The following year we got ambitious, and we haven't looked back. In 2015, our Car of the Year was the Volvo XC90. In 2016 the Acura NSX captured the trophy. In 2017, we chose the Porsche Panamera. In 2018, the Kia Stinger took home the prize.
Our review pace for 2019 matched 2018: about 60 sedans, sports cars, supercars, pickup trucks, and SUVs, luxury brands and mass-market vehicles, machines that run on gas, electricity, and a combination of both. In all, we estimated that something like $5 million to $7 million in four-wheeled fun rolled through the driveway of our suburban New Jersey test center.
Zhang and I wrote most of the reviews. (Zhang graduated to transportation correspondent before moving on from Business Insider earlier this year to try his hand at working for an actual carmaker.) We got an assist, as usual, from senior transportation editor Bryan Logan, based in Los Angeles. Photographers Hollis Johnson and Crystal Cox produced our distinctive, urban-tinged vehicle images, and designers Skye Gould and Shayanne Gal added compelling graphics to 2019's Car of the Year package.
We'll announce the 2019 Car of the Year on November 23 and prepare you for the big event by revealing our five runners-up the week before.
Why it's here: Audi exchanged the 450-horsepower V8 from the RS5's previous generation, and both Bryan Logan and Matt DeBord were excited to drive this versatile, sporty RS and its new powerplant in both sportback and coupé configurations.
The bottom line on the Audi RS 5 is that it's absolutely crammed with tech while serving as a spectacularly versatile daily driver that can be instantly transformed into nearly race car. It has, in a word, range. The turbo V6 provides lagless power, abundantly spread through the RS 5's gearing; ask for some pop, and the car is happy to deliver. The steering is crisp, and the suspension can be set for severe tightness, enhancing feedback. You'd be both dragster quick in a straight line and agile around corners in this thing.
Plus, the Sonoma Green Metallic paint job is GOR-JEE-US! I couldn't take my eyes off it. And it received numerous envying stares during my testing adventures.
Why it's here: The BMW X7 is the largest vehicle the Bavarian brand has ever produced and is intended to go up against the Mercedes GLS, the Audi Q7, the Volvo XC90, and a host of other premium seven-seat full-size SUVs.
The X7 provides what the Ultimate Driving Machine needed: a three-row hauler to slot in atop the X5. It's sort of a bimmer bus, but what ya gonna do? We're a long way from the turbo 2002 of the early '70s.
The X7 serves up what you'd expect from a $100,000-plus SUV, from the elegant yet purposeful interior to the forceful output of the V8 motor and surefootedness of the all-wheel-drive system, yielding zero to 60 in about 5 seconds.
To this bimmerness the X7 adds a cargo area that can be configured to work like a small pickup while seating two extra humans if the third row is deployed. It's all good, but these days I have to admit that I look at these large premium SUVs as a segment rather than as individual vehicles. The X7 does the same job as the Audi Q7 or the Volvo XC90 or the Mercedes GLS. And so it goes and so it goes, and where it's going everybody knows: fatter profits for the luxury automakers.
Why it's here: The XT4 fills out the brand's luxury crossover lineup, joining the XT5 compact SUV and the XT6 three-row midsize. The XT4 is a critical vehicle for Cadillac, which is moving decisively away from a long history of big luxury sedans.
The 2019 Cadillac is the best car I've driven so far this year. [I drove it in January, so it was among the first vehicles I tested.]
With fuel-economy ratings of 22 city/29 highway/24 combined, the XT4 is moderately easy on gas but doesn't lack for pep. With a 0-60 mph speed of about 8 seconds, the XT4 isn't really quick, but its motor supplies abundant torque early, so it feels punchy (without being jerky, which would, of course, indicate actual speed).
What we have here isn't a thrilling crossover, but rather one that wears its mission with a dignity and reserve and belies its size.
Why it's here: The Ford Ranger is the Blue Oval's return to the midsize pickup market in the US. It will do battle against the popular Chevy Colorado and the Toyota Tacoma.
The Ranger is a winner. It's going to compare favorably with the Chevy Colorado and provide a much nicer package than the Toyota Tacoma (although the Tacoma is noted for its toughness, so the new Ranger should require some time to distinguish itself on that front).
I actually used the truck extensively, driving it around the New Jersey suburbs, in New York City, and on a long run out to the east end of Long Island. I also loaded up the bed with a variety of stuff.
The Ranger handled everything and was easy to drive on top of it. Sure, it bounced me around on uneven Manhattan streets, but everywhere else the truck was smooth.
