At times this year at The Verge, it feels like we already live in the autonomous future in our transportation section. It’s not entirely clear whether the momentum that drives us will be dystopian or delightful. But like our readers, we must get by in the present, where human-driven cars that we own, lease, buy, or ride in via our ridesharing drivers are still by far the dominant form of mobility. How can we write with knowledge about what’s coming in cars if we don’t know where we’re at? We launched our series ScreenDrive this year to show that many elements of cars are just like the gadgets we cover in our sister tech section — perfectly flawed.
In order for us to keep our feet on the ground, or at least close to the pulse of the current day pedal, as transportation editor, I try to drive as many cars as I possibly can, which can be a challenge, considering I live in a town where public transportation (when it’s actually working) and walking are options I enjoy. But I managed to squeeze in seat time in these 62 new cars this year, sometimes on race tracks, a Sunday drive, or in the real-world task of schlepping my kid to day camp. Modern cars are accused of looking and feeling very much the same — kind of like smartphones — they are tactile, three-dimensional rectangular objects loaded with sensors. What I see is an industry in transition, scrambling to find the most attractive functional path toward connectivity and convenience, but not clear on how to keep up with the pace of our more expendable gadgets. Here’s how I spent my year test-driving cars.
In 2017, the Chrysler Pacifica was in the spotlight as the go-to car for Waymo public-road self-driving testing. What I admired most about the Pacifica, as a family minivan solution, was the attention to obsessive detail. Our staff drove two Pacificas at the North American International Auto Show in January, and while some would say their favorite element was the in-car checkers game, what struck me as clever were the second-row seats that fold flat into the floor, making a minivan into a truly mobile living room.
The Audi S3 was our first experimentation with how to ScreenDrive a car. Much of the experience focused on how Audi has expanded Virtual Cockpit across its vehicle lineup. On the S3, Audi built an attractive, modern looking interior that’s stupid fun to drive. It has responsive ride and handling, even for a small car on bumpy city streets. Though some tech functions are not intuitive, like the scrolling wheel, its connected features are still among the best approaches in the industry.
Back in February, I took the Toyota Camry Hybrid for a spin. The ‘17 model year added the Entune Audio Plus entertainment system, automatic emergency braking, and wireless smartphone charging. The Camry maneuvers smoothly from electric to gasoline power, but faces stiff competition in this growing segment of mid-sized hybrids.
The Lexus IS200T is an entry-level luxury car that isn’t afraid to make a statement. It has a polarizing, but memorable grille. Unlike many luxury automakers, Lexus opts to go its own way rather than mimic German luxury design. It’s not always successful, but on the IS200T, that’s a good thing. What it lacks is space in the rear interior — even kids’ legs were cramped. It also comes short in the performance numbers of its competitors.
The Mazda 6 is what I call the ultimate sleeper car. Mazda lacks the big overstated presence of larger brands, but its handsome design coupled with peppy performance makes it a solid choice for consumers to consider. What contributes to this 6’s savvy is a driver’s seat positioning that borrows from the sports car DNA of its Miata.
I didn’t read the fine print on the offer to drive the BMW 330e, and was pleasantly surprised to see the e-for-quasi-electric when the final paperwork crossed my desk. The 330e doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m driving a plug-in!,” but instead, “look at me I’m driving a BMW!” that has the essence of performance that makes everyone want to drive this present-day icon.
The Lexus GS350 F Sport is a bit of a metal mouth. Its grille takes familiar proportions and stretches them in into a bulbous form. But it’s been around so long that this observation is no longer a revelation. The Lexus’ Remote Touch interface requires a light touch, and can be frustrating. Its interior is spacious, and like other Lexus models, uses rich materials.
Sure, strong, snow-ready and steady, the Subaru Forester didn’t receive a major refresh in 2017. It remains a true sport utilitarian. That’s why people keep buying it, as I was reminded when driving it through slippery wet spring conditions. Subaru added better cameras, steering responsive headlights, cameras, and new features to the sight safety system on its 2017 model.
The cockatoo comes to mind if you gaze long enough at the front end of the Lexus RX350. It’s a look that’s been working for Lexus as it continues to dominate as the luxury standard bearer. Once you’re inside, the high-quality materials and comfortable seats make it a pleasant environment if you’re stuck in traffic, which is how most of us spend our time in the car.
