Where many see cars as basic transportation or a monthly payment, we instead see a personality—a statement about our identity, our desires, our priorities. Traditional cars are no longer the mainstream choice, having lost ground to a growing field of higher-riding vehicles. But whereas trucks, crossovers, and SUVs used to express something special about their owners—that they were rugged, adventurous, or dog-owning—cars are increasingly powerful statements about the person behind the wheel. Most people would be better off in a crossover. But commit to driving a car and you stand firm against the great teeming tide of conformity.
Park one of our 10Best Cars in your driveway, however, and you plant both feet in the enthusiast camp. Your id will applaud, but so, too, will the other parts of your psyche. Because 10Best Cars are not only full of personality and fun to drive, they also deliver on their missions, with exacting engineering. And they represent real value for the money, which is why we exclude those with base prices above $90,000, newly raised to account for rising transaction prices. Are you what you drive, or do you drive what you are?
Presenting the winners
BMW M2 Competition
If the all-steroid automotive Olympics were a thing, the 2019 BMW M2 Competition would be heavily favored in the flyweight class, as Munich’s smallest and highest-strung speed freak bulges and bristles like a Little Hercules. Supplanting the 365-hp N55 turbocharged inline-six that powered last year’s M2 is the fabulous S55, a twin-turbocharged inline-six harvested from the M4 and detuned in this application to 405 horsepower. The mill is linear in its delivery, ripping all the way to the 7600-rpm redline. In a dual-clutch-equipped model, the snort to 60 mph happens in four seconds flat, and the quarter-mile whizzes by in 12.4—gains of 0.1 and 0.3 second, respectively, over last year’s car.VIEW GALLERY
Tucked into the 19-inch forged wheels are massive iron rotors gripped by larger calipers than the old M2’s and a brake pedal that remains firmer than our commitment to the manual transmission. To compensate for the slightly increased mass, BMW revised the spring rates, dampers, and anti-roll-bar tuning to provide a noticeably more compliant and less jarring ride. And although the M2’s steering isn’t as communicative as we’d like, the little coupe is eager to turn in and its reflexes are even sharper thanks to additional front-end bracing.
And that’s the genius of the M2 Competition. Rather than overcompensating for its pint-sized proportions by being a loudmouthed hothead, it turns explosive power and a well-balanced chassis into euphoric exercise.
Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport / Z06
Corvettes don’t suffer traffic gladly, and that’s only partially the Corvette’s problem. Driving one in a world of speed limits and inattentive Prius drivers requires major restraint. It’s all too easy to get irritated by left-lane dawdlers when the Corvette starts whispering evil things like: “Just pass them on the shoulder. Don’t be a wuss. Do it. I thought you could drive.”VIEW GALLERY
Fight the temptation and both the Grand Sport and Z06 are safe for daily use, providing shockingly composed ride quality for something that will pull more than 1.00 g. Quiet the active exhaust and you can unwind huge distances with blissful ease. We put both of them on our list this year because they represent the best balance of performance and price in the Corvette universe. The $66,590 Grand Sport pairs the body and wide-tire chassis of the supercharged Corvettes with the 460-hp powertrain of the base car. It is more engaging, more exciting, and worth every bit of the $10,000 it costs over the standard-issue Corvette. Stacking a blower on the V-8 makes the Z06 a 650-hp version of the Grand Sport, and at $80,590, it falls under our newly raised $90,000 base-price cap.
On track, either car will hold even the most skilled driver’s attention. And the harder you push, the more the respect grows. But even around our 10Best street route there’s joy in whomping around an empty set of curves at sane speeds, using but a tiny slice of the available grip. Still, there’s no ignoring that the Corvette is a lot of car for public roads, but the fact that we can complain about unusable performance speaks to the Corvette’s value. It delivers supercar or near-supercar numbers at merely a sports-car price.
Ford Mustang GT / Bullitt
Our 10Best Cars list of late has been stable—oops, we meant “a stable.” Chevrolet’s pony car, the Camaro, booked a stall between 2016 and 2018, while Ford’s Mustang paid by the hour, its V-8 GT landing a brief 10Best stint after its 2015 redesign before ceding to the exotic Mustang Shelby GT350for 2016 and 2017.
