So here’s the thing, and I swear we’re not bragging when we say this: we got to drive a ton of cars this year. Ultra-luxury coupes, family-friendly minivans, electric taxis, impossible-to-park SUVs, battery-electrics, plug-in hybrids, compact city cars, race cars, and (of course) a crop of Teslas. Our butts graced a variety of driver’s seats. The Verge’s transportation editor Tamara Warren drove over 60 cars in 2017 by herself!
Car companies traditionally loan “press cars” to reporters so we can experience new features, check out enhanced performance, and generally get a sense of what they are like to drive to better inform our coverage. It’s a perk, for sure, but one we take very seriously.
This past year was one of rapid change and escalating stakes for the auto industry. Electrification, autonomy, and mobility services like ride-hailing and car-sharing provided legacy car companies an opportunity to posture like tech startups. The car-buying public, though, remained blissfully unaware of most of these trends, snatching up gas-guzzling SUVs, crossovers, and pickup trucks in large quantities. But analysts predict that when all the numbers are added up, 2017 will be the first year since the Great Recession that auto sales slumped.
With all that in mind, here is our list of cars we drove in 2017 that were among our favorites.
Waymo’s driverless minivan
I drove an interesting range of vehicles this year — big gas-guzzlers, compact battery-electrics, and sexy convertibles — but the most interesting car of all was the one I didn’t drive at all, but the one that drove me.
See what I did there?
My ride in Waymo’s fully driverless minivan lasted all of 15 minutes, took place on a closed-to-the-public decommissioned Air Force base in Central California, and only encountered Waymo employees disguised as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians along the road. Not exactly a recipe for fireworks. And yet it was the most thrilling 15 minutes in a car I had probably ever experienced in my 37 years on this planet. My fellow passengers included another reporter and a Waymo employee named Diondra, who was unflappable throughout. I managed to conceal most of my giddiness beneath a layer of journalistic cynicism, but when the car expertly threaded a complicated intersection, my veneer slipped slightly and I think I said “wee!”
The decision to remove the driver from the equation wasn’t a rash one, but rather one that has been eight years in the making for the Google spinoff. It’s one thing to ride in the backseat of an autonomous (or highly automated) car with someone behind the steering wheel.
Riding in a Level 4 driverless vehicle was as close to a glimpse of the future of mobility as I’ve ever seen. We are still decades away from a reality in which these types of vehicles are able to roam freely through our cities and communities without restrictions. The transition from manual to automated driving will be slow and complicated, and probably messy. But when it does come, it will completely transform how we get around.
But it will never come if there isn’t trust in the technology, and that will only follow an overabundance of testing, both physical miles driven and in simulation. There will be accidents and injuries, and maybe even deaths. (There’s already been one fatality.) There’s convincing research that suggests people have an extremely high tolerance for human error, and an extremely low one for robotic error. What happens when a Waymo minivan gets in its first fatal accident? It could set the race to autonomy back years, and grind a lot of this momentum to a halt.
Waymo is gearing up to allow its first passengers into its driverless vehicles in a small Phoenix suburb. The scope is extremely limited, just a handful of people in a 100 square-mile radius using the minivans for boring errands and other daily trips. You probably won’t even notice when it happens.
— Andrew J. Hawkins
Greenwheels car sharing
2017 was the year I decided not to buy an automobile because my car-sharing service is so utterly convenient and economical. I subscribe to Greenwheels in my home city of Amsterdam. It's pretty much the same service offered by ZipCar in the US, UK, and a few other countries. For a relatively low monthly rate (€25 for the Frequent plan) I have access to hundreds of dedicated cars, which I then pay to use by the kilometer (usually €0.27) and hour (usually €3). In my neighborhood alone there are 20 cars to choose from within a 10 minute walk of my house, and just three steps from my door.
Unless you're super wealthy, owning a car in a major city is a huge pain in the ass. But with Greenwheels, I never have to hunt for parking, I don't worry about oil changes or someone dinging my doors and bumpers, and I can always pick exactly the right size car to serve my immediate needs. Trip to Ikea? Reserve a van. Weekend at the beach? Better get the station wagon to fit the three kids. Time for gymnastics? Grab the subcompact to take my daughter to practice.
