There's no shame in using a Mazda MX-5 Miata as the lead image for a story about the best cars we drove this year, because we love this thing to death. You’ll be able to read why as you scroll through the gallery.
The best cars we drove this year aren’t just limited to two-seat sports cars. Yes, there are plenty of those on the list, but we also give props to vehicles that make us happy from a daily-driver perspective: EVs, sport sedans, and even an SUV. These are the cars that most strongly resonated with us this year – Autoblog’s best of the best.
2016 Mercedes-AMG C63 S
Now this is a proper Mercedes. As much as I loved the outgoing 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine, the downsized 4.0-liter turbocharged unit found under the hood of the 2015 C63 is a gem. It's at its best in S trim, where it pushes 503 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. It may not go around a race track any faster than an M3, but in the real world, on real roads, the latest C-Class AMG is without peer in its class.
All of M-B's C-Class models are endowed with lovely interiors, and that's especially true of the C63 when optioned with the available Designo leather in brown. The natural grain black ash wood is rather fetching, too. While its stereo is just as good as you'd expect, for the ultimate aural experience, roll down the windows and mash the gas pedal. A true Mercedes may not be cheap, but in the case of the C63 S, you get what you pay for.
– Jeremy Korzeniewski
2016 McLaren 650S Spider
I’m not a supercar guy. Really. I appreciate the engineering that goes into them, the visceral experiences they produce, but I can’t say I lust after them in the same way as I would a perfectly optioned MX-5. Ever driven an Aventador? Let me tell you what it’s like: a rollercoaster that costs $400k to ride. Too much and you’ll be sick.
I’m also no new-McLaren fanboy. While the F1 is and will always be the (other) exception to my supercar rule, I was hung up by the modern Macca’s turbochargers and indifferent styling. Where the F1 was superlative, this just seemed to be par for the rarified course.
And then I drove the 650S. Forget all that. This is the ambivalent-about-supercars-person’s supercar. It's monumentally comfortable without being coddling. Its acceleration perfectly floods the brain with righteous amounts of dopamine. The steering is simply the best I’ve ever experienced, at all speeds and situations. There was lag, but that just gave you half a second to brace for takeoff. The roads around my house aren’t even that good, and I racked up nearly 100 miles just blasting around with no particular destination. You could drive this thing anywhere there's tarmac and never get sick of it. It's that good.
– Alex Kierstein
It looked awesome. No other car I drove this year attracted this so much attention. The lime green paint helped, but a casual glance indicated that this was something special beyond its superficial hue. My most memorable driving moment this year was a simple early morning commute across town. The steering, the engine noise, the wind whipping overhead – it’s all seared into my brain as That Time I Drove a McLaren. Sure, it’s a cliché or a cop-out to pick a supercar as the best thing you drove, but this one has scissor doors and 641 horsepower. You gotta pick something, so why not something like this? Still, even when you dial back the excitement, this is an excellent specimen. It’s dripping in carbon fiber, drives with energy and comfort (depending on your mood), and it’s hard evidence McLaren is a world-class supercar maker.
– Greg Migliore
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
I did some quick math, and all-in, I put about 1,000 miles on various versions of the new Mazda MX-5 Miata this year. I drove this car more than any other, and I’m still dying for more. This is the car that keeps me up at night, checking my bank account and scanning local dealer inventories. This is the car that, when friends ask me what good things I’ve driven recently, rolls off my tongue without even a millisecond of hesitation.
Simply put: This is my favorite car. Period.
It’s a machine built by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. In a world where autonomous technology is slowly taking over, the Miata is so refreshingly analog. It doesn’t have a ton of power, it’s not super fast, and it’s hardly practical. But I can’t think of a single moment over the past year where I wouldn’t have wanted the Miata in my life. It’s perfect.
– Steven Ewing
2016 Tesla Model S P90D
I'm a nerd. I get equally excited about the Tesla's trick computer-controlled fuse (the hardware that makes Ludicrous mode acceleration possible) as I do about the 90D's 250-plus-mile range. These two concepts are seemingly at odds with each other, and they're also things you can't find anywhere else in the marketplace.
We know from our experience in Tech of the Year testing that if you want to drive the car any sizable distance you have to keep both speed and launches in check. It will go far and go quick, just not on the same charge. That said, the acceleration is the party trick and the range is what you use every day. I'm intrigued by the car from a perspective of it being a piece of technology, a new gadget. That it's also pretty comfortable and good to look at are solid bonuses.
– David Gluckman
2015 Audi RS 5
Is it weird that the best car I drove in 2015 originally debuted in 2010 and has an engine that first launched a decade ago? Maybe. But if you take a spin in the Audi RS 5, I’m sure you’ll be just as gaga over it as I am.
It all has to do with the engine. With the exception of the Ford Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter V8, there just isn’t a high-revving, mass produced V8 quite like Audi’s long-serving 4.2-liter unit. It revs to 8,500 rpm, which is kind of like hearing James Earl Jones singing, but as a soprano. Paired with a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the RS5’s powertrain is old school in the best way possible.
On top of that, it’s aged beautifully both inside and out. Lock the car and you’ll have little choice but to take a longing glance as you walk away. In the cabin, the seats, steering wheel, and MMI infotainment system still feel like they could come from a brand-new vehicle.
The RS5 is a future classic, one that you’ll be able to look back on in 30 years and brag “I drove that car.” It’s entertaining in a way that new cars just aren’t, and for that reason, it’s the best car I drove in 2015.
– Brandon Turkus
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The best car I drove this year illustrates the power of delegating. The Mercedes Benz C-Class has become incredibly respectable – aspirational, even. The new interior is a thing to behold, and because there’s now the CLA to chase the low end of the Mercedes-Benz market, the C-Class can be a little larger, a little more expensive, and a whole lot better. It’s not that it was ever such a bad car, but this is the first time it’s able to credibly live up to its billing as a 3/5th scale S-Class. This is how you do a new model.
– Dan Roth
2016 Volvo XC90
There’s an accepted notion among automakers that they should stop trying to make a half-decent infotainment system, that they should cede the whole damned thing to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and get out of the way.
For the first time, an automaker has challenged that. Few drivers might ever get a chance to experience Volvo’s Sensus Connect system given the company's scant US scales, but hey, you should know that it’s pretty awesome. It’s an intuitive, easy and seamless way to use radio, navigation, and connected features. Maybe more popular automakers will take it as proof a really good, in-house infotainment system can be built.
Okay, enough about infotainment. The rest of the XC90 is plush, comfortable, and, true to Volvo's history, safety-focused. The adaptive cruise control system was the smoothest and most refined I’ve experienced among all automakers, with the possible exception of Nissan’s equally good adaptive cruise. With Volvo placing a heavy bet on autonomous tech in the not-too-distant future, it was also comforting to see the vehicle’s active-lane keep assist provide nuanced corrections.
Priced between $49,000 and $65,000 depending on options, not everyone can afford the XC90. But if I was going to plunk down that sort of cash on a luxury family hauler, this is the one I’d want (especially compared to my pick for the worst car of the year – you’ll see). Perhaps more importantly, the XC90 is the kind of vehicle that can help Volvo, by and large forgotten in the United States, write a comeback story.
– Pete Bigelow