The best cars we drove in 2020
We live a bit of a charmed life here at Roadshow. We’re all car enthusiasts at heart, and this job gives us access to the latest and greatest vehicles. 2020 really changed the way our industry handles new car launches, but that didn’t stop automakers from making sure their best and brightest offerings made their way into our editors’ hands. And after testing hundreds upon hundreds of cars over the past 52 weeks, we’ve got a few standout stars.
From electric cars to supercharged trucks, an even a vintage offering or two, here are the best cars we drove in 2020.
2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge has big power and a little frunk
For a very, very long time now, it’s seemed like all the great EVs were just two years away. All we had to do was wait another two years and we’d finally have some great choices. Well, now that we’re moving out of the trainwreck that was 2020, we’re finally, finally getting a selection of truly great EVs. My top car of the year was one of those.
Volvo’s XC40 is already among my favorite little crossovers because it’s one of the few in the segment with genuine character. However, after spending some quality time with our long-termer, I confess I never was enamored with the powertrain. The Recharge is like a reinvention. The throttle response is amazing, of course, and honestly there’s probably a little too much power. But, it’s the power delivery that changes everything, with instant torque to all four wheels.
I expect that’ll be great in the snow, but time will tell on that. Yeah, it’s too expensive at about $55,000 to start, and the 200-ish miles of range is too few, but sometimes the premium is worth it.
— Tim Stevens
Read our 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge review here.
It might sound heretical that I would choose a Boxster over a 911 at any point, nevertheless as the best thing I drove all year. But on closer inspection, the Boxster GTS 4.0 is no mere 718.
A 4.0-liter flat-6 engine does wonders for this mid-engine sports car, giving it all the motive force it could ever need, in addition to one hell of a soundtrack. Slap a sweet-shifting six-speed manual into the equation, and baby, you’ve got one hell of a stew goin’.
The Boxster’s midship platform always excels on the road, but everything just gels on this car. Without the risk of sounding too hackneyed, it’s the closest connection I’ve felt to a car in years. It’s fantastic to drive, and best of all, it’s still cheaper than a 911, even with that fancy engine.
— Andrew Krok
Read our 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 review here.
For most of us who are fortunate enough to review cars for a living, 2020 has been an off year as far as memorable drives go. There have been some fabulous new models released, but with the pandemic, it’s been tougher to make the most out of drive opportunities. That’s especially true for someone like me who lives in metro Detroit, land of the flat, straight, potholed road. That makes it all the more amazing that the best car I drove this year wasn’t some hyper-expensive or crazy-powerful new luxury or sports car, it was a humble old hatchback that seemed to be painted with a brush: a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI.
Kindly loaned to me out of the automaker’s own collection, this little buzzbomb was hardly a blue-ribbon example, but that made it seem all the more honest and exploitable — I could flog it, no kid gloves required. With just 90 horsepower, this VW is one of the least-powerful cars I’ve driven in many years, yet it’s also one of the cars that goaded me to drive the it hardest, and the one that left me smiling the most.
Yes, the GTI is front-wheel drive, but it’s got a fabulously adjustable chassis and amazingly direct manual inputs. The keenness of this little Rabbit’s responses and the sheer amount of road feedback it mainlines to the driver is simply unavailable in a new production car — there are too many layers of insulation and complexity in a modern automobile, too many other priorities like safety and comfort. The auto industry may have forgotten how to build a car like this 36-year-old rascal, but I won’t soon forget what it’s like to drive one.
— Chris Paukert
Read our 1984 Volkswagen GTI review here.
Here’s the Rivian R1T electric pickup truck in action off-road
Good lord, I love this truck. The all-electric Rivian R1T is a dirt powerhouse that is sure to revolutionize the truck world when it’s officially released to the public next year. The one I drove was still a pre-production model with reduced battery capacity, but it successfully completed a seven-day off-road journey through some seriously tough terrain.
Rivian R1T will have three battery sizes once it’s fully baked. The largest 180-kilowatt-hour battery will provide a range of around 400 miles while the smaller 135-kWh battery should be good for about 300. A smaller base option should offer around 240 miles. The electric powertrain can bust out as much as 754 hp and 826 pound-feet of torque, and the approach, departure and breakover angles are better than a Ford F-150 Raptor or even the new Ram 1500 TRX.
The R1T excels in cargo capacity, with 11.1 cubic feet of space in the front trunk, enough for camping gear for two with room to spare. A tunnel between the rear seats and the bed can hold an additional 11.7 cubic feet of gear. What’s extra cool is that, once the tunnel door on either side is flipped down, it functions as a seat or as a step to access the bed or the roof rack. Practical, quick and a beast in the rough? I’m sold.
— Emme Hall
Read our 2021 Rivian R1T review here.
Do this job long enough and you’ll become a little jaded. A car with more than 600 hp or a 0-to-60-mph time under 3 seconds is insane when you think about it, yet these specs are perfectly average for sports cars these days. So when a car totally redefines the terms quick or fast, that’s a big freaking deal. In 2020, that car for me was the Porsche 911 Turbo S.
The Turbo S’ 2.5-second 0-to-60 time and 205-mph top speed don’t tell the full story. It’s about how unrelentingly fast this car is on a good mountain road. It’s about confidently and comfortably pushing through long series of switchbacks at speeds you never thought possible. It’s about pulling over at the end of a canyon run and having to catch your breath because, holy shit, this car. I drove a lot of really fast cars this year, but the 911 Turbo S is by far the most memorable.
I also love that the 911 doesn’t look like some weird alien spacecraft, either (looking at you, McLaren 765LT). It’s quiet inside, comfortable, there’s a decent amount of storage space and Porsche offers a ton of driver-assistance and infotainment tech, too. It’s a car you honestly and truly could live with on the daily. That’s not something I can say about any Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren, and the 911 Turbo S is quicker than most of ’em, too.
