Choosing some favorite rides of 2019
After a year of driving some of the finest cars in the world — and more than a few mediocre ones — it’s the time of the year to summarize my favorite rides. No, there’s no Corvette. I have yet to drive it. But there are some truly memorable rides, ones that are sure to bring a smile to your face. They did to mine. Here are my faves from 2019.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
How could you not love the most powerful street-legal Ford ever built? Powered by a supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 engine rated at 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque, and mated to a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential, 0-60 comes up in 3.3 seconds, with the quarter mile arriving in at less than 11 seconds. It’s so fast, so furious and so mind-numbingly fun, you’ll wonder if your license will withstand your ability to put this steed through its paces. The many changes brought to the GT500 transform this crazy colt into a true supercar, one totally capable of dominating the track. Its capabilities are most likely beyond those of most owners’ ability to exploit.
Long overdue, the brand’s first pickup since the 1992 Comanche is a five-passenger Crew Cab model based on the Wrangler four-door SUV. So, it has body-on-frame construction, a solid front and rear axle, a five-foot steel cargo bed, fold-down tailgate and a best-in-class towing of 7,650 pounds. There’s up to 30 inches of ground clearance, 30 inches of water fording ability, while providing an approach angle of 43.6 degrees and a departure angle of 26 degrees. The Gladiator proves true to its name, handling any off-road situation with an unassailable confidence. But it’s this pickup’s on-road civility that surprises, with a lack of excess body motion through corners and an amazing knack for soaking up the worst that America’s crumbling infrastructure can throw at it.
Designed by Kia in California and assembled in Georgia, the 2020 Kia Telluride is far more upscale than its nameplate suggests, with an elegantly bold style thanks to its broad, boxy look. While the Telluride’s mechanicals aren’t unusual, with a 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission powering the front wheels or all four, the Telluride returns a luxurious driving experience, thanks to its optional self-leveling rear suspension that returns a sumptuous feel, particularly on higher-end models. And the Telluride is filled with clever touches, such as intercom system for the driver to talk to rear seat passengers through the audio system speakers, or the Quiet Mode that isolates music to the front row so as not to disturb other passengers. Punching far above its weight, this Kia is a stunningly good value.
Replacing the MKT, Lincoln’s rotund three-row luxury crossover, the Aviator wears crisp lines offset by a sporty sloping roof and distinctive Lincoln grille. It’s handsome and urbane, like the finest Lincolns of yore. Inside, there are three rows of unabashed extravagance. There’s a standard 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 generating 400 horsepower, but true automotive nirvana can be found in the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid model that produces 494 horsepower and a mammoth 630 pound-feet of torque. Thankfully, power is routed to the rear wheels, although all-wheel drive is optional. This is a classic new American luxury cruiser: large, in charge and oozing with comfort and power.
Nissan Leaf Plus
The Nissan Leaf Plus is a thoroughly modern Japanese compact that’s quiet, peppy and comfortable, with room for four (or five if they’re friendly). It’s well designed, with an eye-catching exterior, an ergonomically friendly interior, comfy seats, an easy-to-use infotainment system and a driving experience you’d expect from any modern compact sedan. Yet the Leaf is electrically powered. There’s no exhaust noise because there’s no exhaust. There’s no engine noise because there’s no engine, only electric motors. The instantaneous acceleration from a stop is exhilarating, mostly because all of an electric motor’s torque is available at any time. While Teslas, the new Porsche Taycan and the Audi E-Tron get all the attention, the affordable the Leaf Plus is unjustly overlooked.
To compare the Rolls-Royce Dawn to any consumer product, let alone any other car, is unfair. For the Dawn is the result of an arcane alchemy that mixes mechanical excellence and exquisite design that continue Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ 115-year tradition. Under the time-honored trappings resides a state-of-the-art twin-turbocharged V-12 with 563 horsepower. That and the eight-speed automatic transmission effortlessly deliver a deftly balanced driving experience, taking you from zero to 60 in less than five seconds. For those who can afford such finery, the Rolls-Royce Dawn remains a rare chance to revel and romp in one of the world’s finest cars.
Toyota GR Supra
Let’s applaud that, 20 years after being dropped, the Supra returns, still powered by an inline-six engine, a key part of its personality. But the engine is BMW’s — as is the car, which is based on the BMW Z4. Overlooking such Bavarian bloodlines is easy once you’re behind the wheel, as the Supra effortlessly drifts through corners, its steering and chassis working with a remarkable precision. Making all the right moves, the GR Supra returns a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds on the way to top speed of 155 mph. Out of the box, the 2020 Toyota GR Supra is a delightfully entertaining, fun-to-drive sports car, something that has been lacking in Toyota’s line-up for far too long. Welcome back!