Caraganza’s Top Cars We’d Put In our Driveway for 2020
Drum roll please
Normally, when the year draws to a close, I put together my top 10 cars of the year. Normally. 2020 however, has been anything but normal. This past year has seen the world on lockdown. Most of us never commuted any further than our own den, or bedroom, or wherever we decided to hastily put together our home office.
One thing that didn’t change, at least for me, was the number of cars I received. While there was a lull of less than a month early on, for most of the year I got at least one press car per week. For much of the year I actually got two per week. And all of that was really a shame. That’s because with no normal commute I didn’t really get to put as many miles on my press fleet as I would have in conventional times. There was also the matter of being actually quarantined and actually banned from driving anywhere. This led to me sometimes defying the law and driving just to drive, which also helped me keep my already fragile sanity in check.
The other disappointment about all this was the fact that I had a bunch of really great cars this past year. So many in fact that I had to expand the list to 15 and add an honorable mention.
When I put the list together, I didn’t factor in price because being higher priced doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better car. The list contains only those cars that stood out above the rest, from a list nearing 40.
So here you go this year’s list expanded to 15 with an honorable mention.
Pickup trucks aren’t as widespread as they used to be. Perhaps it’s the popularity of SUVs and crossovers, but the vehicle once reserved for blue-collar working-class folks has held onto a smaller market share, but it’s still there. This year I only had a few but two stood out.
15. The Toyota Tacoma is small, meaning it’s the right size for the suburban jungle which seems to be its best habitat. I like the week I had with the Tacoma Limited, a week that included a family trip to a drive-in, sorta.
14. My favorite pickup of all however was the Jeep Gladiator. That’s because it does what I’ve always feel pickup trucks should be able to do, jump off the pavement when we want them to without hesitation. Sure, the Tacoma can, but nothing goes off road better than anything with a “Jeep” badge on the side of it. My week with the Gladiator finally came after a “fanboy” moment several months prior when I saw some of the first models heading south on Florida’s Turnpike on a hauler. And my week with it did not disappoint.
Of course, the press fleet this year was dominated by SUVs and crossovers. Ten of the 40 odd cars in the press fleet this year were in this category.
13. The Hyundai Venue is new this year. Being new it has a lot of room to grow (figuratively of course), but I really like the fact that it’s one of the only SUV/crossovers that can be had for under $20,000.
12. Like Hyundai, its Korean cousin Kia introduced another affordable SUV this year. The Seltos may have a name I’m not too keen on, but it is a tiny bit larger than the Venue and a bit higher in price. The 2021 Seltos I spent a week with sure got my attention.
11. As with any new Mercedes vehicle if you have to ask how much it costs, well, you know. That being said anything with AMG on the side is automatically on my favorites list. The GLC43 AMG was my favorite SUV/crossover of the year. Having 385 horses under the hood helped as did the fact that had nearly every available option Mercedes offers. It was the most fun driving I’ve had with an SUV/crossover is quite some time
Owing to my personal preference, and despite the rise of the SUV/crossover segment, the good old sedans and coupes are still my favs. In fact, the top 10 this year (and the honorable mention) are all non-SUVs and crossovers, although one is technically a hatchback.
10. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would have a fully electric car on my list I would have told you to shoot me in head then and there. Well, put the gun away, because late in the year, Nissan sent me a Leaf. I was impressed not only because it doesn’t really look like an electric car (it’s technically a hatchback), but it also doesn’t drive like an electric car. I was also impressed by the fact that I could plug it in to a standard wall socket at home and get a full charge (from 40%) overnight for a range of just over 200 miles. I don’t think I would still own one (to me electric cars are still way overpriced, mainly because they are electric cars), but I’m at least starting to warm up to them.
9. Kia introduced the “K5” the 2021 model year. It’s not so much new as it reintroduced, a redesigned Optima, which was a pretty decent sedan. I thought maybe it would be a bit underpowered with only a 1.6 liter under the hood. I was wrong. Combined with the $25,000 MSRP, the Optima, I mean K5, is a very good, and affordable sedan.
8. Toyota was very, very good to me this year (read on and you’ll soon discover why). Early in the year they sent me a Camry (finally) and a TRD model at that (TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development by the way. Think of it as sort of an AMG for the common folk). For someone who works around NASCAR the Camry, which is raced by a lot of teams, has always been something I was eager to try (the street version I mean, not the actual NASCAR racecar version which I suspect I would crash or at least blow out the clutch of before I left pit road). I had a taste of a Camry TRD in 2019 when I was allowed to wheel one around the ROVAL road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of a media event. But this past year, I finally got to live with one for an entire week. It was fast, fun, practical and I put many, many miles on it.