For 2019, the Mustang GT again makes hay, trampling into the spot vacated by the Camaro, whose transcendent chassis failed to prop up its awful outward visibility, practicality, and looks in the face of withering 10Best competition. Why now? Though eligible for 10Best last year, the updated-for-’18 Mustang wasn’t available in time for testing. The GT350 was, thanks to its 2017 win, but failed to retain the award; its lack of changes rendered it ineligible this year.VIEW GALLERY
We never did stop liking the Mustang’s remastered mid-century look and modern performance. The GT’s newly available MagneRide electronically adaptive shocks from the GT350, more powerful V-8, and two Performance packages edging it closer to the Shelby’s track-worthiness push it over the finish line. The base EcoBoost four-cylinder engine remains unworthy of the rest of the Mustang and our 10Best list.
There are no asterisks needed for the Bullitt edition, Ford’s nostalgia-soaked half-gallop between the GT and the Shelby GT350 that shares in the former’s award for 2019. Highland Green paint (black also is available) and Torq Thrust–style wheels pay homage to a certain ’68 Mustang GT390, while cohesive chassis tuning and the Shelby’s larger throttle body unlocking an extra 20 horsepower from the Coyote V-8 elevate the package beyond retro fetishism. At 7000 rpm, where all of the Bullitt’s 480 ponies gallop at once, the noise belted through the active exhaust is riveting enough to excuse the driver’s McQueen cosplaying.
Any premium-brand carmaker worth its salt has, at one time or another, followed the basic blueprint laid down by the BMW 3-series. Genesis’s dealers might have preferred that the brand start with SUVs instead. But, by launching a successful effort into such an established, yardstick segment where many have failed before, Genesis gains credibility.
And this Genesis can play. The low-slung G70 is built with the same basic set of parts as the Kia Stinger, but the wheelbase of the Genesis is 2.8 inches shorter than the Kia’s, which gives the G70 tight, classic proportions. With subtly flared fenders, a short front overhang, and taut skin, the G70 looks poised. It’s sophisticated without appearing staid, sporty without being overwrought.VIEW GALLERY
Its styling neatly telegraphs the G70’s comportment, and it successfully delivers the difficult balance of competent performance and driving satisfaction without jiggling its owner’s latte into too great a froth. The loaded-up 365-hp V-6–powered Sport model delivers big speed plus progressive, predictable handling and confident transitional responses. And the electrically assisted variable-ratio steering matches the suspension tuning: precise but comfortable. More than just quiet, the G70’s interior is a genuinely pleasant place to spend time. That’s particularly true in higher-spec models with cosseting quilted-leather seats in a spot-on driving position. The goodness is not restricted to the big-engined car, either; the four-cylinder version with nonadjustable dampers is just as satisfying, although the six-speed manual transmission that can be optionally bolted to it is not.
The G70’s comprehensive excellence is impressive on its own, but pricing that substantially undercuts the usual suspects makes it that much sweeter.
Honda Accord / Hybrid
The Honda Accord has appeared on our 10Best Cars list a record 33 times. Such an achievement is no accident; it’s the culmination of Honda’s fastidious fine-tuning and dogged attention to detail.
While agreeableness is a given in most new cars, the Accord’s dynamics are several degrees beyond the agreeable, with finely tuned primary controls, a light helm with good feedback, and an optional and precise six-speed manual shifter. The delicate, well-placed pedals work so naturally as to disappear. Likewise, the Accord’s controlled body motions and supple ride quality encourage its occupants to relax during the everyday slog. So how can it be so much fun to fling the Accord through challenging corners?
We can imagine Honda’s engineers working late into the night, fretting over minutiae as their uneaten dinners grow cold at home.VIEW GALLERY
Their fine-tuning extends to the Accord hybrid, which joins the regular models on this year’s list. Its clever direct-drive gearbox and arrangement of motors and clutches help propel the car partially, or solely, on electrons, and the integration of all the pieces is seamless. The hybrid’s 42 mpg on our highway fuel-economy loop is as much an achievement as the punchy turbocharged 2.0-liter’s 5.5-second streak to 60 mph.
