The Drive‘s Very Best Cars Of 2020
This year sucked, but that didn’t make the cars any less good. Here are the best rides we tested in 2020.
What can we say about 2020 that hasn't already been said by countless other end-of-year roundups and look-backs published around this time? It's been a long and difficult one, to say the least. But even in the midst of all the doom and gloom, for us, cars often became an escape and a socially distant substitute for conventional gatherings and celebrations.
While traditional launches, test drives and auto shows went out the window early in the year, The Drive's staff still managed to collectively drive dozens of new cars over the past 12 months in the name of journalism. Sometimes they were big, sometimes they were small. Sometimes they were fast, sometimes they were slow. Sometimes they were good, and sometimes they... weren't so good. (Which is rare these days, but there may be better ways than others to spend your money.)
Let's focus on the good. Considering this was the year that gave us 300+mph hypercars and 702-horsepower pickup trucks, it ironically wasn't all that hard to focus on the good that came of this year, as far as automobiles were concerned.
In no particular order, here are The Drive's very best cars driven in 2020.
The Reborn Icon: Chevrolet Corvette
What was arguably the most-hyped car of 2020 turned out to be one of the best. We drove it on the road, we drove it on the track, and, if it were possible, we probably would've driven the newly-mid-engined Chevrolet Corvette on the ocean too.
As a daily, it proved to be a smash hit with onlookers young and old, frequently getting mistaken for a McLaren, and boasting a surprisingly usable amount of cargo room for The Drive managing editor Jerry Perez's family-sized Costco runs.
Let loose at Monticello, the 495-hp 'Vette was "stupidly easy to drive fast." Allegedly, a more potent, possibly electrified Grand Sport/"E-Ray", Z06, and ZR1 versions of this revamped American icon are in the pipeline. Given how good this "base" version of the Corvette already is, we can't wait to see what Chevy does with the platform next.
The Supercar Hunter: Porsche 911 Turbo S
While the C8 was wonderfully supercar-like in the aesthetics and bang-for-the-buck department, Porsche's 992-generation 911 Turbo S is what really keeps Woking and Maranello up at night when it comes to performance. No, it's not cheap. But it's a six-figure sports car that can smash seven-figure sports cars, and that counts for something.
With 640 hp, an official zero to 60 mph time of 2.6 seconds (that, in reality, feels more like 2.3), "bullet-train-on-rails handling," real-world pace that'll straight-up embarrass anything short of maybe a Bugatti Chiron, and an exquisite lack of compromises caused editor-in-chief Kyle Cheromcha to declare it "the best 911 yet." Hence, it's hands down one of the best cars we drove in 2020.
Bring on the GT3.
The Supercar: McLaren GT
Supercar "killers" like the Corvette and Porsche are cool and all but sometimes it's nice to get a taste of the real McCoy. Case in point: the McLaren GT, a low-slung, mid-engined thing with an exotic badge, exotic price tag, and the obligatory "billionaire doors."
This being Macca's idea of a grand tourer, it's a McLaren built not just for pounding around Silverstone but also for the drive from London to Silverstone and back.
When Perez got his hands on one so he could pick his kid up from school and haul firewood in it last month, the GT straddled its supercar and grand tourer identities beautifully, proving itself to be immensely multi-talented, immensely fast, immensely exciting, and more emotionally endearing than expected. A standout car, then, from a genre defined by standout cars.
The Truck That Has A Hellcat Motor, Which Is Inherently Good: Ram 1500 TRX
It's a super Ram with a 702-horsepower Hellcat V8 under the hood. If you need any further explanation as to why that's awesome, you must be lost. Consumer Reports is this way. Next.
The rivalry between Ram and Ford owners will most likely go on for decades, debating whether the more agile F-150 Raptor is a better truck than the heavier but more powerful TRX, but does it really matter? Different strokes for different folks.
The Surprise MVP: Ford Bronco Sport
Even though most of the hubbub surrounding Ford's reborn Bronco centered around the recently-delayed two- and four-door off-road model, don't write off the smaller, cheaper Bronco Sport CUV as some tepid can of Bronco Lite meant to be thrown to the wayside.
Turning up as one of the biggest surprises of the year, the Escape-based "baby Bronco" impressed by mixing good handling and a comfortable, practical cabin with a delightfully rugged design that's apparently been making minor celebrities out of its owners.
Unexpected status symbol or not, the Ford Bronco Sport is a very strong new choice in one of the most lucratively important segments in the game right now, and with a reasonable starting price of $26,660, it's affordable to more people than any other car on this list. It's our Surprise MVP, emphasis on the V.
The Complete Package: Land Rover Defender
The Bronco isn't the only iconic off-roader to get a 21st-century update this year because Land Rover also launched the reborn Defender. Much to the chagrin of some, it's no longer a utilitarian, extremely square farm implement-turned-Nantucket cruiser with solid axles. Instead, the new 110 is a stylistic evolution with the same unibody SUV bones as the rest of the Landy lineup—potentially dangerous territory through which JLR is trying to blaze a new trail.
It's easy to be skeptical about radical change. And certainly JLR's mixed track record with reliability doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. However, a week with the new Defender showed its potential to be the most entertaining and all-around usable vehicle Land Rover's put out in ages. Think of it like this: stick axles and a BoF construction will get you farther off-road than any other setup. But between airbags, lockers and modern traction controls, engineers have figured out how to get a unibody SUV with an independent suspension system pretty damn far up the trail too.
