Another editorial year has ended. Thank whoever is above…
But, it was not without its highlights.
As I thumb through all of the vehicles I worked with during the past 12-13 months, I am reminded how damn lucky I am. Not to mention being humble to a fault.
The list below is my favorite vehicles I worked with during the editorial year. This list includes vehicles that appeared on not only this website but of the other publication I write for – Lavender Magazine.
Speaking of which, I must add this quote by Lavender's now-former Managing Editor, Andy Lien. She wrote this in the magazine's Year-End Auto Issue last month. My columns appeared in Lavender both in print and online for six years now and I always wondered if anyone was really reading them. Or, if anyone at Lavender really cared. The answer came in her op-ed piece…
"Randy Stern is an absolute gem in this community, and represents us well in the automotive writing world. Not only does he write a review of a specific vehicle in every issue, but he also wrote the entire feature section of this issue, including a great piece about buying a used car."
I have to admit tearing up when I read this. The work I put in to earn the privilege of working with vehicles for publication (and, now, video) is not exactly easy. It is hard, but I know the rewards. Respected? Sure. Loved? Who cares?!?
Oh, yeah, the list! Well, here we go…
DODGE CHARGER: Can we just say that the four-door, rear-drive-biased LX Platform from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will always win this media person's heart. There is an analogy I want to make, but I'll do so without embarrassing someone…the Dodger Charger is like a person I have been fond of for years that we revisit annually. The fondness is mutual and the time we spend together is always wonderful. This past year – the one I tested had the Pentastar V6 with all-wheel drive. This combination works as well as the V8 versions I worked with priorly. No matter which Charger I drive, I will always find my happy place.
FORD F-SERIES SUPER DUTY: I know…some of you were wondering if one of the two Ford pickup trucks would appear on this list. It could have been the F-150 Raptor, but a few instances ruined the experience. Instead, it was its diesel-fueled bigger brother. The new Super Duty followed the same formula as the F-150: stronger rolled steel frame and lighter aluminum cab and box. The result was a surprising fuel economy average seen on half-ton pickups. Even better was a well-mannered pickup that wanted to do the work, but wanted everyone to be comfortable inside as it did the work.
GENESIS G80: Although I had the pre-rebranded version of this car twice, the third one was indeed the charm. I love this generation of the car formerly known as the Hyundai Genesis sedan – especially with its 5.0-Liter V8. Yet, the new brand befits this latest version I sampled – the twin-turbocharged V6 G80 Sport. The car has been elevated towards playing in the premium class sandbox. Not only that, it serves as an entry to the next few models forthcoming for Genesis – this is how important this car is. Not to mention, it is a wonderful car.
HONDA CIVIC: I'm picking up my roommate on the arrivals level of Terminal 1 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. She's standing next to a guy who was wowed by the Civic Sport Touring Hatchback I pulled up in. She told me how he was struck by the car's look. So was I. So was a neighbor of mine. So were a few of you. But, looks are just scratching the surface. It handles superbly, offers fine practicality and is just so much fun to drive. Keep in mind, this was neither the Si or the Type R I'm talking about. This is just a mere Sport Touring hatchback. Honda nailed this one!
LEXUS RC F AND GS F: Yes, I had both in to work with. Yes, I love the F Performance lineup with its 5.0-Liter V8s that offer hours of high-speed joy and great handling in the Sport S+ setting. But, these two versions of the same performance package offered up a debate between the RC or the GS. The RC F was my first love – a coupe that is often criticized for being too heavy for its own good. Yet, I found it to be a weapon of mass excitement and pure astonishment. On the other hand, the GS F has a back seat for adults and a smoother ride over the longer wheelbase. For a four-door sedan, it still can offer the high-performance madness of the RC F. Which do you choose? For me…um…
LINCOLN CONTINENTAL: In my humble opinion, this is the best Lincoln since the Mark VII. The comparison can be questioned on the basis that the Mark VII was a personal luxury coupe and the new Continental serves as the second flagship to the new Navigator. Yet, I will argue that the Continental stands alone with its advanced systems inside, a superb twin-turbocharged V6 and all-wheel drive, a great adaptive suspension system, and a wonderful cabin.
VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT: I do have a perpetual favorite for under $36,000 and it is this Teutonic-American mid-sized family sedan with its big cabin and friendly charms. For this round, I received the top of the line – the V6 SEL Premium. The content was on point with all of the driver assistance content and the Fender audio system. What I loved was the VR6 – oodles of power that kept the Passat engaged with the driver. It did well on fuel economy, but not as great as the TSI turbocharged engine. Good thing I can get the SEL Premium with the TSI – bumped up from 1.8 liters to 2.0 liters for 2018 – with only a 4 horsepower jump. All it needs is an MNVW sticker on the back window…
VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN: Speaking of MNVW, I now pronounce this as the best compact SUV in America. I join Cars.com in its praise of the Big One (as the US version of the Tiguan is jokingly called since there is a shorter wheelbase model in Europe) as it delivers on the promise of space, flexibility, fuel economy and performance. We need a Volkswagen to do battle with the usual suspects from Honda, Toyota, Ford, Mazda, and so forth. This one delivers. Big doors and all! The new Tiguan can use some more love, though. Families, meet your next SUV!
VOLVO S90 AND V90 CROSS COUNTRY: Having won everything – including #VOTY16 – Volvo did not stop in its development of the 90-Series lineup. The next out the door was the S90, serving as Volvo's big sedan. It is a lovely car to drive, as it encourages you to enjoy it further – by putting it in Dynamic mode and cruise accordingly. Later in the editorial year, the V90 Cross Country arrived – the newly christened #VOTY17. The experience was elevated by not only its ride height and solid all-wheel-drive system. The V90 Cross Country does its intended job with ease – just like the original V70 Cross Country. Not to mention, it's great seeing Volvo's big wagon back in the lineup!
All photos by Randy Stern