The Eight greatest vehicles and vans of 2020
We are undoubtedly staring at an electric future: Governments and automakers have focused on long-term plans where battery-electric powertrains are paramount. But that’s not the only story about Autodom, as evidenced by the best cars and trucks we’ve driven over this unique year. On our best of list, you’ll find two defy norm pickups, a groundbreaking Corvette, a Land Rover with enough off-road chops to cure your cabin fever for good, and much more. Here are the drives we dug the most in 2020:
2021 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
When you walk over a star in the old Super Mario Kart, you are temporarily ultra-fast and untouchable. This is the feeling of steering the 717 hp 2021 Dodge Charger Hellcat up a long highway, passing dozens of slower cars. Grab the beefy wheel, step on the pedals, and you’ll hear a high-pitched, menacing compressor whine as the 4,586-pound beast effortlessly walks towards three-digit numbers. If you can beat the high fuel costs (and your huge environmental footprint), you’ll find a surprisingly drivable family ride with a downside that can leave you feeling invincible for a moment.
2021 Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel
A week in the new diesel-powered, overland-tire Gladiator has shown us that there is no pickup on the market that hits so many marks: fun, livable, capable. A 3.0 liter engine gives the Wrangler-based pickup a ton of instant low-end power (442 lb-ft of torque) that is ideal for technical off-roading but is just as fun around town. After the lights turn green, rear view out of the traffic without trying. Better still, the Gladiator’s modest size allows you to toss it in the garage when you get home.
2021 Rolls Royce Ghost
James Lipman / jameslipman.com
When an officer from the Bee Cave, Texas Police Department passed us in the 2021 Rolls Royce Ghost, he had a question: How’s it going? Just great, sir. Rolls updated its formula for the 2021 model with some advanced suspension tricks, including road monitoring dampers to remove bumps in the road before you ever feel them. The all-wheel steering allows for a stately ride like a machine that is much smaller, and the dual-turbocharged 6.8-liter V12 gets you in a hurry and refinement. Our response to the policeman was deemed sufficient: we were sent on our way with a friendly warning.
2021 Chevrolet Suburban
The pandemic has forced us to test vehicles primarily in Texas this year, and there may not be one better suited for the Lone Star State than the new Chevy Suburban. For one thing, it’s huge. A new independent rear suspension – the first in the Suburban’s long history – creates space for up to nearly 30 square feet of cargo space (or an actually habitable third row of seats). Second, the thing is luxurious, with a classy interior and 12.6-inch touchscreens behind the front seats that are connected to the vehicle’s on-board WiFi. At a time when more space and comfort are more precious than ever for creatures, the new Suburban offers.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX
Oddly enough, no vehicle we’ve driven this year got more thumbs up than this larger than life pickup. The oversized, supercharged Hellcat-powered Ram did indeed prove to be a mood lift, even if we couldn’t fully test the otherworldly capabilities of its undercarriage, built for traversing the high desert with 13 inches of travel. Its unprecedented power became more apparent when driving in the city: accelerate and dematerialize space cushions. And to match this uncompromising machine, there is plenty of space in the cabin and an infotainment system that is also the most seamless in business.
2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Taking two separate rides – one in Nevada and one in Texas – the next-generation Vette has proven this revamped American classic is better than ever, with transparent and predictable handling, thanks to its mid-engine layout. Some will, of course, complain that the small block V8 engine isn’t loud enough and doesn’t crackle like the fire-eaters of the past. But this Stingray is young and more power and tailpipe pyrotechnics will follow. In the meantime, new Vette drivers will be digging up details like Stealth Mode, which will darken the interior – console, buttons, anything that shows your miles per hour, and other essentials. Just you, machine, street. No distractions. How subtle. How uncorvetted. How cool.
2020 McLaren GT
It hit us somewhere out on a speedy ride through the dips and bobs of Texas Hill Country: The McLaren GT just rocks, whether it’s a real Grand Tourer or not. The British high-tech maker intends the GT to be its most livable, daily drivable sports car – there is more cargo space and more powertrain refinement here than on its other drives – but the GT is not proving to be at the cornering tasks casual. The 4-liter V8 and seven-speed dual clutch provide tireless power, while the adaptive damping suspension and hydraulic steering give transparent feedback and give you the confidence to push harder, as does excellent forward visibility. The GT is a winner. We didn’t have any fun at the wheel all year round.
2021 Land Rover Defender
In a year when escaping civilization became more attractive than ever, the relaunched Defender provided a compelling and capable vehicle to do so. We took a quick spin in the Defender, both on slippery roads and on dirt, and our drive showed that the vehicle offers loads of technology, comfort and quality of life, especially the well-designed, intelligently packaged interior – while offering more off-road capabilities than you likely to ever use it. We threw it down a secluded ranch road and were impressed by its ease along the sketchy, fluted route, thanks in part to air suspension that offers almost 30 cm of clearance, a peppy 3.0-liter straight-six, and precise, direct steering that makes it handle like a smaller vehicle. It’s a best-of-both-worlds machine that doesn’t disappoint.
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