Less precious than a Range Rover and still more purpose-built than something like a Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Defender clearly invites you to take full advantage of its abilities in contrast to most vehicles in that category. And it doesn't punish you around town—in fact, it's a wonderful road tripper. It's not without its quirks, from infotainment hiccups to oddly-placed rear door handles (they're too far forward and can be awkward if you've got one hand full), but we think the upcoming two-door 90 version will be one of 2021's bright spots as well.
Nobody Does It Better (At Least Not Yet): Tesla Model Y
Yes, Tesla has a memelord mascot for a CEO. Yes, build quality still leaves much to be desired. And, yes, its fans tend to be a notch more...fanatical than most, but there's a reason Elon Musk's electric car company garners disciples who worship both the man and the brand so vehemently.
As pieces of technology, Teslas continue to make EVs from "legacy" automakers feel a couple of steps behind and the new Model Y is no exception.
When contributor William Clavey drove it for us over the summer, he declared it to be "the most technological EV on sale." Armed with yet-to-be-matched range, smooth, instant motors, and surprisingly playful handling, the Model Y is advanced, confidence-inspiring, and the most impressive new EV we drove all year.
(Here's a thought to chew on: If the legacy car companies are lagging this much today, imagine how much catching up they'll have to do when or if Tesla ever does indeed get its quality issues worked out.)
The Best EV That Isn't a Tesla: Porsche Taycan
Even though old-school manufacturers have yet to dethrone Tesla as the electric car king, that's not to say they haven't tried, because the Porsche Taycan represents the greatest attempt at stealing the California company's thunder to date.
A luxury item through-and-through, the Taycan pairs the instantaneous, whiplash-inducing thrust and quiet smoothness inherent to EVs with qualities inherent to a bonafide Porsche: proper handling chops honed out of decades of motorsports experience and impeccable build quality.
As a result, it's definitely quicker and put together better than the Tesla Model Y above. But with a base 4S starting at $105,150 and the big-dog Turbo S commanding at least $186,350 (and that's before you even touch Porsche's notorious options menu), it better be. If you're looking for the best electric car in the world and are, for whatever reason, morally opposed to giving money to Tesla, the Porsche Taycan is the ticket. Just prepare to open that wallet up real wide when you get to the box office.
The Pandemic Vacation Solution: Chevrolet Tahoe
With travel involving airports still ill-advised, the American road trip has made a bit of a comeback and if you've got a big family and toys to tow, the all-new Chevrolet Tahoe might just be the absolute best tool to do it in right now. When Jerry took his clan on an 800-mile weekend excursion in a Z71 recently (dude's a family man to the core if you couldn't already tell), he discovered the Tahoe to be "pretty much in a league of its own" when it comes to big family transporters that can haul, go off-road, and remain comfortable places to be in for days on end.
Behind the wheel, its new chassis, powertrain, and mechanicals feel more cohesive than before and has demonstrated itself to be a smooth and secure-feeling way of devouring the miles.
No, it won't carve up a backroad with millimetric precision or become the subject of a stranger's Instagram post like some of the other vehicles on this list, but it might just be a vessel in which you and your family grow closer together. And, in 2020, what more can we ask from a car than that?
The Upscale Family Hauler That Doesn't Smell Like Old Socks: Kia Telluride
We originally wanted to give this spot on our list to the fantastically upscale Hyundai Palisade, but given that car's troubling olfactory struggles, its slightly more "truckish" Kia Telluride sibling will have to do—and do just fine.
There's an implicit pecking order when it comes to Korea's three major automotive brands and it typically goes Genesis, Hyundai, then Kia. But when Clavey sampled the Telluride early in the year, he found it superior to its H-badged counterpart. It's unapologetically soft and relaxed and annoyingly difficult to find faults with.
Styling might be subjective but, in our eyes, the Kia looks even better than the Palisade. Oh, and unlike the Hyundai, its seats aren't at risk of reeking of old socks or, as one owner put it, "garlic with a hint of ass." Perhaps if every Palisade came with a lifetime supply of Febreze, things would be different but as it stands, the Kia Telluride is certifiably one of the best family cars we drove in the past 12 months.
The People's Champion: Honda Civic Type R
We know we said earlier that this list wasn't arranged in any particular order and, up until this point, that's been true but—plot twist—we actually saved the best for last.
It's one thing to build a great driver's car you can charge more than $200,000 for but it's an entirely different challenge to do one that stickers at $37,950. Fortunately, Honda has pulled it off (and then some) with the Civic Type R that's been refreshed for 2020. Offering a killer front axle, a sublime shifter, and a frenetically turbocharged engine, the CTR represents one of the greatest driving experiences of any new car today—at any price point—all with the practicality of a freakin' Honda Civic.
Editorial Director Patrick George proclaimed it as "the GOAT this year" and said driving it on a good back road was one of the most joyful things he felt in this trash year. Having had the pleasure of reviewing it a month ago and essentially calling it the last car you'd ever feel the need to buy, I'm inclined to agree with him. (Even though that statement doesn't really make sense when you remember what "GOAT" actually stands for. He's gifted in other ways.)
Commanding around the same amount of coin one would spend on a fully-loaded CR-V Hybrid (provided you can find a dealer who will sell you the hot hatch sans markup), the Type R democratizes the kind of visceral driving thrills usually only found in machines more than double its price.
Punching way above its pay grade and solidifying its place as one of the modern-day greats, the 2020 Honda Civic Type R is The Drive's best car of 2020.
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