7. What’s a list of my favorite cars without at least one Caddy? Hollow, that’s what it is. While I have several Cadillacs in 2020, the one that stood out was the CT5 which part of the new lineup which replaced the CTS lineup which replaced the ATS lineup. I had more than a few Caddy’s this year, including the smaller cousin to the CT5 the CT4 a few weeks prior. The CT4 was the V model, which is the sport model, and I was sort of worried that the CT5 without the V designation wouldn’t be as fun. I was wrong. The CT5 might not have as many horses under the hood, but it’s a little bigger then the CT4 which was the game changer for me. It was just the right size and had plenty of power. Besides, word has it that a high-performance CT5 variant is in the works called the “Blackwing” so I can look forward to that at least.
6. I didn’t get a lot of BMWs in my personal press fleet in a year, but the ones I do get were a joy, as always. Take the BMW M850i xDrive for example. On second thought, don’t take it, I want to keep it for my very own. With 523 horses under the hood and all the niceties BMW offers to make it go fast, the M850i was one of the cars this year I thought I might simply run away and live forever with. Of course, with an MSRP of just over $100,000 I suspect the manhunt would be extensive and short-lived.
5. One reason the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe I had for a week ranked above the M850i is due to the fact that I could actually afford one. Still, with 301 horses all-wheel drive and the 16-speaker, 464-watt Harman Kardon audio system providing the background noise, I was able to console myself with the fact that there was just a bit more sportiness to the M235i, even if there were a few less options than the M850i.
4. Anything involving a Camaro is always a good thing. That’s not to take away from its muscle car brethren the Mustang which I also had. Both were convertibles however, and call it poor timing, but the Mustang came in the middle of the summer when putting down a car top is suicide in Florida. We’ve found tourists on the side of the road melted into a pile of goo on the front seats of a rental convertible. Not really, but those are the only people who dare put a top down in the middle of the summer here. The 2021 3LT Camaro I spent a week with, however, featured a couple of those rare days when the humidity is below 50 percent and the temps are below 80. I put the top down and used all the 335 horses the V6 could muster and loved every second of it. Perhaps had I been able to do that with the Mustang it would have made the list. Then again, the 2020 model I had, while very good, had the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine under the hood which despite rated only 5 horses below the Camaro I suspect might have had a hard time keeping up.
3. The 2021 Hyundai Veloster I got late in the year had one difference than all the others I had driven over the years, an “N” designation. The N stands for Namyang, home to Hyundai Motor’s global R&D Centre in Korea since 1995 and for the Nürburgring, home to Hyundai Motor’s European Test Center, and according to the company the N also symbolizes a chicane. Basically, the N badge gave a whole bunch of performance upgrades to the Veloster giving it more power than any of the others. Those 275 turbocharged horses can be boosted by the push of the NGS button on the steering wheel. “NGS” stands for N Grin Shift and when pushed the car puts the powertrain into its sportiest mode, allowing the turbocharger to over boost and it increases the torque by seven percent from 260 lb.-ft. to 278 lb.-ft for 20-seconds. In its full-on beast mode, the Veloster roared, spit, and backfired leaving me with a smile the entire week.
2. Mercedes made it near the top of this year’s list with the AMG CLA45 4Matic. This 4-door sedan looks all business, as in speed business. With an aggressive stance, sweeping lines and a wide mouth, the AMG addons were evident not only in the appearance, but underneath as well. The intercooled turbocharged 2.0 I4 put 382 horses out, the most of any production street 4-cylinder engine, and the rest of the sport tuned suspension had no problem keeping up. This is another of the cars I wanted to run away and live happily ever after with.
1. As I said, Toyota was very good to me this year. I was at the motorsports launch of the Supra at Daytona International Speedway in 2019 and actually got to interview (through a translator) the designer of the Supra which was brought back after a 20 something year absence. I got to see the Supra close up and loved it. I couldn’t wait to get some time behind the wheel. That chance came in June this year when I finally got my week with the Supra. And it was well worth the wait. It drove as good as it looks, was surprisingly practical, and affordable. After the week was over, I knew I had my favorite car of 2020. And I knew that the Supra had earned my “Best-Car-Of-All-Time-Ever” award (which brings the winner nothing for the record). The last time I gave this out, it was to the Alfa-Romeo 4C. Now full disclosure, my Best-Car-Of-All-Time-Ever doesn’t mean it’s practical, or useful for that matter. It just means that I would love to own one forsaking all others. Well with the Alfa-Romeo retiring the 4C I knew that I would need a replacement. Hello Supra.
Honorable Mention: Speaking of FCA doing away with models, they have done the same with one of my other favs, the Fiat 124 Spider. Yes, in many ways it’s a Miata in different clothing, but I was glad I got to spend one final week with the Spider this year, before they ride off in the Italian sunset. Ciao my friend, it was a fun ride.