Why it's here: Honda now depends more and more on crossover utes like the midsize Pilot. The three-row SUV was updated for the 2019 model year with fresh styling, a more refined drivetrain, and new tech.
Three-row midsize crossover SUVs are effectively the family minivans of this decade. They deliver exceptional people-hauling and cargo-hauling ability in a friendly and reliable package.
The Honda Pilot is the epitome of excellence in this genre. The third-generation Pilot was always a strong competitor in the segment, but the updates for the 2019 model year have corrected some of most glaring faults and bolstered its position as one of the finest family SUVs money can buy.
Why it's here: You had to ask? It's the first true Lamborghini SUV — although the Italian automaker calls it the world's first "super sport utility vehicle."
The Urus is every bit a Lamborghini and a worthy first "SSUV." As it turned out, I got to at least sample how its 40-60 front-rear-wheel traction distribution adapts to lousy weather, and it adapts magnificently. I drove the Urus into and out of Manhattan in a sloppy snow-and-ice storm, and while in a Huracan I might have been extremely nervous, in the Urus I was in command. I can only imagine what this thing is like on dirt roads.
In more benign conditions, the Urus is ferocious. It has abundant horsepower and abundant torque on tap in any gear, and even if you aren't busting toward the legal speed limit — testing the 0-60 mph dash of 3.5 seconds or tasting the top speed to 190 mph — you can always do that Lambo thing, making use of the paddle shifters and the manual mode, wringing unholy engine howls and whines from the V8 while tooling this two-ton beast around at mellow velocities.
Why it's here: Mazda made several key updates for the 2019 model year, including the addition of the optional turbocharged engine that we sampled. The CX-5 compact SUV competes directly against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Nissan Rogue — the toughest segment in the US market.
What Mazda has managed to do is deliver, hands down, the best-driving mass-market compact SUV money can buy. It's an impressive feat considering it's fighting for sales in the most brutally competitive segment of the market to which everyone brings their A game.
And for that reason, if I had $40,000 to spend, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature would be the compact SUV for me.
Why it's here: The A220 is an entry-level four-door in Mercedes' A-Series line, which has only recently hit US shores.
The A220 is a capable daily driver, and even though its trunk isn't huge, it's big enough to provide some versatility for weekend road trips and grocery-store runs. The back seat is snug, but this is a subcompact sedan, so expecting more would be pointless.
With a passel of performance features added in, I found the A220 to be one of those cars whose power can be fully accessed by mere mortals. Too many driver-oriented cars have so much punch that owners never get to use their vehicle's full potential. Not so with the A220. I felt that I could grab all 188 ponies and 221 pound-feet of torque and direct it joyfully to the wheels.
The 0-60 time is about 6 seconds, which is plenty quick. You're also going to get reasonable fuel economy, something in the ballpark of 30 mpg (the official numbers are 24 city/35 highway/28 combined). Impressive, and a strong argument for torque-y little turbo fours.
Why it's here: The sticker price is steep, but for this much luxury and performance to come in a single package, it's ultimately a bargain.
What Mercedes now excels at is the COMPLETE PACKAGE. BMW might deliver slightly more engaging driving. Audi might have slightly better technology. Lexus might represent modern luxury in superior fashion.
But nobody puts everything together as well as Mercedes, and when you throw in the AMG action, you put a wonderful car over the top into memorable territory. The coupé four-door idea, too, is dandy: Why not pair performance that's just shy of supercar-dom with the ability to haul luggage and groceries and passengers?
Why it's here: The Altima is one of the most popular midsize sedans in the US and was outsold only by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The sixth-generation Altima was all new for the 2019 model year.
Even as the midsize-car market in the US continues to shrink, the competition for supremacy remains brutal.
For 2019, Nissan certainly upped its game with the Altima. It looks good, it's got a roomy cabin, it's loaded with tech, and it features one of the most innovative engines around. It may not necessarily be the best car on the market right now, but you'd be a fool if you didn't at least give it a serious look.
Why it's here: The 2019 Nissan Leaf SL Plus is the fanciest version of the vehicle, which first appeared in 2010. Although more than 300,000 Leafs have been sold worldwide, the electric car has always been held back by its range. Not any longer.
The 6.5-second zero-to-60 should flip your switch. That's darn quick for a car that outwardly resembles something you'd find parked on the streets of Paris and used mainly for baguette runs. My beef with the Leaf, compared to other EVs (Tesla's Model 3, the Chevy Bolt, and a new generation of luxury vehicles such as the Jaguar I-Pace) is it felt solid yet sluggish. Against the Bolt, the shorter-range Leaf seemed to lack snap.
