The best cars we drove in 2019

These were our motoring highlights over the past 365 days.

CNET Cars staff
7 min read
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Enlarge Image
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S

Yes, the new 911 made our list.


Every year, hundreds upon hundreds of cars pass through the respective garages and driveways of Roadshow's staff. We test everything from the cheapest subcompacts to the most expensive luxury barges -- and we give 'em a thorough test, too.

But as we reflect on the year -- and the decade -- some cars simply stand out more than others. These are the best cars our editors drove this year.

2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo brings concept style to the streets

See all photos

2020 Porsche Taycan Turbo S

My drive in the Porsche Taycan was a long, long time coming. I've been drooling over that thing's shape since its unveiling as the Mission E back in 2015. In 2018 I was lucky to drive a very early prototype, but this year I finally got to drive the real thing. And, while it wasn't perfect, it left me mightily impressed.

The Taycan is very much a Tesla Model S competitor and, as Porsche's first production EV, it's impossible to overstate its importance to the brand. Thankfully, it's remarkably good, offering better looks, better handling and, crucially, a miles-better interior than anything Tesla has on offer. But, it's not all good news for Porsche.

The first problem? Range. Porsche has only given us a rating for the Taycan Turbo, and a figure of 201 miles on the EPA cycle is disappointingly low. The second problem? Price. Even if you go with the cheapest Taycan, the 4S, you're looking at $103,800 and up. A 373-mile Tesla Model S Long Range starts at $79,900. But, if you have the cash, and don't have far to go, the Taycan is divine.

-- Tim Stevens

2019 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Sedan: Awakening the sleeper

See all photos

2020 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Sedan

On the outside, the Mercedes-AMG E63 doesn't look much more special than the average E-Class, but beneath its sedate exterior hides a monstrous, 4.0-liter, biturbo V8 with 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque at the ready. This modern Q-car goes from insane performer to comfortable daily driver at the touch of a button. It's like two cars in one, which is only fitting because its price is more than double that of your average car.

Meanwhile, the rest of the E63's cabin is loaded up with all of the luxury and tech you'd expect from a member of the hundred-thousand-dollar club. There are only two ways the cabin experience could be any better: An update to the latest generation MBUX dashboard tech -- though the COMAND system isn't too hard to live with -- and upgrade to the more spacious cargo capacity of the E63 S Wagon.

The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system makes for high speed stability and great track times, but with this much power, sometimes you wanna get a little dumb with it. AMG's got you covered with a hidden drift mode that disables the stability control and locks the powertrain into rear-wheel-drive for screaming drifts and big stupid donuts. Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

-- Antuan Goodwin

2020 Jeep Gladiator is business in front, truck bed in back

See all photos

2020 Jeep Gladiator

I've always been a Jeep Wrangler gal, thanks to the SUV's unparalleled off-road prowess, broad aftermarket support and removable top and doors. The only problem is the Wrangler's dismal tow rating: 3,500 pounds is nothing. Enter the Jeep Gladiator pickup truck, the dirt rig of my dreams.

Sure, with a longer wheelbase and rear overhang the Gladiator loses some off-road geometry when compared to the Wrangler, but it's nothing a little momentum can't solve. I'll gladly trade a bit of capability for the maximum tow rating of 7,650 pounds.

With one of these in my stable, I could tow my off-road race car out to the desert, pre-run the course and recover the car if/when it breaks. Of course, I would need at least $43,000 to start for a Rubicon model, and my dream Rubicon runs north of $50,000. That's a lot of cash, for sure, but there isn't another truck on the market today that fits my needs as well as the Gladiator.

-- Emme Hall

2020 Audi RS7 Sportback is an impressively burly German

See all photos

2020 Audi RS7

When the second-generation Audi A7 debuted, I wasn't as immediately taken with its aggressive and more heavily creased sheet metal. To this day, I still prefer the looks of its more organic predecessor. But the appearance of today's standard car has won me over increasingly with time, and there's little to quibble about with its interior, tech and performance. If I had any reservations about the latter, they've been pulverized to a fine powder and blown out the exhaust pipes of the 2020 RS7, a car I drove in Germany in September.

Audi's RS models have always had a wealth power, and there's no shortage here, with 592 hp and 590 lb-ft from this car's twin-turbo V8. But the RS7 now blends globe-rotating thrust with more visceral satisfaction, including sharper and more tactile handling and greater visual differentiation: a sinister widebody look that helps justify a price that's likely to be around $120,000.

I may have driven cars by turns more engaging, luxurious or practical cars this year, but none have blended so many virtues so convincingly. For those with the money, the RS7 is the complete package.

-- Chris Paukert

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan in the wilds of Wyoming

See all photos

2019 Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Having driven a Rolls-Royce Cullinan this year, how could I possibly choose anything else for this roundup? Rolls-Royce's first SUV is an absolute masterpiece.

