Few of us will look back on the year 2020 with any relish. Despite its many challenges, the past year has proven how essential cars, trucks and SUVs have become in modern life. They are our escape machines, able to make us forget about our worries as we indulge our passion for the joy of the open road. There have been some wonderful test drives during the past 12 months, and these are the ones that have proven to be the most memorable, in order by base price.
2020 Mazda CX-30, $21,900
A svelte little automotive bonbon sure to win the hearts of automotive enthusiasts and design junkies, the CX-30 is sublime understatement inside and out, visual haiku that’s strikingly elegant and clever in its design. Better yet, it’s an engagingly fun vehicle to drive, much like an MX-5 Miata, but with lots of passenger and cargo space. Possessing the outdoorsy, upscale allure of brands like Barbour, its sophisticated charisma outshines its many competitors, making it a must-drive alternative in what is otherwise a rather humdrum market segment.
2020 Hyundai Sonata, $23,600
Returning once more to the eloquent coupe-like silhouette it helped popularize, the redesigned Sonata exudes a vogueish design fluency that’s at once articulate and flawless, a combination of art and understanding that projects an elegant simplicity that feels more premium than it is. Its design is mirrored in its driving demeanor; handling is noticeably better. It makes a compelling case for being the best in its segment, something that surely wasn’t true last year. And the Hybrid easily returns an astonishing 51 mpg.
2020 Subaru Legacy, $23,645
Personifying the finest qualities of life in the middle of the road, the Subaru Legacy is handsome and approachable, exuding a refreshingly refined no-nonsense level-headedness that eschews the juvenile video game flourishes that increasingly pass for tasteful car design. Agile but not sporty, it doesn’t tempt you into indulging yourself with your right foot. It’s far too rational for that. But its sophisticated drive line is effortless to drive smoothly, while providing a comfortable and quiet ride. It proves to be an exceptional choice for us average Americans.
2021 Acura TLX A-Spec, $47,275
A welcome return to form for a brand that has been far too blandtastic for its own good for far too long. All-new for 2021, the TLX is the best iteration of Acura’s midsize sedan since the 2004-2008 Acura TL. Its turbocharged four packs a significant performance punch, delivering an enthusiastic feel that’s enhanced by the car’s well-timed shifts and adept handling. While experiencing driving thrills, you’ll find the new TLX’s cabin to be a fairly rewarding place to pass the miles. Maybe they should have called it a Legend. You just might.
2021 Ford F-150 King Ranch Hybrid, $59,755
Ford’s full-size pickup accounted for nearly 1% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, and it’s easy to understand why. They’re quiet and comfortable, feature opulent interiors, first-class technology and an incredible luxury experience, albeit one that allows you to tow your favorite plaything or haul a load of mulch. Try that with a Bentley. But something new has been added: a 3.5-liter PowerBoost Full Hybrid V-6 with 430 horsepower, 570 pound-feet of torque, an EPA rating of 24 mpg and a 12,700-pound towing capacity. Sweet!
2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, $59,800
While its birth was GM’s answer to European sports cars such as the Jaguar XK-120, the newest iteration is perhaps its most radical transformation to date, one long anticipated and, like the first generation, an answer to European competition, albeit Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and McLaren. Try buying any one of those new cars with this level of performance, engineering and technology for less than $59,000 to start. You can’t. That why the 2020 Corvette is the finest ever built — and the best sports car you can buy. It’s a bargain.
2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 4Matic All-Terrain, $68,650
Although its name is vaguely SUV-like, this is a station wagon, albeit with outdoors aspirations. Marketing obfuscation aside, it’s stunningly styled throughout, and retains the third-row, rear-facing seats of its predecessor. The biggest change comes under the hood, where a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six and a 48-volt hybrid system supplants last year’s the twin-turbo V-6. Returning 24 mpg, it has a refined, spirited, and fun driving demeanor. Whether you call it a wagon or not is up to you.
2021 Genesis G90, $72,950
In an era when most Americans have become truck drivers in a mistaken belief that they need a glorified station wagon with all-wheel drive, the Genesis is a reassuring nod to tradition — a full-size luxury sedan that’s comfortable, quiet, capable and possessing a unique air equal to its station. Its overall demeanor is that of a responsible adult, a welcome relief from the childish excesses that plague modern car design. It’s the type of car that American automakers once built but no longer do. Thankfully, Genesis does, even if Detroit won’t.
2021 Cadillac Escalade, $77,490
Over the past couple of decades, it’s been agonizing to watch Cadillac out-German German automakers, whereas customers expect Cadillacs to be generously sized, commanding in performance, exceptionally comfortable and convenient, and wrapped in flamboyant, unapologetic attire. Happily, the redesigned 2021 Escalade is the first true new Cadillac in decades. It’s an indulgent, intelligent return to form that’s masterfully executed, brimming with state-of-the-art technology, and a compellingly oversized contemporary luxury statement. Bravo.
2021 Rolls-Royce Ghost, $332,500
In these dissonant times, when tradition is too often met with contempt and suspicion, where CEOs dress with the élan of college students, and tattoos, attitude and volubility matter more than intelligence, empathy and grace, tradition endures by its very nature. And so the freshly redesigned Ghost arrives with its best attributes intact. It still delivers the most seamless driving experience you’ll ever encounter. Its interior remains exquisite yet audacious. The Ghost is a dose of reassurance in an age when everything seems to have come unhinged.