My Favorite Vehicles of 2019

Another editorial year has come and gone. This year may not have been full of excitement, but it had its highlights.

For example, a couple of publications saw some value in capturing my road trips towards creating a travelogue for their readership and demographics. You also benefitted from these adventures to get another perspective from these aging eyes.

Traveling by automobile is still one of the greatest adventures one can partake in. Train travel and intercity bus travel may rank up there, but the benefits of automobile travel outweigh the linear dimension of going by train, intercity bus, or plane.

This annual list of "My Favorite Vehicles of The Year" reflects this turn in part of my editorial work. They also feed into the self-enthusiasm for the automobile that may seem temporary but has lasting permanent effects. In other words, some vehicles will have lasting memories that I will take to the grave.

Of course, I am finding that picking a list of favorites will also reflect personal tastes. It also reflected some events that shaped this editorial year. I found a change in a level of vehicular comfort that came as a result of a health episode from this spring. As I am improving from said episode, I am finding a few more vehicles that I enjoy on the basis of is abilities, as well as its newsworthiness.

But, still, this list reflects my personal best from the past twelve months. I always caution you that you might be surprised by what may show up on this list.

Without further ado, here are my favorite vehicles of the 2019 editorial year…

CHEVROLET COLORADO ZR2 BISON: The advantage of the mid-sized Colorado ZR2 is that you can put it on more off-highway trails than a full-sized pickup truck. A mid-sized pickup truck has a smaller footprint to take on those trails – a well-known fact. It took some time after a week trying to test out its true capabilities to prove my hypothesis. In October, I revisited this truck at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Fall Rally and found a course that cemented my thoughts on the Colorado ZR2 Bison. On these muddy tracks, the Colorado ZR2 Bison kicked major butt. It also helped that it had the 2.8-liter Duramax turbocharged diesel underneath its hood. It was the right combination for a little muddy fun – and then some!

FORD F-150 RAPTOR: The most fun you can have in a pickup truck. That is if you are seeking an open field full of mud, sand, and any Earth surface that needs destroying. Yet, this “supercar of pickup trucks” throws down 450 twin-turbocharged horsepower with 510 pound-feet of torque to simply laugh at mere machinery. Yet, it a perfect performance truck on a mechanical basis. It is not a heavy duty pickup truck, but a half-ton with a "military-grade" aluminum cab and box construction. It has specific off-road suspension that feels soft everywhere it goes. And, it has a comfortable interior with the right atmosphere that befits the Ford Performance badging on the door sill plate. This kick-ass truck is exactly as advertised – a kick-ass truck.

FORD MUSTANG: The current Mustang was developed for a global audience. Many aspects from the tires up were designed to engage the driver while retaining all of the classic qualities the original ponycar offers to its owners and enthusiasts. I always believed that the purist should always start with a GT fastback – replete with the Coyote 5.0-liter V8 and a few performance options. Having this combination solidified my thoughts on this current generation of Mustang – it is a damn good car! Perhaps the signature for affordable high performance with an excellent chassis and independent suspension all around. You can tell me anything about any other car that you can put against it, but there is nothing else like a Mustang.

HYUNDAI PALISADE AND KIA TELLURIDE: They are not twins – but their histories and successes are still joined at the hip. From a common architecture, two different mid-sized, three-row SUVs emerged. One offered instant luxury from its bold exterior and provided an advanced cabin for driver and passenger alike. The other is always ready for action – on and off the road. It is a working vehicle that can still offer comfort, but plenty of engagement over each mile. The performance and driveline are superb and can return better than expected fuel economy. Where it truly wins in space and accommodation. You can seat seven in one – no problem. I have witnesses – well, they proved my point perfectly by riding along. There is one small problem: Which one is the best? My response is "you're both pretty." Pretty damn good.

However, one is #VOTY19. The other, actually, came in second place. So, yes, it is proven that both are pretty damn good!