The Cullinan also happened to be the first time I had driven a car with a V12 engine, and it didn't disappoint. Its 627 lb-ft of torque effortlessly and quickly wafts you toward your destination, and the nose of the Cullinan rises like the bow of a boat under acceleration. It even makes some pretty good noises when you push it hard -- but why would you? This is a vehicle to be driven calmly, and it rewards that in its composure and supremely smooth ride.

That amazing V12 is just one part of the equation. The stately interior is absolutely covered in leather and wood, and even the switches and buttons feel expensive. It's insanely quiet with the windows up, the seats are super comfy and there's a genuinely practical cargo area and back seat. And my god, what a sound system the optional Bespoke Audio is.

But the best part of the Cullinan is how it makes you feel. People gawk as you drive by in your humongous, $400,000 cocoon, and after a few minutes you start to think, "Yeah, I deserve this."

-- Daniel Golson

2020 Lotus Evora GT is the sports car simplified

See all photos

2020 Lotus Evora GT

I'll be honest, this was a really tough call. I kept wondering if I should pick the holy-shit-it's-finally-here Audi RS6 Avant I drove in November, or the truly amazing Porsche 718 Spyder -- one of the best roadsters, well, ever. I ultimately decided on the Evora GT because, more than any other car I drove this year, I believe the Lotus has the purest focus on driver engagement above all, even if it means making a few tradeoffs.

I don't care that the engine is from a Toyota Camry. I don't care that the switchgear is borrowed from a two-decade-old Ford Focus. The fact is, no car -- not even that delightful 718 -- thrilled me quite like the Evora GT this year. No car begged me to drive it faster, harder. No car made me giggle quite like this one.

The brilliant steering, the incredible gearbox, the sound of that V6 engine revving to high heaven right behind my head. Yes, there are sports cars that are far better all-rounders than the Evora GT, but I applaud Lotus for realizing its cars don't have to be all things to all people. Pure and focused, raw and radical, we need more cars like the Evora GT.

-- Steven Ewing

The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S is at the top of its game

See all photos

2020 Porsche 911

A 911? Really? But isn't it just more of the same old story? You're damn right, reader, and that's why it's on this list.

Porsche's venerable 911 has long been a car that prides itself on one thing: being a serious sports car. The latest iteration of Neunelfer is no exception, especially in the Carrera 4S trim I drove, which packed enough punch to leave me wondering whether Porsche accidentally mislabeled a 911 Turbo at the factory.

Sports cars aren't usually the most technologically advanced, but Porsche's tech has made great strides of late. Its PCM infotainment system is one of my favorites, and even basic safety systems like automatic braking are now standard. The 2020 911 is the same ol' car, as usual, just updated to fit a more modern buyer.

-- Andrew Krok

Lincoln brand set to take flight with new Aviator SUV

See all photos

2020 Lincoln Aviator

If there's an award out there for the most-improved automotive brand, Lincoln would surely be in the running. For ages, the blue oval's "luxury" division limped along with a lackluster product and no sense of direction. The only drivers' pulses that would quicken at the mention of its name were old enough to have voted for President Lincoln himself.

But after a decade or two of listlessness, and likely a brush with death, this brand has at long last figured out which direction it needs to go. Proving this point, product-development teams have consistently introduced a range of high-end, well-thought-out vehicles. And one of the best of this new breed is the Lincoln Aviator.

This flight-themed, three-row crossover is a seriously impressive piece of work, far more than just a gold-plated Ford Explorer, the more-workaday sibling it borrows major componentry from. With loads of smooth power, a supremely luxurious interior, tons of technology and subtle-yet-arresting design, the Aviator is one of the most memorable, and impressive, vehicles I reviewed this year.

-- Craig Cole

2019 Mercedes-AMG C63 S tuned by CarBahn Autoworks

See all photos

2019 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe by CarBahn

A stock Mercedes-AMG C63 S is a mighty thing, and when I was offered a version that had been fiddled with by Euro-car tuner legend Steve Dinan, I was skeptical at how much it could realistically be improved. As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried at all.

Sure, Mr. Dinan added more power and torque to a vehicle that arguably didn't need it, but he also made adjustments to the suspension tuning, wheel and tire package and -- most noticeably -- to the way the car makes its power. He changed the turbos to shift where the car built boost further up in the rev range, making the car actually easier to drive in many ways.

CarBahn's modifications don't completely transform the C63 S, but that's not a bad thing. It was already a stunning car with epic performance, but finding a way to fill in some of the stock car's rough spots made for an overall more enjoyable package and its a testament to Steve Dinan's skill as a tuner.

-- Kyle Hyatt