According to the latest AAA study, owning and operating a new car costs an average of $8,469 annually, or $706 each month. In 2017 I paid just over $2,000. Your mileage will vary, literally, especially since you probably don't live in a city as bicycle friendly as mine.
Yes, there are a few downsides. The radio presets are never as I left them. And my car — usually a VW Up! — would not be my first choice to buy... especially with that big dumb Greenwheels logo on the door. I also have to deal with the occasional lost umbrella or other detritus from the driver before me. But these are minor annoyances compared to storing, insuring, and maintaining a car over its lifetime.
I find car sharing so incredibly convenient that I can't imagine ever owning a car again.
— Thomas Ricker
Tesla Model 3
It wasn’t the fastest car I drove this year, or the most beautiful. And I didn’t even drive it very far — only a quick lap around the Fremont, California factory perimeter. But the 15-minute test drive I had in the Tesla Model 3 was the most talked-about ride I took in 2017, and if Tesla can actually scale the Model 3 operation, it would make it the most significant.
Until that time, no one was sure that the Model 3 really existed in tactile form, and the interior was a bit of mystery. It turns out that the interior, with its minimalist approach, was the most intriguing part of the car’s presentation and performance.
Part of what made the ride special was the fact I wasn’t expecting to try it out at the company’s summer event. In both the spectacle of the Model 3 drive and the Roadster unveiling, Tesla proves that it has mastered the art of surprise, and wins the award for the company that will always keep us guessing.
— Tamara Warren
London’s new electric taxi
This year I only drove one car for The Verge — and it was also the first time I drove a taxi. I’m Australian, I don’t have a car here in London, and I haven’t really driven since moving about seven months ago. I’m not one for cars, I’m usually happy with a decent vehicle that gets me from A to B easily. Like Thomas, I also use ride-sharing services and a lot of public transport.
London Electric Vehicle Company’s new electric taxi is one of the smoothest vehicles I’ve ever driven. It’s bulky, that’s for sure — being a six seater, it has ample room inside — but the ease of driving the vehicle makes you forget how big it is.
Though technically you wouldn’t be driving this thing unless you’re a taxi driver, being a passenger is also a really great experience. London’s taxis are notoriously loud and shaky, but riding in this car you don’t notice any noise at all.
It handles very well and is super quiet, allowing you to relax easily and talk to your fellow passengers. The sunroof is a big plus, especially for people new to London. You get to see all the old buildings and skyline you’d otherwise miss out on.
This is something all taxi rides should be — comfortable, relaxing, and environmentally sustainable.
— Thuy Ong
2018 Honda Odyssey
This was not my favorite thing to ride or drive in by any means, but it sure was the most memorable. After all, no other car has caused a reaction quite like seeing the entire back row of passengers scream out in horror when I turned on the 2018 Honda Odyssey’s new “CabinWatch” feature. It’s essentially a camera that shows the driver a live feed of what’s happening behind them, so drivers can keep watch of backseat shenanigans. In theory this sounds great, and I do think it has a lot of potential for parents of young children. But in practice, it mostly made passengers feel uncomfortable that they’re being watched — and the purple hue overlay that I couldn’t get to go away from the camera feed didn’t help.
Sitting in a car, especially for a long period of time, is supposed to be about maximizing comfort. And even though I found the Odyssey incredibly spacious and the customizable seat configurations useful, I couldn’t get past the idea that a car that has an optional cellular internet service with a camera capable of live streaming wouldn’t somehow be abused in the future. Mental uneasiness is by far the worst type of discomfort.
I understand I am not the target market for a minivan. But I am also skeptical of the promise of digital security in a year where we’re still taping up our laptop webcams and most of our social security numbers have been stolen. Perhaps I shouldn’t be paranoid, but to me, the car has been the only space where I am truly detached from the internet (aside from streaming music). While adding an internet connection, several TV programming channels, and a local livestream of the backseat are technologically forward features, when it’s time for me to choose my next car, I’ll be looking for one that has none of the above, but can warm up my driver seat in under 60 seconds during a New York winter.