Human creations are rarely entirely perfect. Despite the Accord’s fastback profile, the slinkier Mazda 6 is still prettier. And none of us would complain if Honda obsessed over a better solution than the 10-speed automatic’s clumsy shift buttons.
But the current-generation Accord, now in its sophomore year on this list, convincingly exhibits Honda’s obsessive-compulsive approach to mass-market carmaking. The model continues to balance engagement, quality, and practicality more consistently than any other car.
Honda Civic Sport Hatchback / Si / Type R
The Honda Civic Sport hatchback (not the coupe or sedan, which have a different engine), Si, and Type R share a common theme. They’re overachievers, economy cars overcompensating for tepid expectations with unnatural talent. All three deliver bold responses and yearn to be more than simple commuters. (Note that we’re only recognizing the manual-transmission cars here; the Sport hatchback is also available with a CVT.)
The Type R’s completeness earns it a trophy. Its trim-exclusive front suspension isolates steering and driving loads to help quell torque steer, and it pulls 1.04 g’s on the skidpad. The turbocharged 306-hp 2.0-liter—the most powerful engine ever sold by Honda in America—sends the bewinged hatch to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. And this no-compromise driving experience is found in a four-door hatch that’s stiff but perfectly usable in daily living.VIEW GALLERY
Offered as a coupe or a sedan, the Civic Sidelivers finely honed responses in a $25,195 package. Though it lacks the Type R’s laser focus, it sometimes feels like the bigger achievement given its price. The Si’s 205-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter also pairs with a helical-gear limited-slip differential. Fitted with the available summer rubber, the Si coupe will hit 60 in 6.3 seconds and circle the skidpad at 0.97 g. The Si strikes an ideal middle ground between the Civic’s pragmatic roots and its performance pinnacle.
At $23K, the 180-hp Civic Sport hatchback is a fine way to slay cloverleafs on the way to work. Its steering and chassis plainly communicate this car’s intentions, and the sucker just turns. It pulls a not-very-economy-car-like 0.93 g and hits 60 in 7.0 seconds. And it’s as entertaining as a bathtub full of otters.
These three Civics offer a wide latitude of driving virtue and price points. Together, they cast a sprawling net of performance, utility, and value.
Mazda MX-5 Miata / RF
Driving a Mazda Miata is the unstructured play of the automotive world: often a solitary activity, beneficial to one’s development, and a whole lot of fun. Just as playing with dolls allows kids to practice social interaction in a way that helps them navigate real-life relationships, learning to break the tail loose or heel-and-toe your downshifts in a Miata helps ingrain the skills you’ll need if you want to execute those tricks in something a little less forgiving. The Miata is the sports-car version of training wheels.VIEW GALLERY
Yes, its price has crept up over the years, even if its curb weight hasn’t much. It’s not hard to spend $35,000 on what essentially amounts to a three-season, one-and-a-half-passenger vehicle with barely enough cargo space for a duffel bag. But to a greater extent than nearly anything else on the road today, the MX-5 exists purely for the pursuit of driving pleasure.
The Miata seems to disappear as you drive. With the top down, the boundary between inside and outside blurs. The reactions to steering and pedal inputs are almost supernaturally well calibrated; nothing is lost in translation between the driver’s requests and the car’s responses. And after years of lackluster engines, Mazda has revised the MX-5’s 2.0-liter for 2019, finally making the Miata’s mill a willing companion for spirited driving. There is no other car this side of a Porsche Boxster as unfettered or as well balanced.
Mercedes-Benz E450 / E53 AMG
The ability to visualize, reason, communicate, and manage relationships are just a few of the distinct intelligences humans possess—to varying degrees. This separation of skills is even more evident in the four-wheeled species. Rare are those generalists that exhibit a multitude of peak abilities. The Mercedes-Benz E-class, however, is adept at nearly every facet of automotive behavior. The E is a shrewd handler, smartly packaged, capable of adapting to any scenario, and, in new-for-2019 AMG E53 guise, equipped with an engine that warrants its own doctoral dissertation.VIEW GALLERY
The E-class’s versatility builds from the breadth of its lineup. It’s available as a sedan, a wagon, a coupe, or a convertible. Our award skips the E300 (its four-cylinder is too overburdened to earn our nod) and the war-hammer AMG E63 S (too expensive for our price cap) and goes to the six-cylinder heart of the lineup. The E450 punches out 362 horsepower from its twin-turbo V-6. Packing a 48-volt motor-generator, an electric supercharger, and a conventional turbocharger around a 3.0-liter inline-six, the 429-hp AMG E53 raises the ante on performance and refinement.
