Every year, more than 60 million new cars are made. Most of them are forgettable, anonymous appliances to get us quietly from here to there. They might as well be toasters. And that’s fine.
Because every year, among the 60 million, there are a handful of unforgettable cars — cars that stand out from the blur of the model-year as it rushes past.
The Year in Cars is a chance to recognize and celebrate those machines. This year they are a more diverse group than ever: supercars, of course, but electric cars too, and city cars, luxury cars, even the odd SUV. They all did it differently, but they all made getting from here to there a genuine thrill.
A Surprise from Korea
Nobody asked for it, but here it is. This year, Hyundai launched a luxury brand called Genesis — no relation to the prog-rock band or the first book of the Good Book. The South Korean firm has its sights set on offering an alternative to the established luxury brands. Genesis poached top talent, stealing the chief designer from Bentley and the chief engineer from BMW’s high-performance M Division. The results are impressive.
There will soon be a lineup of Genesis sedans and SUVs, but its first car — the G90 — is the most important. It will set the tone. It’s soft like a Lexus but with crisp handling more like a German car. Could it carve out a niche? We think so. If you want to test drive a G90, you don’t go to a showroom; Genesis brings the G90 to you. Put away any lingering brand-related snobbery and you’ll see this is a stellar debut from a new company.
Engine: 3.3-litre V6 or 5.0-litre V8
Power: 365 or 420hp
Price: $84,000 or $87,000
Unless you have a chauffeur, there is no better place to be while stuck in traffic than behind the wheel of the new Porsche Panamera. It’s a rare mix of a form and function, swathed in stitched leather and glass panels, all built with NASA-level precision. It’s at once high-tech and calming, which we’ve never seen before. Every driver should be so lucky.
2018 Audi Q5
Rise of the Smart Car
If only every car were this smart. The all-new Q5 warns if you’re about to open the door in front of a cyclist. It learns your routine and suggests destinations you’ll likely want to go, based on where the car is parked and the time of day. Even if the GPS isn’t programmed with a destination, it’ll help you avoid traffic jams and accidents. There’s a tablet to entertain rear-seat passengers, a Bang & Olufsen stereo to do the same for the driver, and air-suspension to keep it all level. The Q5 makes even the most traffic-clogged commute less stressful.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo 14
Price: $44,000 (est.)
Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-Speed
Last of its Kind
The incredible new DB11 might be the best car Aston Martin has made in decades, but the Aston Martin we keep dreaming about is this one: the old V12 Vantage S with a 7-speed manual gearbox. It isn’t perfect: the gearbox could be sweeter, and the interior is showing its age. But the engine produces an intoxicating combination of speed and sound that will haunt your daydreams. It’s a difficult car to drive well, which means it’s rewarding when you get it right. That it could be the last V12-powered car with a proper stick shift only make us want this car more.
Engine: 5.9-litre V12
BMW i3 Garage Italia Crossfade
Most Special Edition
Leave it to Lapo Elkann, heir to the Fiat fortune, and his design consultancy, Garage Italia Customs, to make BMW’s electric i3 cool. The gradient blue suede interior is not the sort of thing BMW would’ve come up with on its own. It’s like sitting inside a sneaker. We love it.
Who knew the best SUV of the year would come from a company that had never built one before? No doubt Jaguar engineers got some help from their colleagues at Land Rover, but the F-Pace is unique. It’s an SUV built unashamedly for the street, not the jungle, and that makes it pleasingly different from the current crowd. Plus, leave it to Jaguar’s design boss Ian Callum to create one of the best-looking SUVs on the roads.
Engine: 3.0-litre supercharged V6 (S AWD)
Weird, but Wonderful
Once upon a time, Lexus made a supercar called the LF-A and it enthralled all those who drove it. It showed that Lexus could do so much more than make soft SUVs for the suburbs. But Lexus only made 500 of them. Finally, it seems, the LF-A has a proper successor. The all-new LC500 grand-touring coupe came out of left field this year. It looks unusual and intriguing — both inside and out — in an automotive landscape that tends towards safe and similar. That is the great triumph of the LC500. Its everyday usability and rev-happy V8 engine only sweeten the deal.
Engine: 5.0-litre V8
Price: $115,000 (est.)
Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
The smartest Smart car is all new for next year, and crammed with more battery power than ever before. The new Electric Drive now has around 130 kilometres of range. It is silent, eco-friendly, and eminently parkable. Ideal city transport, but also surprisingly quick and utterly joyful to drive. It’s like a hoverboard for adults.
Lamborghini Accademia Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Taming the bull
There is no practical reason to spend a weekend learning how to make a Lamborghini go one or two seconds faster around a racetrack. You will not become a professional. You will not win anything. And yet the sense of satisfaction — of accomplishment — is deep.
The Lamborghini Accademia takes place at a different racetrack around America every year. A very brave professional driver sits in the passenger seat and schools you in the dark art of pushing a supercar to its limit. You think you’re there for a good time, but by lunch you are obsessed with doing the perfect lap of Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s road course in a 600 horsepower Lambo. Turn in more slowly so the rear wheels don’t slide out. Lift the throttle here to get the nose to tuck into a corner. The perfect lap is elusive, always a little faster, but the real satisfaction is in the chase. You come away from the weekend with a sore neck from straining against the G forces, but you’re that much closer to owning the track.
The Accademia runs courses for novices (Corso Intensivo, 2 days) and experts (Corso Avanzato, 3 days) priced at $9,300 and $16,000 respectively. It is unforgettable.
The Bugatti Chiron
What to Watch for Next Year
1,500 horsepower for the 0.1%. It will dwarf everything else.