— Natt Garun
Tesla Model S P100D
For one very brief moment in time this year, my car fit right in with all the other high-end cars in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t “my” car, though. Call it an occupational perk (or hazard, if you get distracted by such things), but as part of my job I get to sometimes review cars, under the premise that cars are essentially giant gadgets. Our Screen Drive series approaches cars like this: it’s less about gear shifting and suspension and torque, and more about the way we interface with the vehicle when we’re in it.
Okay, it’s about torque too.
Especially in the case of the Tesla Model S P100D. I had briefly driven a Model S before the review, and my initial impressions were what you’d probably expect: wow this thing is fast; it’s so quiet; look at this giant fucking tablet; I could get used to this. But after driving a loaner Model S P100D for a week I felt like I knew the car much more intimately. (I also started to notice its small, irritating quirks, like its cup holders.) We went through charge cycles together. We were connected figuratively and literally. Like through an app.
From a Screen Drive perspective, the giant touchscreen distracted me much less than I thought it would. I didn’t find the media options to be as impressive as, say, the maps. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. And the built-in voice control is really just that — voice control for the car’s local functions, and not a virtual assistant. But by the end of the week, I had grown fully accustomed to tapping, swiping, and pinching my way around a 17-inch LCD display while I was driving. I appreciated the simplicity of the instrumentation.
But that wasn’t the highlight of reviewing the car. It was a ridiculously fun car to drive, which is what you might expect for a vehicle with a base price of $134,500. Few cars I’ve driven have me fantasizing about ditching my 10-year-old gas guzzler, something I justify because it’s paid off, still runs well, and fits all my sporting gear. The Model S had me suddenly in love with an all-electric sedan.
— Lauren Goode
Formula E car
It wasn’t until I was strapped into the cockpit with the track’s fire marshal shouting potentially life-saving instructions at me that I realized I was actually about to drive a bonafide race car. And not just any race car, an all-electric one.
In April, I just happened to be in Mexico City starting a two week vacation when Formula E, the first global all-electric racing series, was there, too. I knew that they had a few demo cars, and I knew that they occasionally allow dopes like me who cover the series to get a firsthand taste of what those cars are capable of. Sometimes things just work out.
Formula E cars look kind of like an F1 or IndyCar, are built to go over 150 miles per hour and make it from 0 to 60 in under three seconds, and they do so using one (giant) 28kWh battery. The one I drove was slightly limited, but still plenty powerful enough to both terrify and thrill me as I tried to survive the 17-turn track the series had set up at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
The terror peaked two laps into my time on the track when — what else? — I got cocky. You see, the inside wall that runs the length of the frontstretch doesn’t end until what feels like almost the middle of turn one. It makes the corner completely blind. You have to start moving the wheel before you see the exit, which is doubly terrifying when you’re also slowing down from hitting around 120 miles per hour on the straightaway. And it wasn’t just my lack of experience that made this turn difficult, too — more than one driver had skidded off into the runoff section of turn one during the race the day before.
I tiptoed through turn one the first few times out, but I foolishly trusted myself a bit more on the start of that third lap. I eased off the brakes, aimed for the correct line, and coasted through the turn just inches away from the end of that wall. And I nailed it.
Too happy with myself, I gassed (zapped?) it on my way out of the turn. The rear tires spun, and before I knew it the back end of the car was skidding into the left side of my peripheral vision, as my eyes kept looking forward while the car did a 180.
The rest of my laps were less fraught, and I even clicked off a 1:18 — a personal victory considering the series’ drivers were turning in laps around 1:03. But while that 15 seconds of difference sounds flattering in a bar conversation, it represents an entire career’s worth of difference.
I’ve done some other ludicrous things in fast cars this year — I drove a race-ready Tesla in France, whipped a Chevy Bolt around a parking lot in Detroit, and even got to pilot the new Ford GT. But the Formula E car has stuck with me most vividly. Nothing else offered such a raw experience. There’s no power steering, you stop and go with slabs of bent metal instead of proper pedals, and you’re exposed in an open cockpit while your knees are practically above your chest as you hurtle around a track mere inches from the asphalt.
