Vehicles | December 28, 2020 6:04 am

The 10 Best Cars We Drove in 2020

In a year when the joy of a long drive took on new meaning, these were the rides that stood out

the best cars we drove in 2020
BMW/Chevrolet/GMC/Honda/Getty Images

In a year when the joy of a long drive took on new meaning, these were the rides that stood out

In a year with nowhere to go, there’s something to be said for the self-contained bubble that is the automobile. Escaping the stress of day-to-day existence during one of the most difficult 12-month periods in modern history, even if only for a few hours, was a privilege I certainly did not take for granted every time I slipped behind the wheel of something new and set off toward the horizon.

As always, there were plenty of vehicles out there that simply elicited a shrug when I handed back the keys. Fortunately, balancing those out were the ones that had me wishing for just a few more miles and one more tank of gas. These are my 10 most memorable test drives from a year I’d much rather forget.

BMW M550i xDrive
The BMW M550i xDrive
BMW Group

The Best Stealth Super Sedan: BMW M550i xDrive

With so many versions of its flagship sport sedan out there, it was only a matter of time before BMW built a more affordable model that challenged the range-topping M5 in almost every single category except price. The M550 xDrive is almost as quick (0-60 in 3.6 seconds), very nearly as nimble, and much more comfortable than its capital-M sibling, only falling behind when it comes time for hardcore road course action. My advice is to spend that nearly $20k window sticker differential on a dedicated track car instead and enjoy the best 5 Series BMW has on offer at a discount.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C8
2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C8

The Best New Leaf: Chevrolet Corvette C8

Did someone say “dedicated track car?” No, you won’t be snagging the new C8-generation Chevrolet Corvette for $20,000, but triple that figure and you’ve got a car that will run with exotics both in terms of lap times and the attention you’ll get from drooling passersby. Refined and sophisticated where the previous Corvette was brash and raucous, the C8’s mid-engine layout and extroverted styling prove that even icons aren’t exempt from a radical rethink.

2020 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
The 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Fiat Chrysler

The Best Evidence That Nothing Makes Sense Anymore: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

When automotive historians look back on the past decade’s orgy of horsepower, it’s certain that they’ll tag the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk as the perfect symbol of engine-room excess — grinning all the way, of course. No one needs 707 ponies in a package that was originally designed to haul the kids and the boat over hill and dale, but the spice of life is taking pleasure at the terrified look on the face of your HOA president when you fire up a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that’s hidden under the hood of this workaday 180-mph SUV.

2020 Lincoln Aviator
The 2020 Lincoln Aviator.

The Best Comeback Kid: Lincoln Aviator

Nearly 15 years ago Lincoln swung and missed with a barely camouflaged copy of the Ford Explorer. Today, you can buy the redux of that effort — the Aviator — and be hard-pressed to find any similarities between its luxurious trappings and those of its more mild Blue Oval sibling. The second step in the Detroit brand’s plan to regain relevance in the premium space, the Aviator is a stunning three-row sport-utility companion to the larger-still Navigator.

The Mazda 3 Turbo
The Mazda 3 Turbo

The Best Chance at Upsetting the Luxury Applecart: Mazda 3 Turbo

Mazda has been pushing closer and closer to the premium segment with each passing year, and it was only a matter of time before it weaponized its compact sedan and hatchback and went hunting for buyers more accustomed to German badges. The Mazda 3 Turbo’s combination of 310 lb-ft. of torque, slick handling standard all-wheel drive, and a well-appointed cabin make it a legitimate alternative to lesser luxury lights like the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe and the Audi A3.

GMC Yukon Denali
The GMC Yukon Denali

The Best Evidence for Evolution: GMC Yukon Denali

General Motors has always had one foot in, one foot out when it comes to modernizing its strong-selling full-size SUVs, pairing advanced magnetically-controlled shocks with ancient tech like solid rear axles in a bid to keep costs down and push parts sharing up with the full-size pickup platforms on which the GMC Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and Cadillac Escalade are based.

That changes for 2020 with the very first independent rear suspension in this family of vehicles. It’s a move that not only adds poise but also frees up substantial cargo space inside each model’s mammoth body shape. Throw in a makeover in terms of interior design and infotainment, and you’ve got a seriously impressive hauler that now drives smaller than its mobile home proportions would suggest. Make mine the GMC Yukon Denali, which offers Escalade-levels of power and comfort with lower-key presentation and price.

Subaru BRZ
The Subaru BRZ

The Best Sports Car Nobody Buys: Subaru BRZ

Every single time I turn the key on the Subaru BRZ, I ask myself, “Why don’t you own one of these?” Hardly any automaker offers a sports car that makes as pure a connection between the pavement and the pilot as Subaru has managed to tune into the compact coupe’s lithe chassis, regardless of how much money you’re willing to pay. Despite that, few vehicles are more ignored by mainstream.

BMW X7 M50i
The BMW X7 M50i
BMW Group

The Best Case for Big-Boned Luxury: BMW X7 M50i

No luxury brand took longer than BMW to get to the plus-size SUV party. No other premium badge came this close to perfection on the first pitch. The X7 M50i might polarize with its gaping maw grille, but it delivers a driving experience that feels equal parts BMW and luxury liner, making it a multi-ton monster with a quicker-than-expected pivot and a sumptuous interior.

Aston Martin DB11
The Aston Martin DB11
Benjamin Hunting

The Best Bond Car That Isn’t a Bond Car: Aston Martin DB11 V8

“Which Bond movie was this one in?” you’ll be asked every time you stop for gas/hit the drive-thru/linger in the vicinity of your Aston Martin DB11 V8. “None of them,” you’ll reply. But it doesn’t matter when you’ve got your foot planted so deep in the ravishing coupe’s AMG-sourced twin-turbo V8 that you develop a 503-horsepower limp.

Ram Rebel EcoDiesel
Ram Rebel EcoDiesel
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

The Best Do-Everything Off-Roader: Ram Rebel EcoDiesel

Full-size trucks are priced as living rooms on wheels, mobile home offices and uncompromising task masters. The Ram Rebel EcoDiesel adds thrifty mile-muncher and respectable trail blazer to that list of attributes with its torque-happy turbodiesel engine and off-road suspension upgrades. Positioned midway through the Ram line-up, it’s the best of all worlds for anyone who needs their pickup to battle the back country on weekends but still clean up for the Monday commute.

Honda Clarity PHEV
Honda Clarity PHEV

The Best Surprise for EV Casuals: Honda Clarity PHEV

The last vehicle on list of 2020’s greatest hits is the one that surprised me the most. Awkwardly styled and underwhelming on paper, the Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid delivers the kind of real-world driving experience that could convert even the most disinterested driver to the charms of the EV experience. A virtually sacrifice-free electric sedan that barely, if ever, kicks on the gas engine around town, it’s too bad this hybrid will be overlooked in a sea of crossovers.