It goes without saying, but we're a seriously lucky bunch here at Roadshow. We genuinely love cars, and are fortunate enough to spend our days driving the latest and greatest new metal -- and in some pretty outstanding locales, too.
But some stars shine brighter than others. Some cars leave a truly lasting impression. So as we close the books on 2018, its with a great joy that we wax poetic on some of the best new vehicles we had the pleasure of driving in 2018.
You'll be seeing a few fine Porsches on this list, and indeed another flavor of this very car in just a few slides' time. But although we like to keep things varied, looking back on all the splendid things I was lucky enough to drive this year, the Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo flavor of the new Panamera stands out as the one I would most like to own.
Yes, the GT3 Touring is a fantastic machine (which you'll be seeing more of in just a moment), and the sheer dimensions of the Panamera would make living with one something of a commitment, but there was no other machine I drove this year that could keep me smiling 365 days a year.
Balancing 680 horsepower and the ability to do more than 20 miles emissions-free, this is a legitimately practical, surprisingly frugal, ridiculously fast car. It's not a supercar by the traditional definition, but no other car does all that quite so well. The only problem? The price tag. The $188,400 starting price is steep, but as with most German cars, that's just the beginning. Out of my budget, but awfully nice to dream.
OK, so the Toyota Century wasn't the most dynamic vehicle I drove all year, nor the most expensive. Heck, my drive was entirely lodged in dense Tokyo traffic. But I've always wanted to drive this Japanese-market flagship luxury sedan, and was honored to be the first Western journalist to get behind the wheel of this new third-gen model.
I think Toyota's done an incredible job modernizing the Century's traditional, upright aesthetic -- particularly its many oh-so-Japanese details. It will doubtlessly serve its country's Imperial Family, captains of industry (and yes, the Yakuza) very well.
Starting at the equivalent of $172,900 US, just 50 of these handbuilt hybrid-V8-powered specials will come off the line each month. The Century isn't really a Rolls-Royce or Bentley rival, it's its own thing, and all the better for it.
I drove the Porsche 911 GT3 Touring in late August, and upon handing the keys back at the end of my week-long loan, proclaimed it my favorite car of 2018. Even with four months left in the year, I was sure no other car would leave an impression on me quite like the GT3 Touring.
Turns out I was right.
It's easy to wax poetic about the Porsche 911. Even in its base form, it's truly a standout among performance cars. But the GT3 Touring is the absolute best example of the 991-generation I've driven. It's a sports car that stands high above all the others.
The weight and feedback of the steering. The sound of that brutal, 4.0-liter, naturally aspirated flat-six engine. The perfect weight of the clutch and exact throws of the six-speed manual shifter. Every single part of the GT3 Touring experience is designed to awaken enthusiasm in its driver. This car is an ode to folks who truly love the most pure sports cars.
You'll read about the standard-issue GT3 later in this gallery, but the look of the Touring really does it for me. Those hips. Those wheels. That stance. And no silly wing on the tail to ruin those iconic lines.
I hope I get another crack at the GT3 Touring in 2019. If so, you might well see it on next year's version of this list -- and deservedly so.
Yes, I drove faster, more luxurious and more expensive cars this year, but I can't forget how big a smile Hyundai's new hot hatch put on my face.
Less dorky-looking and less expensive than a Civic Type R, but quicker and more exciting than a Volkswagen GTI, the Veloster N might just be the sweet spot for daily-driver fun.
Oh, and its brakes and tires held up to some Nurburgring laps, and the 275-horsepower Veloster N Performance Pack can be had for just a smidge under $30,000. Sign me up.
You can't say off-road without thinking Jeep, and the new generation of the Wangler is second to none when the pavement turns to dirt.
While the Pentastar V6 engine is a carryover, Jeep now offers a 2.0-liter turbo with its eTorque mild hybrid system. This four-banger puts out more torque than the V6. Even better, a diesel is coming soon.
The top of the line Rubicon gets all the dirt goodies necessary to tackle the rough stuff: locking front and rear solid axles, beefier tires and disconnecting sway bars. Its approach and departure angles are tough to beat as well. Bottom line? If you want to get out there and get back, get a Jeep.
I've loved and driven every generation of Mazda's legendary, loveable MX-5 Miata, and the newest 2019 model is objectively the best of them all. This model year brings 26 more horsepower and a 1,000-RPM loftier redline along with a host of small performance tweaks that make the roadster feel more alive and playful on the track and, yes, even on your commute.
Whether you go with the manual ragtop or the powered-hardtop RF model, the 2019 MX-5 also boasts more comfort upgrades and more standard and optional safety tech than ever before. The MX-5 is now much easier to live with, especially for taller drivers thanks to a wider range of seating and steering position adjustment.
The purists' MX-5 has never been about tech and gadgets, but this year added Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to the Miata's bag of tricks courtesy of a dealer retrofit. With just one upgrade, the MX-5's tech goes from "good enough" to "just what I'm looking for" without spoiling the Miata's focus on simple driving joy.
The highlight of the year is driving the 2018 Porsche 911 GT3 around GingerMan Raceway. A 4.0-liter boxer six-cylinder engine making 500 horsepower with a 9,000-RPM redline is difficult to forget. The noise this naturally aspirated engine makes after 8,000 revs is soul stirring and the throttle response is sensational. How can you possibly improve on that?
By offering the engine with a manual transmission again, that's how. After a boatload of Porsche fans complained about the 911 GT3 initially not being offered with three pedals and only with an excellent dual-clutch automatic, the updated 2018 model saw a manual return to the fold. And it's making for a more involving drive experience on both the race track and street.
On top of engine performance, soundtrack and the return of the manual gearbox, you're left with a car that is perfectly livable for regular driving with the adaptive suspension softened. I don't even mind the large rear wing. It's not only functional but looks at home on a car that boasts capabilities to back it up.
I love a car with multiple personalities, and this big Lexus delivers its multidimensionality in spades.
Whether you're in the mood for plush cruising, efficient road tripping or engaging dynamics during an exploratory Sunday adventure, the ES 300h can rise to just about any occasion.
Granted, the Lexus Enform infotainment interface is subpar and the hybrid version prevents the rear seats from folding, but despite these drawbacks, the ES 300h is one of the most fun and cosseting hybrids in production today.
As it turns out, slapping a wagon's rear end onto an already impressive car only made things better.
Even with its base 330-horsepower engine, the Panamera Sport Turismo is plenty capable of having a good time.
Porsche's PCM infotainment got even better in the latest iteration of Panamera, making it one of my favorite systems on the market -- even if it lacks Android Auto.
Car? Psh. For my pick, I'm going two-wheel.
After all, when it comes to the amount of performance you get for each dollar you spend, it's impossible to beat a motorcycle, and that is extra true with the 175-horsepower Aprilia Tuono V4 1100. Nothing I drove or rode this year (including the new Ruf Yellowbird) came close to the Tuono in terms of outright rapidity. It's an absolute gem of a machine.
The Tuono is about way more than its glorious flat-plane V4 engine. Its incredible Ohlins suspension makes riding more comfortable and confidence-inspiring while its highly advanced electronics help ensure that you don't end up on fire and in a hedge somewhere. It's not the most approachable motorcycle ever, but considering its performance, it's pretty easy to live with.
For under $20,000 you can have access to performance that will make modern Ferraris hang their head in shame. You get a clutchless quickshifter that lets you work up and down through the gears, blipping for you and making you sound like a boss. There is no infotainment, no creature comforts, but what there is in spades is a near-perfect connection to a machine that was designed and built by people who love going fast and feeling connected to the road. The Tuono V4 1100 Factory is a revelation.