Not so anymore. The larger battery and more peppy motors have made the Leaf Plus feel downright sporty. My test car also included a suite of driver-assist and semi-self-driving features (Nissan's ProPilot, for example, which can handle steering assist), so the Leaf has become a rather complete package that, for $44,000, as tested, was genuinely packed with content.
Why it's here: The Cayenne has been the undisputed king of high-performance SUVs since 2002. It was updated for the 2019 model year.
The Cayenne is simply good, good, and more good, and the top-level Turbo trim is especially delightful, capable of orchestrating a brutal symphony of horsepower from that magnificent 541-horsepower twin-turbo V8. But that's just one dimension of performance bliss.
You also have the bracing handling, delivered through an intricate orchestration of mega-tech features, ranging from a rooftop spoiler than can adapt to increased speed to rear-axle steering and electro-hydraulic roll stabilization.
It's my policy to avoid getting too deep in this gearheady stuff (my driving is 90% emotion and 10% engineering). But with the Cayenne Turbo, it definitely adds up to an SUV that drives, as it always has, like a Porsche — but with the vehicle's upgrades, now more like a Porsche than ever.
Why it's here: The RAM 1500 was all new for the 2019 model year. It's the most important vehicle in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' US lineup and has to go up against the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado.
This is the best full-size pickup truck I've ever tested. I even got to challenge the 4x4 system with about a foot of snow at our suburban New Jersey test center, and the RAM brushed it off like nothing.
OK, I'll accept that the F-150 and Silverado loyalists out there don't like the RAM's (fully independent) suspension. Yes, it could break down under serious stress. But in my testing, this truck was bliss to drive.
With the all-new 2019 pickup, RAM might have moved past that No. 3 niche and positioned the Silverado in its sights. The RAM 1500 is a no-compromise pickup, perfectly pitched for the new pickup market, which is as much about everyday driving as hardcore performance.
Why it's here: The Forester was all new for 2019 and competes against the world's best-selling compact crossover SUVs and competes against the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and the Nissan Rogue.
The 2019 Subaru Forester isn't perfect. Its engine doesn't quite have enough power for the job, and its overall demeanor feels unrefined. Some may love the rough-around-the-edges nature of the Forester, but with top-end models pushing $40,000, it's time to do some polishing.
Apart from that, there isn't a heck of a whole lot to complain about. In fact, the 2019 Subaru Forester is one of the most complete and capable compact crossovers we've come across.
It's solidly built with a well-designed and spacious interior. It's loaded with an impressive array of standard safety features and, of course, there's Subaru's tried-and-true all-wheel-drive system.
Over the past two decades, the Forester has built a strong and loyal following among consumers. With the new 2019 Subaru Forester, things just got even better.
Why it's here: The Supra comes from an iconic line of cars that dates to the late '70s. The new model was controversial because it shares many components — including its engine and transmission — with BMW and is made in Austria.
For about $57,000, this could be among the best values in road-to-track cars on the market. Not for nothing, but the horsepower level was ideally matched to the car — throttling the Supra is a seamless addictive experience, almost devoid of turbo lag, and the sensation of the rear tires locking in and digging down under acceleration is the stuff of dreams.
A six-speed manual would have made the Supra more tempting, and one is supposedly in the works. The eight-speed automatic was competent, but of course it had three more gears that I wanted to use. So I found myself in auto-manual mode for most of my test time, gleefully paddle-shifting and watching the tachometer dance. Third and fourth gears in this car are dazzling.
The bottom line is that although the Supra and the BMW Z4 are made at the same factory, they're miles apart — and at $10,000 less, the Supra is the superior machine in price and performance.
Was it worth the wait? Good question. I wasn't waiting. But my time with the Supra left me craving more, and it continued a theme in my life of truly digging Japanese sports cars. Even if this one speaks with an Austrian accent.
Why it's here: The RAV4 was new for the 2019 model year. It's the best-selling compact crossover SUV in the US, ahead of rivals like the Honda CR-V, the Nissan Rogue, the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Escape, the Subaru Forester, and the Mazda CX-5.
In his review, Ben qualified his enthusiasm because of the RAV4's somewhat disappointing lack of engine-transmission refinement:
The Toyota RAV4 is the best-selling SUV in America for a reason. It has for more than two decades now delivered solid, sensible, and reliable transportation with an extra dose of fun. And it is set to continue that trend with the fifth-generation RAV4.
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The new Toyota RAV4 delivers a capable, high-tech, and easy-to-live-with compact crossover in a handsomely styled package. Now I just need Toyota to add to some sound insulation and retune the transmission.
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