Do 1990s Hondas live up to the legend? Are McLarens worth the money? Do Tesla Model 3s match the hype? In 2018, we test drove dozens of cars - both old and new - to discover the best of the best. Here are 15 models that stood out.
Since we’re committed to being an impartial outlet that covers every aspect of car culture, we don’t give out formal awards for best new cars the way most outlets do. After all, who gives a shit? Nobody buys something because it was the Car or Truck of the Year. We’ll all be dead eventually, so buy whatever you want and enjoy it as long as you can.
But in lieu of that, we like to list the finest cars — old and new —that we drove between January and now. We hope you’ll find it useful!
1999 Honda Civic Si
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and I am powerless against its influence. So many Cars & Coffee chin wags now begin with lines like “Yeah my buddy, had a ’99 Si,” and I am absolutely guilty of contributing. My friend had one of these in high school. A blue one, just like this. We eventually wrecked it.
It was my first taste of “fast.” Even though, objectively, it really wasn’t. But it was undeniably loud and light and just freaking fun as hell. That was as true earlier this year, when I drove Honda’s museum piece, as it was in 2005, the year I spent raising hell on the back roads of my home town in one of these.
Long shift throws, palpable body roll, horsepower hiding at extremely high RPMs... Long live sport compacts.
2018 Subaru WRX Type RA
I did not think anything could redeem a $50,000 asking price on a freaking Subaru WRX, but I can’t deny that my best driving day of the entire year was by myself, on Angeles Crest, in this car. Not in any of the supercars, not in any of the classics... I put in an entire workday lapping the mountains north of Los Angeles because the WRX Type RA exists in this perfect groove between “too much” and “just right.” This car delivered a combination of confidence and challenge that was simply addictive.
The steering is consistent, heavy and predictable. Throttle response is explosive. The brakes bites like vice grips. I love it.
Before I passed the mic I have to throw honorable mentions to the Icon Bronco and McLaren 570S Spider... Both exceedingly different executions of “perfection on wheels;” both felt like superlative caricatures of everything we love about driving.
1970 Triumph GT6+
Yes, it’s an extremely Jalopnikian take to be all “the best car of 2018 is a car that’s damn near 50 years old,” but if we’re just talking about the best cars we drove, not the best cars to own, then the Triumph GT6+ is up there. I totally get why “they just don’t make them like they used to,” in this case, because if this was a new car it would be terrible.
There’s no place for your legs no matter your height, for instance, which is a problem if this car is going to be driven by a species that has them. There’s barely any sound insulation. Sometimes it smells like fuel. The whole thing vibrates and there’s no headliner to speak of whatsoever, and the safety technology is pretty much limited to “don’t crash.”
But it’s a great study in what we’ve lost. You feel every little thing going on with both the car and the road, often before you hear or see it. It’s loud and rumbly and growly, and that’s not because engineers sat there with 8,000 microphones in a lab for 12 years. It’s extremely light. You feel like you’re going a million miles an hour while you get passed by a pissed-off Toyota Highlander that’s been stuck behind you for the past couple of states.
2019 Mazda Miata
Once again the 2019 Mazda Miata is probably as great a driver’s car as possible under $100,000 in this day and age. And while yes, it’s always going to be chasing cars like the Triumph GT6+, there’s a reason those two cars will never be the same, and that’s because they’re of entirely different eras.
So while the Triumph certainly snorts about you more, the Miata has suspension that, uh, works. It’s comfortable and fun and smooth and it doesn’t lean like you don’t want it to. And now that they’ve finally added some power to the diminutive little roadster, you really do feel the oomph.
2019 Porsche 911 GTS
I hate that I liked it so much. I hate that I’m putting this here now. It’s so basic, so reductive. OF COURSE, the $130whatever-thousand Porsche is going to be good. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t.
But what’s more wild is just how good this thing is. It’s perfectly balanced and wildly powerful and makes a great noise and it really does have some of the best steering in a car I’ve ever driven, let alone in 2018. I don’t want to put this car on this list, but here it is.
The Porsche 911 GTS is incredibly good. It’s make-you-bite-your-lip good. It’s “you’ll-hate-yourself-for-not-buying-it-now-because-this-asburd-price-is-as-cheap-as-it’ll-ever-be” good. At least, until Porsche makes a new one next year.
2018 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS
I have been saying for years that the mid-engined Porsche Cayman is the superior Porsche, and after driving the 2018 718 Cayman GTS around for a week, I will never back down from this opinion. The thing was light on its feet and felt like you were wearing it rather than driving it. It had the perfect amount of power and acceleration and made even the most mundane of commutes fun. It’s very expensive for a little two-seater, but damn is it a joy to drive.
2018 Tesla Model 3
People who converted to the EV life make a lot of noise about how they’re so much better than ICE cars blah blah blah but, honestly, I wasn’t amazed by how much better the Tesla Model 3 was over a regular car. I was more impressed by how it’s utterly comparable to one.
The acceleration was amazing and it was spooky that it was dead-silent when you drove it, but it’s also great at just being a car. It just needs a key fob and the big touchscreen could use a few updates.
