into race mode—just make sure those 60-treadwear Pirellis are warmed up first—and you'll be rewarded with a beautifully balanced chassis, precise delivery of those 505 horses under the hood, an exhaust note that will make you wonder why every V6 can't sound like a Ferrari. Unlike most hard-charging sports sedans, it's also entirely civilized at low speeds. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is the complete package, hands down.
My test car also had a rattle coming from the base of the windshield after just 1,000 miles on the odometer, which is mildly infuriating in a car that starts at $70,000. But you make a lot of excuses when you fall in love.
What does progress look like exactly? On the eve of the revolution, the electric car market is still top-heavy. The biggest reveals this year all belonged to luxury brands—Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes-Benz—while Tesla still hasn't been able to crack the nut containing a $35,000 Model 3. These are all important efforts, no doubt. But they're still not quite relevant to the average American buyer. Enter the $37,495 2018 Chevrolet Bolt, the first electric car with real potential for a large swath of the population.
It's not the most attractive thing, nor is it the fanciest inside. But its 240-mile range (easily exceeded with a light touch and regen braking), lower price, and more normative approach stand out in a market that's still puzzling over how to convert the millions of regular Joes and Janes who see their vehicles as basic appliances. It's fun to drive, and it's also not making any questionable promises about autonomy—this is just a basic electric hatchback that does most everything well, which is exactly what progress should look like.
Similarly, the 2018 Ram 1500 is looking like the most future-proof full-size pickup truck on the market right now. It feels like the first to be designed from the ground up to fit with how people are using trucks today: as primary vehicles with empty beds. Its tight frame and independent rear suspension supply a car-like ride that immediately sets it apart from its rivals, and that's before you step inside and see the massive 12.0-inch portrait touchscreen on the dash. The innovated eTorque system is another standout. Again, this is what a realistic vision of the future looks like—familiar fundamentals with important changes creeping in at the edges.
Being a 'Murican pickup truck, it still has to do certain things right. And it does, offering impressive payload and towing capacities with the V8 (2,300 and 12,750 pounds, respectively), an unfussy design, and a plush cabin with more storage bins and cubbies than can be filled without turning into an automotive hoarder. The spec sheet differences between the Big Three pickups are small and mostly inconsequential for the average buyer, so more and more the contest between Ram, Ford, and GM half-tons is a subjective one. The 2018 Ram 1500 is the only one hitting all the right notes for me.
Lexus LC 500
Lexus' grand touring dynamo is something of an extant species, a sumptuous cruiser packing a naturally-aspirated V8 engine that powers the rear wheels. But my God, is it an excellent machine, a precise thing that feels exactly like the $90,000+ car that it is. Its conceptual sheet metal gives it a spacecraft-on-wheels vibe that draws stares everywhere; meanwhile, the buttery interior cossets you in smart luxury. There are no cut corners, no unfortunate plastic trim pieces. It's sheer, near-unrivaled quality for the price. The interior could easily sit in a car costing twice as much. It's that good.
Ultimately, that's what makes the Lexus LC 500 so remarkable. The driving experience is wonderful, to be sure—but it's not built to win a spec sheet battle or a quarter-mile drag race. Instead, it's here to show us exactly what the very first Lexus LS did back in 1989: that Lexus can create something the European marques would be proud of, only better, cheaper, and more reliable. Cars are more expensive than ever before across the board, and so many of them have at least one or two missteps that have you shaking your head at the price. Not the Lexus LC 500. It's worth every penny.