For the backseat driver in all of us, Genesis G90 lets you live the limousine fantasy with ample legroom. It’s the $70,000 flagship of the gussied up Hyundai brand, and it packs in the accoutrements and standard features like leather, heated and cooled and adjustable seats, a 17-speaker sound system, and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen.
I have a soft spot for the aging Chrysler 300 sedan. Originally designed by Ralph Gilles, now design chief for the FCA group, it reintroduced attitude to the banal sedan back in the day. This year it added in its new UConnect system, which Lauren Goode also assessed in her ScreenDrive.
Americans continue to bromance big trucks like the Ram 2500 Power Wagon. As a former Dodge pickup truck owner, it’s part function, part psychology to sit up above everyone else. Even if you don’t need to truck drive, your friendships will improve if you do, because everyone will ask your help to move them. The Ram Power Wagon drives home a message in its strong accents. What’s changed since I last owned a truck is the advancement of parking technology, which is a game changer to pull off the truck driver look, without sideswiping small cars and mailboxes in your wake.
The Audi A6 Competition is like the A6 amped up — a stellar performer wedged between Audi’s sleek sport division S6 and the base model. One tiny detail stands out: wicked looking blacked out mirrors, and part of what an extra $6,000 will buy you along with sport suspension and torque vectoring.
If you don’t want your compact sport utility vehicle to look like a grocery getter, the Jeep Renegade presents a more brawny option. The Jeep Renegade looks rugged and has handling characteristics to back it up. My favorite feature was the removable MySky roof.
The functional Chevy Equinox might not be cause for excitement, but it’s a key product for GM, as the hunger for value-driven, family-friendly crossovers is palpable. It comes ready with standard features like three 12-volt power outlets, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a wifi hotspot. What gives it a slight edge in my book is its fuel economy, which at 39 MPG on the highway, is pretty good for a gasoline powered engine.
I wrote this ode to the suicide doors on the Rolls-Royce Dawn. It’s not the brand’s flagship Phantom, but its $412,430 price reflects its super-luxury pedigree. “To drive this coupe isn’t about the ride, but more the glide.”
I call the Toyota RAV4 a wake up call to the practical desires of Americans. It’s chock-full of safety and was the top-selling car in 2017. Still there are rumors, Toyota may go back to the drawing board and roughen up the RAV4’s image.
The classic Jeep Wrangler Rubicon never really goes out of style, so even if you opt to buy this soon to be phased-out generation, you’re still steeped in Jeepdom culture. It’s militaristic design dates back to 1941. If you’re willing to deal with a noisy, rough ride, that is, in favor of winching your way up a trail, its staying power is timeless.
I traveled to a warm climate in late spring, and a Mercedes-Benz C300 cabriolet that was there to greet me was a welcome reprieve, in a soft top that takes only 20 seconds to drop.
Those annoying Buick commercials don’t lie. At least the ones that capture would-be Buick LaCrosse customer actors in mock shock as they behold a brand that’s gone through a spiffy upgrade. And after spending an afternoon at the GM Proving Grounds learning about Buick’s ridiculously intense commitment to making a quiet interior with engineers galore dedicated to these efforts, its quiet cabin really is the thing that speaks volumes.
My favorite aspect of the Cadillac XT5 is the “UltraView Sunroof,” fancy branded language for a sweeping panoramic view of the sky. It sounds trivial, but studies show that exposure to natural light during a daily commute improves mood, but it also may make you spend more money on your next car.
The steering wheel is the point of orientation in cars driven by humans. Aston Martin has cracked the code on how to make a fancier steering wheel shape in the Aston Martin DB11. It’s consistent with what makes Aston Martin distinct: it’s not about function, but about the beautiful form.
Toyota Sienna: Say hi to kids and car seats. It’s a minivan that looks and behaves like one, a familiar form that’s been in production for seven years. Its engine in 2017 is a bit more efficient, earning 27 MPG on the highway.
In 2017, the Cadillac Escalade turned the camera toward the inside view: it added a teen-driver monitoring system, automated parking to accommodate its super-size proportions, and a rear passenger reminder so you don’t forget your baby on board.
The brilliance of the BMW M240i — not to be confused with the M2 — is in its slight proportions. It’s the definition of how small walks tall in a nimble design performance package. It has verve, in the sense that it’s fast and responsive, but you’ll feel the bumps along the way, due to its stiff suspension.
The Jeep Compass has often seemed off of its mark -- an underwhelming version of the brawnier jeep. It’s redeemed itself with a 2017 redesign to be more handsome in form.