The drivers have to manage all this while also being careful not to drain the battery too fast (or too slow). That’s harder than it sounds — try being careful while also fighting for position or, hell, the win. Sure, Formula E isn’t as fast or as popular as Formula One. No three-year-old racing series could be. I’m constantly impressed that this series ever got off the ground, and that it’s now attracting some of the biggest manufacturers in the world. After surviving a few laps in one of its cars, I can see why.
— Sean O’Kane
This year, I drove a $400,000 car, and nothing bad happened. I took the Rolls-Royce Dawn through Midtown Manhattan, around Astoria, Queens, and onto the BQE Expressway into Brooklyn. I survived the journey, and the car made it through unscathed.
This drive was my favorite of 2017, not only because I don’t foresee myself cruising around in a custom, hand-crafted Rolls-Royce again in the near future, but also because it taught me that, more than anything else, the difference between a $40,000 car and a $400,000 car is the amount of attention you get. Yes, you can appreciate the craftsmanship, the roar of the engine, and the smoothness of the drive itself, and those factors vary from vehicle to vehicle, but fundamentally, a car is a car. It should get you where you want to go with little hassle, especially if it’s a new model.
I panicked when I first got into the Dawn. What if I scratched it? What if I crashed it? What if someone stole it when I wasn’t looking? How would I explain the incident to my editor? I’m also a highly neurotic person.
But you know, the drive was completely fine. It actually turned out great. I constantly reminded myself that the Dawn was only a $400,000 thing, and in reality, it was replaceable. Still, construction workers gawked at me; pedestrians took my photo at stoplights; and my neighbors questioned who lived next door when I parked it in my driveway. I flexed for my boyfriend when I picked him up outside his apartment, and he flexed for his friends by snapping that he was in the Dawn on the BQE. I’d been on that same expressway countless times, only this time, I was sitting in traffic in a Rolls. The Dawn brought me a lot of joy and made me feel extra cool. I love attention.
Maybe I’ll drive another Rolls-Royce someday. I hope I do. But this stands as my favorite drive of 2017, and maybe of all time, because I witnessed firsthand how much everyone loves an expensive thing.
— Ashley Carman
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Okay, the best thing I drove this year was not a Mitsubishi. But I put this here because it’s important that the 2018 Outlander PHEV be thrown in the conversation. Despite being saddled with some deeply anonymous styling, I see the point of the Outlander plug-in, and a drive around Catalina Island confirmed it’s the car people with 1.5 kids from San Diego to Somerville would actually appreciate.
Turn it on and the Outlander PHEV operates in hybrid mode when the battery is fully charged. Drive slowly and you’ll likely rely on the battery charge until more power is needed and the gasoline engine kicks on. Or you can use the buttons around the gear lever to either force the car into EV mode (a Charge mode to regenerate the most energy back to the battery), or save the charge for when you can best use it, such as in heavy traffic or at low residential speeds.
The Outlander PHEV isn’t going to rival a Tesla for range, but it strikes a better balance between electric range and fuel economy that luxury PHEVs from BMW or Volvo just can’t offer. People may scoff at you for picking a car from a company best known for making big-screen TVs, but you’ll have a new plug-in hybrid for less than $30,000 after tax credits (that were mercifully saved) and won’t have to wonder if the dog gate will fit into it over a holiday weekend.
And a bonus: the dirt roads on the island revealed that the all-wheel drive system meant we were never unsure about making it up a hill. It may not scare Jeeps and Land Rovers, but buyers who have steep, snow-covered driveways in the winter might be relieved.
Despite some ridiculous chromed accoutrements, the Outlander PHEV is an honest car. It’s not supposed to be luxurious or quick. But in trying to be honest, Mitsubishi stumbled upon a segment of the market that has been completely underserved. There are a host of people, possibly scorned from diesel scandals, who just want a fuel-efficient car to move them and their family around without significant compromise. And finally, this is an answer.
— Zac Estrada