Giving the gift of go: 19 best car picks for the holidays

As a gift to your family, or that very special someone, a car makes a lasting impression and provides years of fun and practical use. Here are 19 of the best cars of the year.

CNET Cars staff
1 of 19 Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Audi TT

With all-wheel-drive and a small, powerful engine, the new Audi TT makes for an exceptional sports car. When you throw in Audi's Virtual Cockpit technology, a large LCD screen that takes over the instrument cluster, you are looking at a truly futuristic car. It is completely satisfying to drive on a twisty back road and the cabin has a gee-whiz factor all its own.

Consider the TT for that over-achiever in your life who needs a little escape on the weekends, or maybe a special someone ready to tackle a mid-life crisis with grace. The TT makes a fine choice for regions of the country with wintry weather due to its standard all-wheel-drive.

2 of 19 Nick Miotke/Roadshow


BMW applies its M performance formula to a small coupe, ending up with handling that reflects the brand's history. Not only is the 365 horsepower M2 a truly engaging driver, it isn't overpowered for public roads. Unlike its larger M siblings, drivers can tap most of the M2's capability without needing to take it to a track.

The M2 is an especially good choice for long-time BMW fans who appreciated how the company's 1980s and 1990s models handled. The M2 will win over that special someone with its engagement, letting him or her enjoy driving all over again. BMW's connected cabin tech also makes it a good choice for the up-and-coming executive who isn't ready to give up on youth.

Jaguar F-Type
3 of 19 Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Jaguar F-Type

The F-Type is one of the most elegant sports cars around, and it doesn't disappoint with its performance. It represents a new era for Jaguar, and can be had with either a supercharged V6 or supercharged V8 engine, the former available in two different power outputs. The F-Type can also be had with all-wheel-drive and a roadster body, making it suitable for wintry regions or fun in the sun.

Anglophiles will certainly love the F-Type, but consider this one for the car collector too, as it's sure to become a classic.

Mazda MX-5 Miata
4 of 19 Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Mazda MX-5 Miata

The MX-5 needs no introduction. Hailed as one of the most cost-effective ways to have fun on the road for the last two decades, the fourth-generation MX-5 keeps that idea alive by focusing on a low curb weight and lively driving dynamics.

Available with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, this manual soft-top roadster will bring the party, no matter the speed. Just make sure to pick up some snow tires if you want to drive it year-round.

5 of 19 Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Mini Cooper S Convertible

The Mini Cooper S is a pint-sized pocket rocket, delivering BMW-style driving fun in a (slightly) more affordable, front-wheel-drive package. If open-air cruising is your hang, the Cooper S Convertible is sure to tick all the right boxes.

Packing a potent 2.0-liter I4 engine mated to the driver's choice of automatic or manual transmissions, the Mini is less of a throwback to the Coopers of old than it is a pioneer charting a new path for the automaker.

6 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Ford Mustang

The Mustang is one of the most versatile American sports cars on the market. You can have it with I4, V6 or V8 engines, with or without a roof and with your choice of two different transmissions. If noise and speed are your thing, the Shelby GT350 and GT350R will be up your alley, with their flat-plane-crank V8 engines wailing all the way to an obscenely high redline.

Or, you can opt for the base-model V6 and just cruise around all sedate-like, while still managing to look the business. Dealer's choice.

Volkswagen Golf
7 of 19 Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf is a paragon of German pragmatism. It's inexpensive, it's efficient and its styling is rather conservative.

But beneath that milquetoast shell is a chassis ready for a bit of fun. Built on the new MQB platform, the seventh-generation Golf is a pleasure to drive at any speed, with just enough stiffness to permit spirited driving without making the ride uncomfortable.

8 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Honda Civic

Beneath the new, muscular silhouette of the 2017 Honda Civic is a well-constructed cabin featuring pretty good HondaLink dashboard tech and pretty great Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. The new Civic can be had with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with direct injection, making 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Plus, the estimated average of 35 mpg won't break the bank.

This new Civic is the best Civic in generations, with sharp style, desirable features and well-balanced value that make it a solid choice for almost any type of driver. It's fun to drive too: Nobody's going to be regifting this one.

Chevrolet Volt
9 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Chevrolet Volt

The redesigned Chevrolet Volt is the gift that keeps on giving. With its EPA estimated 53-mile battery range and regular charging, the Volt saves on operating costs and trips the pump over its lifetime thanks to an ultra-thrifty plug-in hybrid powertrain.

The new Volt now looks and drives like a regular car, boasts new dashboard tech and creature comforts that make it easier to live with and, with a hybrid cruising range of 430 miles can also be taken on longer excursions and gasoline-powered roadtrips. It's the gift of EV thrift without the range anxiety.

10 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Audi A4

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Audi offers the best designed, most fully featured and most usable cabin tech on the road today. And if you don't like the crisply rendered, Nvidia-powered graphics of its virtual cockpit and MMI touch infotainment suites, you can bring your own tech to the dashboard with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

The 2017 Audi A4 then wraps that tech in a well-appointed cabin and a smartly designed body with performance powered by a meaty 252 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with optional quattro all-wheel drive. With the Audi A4, you're not just giving a car; you're giving the total package.

Mercedes-Benz E400 Wagon
11 of 19 Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Mercedes-Benz E400 Wagon

It boasts Benz's 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 with 329 horsepower and 354 pounds of torque and standard 4Matic all-wheel drive. It's loaded with industry-leading advanced safety and semi-autonomous drive technology. It's got 64.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity and room for five souls in the lap of luxury.

It's not an SUV; it's the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E400 wagon. One of the last of its kind on American roads, this rare breed blends utility and luxury with slick style in a way that most SUVs simply cannot.