I think once the charging infrastructure expands, range anxiety will effectively go away forever. Maybe people living in cities might even be able to own them, too.
2018 Kia Stinger
Most of the staff of Jalopnik has spent some time behind the wheel of the Kia Stinger, and as far as I could tell, all of us really enjoyed it. My experience was special, though, because I went out to Colorado to drive it around a temporary snow course Kia had set up. While the trip was specifically meant to show off the car’s all-wheel drive capability, they also let us turn off its traction control.
Did I learn anything? Well, I learned sliding through corners in somebody else’s car is a lot more relaxed at slow speeds in the snow on a course with zero obstacles, and it was probably the purest fun I had all year because of it.
Prototype 2019 BMW M340i
I was in Portugal to drive the all-new 2019 BMW 3 Series earlier this month. As good as the new 330i is, the new M340i has almost as much power as an early M90 M3 from a decade ago. That’s coupled with revamped driving dynamics and characteristics of the new 3, like improved steering, a stiffer chassis, and extremely rear-biased optional all-wheel drive.
It was so good, the U.S. journalists delayed our departure by two hours because we forced BMW to let us all take a second turn around the racetrack. It was also the second-most sideways I’ve been all-year, behind the Stinger in the snow.
Okay, so did I maybe think it was good just because I drove it around the track a lot, and virtually any car is going to be considered “fun” if all you do is drive it around a track?
Like I said, maybe.
2019 Jaguar I-Pace
Funnily enough, the BMW M340i wasn’t the only car I drove on the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal this year. The other car was the Jaguar I-Pace, which I enjoyed not only for its weirdass styling, but also because Jaguar found a way to take a 4,800-pound crossover and make it feel quick, agile and decently engaging to drive.
It’s a good electric car, and the result of a totally crazy and different direction I wouldn’t have ever expected from Jaguar, and I love it.
1970 BMW 2500
After having done it, I can tell you that you should absolutely drive from one side of the country to the other at least once before you die. Our Bavaria vs. America was one of the most fun, relaxing and even liberating adventures I’ve ever been on. But I’m not sure I’d be saying that if our old steed hadn’t been so damn tough.
In 2,800 miles from Seattle to New York City, the only issue—besides shady wipers and intermittent heat—was a squeaky belt up front. Not bad for a car that’s older than anyone on my staff. This car is proof of how good and tough old cars can be if they’re maintained right, and how they can handle a lot more than we might expect even today.
I gotta get back out on the road next year. Anyone have an old car they need transported?
2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake
Prior to May of this year, I won’t lie- I didn’t understand the whole wagon craze, I would look at wagons from afar and think “eh, I don’t know...” That all changed, though, when I spent one blessed night with the Jaguar XF S Sportbrake. My word, this machine is an absolute joy. All of the tech I could want, luxury, and I can’t complain about the amount of space either. I wasn’t a huge fan of the rising up, dial-shaped gear shifter, but hey you can’t win ’em all. Thank you Jaguar, for changing my mind. I miss this car every day.
2018 Volkswagen Up! GTI
The 2018 Volkswagen Up! GTI is small, pissed-off, and possibly the only perfect new car that exists in this fallen world. Sure, it’s not sold in the United States. Sure, it’s zero to 60 time (8.6 seconds) doesn’t scream at you off the page. Sure, its output of 114 horsepower from its tiny 1.0-liter inline three-cylinder seems small.
But consider that, like all fun cars, the Up! GTI really hits its stride in the high revs. Consider that driving slow cars fast is the way you want to live. Consider that there’s an honest case to be made that the Up! GTI is a practical decision, given that its base price is $17,749 in the U.K., and it’s roomier than you’d expect. Yeah, there are other cars you might consider—a Fiat 500 Abarth chief among them—but for my money, the Up! GTI is the pound-for-pound king.
1955 Volkswagen Beetle 36 HP Salt Flat Racer
I know I’ve got a bad habit of putting old racing Beetles in my Best Cars lists, but, look, if I get to drive one, I can’t help it if they always manage to charm me pantsless. And this year was no exception. While at the Salt Flats in Utah I got to drive this old Beetle, a car with a name: Once More, because this car had driven around the globe three times. Once More was part of the 36 HP Challenge, a speed record category for old 36-horse engine Beetles.
It was fantastic. Surprisingly quick (well, quick feeling), nimble, visceral, fun, and spraying charm like a firehose. This old blue fella, tearing ass across the lunar vastness of the Salt Flats, really, it just doesn’t get any better, even with less horsepower than the A/C blower motor makes on a modern car.
1990 Nissan Pao
I don’t know if it’s against the rules to put your own car in here, or even if we have any rules about this at all, but even if we did I’d say screw it and do this anyway, because, I’m not ashamed to say it, I love my Pao.
I’ve had it almost a year now and my ardor has yet to cool. Every trip I take in this happy little 52 horsepower nut is a delight. Everyone smiles when they see it, and aside from some minor little fixes here and there, this thing has been absolutely bulletproof and trouble-free. I drove the crap out of the Pao all year and I’m always ready to hop back in. This car makes me very happy, and I can’t think of any better criteria to make this list than that.
This story originally appeared on Jalopnik.