This past year has been nothing short of unprecedented, with the global pandemic challenging us in ways few could’ve predicted.
But if it’s given any of you something positive to take away I hope it’s this: driving is an amazing escape from the new normal we’re living in. Whether you’re just looking to blow off some steam or explore your own backyard, climbing behind the wheel sure beats sitting around at home.
1. Porsche Taycan
Of all the cars on this list, the Taycan is the one I would’ve guessed would be here before I even drove it – and yet it still managed to impress me more than I thought it would.
While I wasn’t so thrilled with it on the track, the Taycan was an absolute joy everywhere else. Whether you’re talking about the sub-three-second sprints to 100 km/h in the Turbo S model or the way it cruises around so crisply, this is a driver’s car first and foremost.
But what I wasn’t expecting was how much fun it would be to hypermile the Taycan like you normally would a Nissan Leaf. It brings a whole separate level of enjoyment when you see that driving range climb higher and higher – but the best part is all that electric torque is waiting for you when it’s time to blast off down another country road.
2. Mercedes-AMG A 35
The AMG-tuned A-Class hatchback is the exact opposite of the Taycan. Not that I didn’t think it would be good, but just how much I liked it shocked me, and this little thing quickly became one of my favourite cars on the market.
It’s like the spiritual successor to the fantastic Ford Focus RS, only precise and refined in ways that thing never was. There are a couple of even more powerful versions available in Europe that make as much as 420 hp, but the 302 ponies you get here feel just right for this car.
The turbo motor under the hood is also just one piece to the puzzle here, and it’s the total package that makes it so special. The drivetrain is so quick to shuffle power around, and it’s got mechanical grip for days, so no worrying about understeering your way to disaster. And then there’s the cabin that looks and feels more special than any other hot hatch I can think of.
3. Kia Seltos
Favourite doesn’t always mean fun, and this new Kia crossover proves that and then some. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun to drive compared to most other subcompacts out there when done up in SX Turbo guise, but that’s not why it made the list. Instead, it’s all about how awesome the Seltos is to live with.
Compared to most little crossovers like it, the Seltos has tons of space inside, with a roomy back seat and a big cargo compartment. Then there’s all the tech you can get with it, like the big touchscreen on the dash and all kinds of advanced safety stuff. If all that’s not enough, there’s heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and even heated rear seats – all in a crossover that barely costs $35,000 before tax. Simply put, no other subcompact crossover on the market does what the Seltos does, and it truly sets a new standard for the segment.
4. Toyota Supra
Don’t ask me how a 380-hp sports car can seem so underrated, but that’s where we’re at with this reborn Supra. Maybe it’s because of all the BMW parts, or the fact you can’t get it with a manual transmission; but it doesn’t seem like the Supra gets the credit it deserves. I’m here to let you know that in spite of the criticisms levelled against it, as both a purebred sports car and a grand touring car, the Supra is fantastic.
It generates more than enough output from the straight-six tucked between the fenders, and the chassis is impeccably balanced for performance and comfort. It’s never going to get the credit it deserves, and that’s an unfortunate by-product of the way our expectations can ruin our sense of reality. But man, is it ever a blast to drive.
5. Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Anything powered by a 700-hp engine is worthy of consideration for a list like this one. It just so happens that the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is easily the most ridiculous application of the supercharged V8 that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) will stick into anything it fits.
It’s partly because no SUV has any right to sound like this one does, let alone be as quick. But it’s also because it’s like a chesterfield on wheels that hits like a sledgehammer. Oh, and it’ll tow 3,266 kg (7,200 lb), so no problem getting your trailer around the Cabot Trail next summer.
I really do love my job, and it’s quite the privilege to drive and evaluate so many new cars, trucks, and SUVs – and, yes, even minivans – for a living. This isn’t just my job; it’s my passion, too. And that’s why I enjoyed my time with the Lexus UX hybrid as much as I did the Jeep Gladiator, I just enjoyed it differently.
With that in mind, it was an incredibly difficult task whittling this list down to a top five. There are plenty of honourable mentions – vehicles that almost made the cut but had to be left off the list for one reason or another. Take the sublime stick-shift Porsche 911 Carrera S, or the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro that’s ready to chase down Jeep Wrangler Rubicons – I drove one of those, too – or even the Toyota Corolla SE. (Come to think of it, there are a lot of Toyota products on this list....) The market is flush with great vehicles that are rewarding for different reasons, and you don’t always need to think sports car first if you want to have fun or find an adventure.
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Either way, you might not agree with all five, but the best part is you don’t have to – it’s my list! In all seriousness, though, whether you’ve got $240,000 to spend on an all-electric spaceship of a sports sedan, or $35,000 for a tiny crossover, there are lots of great options out there for those in the market.
I hope for all our sakes that this pandemic ends sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, there’s plenty of open road to find behind the wheel of your favourite ride, too. So get out there and enjoy it.