These past twelve months were absolutely amazing. Quite exhilarating, if you ask me.
Between setbacks and advancements, it was a year worth celebrating.
Last month, you were able to make your choice for #VOTY18. You selected one of the final five, from an original list of 41, to state your favorite of the year. If you voted – and I hope you all did – I thank you for participating in this social media-driven award.
However, it is my turn. My chance to tell you my favorite vehicles I have driven over these past twelve months.
Everything is fair game – vehicles in for full review, Quickies subjects, and vehicles driven at media events. Everything you see here can be referenced on this site.
For the umpteenth annual time, let me tell you my favorites for the 2018 editorial year…
2019 ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE: Might as well start at the top. The Vantage is where Aston Martin wants to be – in competition with the likes of the Porsche 911. It does so in a traditional front engine/rear drive format, powered by a 503-horsepower AMG twin-turbocharged V8, and offers the best lateral handling package ever in a sports car. It drives like a sports car dream that we craved. It is a child racer's dream for the adult audience. Lastly, this is not James Bond's cup of tea. If you have at least $150,000, you can create one for your own – and drive it through the limit.
2018 HONDA ACCORD: Once you get over the styling, you will find a mid-sized car that is truly rewarding to drive. However, if you love the forward-thinking exterior of Honda’s popular car model (since 1976), then expect to be surprised by the large interior volume, rear passenger space, improved driving command area, superb trunk space, and fantastic driveline. My choice is the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, because who needs a V6 anymore. OK, a few folks would, but the Accord's forward-thinking approach is worth a look – and a buy.
2018 KIA STINGER: Starting today, the Kia badge should mean something to you. In this case, it should be an enthusiast’s touring car, with a hatchback, four doors, adult space inside, and a sporty disposition. My tester came with the desired specification of the 335-horsepower 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 with all-wheel drive. The promise of an all-season sports tourer is here with a twist. If you can get over the badge, you will find the Kia created a masterpiece that is within reach. While the sticker read somewhere north of $51,000, take into consideration what it means in terms of return on happiness. That is how you truly measure the Kia Stinger.
2019 LEXUS ES: I always liked the Lexus ES. Yet, it has been one for a certain demographic, for which I am reaching its starting age. What I hoped for is a more advanced ES – one that attracts younger buyers and still creates memories over miles. The new ES is eons better than the outgoing model. The design is sharper, the interior vastly improved, the ride even more supple, and overall package more accessible. Unfortunately, I did not drive the new F Sport version – but that will be rectified in 2019. For what I drove – the ES 350 Ultra Luxury model – it is absolutely one of the most luxurious cars in its class. And, yes, the ES still starts under $40,000!
2019 MASERATI LEVANTE: The Trident's SUV is simply wonderful. It shows that you can create such a vehicle and retain plenty of cache the great Italian brand had for over a century. The GTS and Trofeo are just mere cake icing. The GTS transforms the Levante into a beast that refuses to do tailgates. The Ferrari-made 550-horsepower 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8 is perfect for this SUV. The Trofeo adds just 40 more horses on top of that. Yet, you still sit in luscious Italian leather while it gobbles up the miles. If you have at least $120,000, skip the Porsche dealer and get a Levante GTS instead.
2018 MAZDA6: Another long-time favorite also went through a major change recently. It was indeed a step in the right direction. The sharper design, improved interior, and the addition of a turbocharged SKYACTIV engine was just the beginning. My tester was the top of the line Signature model, with its sumptuous leather seating and higher quality cabin. Add the fact that it still drives amazing with its driving dynamics on point and the turbo providing quick getaways off the mark. The Signature alone was priced at around $36,000 – a bargain if you consider where Mazda is positioning this car against.
2019 RAM 1500: This truck is so good, it should sell double the volume. The reasons are simple: Improved stability, excellent ride and control, great cabin space and quality, advanced technology, engineering, and safety on board. The capability is still there – even more so with the new eTorque system attached to either the Pentastar V6 or HEMI V8. If you want pure awesomeness – try the Rebel. It will do you want you want it to do – including fly on a dirt track. No matter which Ram 1500 you select – and how you specify it – you may agree that this truck has the edge among all full-sized half-tonners out there!
2018 ROLLS-ROYCE WRAITH: The third one has sealed the deal for me. Rolls-Royce has found a way to bridge the past in the present with this astounding coupe. It is fast, but it is subtle. It can growl, but it can glide. The Wraith offers a unique opportunity for the discriminating driver to own one of the finest cars of its kind. However, the past is merely the past – of lazy 6.75-liter V8s and very soft springs. Today is all about 12 cylinders, turbochargers, and unspoken horsepower numbers (psst, the Wraith has somewhere well over 600 horsepower). If you have to ask, the example I drove came out to $421,000. Is it worth it? I'd say so.
2018 TOYOTA CAMRY: Milqtoast no more! The "sexy" Camry has reversed its image by the virtue of its bold design inside and out, improved drivelines – the V6 and Hybrid, namely – and additional content that raised the popular sedan's profile. Yet, it has competed hard against the proliferation of the SUV/crossover. For those of us who love sedans, coupes, and station wagons, the Camry is a sign that things will get better in this segment. It starts with a car – a lovely one, at that.
All photos by Randy Stern