LEXUS ES 300h: Following up last year’s ES 350 experience, I put the hybrid version on a road trip to Fargo, North Dakota. The purpose was to kick off the change in my column in a local lifestyle magazine. The result was a supreme experience that actually turned heads and yielded questions – in North Dakota. But, let’s be clear, the newest Lexus sedan did something I expected and more. It took me across Minnesota on Interstate 94 in absolute luxury. It was quiet, comfortable, relaxing, and delivered superior fuel economy in return. It had more than enough luggage space to bring my experience home. And, yet, it is an every day sedan that exceeds my expectation every time I get behind the wheel of it. There are not a lot of vehicles that can say that. Then again, it’s a Lexus. It is what I want in a car in its class without breaking the bank completely.

MAZDA6: This mid-sized sedan still delivers the goods every time. Since this current generation was introduced in 2013, it returned to its roots as a mid-sized family-style sedan with an enthusiast’s edge. It was all "zoom-zoom" wrapped in a "KODO – Soul of Motion" design to showcase Mazda's Skyactiv engineering. Last year, I saw the updated Mazda6 with the new turbocharged Skyactiv engine and upmarket aspirational interior. This year’s tester was welcomed home to take me some places along the way. It also yielded more love from you. Taking a friend to collect his newest ride near Saint Cloud to a quick run to Duluth-Superior over Labor Day weekend added more smile-worthy moments with this wonderful sedan. It also answered the question – not the CX-5, but the Mazda6. The story continues…

RAM 1500: There is a phrase that keeps on being repeated with this full-sized half-ton pickup truck: "the best in the business." It is worth repeating and it remains true. Yes, the Ford F-150 Raptor offers loads of fun – only if you can put one in the environment you can have maximum fun in. This is why the Ram 1500 is a great all-rounder. The four-wheel independent suspension works, not just in the ride/handling mix. It is proven that, yes, you can have this suspension set-up and still haul and tow with it competently. Adding the air suspension makes things even better ride-wise. The latest review model I received had the Multifunction Tailgate that makes loading and unloading much easier to manage. It also featured the excellent EcoDiesel engine. I’m so glad it has returned to the Ram 1500 lineup.

VOLKSWAGEN ARTEON: You may be a Golf person or a Jetta person. But, I’ll bet you that you’ll fall in love with the new Arteon premium hatchback as I did. Then again, we had to wait for it. When it did arrive, it was what I hoped for. This was not just the replacement for the CC four-door coupe, but a bit more than that. It bridged the gap between markets with its spacious interior, overall comfort, and alluring style. The performance and driving dynamics were superb, and it returned some better-than-expected fuel economy. While a Volkswagen fan may just get a GTI, Golf R, and Jetta GLI and call it a day, I’d spend the extra money on an Arteon. Besides, it was definitely worth the wait.

VOLVO XC40: Can you put a vehicle normally reserved for upwardly mobile urban dwellers on a lengthy road trip with an extended stop in Eastern Iowa? I did. The results would astonish you. The XC40 rode quite well over three states of tarmac. It provided more than enough luxury (in the Inscription trim), performance (equipped with the T5 engine and all-wheel-drive), and efficiency to make the road trip memorable. Around town, the XC40 shines the brightest. It can hop from urban enclave to suburban big box retailer to the daily commute with ease. In all, it became my hero for the road trip to Cedar Rapids and onward to this year's MAMA Fall Rally. We all need heroes these days, right?

VOLVO XC90: The return of #VOTY16 – refreshed and electrified. I mentioned in the last article on this vehicle that this was my first experience with the Twin Engine system and its plug-in hybrid driveline. The T8 showed me that you can be sustainable and have your three-row premium mid-sized SUV experience, too. The XC90 T8 drives so smooth, it befits its mission to be considered with the greatest competitors in its class. It is also polished and finished off to exude a higher level of confidence with both power sources working together – or separately. No matter whether it is the T6 or the T8, the XC90 remains my answer to a growing number of mid-sized luxury SUVs that are doing their best to match (or exceed) the Volvo overall. It wears its #VOTY16 crown very well.

This should wrap up the editorial year 2019. What’s next for 2020? As always, stay tuned…

DISCLAIMER: All vehicles in this article were provided by their respective manufacturers.

All Photos by Randy Stern

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