A rough year still gave us some truly great cars. Here’s our list of the best of the best cars of 2020.
2020 wasn’t the best year when it comes to … well, nearly everything that matters. Yet one of the brighter spots was that the automotive sector not only survived largely intact but thrived in many respects. There was Tesla’s stratospheric rise, the debut of the new Bronco and the electric Hummer, plus a metric ton of incentives to keep new vehicle sales afloat. And while circumstances made the logistics of driving new cars a challenge, we still found ourselves behind the wheels of some truly great cars. He’s our rundown of the very best cars of 2020 that we drove.
How do you take the best-selling crossover from a company known more for valuing practicality over panache and make it exciting? Perhaps counterintuitively, you turn that crossover into a plug-in hybrid. How’s the math work on this? Easy, the RAV4 Prime takes a page out of Tesla’s book and makes efficiency desirable with a brisk 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds and an impressive all-electric range of 42 miles. And of course, there’s the AWD, comfortable ride, and Toyota’s vaunted reliability to round out the package. That the RAV4 Prime greatly exceeded Toyota’s expectations for customer demand only strengthens the case that manufactures, Toyota included, can embrace greener technology and make a handy profit at the same time.
Yes, the RAM 1500 threw down the gauntlet with the debut of the TRX, but the updated F-150 had already cemented itself as the best truck of 2020. It’s best-in-class scores for towing, payload, and torque only tell part of the story. The newly redesigned interior, with an innovative workstation center console (complete with folding shifter) and naptime ready fully reclining seats, is that perfect balance of semi-luxury and functionality today’s truck buyers demand. The 7.2-kW ProPower generator system and workbench tailgate pile on the practical applications. A huge options list and six trim levels mean buyers can get the exact F-150 best-suited to their needs, from bare-bones work truck to near-luxury hauler. Oh, and there’s also the PowerBoost hybrid powertrain combining the twin-turbo 3.5L V6 and an electric motor for 430hp and 570lb.-ft. and 24 mpg combined. The F-150 really does it all and does it well.
You might wonder why we didn’t pick the new hotness from FCA, the RAM 1500 TRX as the best off-roader of the year. Here’s why: for as much as we want to run our own personal Baja 1000 in the TRX, the Gladiator delivers the more wholistic experience. It’s a Jeep, it’s a truck, it can shred the dunes and crawl rocks, it even got a hotdog cooker at SEMA360 this year. And for sheer enjoyment, the Gladiator with the roof and doors off rivals the new C8 Corvette in total fun factor.
Few vehicles had a hotter year than the Kia Telluride. Demand for the stylish 3-row SUV was sky high, with long waits for delivery even prior to pandemic production delays. And it’s easy to see why. The Telluride is the best example, among many good ones like the new K5, of Hyundai/Kia’s move upscale. The exterior is properly beefy while also being compellingly original (for our money the Telluride is the best application of Kia’s tiger nose grille). The equally impressive interior puts the Telluride right at the top of the segment with its spaciousness, thoughtful design, and high-quality materials. For a family vehicle that rides and hauls as good as it looks, the Telluride is nearly peerless (unless you count the Hyundai Palisade).
Like the Telluride, the Genesis G80 combines sterling quality with surprising affordability. Challenging the likes of Mercedes-Benz to a sedan fight is gusty, but Genesis pulls off a coup with the G80. The twin-turbo V6 offers a more than ample 375 horsepower and the G80 proves the livelier application than the larger GV80 SUV carrying the same engine. The interior of the G80 is elegant without being gaudy, and materials easily rival those used in European analogues. There are plenty of interesting bells and whistles like the remote parking feature, 3D gauge cluster, and smartphone key capability. As nice as the G80 is, it gains additional luster in our list of the best cars of 2020 when you consider the entry price of just $47,700.
Given the hype some Silicon Valley ventures receive when they make it to Wall Street, you might wonder whether the astronomical rise of Telsa’s stock this year was pure wonton speculation. And then you get behind the wheel of a Model 3 and you know in the very short time it takes the car to zoom from zero to 60mph (in near silence) that it isn’t all hype, that Telsa actual makes things, very good things like cutting-edge, sleekly designed, and quite sporty electric cars. Tesla and the Model 3 have thoroughly put to bed the notion that electric cars are boring. The Model 3 is the opposite. There’s the break-neck speed, the clean, almost Scandinavian interior, that huge infotainment screen, the fart noises and “AutoPilot” driver assistance tech, it all adds up to an exciting and original car complete with an industry leading 322 miles of maximum range. Once you drive a Model 3 and see how far the competition still has to catch up, you begin to understand why Tesla joined the S&P 500 last week.
Our pick for best sports car of 2020 could have easily gone to the Mercedes-Benz GT or Porsche’s latest version of the 911. But the reinvented C8 Corvette and its new mid-engine design proved American car companies have not lost their sports car mojo after all. The C8 hits nearly every note. It’s V8 in Z51 form can put up 495 horsepower and a sub-three second 0-60 time. While it’s faster than the C7 but also less unruly and perhaps less exciting as a result. The C8 is a more refined Corvette, for good or ill. For us, and we’d guess the buying public as well, the formula of more power that’s better contained is a winning one. Perhaps the biggest attraction to the Corvette has nothing to do with horsepower or engine placement. Instead it comes down to price. Starting around $60,000, the C8 offers all those supercar feels at a fraction of the price.
Aside from a wonky infotainment system, the Lexus LC500 was an unadulterated joy. As a pure automotive experience, it surpasses everything else we drove this year. It’s a gorgeous car and perhaps the only one where Lexus’s giant grille really works. Its naturally aspirated rumble is arguably the most satisfying exhaust note of any car, period. And the interior is astonishingly original, supremely comfortable, and beautifully wrought. The Lexus LC500 is, bar none, the best combination of luxury and power on the road and far and away the best car of 2020.