The Fiat 500L retains much of its throwback design. It’s a rough and tumble ride, a budget statement car for those that desire a bit of Italian flair.
The decadent grille on the Jaguar F-Pace is part of its allure and one that I paid homage to in this piece about the vehicle that took home the title for World Car of the Year.
The Mini Countryman is a compromise between roomy and mini, built on the BMW X1 platform. I never thought of it as a ‘90s gadget until I read Thomas Ricker’s Countryman ScreenDrive.
I described the Lamborghini Aventador S as, “a sharky-cobra-rocket-jet hybrid that runs on gluttonous petrol,” after a day spent whizzing around the Poconos Raceway. From the launch of a push button, driving a Lamborghini on the track is like living in a real-world video game, only better with a V12 engine that makes 740 horsepower and 508 pound-feet of torque.
The Lexus LC500 is a worthy flagship vehicle for the Lexus brand. It’s a performer, but also a looker that presents traditional Lexus aesthetics in strong proportions.
The Ford Mustang GT continues to trot along since it was refreshed in 2015. One area that’s added serious wow-factor: its sound. You can turn the snarl on and off if you don’t want to wake the neighbors before you stunt.
The redesigned Mercedes-Benz E400 is loaded with every piece of contemporary automotive tech imaginable, including two screens in the dash, a head-up display, steering assist and automatic braking. At times, the myriad of options available feel overwhelming. The touch screen and wheel feel at odds. I prefer it in the wagon form.
The straight-line performance on Dodge Charger Scat Pack seemed like a big deal until I drove the Dodge Demon, which took street car speed to another level. But nailing the gas and listening to the Hemi engine rev to the 4,000 rpm limit does induce feelings of power.
Who says toy cars are for kids? The drag racing capabilities that are stock features in the Dodge Demon are what gives its street-racing cred. On my first outing I was rained out, but eventually I was able to practice my start on the quarter mile on a New Jersey racetrack and experience 0 to 60 glee.
The Mercedes-Benz G-Class is due for a redo next year, but we can’t help but get amped up about this big, boxy design. Climbing in the awkward cabin feels like a blast from the past — and that’s part of its appeal, until you toggle with Comand, the Mercedes-Benz infotainment system.
Jeep Cherokee Overland is the crossover variation of the more well-known Grand Cherokee. It was once an SUV, but as tastes have shifted it has gotten smaller. The Overland is a higher-end trim variation and boasts an Alpine nine-speaker audio system.
The thing that stood out on the test drive of the Audi TTS was my experience with Audi’s subscription service, Audi on Demand, curbside outside of The Verge’s San Francisco offices. A low-mileage Audi greeted me after I used the app to order it. It’s a way for everyday customers to conduct extended test drives of new models.
Tesla Model 3 hype hit a threshold this year, making this the most memorable ride of the year, because in true Tesla mystique, no one knew what to expect. Little did I know I’d drive it long before owners who have money down on this car, and are still anxiously awaiting delivery as the company grapples with manufacturing delays.
The Grand Cherokee has entered the phase of modern classic, and looks even better with a little mud on the bumper. While the 707-horsepower Trackhawk has been causing a commotion, the SRT model includes a Hemi engine. For thrills, I drove it on Indy Motor Speedway in monsoon rains.
In Los Angeles, I drove a 2018 model of the Nissan Rogue that comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Nissan is big on features with nifty names: Divide-N-Hide, marketing speak for a thoughtful, discreet storage area.
The whip-fast performance and smooth handling on the Tesla Model S P100D was the key takeaway from my test drive of the Model S P100d. But driving the Model S to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was also a study in the psychology of the California motorist.
The L stands for long wheelbase on the Infiniti Q70L. While 414 horsepower makes for plentiful performance, its shape is one that makes it harder to distinguish.
Verge staffer Dani Deahl and I had a lovefest over the Audi A5 Sportback and the contours of its cool cockpit.
The ridiculously perfect paint job on BMW M760i was the definition of decadence in this loaded up full-size sedan that can be yours for $154,795. For all that, you get 601 horsepower and a lot of looks on the streets.
The Hyundai Ioniq PHEV has a rather sedate form that belies plug-in hybrid capabilities. It has a range of 630 miles on a full charge and a tank of gas, impressive for a compact car. While its all-electric range is on the low side at 29 miles, its integrated electric motor produces a decent amount of power.
