This year is almost over!. A few more months later, this site will celebrate its 10th anniversary.
Is this cause for celebration?
Maybe. It depends on how you look at this year.
Some will look at it from the lens of the global headlines. Headlines not worth repeating for the sake of keeping us in good spirits. Hence we are emerging out of a year full of curve balls and emotional rollercoasters.
Still, there was work to be done. That was my mantra – to work harder than ever not to be distracted by the headlines, the overall mood of the world, and to deliver something we might want – and need – to get through these past several months.
In that context, I present to you my favorite vehicles of this year.
Keep in mind that there is no methodology behind this annual list. Except, if you consider that this is a full year’s worth of vehicles that I worked with at various lengths of time. That is all. No disclaimers. No caveats. No bull crap.
With that said, let's list them out…my favorite vehicles of 2020. And, spoiler alert, there's more on this year's list than usual!
DODGE CHARGER: Revisiting this Mopar monster was a welcomed change from the usual workflow. It arrived with flared fenders, wide Pirelli P Zeros, and a new shade of blue. These are just superficial markings of a sedan that makes a spectacle everywhere it showed up. This car is not for the meek. You do not grow into it. You have to be ready to rock any town you drive it through. You get respect. If not, you flip off the ones giving you shade. The Dodge Charger is a car that makes you a Moparian in 30 seconds, and, then, you understand why these are beloved machines.
FORD F-SERIES SUPER DUTY: Heavy duty pickup trucks rarely make this list. It is on here because Ford knows how to execute them. And, they are very easy to drive. The specification I received was made for fifth-wheel and gooseneck towing – the longest wheelbase with the longest cab/box combination, a single-rear-wheel three-quarter ton configuration, powered by the uprated PowerStroke turbocharged V8 diesel, in the Platinum trim. You know, that was one fun pickup truck to drive. That’s not a word you utter about a heavy duty pickup truck.
GENESIS G90: I like a little luxury from time to time. Yet there is nothing little about the big Genesis flagship sedan. The entire premise of this car is to have everything you want in a flagship sedan without paying the flagship price. It is a lovely place to be. You drive down a two-lane road with no other traffic, while luxuriating in the leather upholstery as its engine motivates you over the miles. It is a dream on wheels. Then, you pinch yourself. That is what Genesis wanted you to experience all along.
HYUNDAI SONATA: If you look beyond the tech stuff – Smaht Park and the solar panel on the Hybrid – the Sonata represents the battle sedans have to remain relevant in today’s marketplace. The design alone is a talking point in this argument. The sleek lines hides a spacious interior and efficient drivelines. However, it’s calling card is its tech and engineering – the hard art of what makes this a benchmark in its class. A sedan should satisfy everyone every day. This one does a good job doing so.
LEXUS GS F: If I were to simply call this a fast cruiser, that may not scratch the surface. It does not have the best infotainment system in the world, but if you know how to work it a bit, you’ll be fine. It may not massive power, but that 467-horsepower naturally-aspirated V8 gets you up and going with not a lot of drama. It is a comfortable place to snub your nose at convention. A sedan worth every mile of smiles. And, yet, it will no longer be sold as new. A sad fact that makes this entry an emotional one.
MAZDA3: The enthusiast’s compact car is exactly that…and more. As Mazda seeks to move upmarket, the Mazda3 becomes more pivotal in that move. The quality is much better, as it matches its aspirations. However, adding the 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G turbocharged engine to the lineup aces its place among small luxury cars. In fact, would you rather have this or a Mercedes-Benz A-Class or an Audi A3? My answer would be the Mazda – and not just on price alone. It is simply one nice performer.
MINI COUNTRYMAN: No, it’s not a MINI Hardtop that binged on junk food. It is actually the original premium small SUV/Crossover that has seen a lot of competition lately. This MINI continues to bring happiness to the segment because there’s so many fun things about it. The shapes, textures, and tricks are designed to engage with you behind the wheel. And, you certainly are engaged with it! In all, this is a fun vehicle that puts a smile on your face as you drive it mile-after-mile.
RAM 1500: I keep on calling this the "best pickup truck in the business." In terms of engineering, design, and some execution points, it’s true. And, yet, this truck breaks my heart. Every time a story comes out on some recall for this and that, my hope for a flawless tool to match its tech, design, and capabilities get thrown out the window. However, if you look beyond the headlines, this truck delivers. It certainly delivers for me every time I take the wheel of one.
SUBARU CROSSTREK: If you like to be different, then the ever-popular Subaru Crosstrek is your kind of adventure vehicle. I love the fact that the improvements it made were for the better. It all centers on the added availability of a larger 2.5-liter Boxer engine. This engine transforms the Crosstrek into an adventure machine with better capability for off-highway adventures. If you ask me, this is really the best vehicle of its kind for urban, rural, and mountain living.
TOYOTA CAMRY: An everyday car that can reward you. Sounds like a cliché, but it was true for a week or so on the road from the Twin Cities to Wichita with a few stops on the way. Sometimes, the story has to have a co-star. Once considered boring and lacking any soul, this generation of Camry gave me proof that it can be a rewarding vehicle when tasked to do the job. The trunk space, the comfort, the available tech – all woven into a non-boring vehicle that Akio Toyoda is proud to sell.
TOYOTA GR SUPRA: This year’s #VOTY – for a reason. Let me give my reasons it won. First, this was a different approach to an icon. Instead of a big, bruising 2+2 that added to Paul Walker’s legend, you had a lightweight, two-seat sports coupe that was a fruit of a collaboration between Toyota and BMW. It loves the road, the track, and being hard parked. Necks were snapped, as I maneuvered the Austrian-assembled machine through its paces. It forgives drivers with less experience, while putting in smiles for those who want such a machine. That is why the GR Supra is on this list.
TOYOTA RAV4 AND RAV4 PRIME: It sells so many units. But, why? Simple: It delivers the goods. Compact SUVs are pushed out into the universe in the hundreds of thousands because it has become the default for the automobile. They offer loads of cargo space, passenger space, plenty of performance, and solid fuel economy. However, you have to add the word "competent." Competency is not a cop-out on not calling it "great." High levels of competency demonstrate how well this package is executed. That is how I describe the RAV4…and its plug-in variant, the Prime.
VOLKSWAGEN ATLAS AND ATLAS CROSS SPORT: The Cross Sport was one of two surprise #VOTY2020 finalists (the other was the Camry). But, it should be no surprise why it appears on this list. The term "sweet spot" is rarely used in the Volkswagen lexicon. When you have a larger SUV to sell – three rows of superior space as its main selling point – you want to create something that fits in with an active demographic, including families. You get one with only two rows of seats, a sleeker, tapered roofline, and all of the goodies that come in an Atlas. That’s why it was a #VOTY2020 finalist. Oh, and the three-row model is also lovely to drive.
VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN: Another road trip vehicle proven to be the right one for the task. When I took it up to Bemidji, I knew I had the right vehicle for that trip. It was comfortable, expansive, and returned good fuel economy. And, it never let me down. So, why are you not buying this in the same numbers as the RAV4, Rouge, and the CR-V? Is it because it may not be your cup of tea in design? Maybe you’re still stuck on "Dieselgate" when it comes to Volkswagen. All I can say is to simply drive one. Your family will thank you.
All photos by Randy Stern