— Steven Ewing
Read our 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S review here.
I don’t normally love big, honkin’ SUVs. Sure, they’re purposeful and versatile, but also ponderous and voracious. Still, the best vehicle I drove in 2020 was the new Cadillac Escalade, if only because it was such a surprise. (OK, I confess, the Mazda MX-5 Miata I reviewed early in the year was better to drive, but Miata is too easy an answer for a list like this.) This body-on-frame utility vehicle finally feels and performs like a true luxury product, not just a Chevy Tahoe with a few extra chrome accents and a much-steeper price tag.
Thanks to its fancy new independent rear suspension, the Escalade at long last drives and handles like it should. The ride is smooth and well controlled, its cabin is quiet, and it offers good performance with the standard 420-hp, 6.2-liter V8. But what really sets this three-row SUV apart from its predecessor is the technology it offers.
You can get the 2021 Escalade with a four-corner air suspension system and magnetic dampers, a combination that provides a silky-smooth ride, even with massive wheels. Inside, three screens dominate the dashboard, providing the driver with more than 38 inches of digital real estate. This trio of panels is gorgeous, beautifully integrated into the overall interior design, and since they’re of the OLED variety, the blacks are inky, colors pop and there’s very little glare. The Escalade also offers clever features like night vision, augmented-reality navigation and next-generation Super Cruise, GM’s award-winning hands-free driving aid. For all these reasons and more, this Caddy impressed the hell out of me.
— Craig Cole
Read our 2021 Cadillac Escalade review here.
Lotus has a reputation for building brilliant but hardcore sports cars and turning pedestrian powertrains into unexpected gems. While the latter remains true for the 2020 Evora GT, the former is a bit less true. Sure, the Evora GT is fun, but it’s also a shockingly comfortable and livable car.
The heart of the Evora is a supercharged version of a V6 that was originally meant to live a sedate life under the hood of a Camry. In its new role, this engine revels in being wrung out at all times. It offers up just north of 400 hp and a surprising amount of torque, and is paired with a wonderfully direct six-speed manual gearbox. The sound that this engine makes at full chat in a canyon is unreal.
Lotus is known for handling and the Evora GT is no exception. But the real magic here is in how sharp the GT is without being punishing, even on bad roads. It’s also got the best road car brakes I’ve experienced in a long, long time. I don’t even care that it feels like a parts bin car and smells like a nail salon inside because it makes me feel like an absolute hero behind the wheel. It’s a confidence-inspiring sports car that, at just over $100,000, is weirdly a bargain. Will it weather the years as well as a similarly priced Cayman? Probably not. But as the man says, nothing gold can stay.
— Kyle Hyatt
Read our 2020 Lotus Evora GT review here.
Bugatti Baby II is an electric scaled-down Type 35 race car for kids
I’ve driven a lot of really good stuff this year, from the Aston Martin DBS to the Bentley Flying Spur to the McLaren 765LT. I even almost chose the fantastic Hyundai Veloster N for this roundup. But ultimately, the car that put the biggest smile on my face and left the largest impression on me was the Bugatti Baby II, a tiny and slow electric toy car.
To create the Baby II, Bugatti 3D-scanned an original Type 35 race car and shrunk it all down to three-quarter scale. Everything is perfectly recreated from the best materials possible, and you can even get it with a carbon-fiber body. The Baby II is powered by a tiny battery and electric motor, with the higher-end model getting 5.4 hp and a 25-mph top speed. But slot in the special speed key and that top speed is raised to 42 mph.
42 mph might not sound like a lot, but with a completely open cockpit and no seatbelt, it feels more like 400 mph. I got to drive the Baby II around the Streets of Willow racetrack — my first time ever driving on a track — and I could not stop cackling the whole time. The sensation of speed is immense, and the car is so playful and communicative. It’s a great way to learn a race track, and I desperately want one.
— Daniel Golson
Read our Bugatti Baby II review here.
2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe: A German muscle car with finesse
I’ve always loved the C63, so it’s not too shocking that when I thick back about the cars I’ve driven this year, a 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe really sticks out. It was gorgeous with its matte paint job, and had a hearty amount of optional carbon fiber. But most importantly, the C63 was an absolute hoot to drive.
It’s one of those cars that kept me out late at night thanks to its sensational-sounding 4.0-liter V8 making 503 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. When working with a nine-speed multi-clutch transmission the C63 thing gets to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. Quick? Most definitely.
The C63 isn’t just about making rumbly noises and straight-line sprints, though. It’s a handler with direct and communicative steering and all the typical performance car goodies like adaptive suspension, limited-slip differential and available carbon ceramic brakes. It’s a coupe that offers nearly everything including power, dynamic capabilities, head-turning sheetmetal and an aging, but still very nice cabin. All that makes this Benz my favorite ride of the year.
— Jon Wong
Read our 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 review here.
The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is a 702-hp Baja blast and is definitely the most fun that I’ve had behind the wheel all year. The upgrades begin with the 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 from the Dodge Charger Hellcat, a proven formula for 650 lb-ft of torque and good, stupid fun.
Ram’s engineers didn’t stop with the engine bay; the rest of the pickup’s performance has also been upgraded with one of the most sophisticated adaptive suspensions ever fitted to a production truck. It balances amazing off-road control with over 13 inches of suspension travel. It’s a perfect setup for launching and landing the TRX off of some spectacular jumps.
From the unique version of FCA’s Uconnect infotainment to the extensive electronic drive mode controls, the TRX boasts a surprising amount of tech for such a rough and tumble truck. It’s also packed to the gills with design details and easter eggs that make exploring the truck itself almost as fun as exploring deserts and trails.
— Antuan Goodwin