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The Best Cars I Drove This Year

I drive a lot of cars—it's my job—but not all are grand slams. These were.

I drove a lot of cars in 2019. Of course, saying that is no different than a waitress at Denny's declaring: "I served up a lot of Grand Slams in 2019." It's my job. Fortunately for me, unlike endless plates of eggs and hotcakes, every car is not the same. But not all are grand slams. Here are five out of dozens that were.

"The best luxury performance sedan on the market. Period." That's what I wrote about the 2019 Mercedes-AMG S63 last spring. Nothing I've driven since has changed my mind. Yes, it's expensive as hell (my test car rang in at almost $182,000). But this is a work of four-door engineering magnificence to which no other premium sedan I've ever driven compares. Speed? With a 603-horse twin-turbo V-8, this two-and-a-half-ton president's suite can rocket from zero to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds—and it won't stop until it reaches an electronically limited 186 mph. The cabin is beauteous, a sublime blend of quilted leather, gleaming aluminum accents, delicious wood veneers, and cutting-edge electronics to serve your every need. An Energizing Comfort mode combines a soothing seat massage with your choice of music and ambient lighting. An Air Balance system ionizes the cabin air and can also add a subtle spritz of fragrance on demand. Over the past two decades, my wife has ridden shotgun in everything from Ferraris to Bentleys, and nothing has impressed her as much as the S63. One afternoon, we found ourselves creeping along in brutal weekend gridlock on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, but she couldn't have cared less. In fact, she was so content inside the Benz's cloudlike cocoon, when traffic began to clear, she turned to me: "Find some more!"

Not every standout car I drove in 2019 cost as much as what Jeff Bezos earns in 74 seconds. The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo, fully loaded, checks in at slightly more than $29,000. It's also probably the best "box" you can buy. It may not blitz the asphalt like an S 63, but as a versatile, efficient, highly engaging subcompact crossover, it shines. The newly updated bodywork is crisp and clean, but it's the cockpit that really stands out. The Soul proves "budget" doesn't have to mean "boring." Everything inside is shaped and styled with flair. Huge bonus: The touchscreen infotainment system is one of the most user-friendly interfaces on the planet—maybe even better than the S63's. Added bonus: Fold down the rear seats, and the Soul is almost roomy enough to serve as a guest bedroom.

At $361,574 as tested, the Lamborghini Huracán Performante Spyder had better be impressive. But it wasn't. This two-seat, open-cockpit, razor-edged bayonet was mind-blowing. There you are: a 631-hp V-10 shattering the air behind your ears, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission slamming home shifts like Mike Trout batting against your seat back, the cockpit as glam as a Versace runway show, the wind screaming through your hair as if you'd just taken a seat behind an up-throttling F-16. Frankly, I was almost glad when the car carrier eventually returned to pick up the Spyder. A man can't keep drinking 40 cups of espresso a day, either.

Three decades ago, I wrote of the then-brand-new Mazda Miata: "If it were any more talented and tempting, buying one would be illegal." Having recently spent a glorious afternoon gunning up and down a great mountain road in the latest, gen-four edition of Mazda's affordable two-seat roadster—this one a folding-hardtop RF edition—I feel exactly the same. Yes, the Miata has grown slightly in size and added luxuries, active safety features, and that power hard top. But it's still the passionately engineered, driver-focused joy-mobile it's always been (and now, with 181 horses, it's more potent than ever). Starting at about $26,000 (about $33K for the RF), the Miata remains a bargain, too. You could spend tens of thousands more and not get an automobile that delivers what Mazda's now-classic roadster does. Namely, more grins than a game of Wesson Oil Twister.

On paper, the BMW i8 Roadster is hard to justify. At a sticker starting at about $165,000, this all-wheel-drive, two-seat plug-in hybrid drop-top isn't close to being the fastest or the most affordable sports car out there. But I love it anyway. How often do you get to hit the road in your very own 21st century spaceship? The i8—all flamboyant curves and creases—looks like it just escaped from Area 51. And despite being a "hybrid," it's still good for 369 hp and can run with a Porsche 911. Almost as fun as driving the i8: telling onlookers it delivers an EPA-estimated 69 MPGe combined. I even told a couple of people, "It runs on plutonium." Their response? "Cool!"

 

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