Able to transform from interstate cruise missile to back-road bruiser to pragmatic daily driver, the E sets itself up for any situation with electronically controlled dampers and available air springs, but also with comprehensive fundamentals. Highway miles disappear in the graceful ride, the serene cabin, and the optional massaging front seats. Snaking roads unfurl under accurate steering and resolute body control. A quintessential luxury vehicle inside, the E strokes an owner’s ego with its rich materials, functional high-fashion tech, and meticulous build quality. It’s a cerebral car that also plays to our emotions.
Porsche 718 Boxster / Cayman
The Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman have made numerous appearances on our 10Best Cars list, so our feelings can’t be explained by budding infatuation, yet we still get that first-date buzz every time we drive them.
Their power and performance have risen over the years, and these tightly packaged sports cars have seen minimal dimensional spread. The current Boxster is 1.4 inches longer than the original and around 160 pounds heavier. Considering the 49 percent increase in base power, that’s entirely acceptable.
Porsche also has heightened the technology quotient, adding various active dynamic systems. And the 718’s cabin would have seemed otherworldly plush to a buyer of the first-gen Boxster. But the fundamental notion of a light, responsive sports car remains unchanged.VIEW GALLERY
Granted, most of us prefer the naturally aspirated flat-six engines of the pre-718 cars to the new turbocharged fours. The new mills pull hard and offer a surfeit of low-down torque, but they can’t match the zing or zeal with which the old ones chased their redlines. They are, however, undeniably quicker: The slowest manual Boxster now scoots to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, with the GTS PDK model needing just 3.6.
The GTS versions, which sneak in under this year’s raised price cap, compete with some serious machinery, but the Cayman GTS carved the curves and conquered the crests of our test route better than anything else, and with an enthusiasm that the heavier, rear-engined 911 would struggle to match. Rare GT versions aside, this really does feel like the best that Porsche has to offer.
Even the standard Boxster makes a compelling case, with preternatural chassis balance and honed optimization of throttle and steering. Here the smallest of inputs yields precise, measured responses.
We’ve examined our feelings for the Cayman and the Boxster and find that the reality is still every bit as good as the fantasy.
Volkswagen Golf Family
As the Volkswagen Golf lineup has expanded, we’ve granted a growing group of variants a spot on our 10Best Cars list. This year is no different, as the Golf, Golf SportWagen, Golf Alltrack, Golf GTI, Golf R, and e-Golf all share the award.
But we do have a favorite among these siblings: the GTI. It delivers automotive ecstasy in spades, starting with the 228-hp turbocharged inline-four with smooth, satisfying power delivery and a strong shove of torque down low in the rev range. A well-judged suspension tune turns a highly competent chassis into a brilliant one, with unflappable composure and an endearing eagerness to change direction. The GTI also exhibits a welcome sense of polish with its wonderfully presented interior (the plaid seats are a must) and a sophisticated exterior treatment that eschews overwrought vents and scoops.VIEW GALLERY
If you need more trunk for your junk, the SportWagen compromises none of the hatchback’s strengths while offering SUV-like luggage capacity. It also can be had with all-wheel drive, or in Alltrack garb, which brings a higher ride height and extra body cladding—marketing concessions that hardly bother us, because it drives so well.
Even the $22,740 Golf S feels rich in content and construction. Its interior is ergonomically sound and airy, while its fluid body motions, communicative primary controls, and sense of solidity make it engaging and refined. And the 288-hp Golf Rspeaks to our power lust—it’s a legitimate performance car, both in terms of numbers and feel. But anyone can add power to a car and make it more fun to drive. Not everyone can build a family of cars as coherent as this.