Jeep Wrangler
12 of 19 Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is quite possibly the most iconic American vehicle. It can be had with two or four doors, but either way you'll get off the charts off-road capability. The Wrangler gets a 3.6-liter V6 engine, and a six-speed manual transmission is standard, although a five-speed automatic can be had. With optional front and rear axle lockers and disconnecting sway bar, the Wrangler is truly a go-anywhere vehicle.

Free-spirited adventurers will love a Wrangler, but it's equally well-suited for those who just want to get off the grid. Driving a Jeep comes with a whole "Jeep life" culture, making it perfect for the friendly explorer who likes to talk shop and get out with other off-roaders for trail rides.

13 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Mazda CX-5

With the CX-5, Mazda once again proves that driving does indeed matter. A 2.5-liter engine busts out 184 horsepower, which is not terribly high, but it's still a blast to sling through the turns. There is not a ton of tech in the interior, but the cabin is well designed and the fit and finish is excellent, especially at this price point.

The CX-5 is the small SUV for the young and the young at heart. It's big enough to haul a few kiddos and their gear, making it a great choice for parents who still like to have a bit of fun. It's also a good choice for a college student as the infotainment system takes extra care to minimize distracted driving.

14 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Ford Escape

The Ford Escape boasts some of the best tech in its segment and three engine options, including a zippy little 1.5-liter turbocharged powerplant. A Park Assist option offers semi-autonomous parallel and perpendicular parking and can even scan the roadside for parking spots. Sync 3 comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and integrates with Pandora and Spotify, among others.

The Ford Escape is a great gift for the family member that values technology over driving dynamics. Conversely, this may be the vehicle that convinces your luddite cousin that maybe technology isn't so bad after all.

15 of 19 Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Chrysler Pacifica

Finally, a minivan that looks good! The Chrysler Pacifica is the family roller for a new generation, with excellent styling, loads of convenience and safety features. A 3.6-liter V6 engine puts out enough power to make it one of the quickest in the class. The interior has tons of storage space and a revamped UConnect infotainment system.

Obviously, the Pacifica is a wonderful choice for the mom or dad in your life, but there are lots of other folks who would appreciate a sexy minivan. The Pacifica is a good choice for touring musicians or even the couple planning an epic road trip.

16 of 19 Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Cadillac XT5

The XT5 is Cadillac's new midsize luxury crossover boasting sculpted looks, a versatile interior with reclining and sliding rear seats and an innovative Rear Camera Mirror system that replaces the rearview mirror with a video display. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V6, making 310 horsepower in either front- or all-wheel-drive formats.

Drivers with a couple of kids who need the flexibility of a crossover, yet still want an engaging experience behind the wheel will appreciate the Caddy's sharp handling capabilities. In particular, if he or she doesn't like to blend in with the crowd, the XT5 is the worthy American luxury alternative to the usual suspect German offerings in this red-hot segment.

2016 Volvo XC90 T6
17 of 19 Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Volvo XC90

The XC90 is the first vehicle in Volvo's lineup to adopt a more luxurious initiative, and it shows from the second you slide into it. Nice leathers, metal, real wood and a crystal glass shift knob are all available in the three-row crossover SUV. Powertrain options range from a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 250 horsepower, to a hybrid model based off of a 2-liter engine that's both turbo- and supercharged with 400 horsepower.

For families looking for a change of pace from German luxury, this big Volvo gives you Swedish style, an excellent lineup of engine options and clever amenities. For the tech lovers in the family, the well thought-out Sensus Connect dashboard suite will surely strike a chord.

18 of 19 Toyota

Toyota Tacoma

The Toyota Tacoma has a reputation for being nearly indestructible, which is one of the reasons why the small pickup is so popular with the off-road crowd. With a lineup that includes trim levels ranging from mild to wild, there's bound to be a Taco for everybody. On the more sensible end is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder with 159 horsepower, while those looking for more punch can get a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 horsepower.

A Tacoma will surely thrill the outdoor adventurer in your life who prefers trudging through sand and mud over pavement. Camping, ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts will make good use of the bed, loading it up with toys to haul off to their next excursion. And with available trim levels such as the TRD Off-Road and TRD Pro, the Tacoma will have no problem getting them to their destination no matter how far off the beaten path it is.

Ford F-150 Raptor
19 of 19 Ford

Ford F-150 Raptor

The baddest factory pickup truck on the planet returns with a new twin-turbocharged heart bringing better efficiency along with a healthy dose of muscle. Just how much does the Raptor's new 3.5-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 engine churn out? Try 450 horsepower, and 510 pound-feet of torque, which outguns the outgoing V8 by 39 ponies and a whopping 76 pound-feet of torque.

This second-generation off-road hero is perfect for any automobile enthusiasts, really. Even people who don't pine for pickup trucks will have a difficult time not liking the Raptor because it's simply that awesome. Its go-anywhere capabilities, menacing look and truck functionality will thrill anyone. Whoever receives the keys to a brand new Raptor this holiday season will be a lucky person indeed.

More Galleries

My Favorite Shots From the Galaxy S24 Ultra's Camera
A houseplant

My Favorite Shots From the Galaxy S24 Ultra's Camera

20 Photos
Honor's Magic V2 Foldable Is Lighter Than Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra

Honor's Magic V2 Foldable Is Lighter Than Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra

10 Photos
The Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus Looks Sweet in Aluminum
Samsung Galaxy S24

The Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus Looks Sweet in Aluminum

23 Photos
Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra Now Has a Titanium Design
The Galaxy S24 Ultra in multiple colors

Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra Now Has a Titanium Design

23 Photos
I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

34 Photos
17 Hidden iOS 17 Features and Settings on Your iPhone
Invitation for the Apple September iPhone 15 event

17 Hidden iOS 17 Features and Settings on Your iPhone

18 Photos
AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

17 Photos