The design of the Porsche Panamera is not for everyone, but I happen to favor its unique take on the oversized sedan, with a slightly longer wheelbase, larger wheels, aluminum door panels, and a new hood found on the 2018 model.
The Chevy Bolt drives and performs well and, even after zipping around long stretches of Detroit freeways, caused no range-induced anxiety. But now that Chevy’s proven it can EV, it’s time to dial back its overstated eco-interior, and make something more attractive.
I learned to appreciate the role of the backseat driver in a Mercedes-Benz Maybach. It’s the dazzling version of the S560 4Matic. The plush pillowy seats are straight from the finest first class cabin you can imagine. Two engines are available. It’s priced just under $200,000 for the more powerful V12 version. Mercedes is keeping the iconic German nameplate alive that was founded by 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach.
In my everyday life, of zipping around town, I didn’t want to give up the keys the Audi SQ5. In the sea of luxury crossovers, it’s among the standouts. It has thoughtful, attractive design, a long list of features, and responsive performance.
The Mazda CX-5 is my longstanding go-to rec for real-world shoppers who want flare for around $25,000. It’s the complete package of style, panache, and performance.
The Jaguar XF is a big bad cat when you see it approaching, but inside I found the materials lackluster, which isn’t enough for this upper-crust category composed of competitors like BMW 5 series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class.
It’s the first car we were able to test out the iPhone X wireless Apple CarPlay capabilities in this fall, but what I’ll remember most about the BMW 5 Series is its sleek design and tech as a work in progress in our winter ScreenDrive. From a performance perspective, driving the 5 Series is an exercise in satisfaction.
I still have trouble keeping the Infiniti nomenclature straight, so in case you’re wondering, the Infiniti Q50 picks up where the G sport sedan left. It has responsive steering, and invigorating acceleration. What it’s missing: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2018.
A lot is riding on the success of the new generation full-size Navigator for Lincoln. From a gadgety perspective, Lincoln has packed as much as it possibly can into its long list of standard features and options. The result is a bit of everything and the kitchen sink, and I wonder how much of all these handy features will be integrated into everyday usage. I drove it for two days in NYC, where a big vehicle like the Navigator is slightly out of its element (unless you’re a limo driver.) What I did mess around with was the new head-up display — that contains 400,000 mirrors — its new touchscreen, and the SYNC 3 system. There are multiple screens and streaming capabilities and Wi-Fi. The 20-speaker Revel II audio system was incredibly boss. Where it stands apart from Navigators past: it feels like far more vehicle than a chromed-up Expedition.
The Range Rover Velar is a supersonic take on what it means to range in the rover. It’s the first Land Rover vehicle to use the InControl Touch Pro Duo system, a serious departure from the buttons and knobs, in favor of two 10-inch touch screens. Its sparse, clean design wins kudos.
The Nissan Maxima has features that were once only privy to luxury buyers such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, forward-collision warning, and automated emergency braking, which are now available.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan revives the name of an Italian marque from the 1960s. It’s not lacking in character. But in many ways, the Giulia is a like a trip to a Zara store — cool on surface, but its functionality, durability and comfort leave something to be desired. Loads of fun to drive if you’re into zippy performance in your daily commute.
I wanted to love the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Instead, I liked it. What I like about it is the experience from the driver’s perspective. What’s lacking is the roominess for passengers and logic in how the interior functions are placed. The competition in this increasingly crowded luxury crossover segment category is stiff.
Many curious people I ran into while parking paused to inquire, but no one’s first guess was the 2018 Toyota Camry. It has come to life in a much improved exterior form, and it also handles with grace.
I ended the year on a high note . Or at least in a truck that has me riding high, the loud, proud and over-the-top GMC Sierra 2500 HD Denali, a massive pickup that runs on diesel fuel. After a 600-mile road trip through wind, sleet, and snow, I can say that it can pretty much conquer anything. One thing you sacrifice in exchange for that massive footprint is a tight turning radius. Think big, wide turns.
One day soon, perhaps the self-driving cars will be picking us up for work, but until then this is the reality of how most of us are getting by, as we spend an average 17,600 minutes driving each year, according to AAA. It’s the space where safe, user-friendly tech matters most. Of course, my seat time spent test driving only scratches at the long list of cars we drove across the section and the new cars available on the market, which you’ll find in the Verge Transportation archives. So many cars, so little time!