Competitiveness between car brands has probably never been higher. Modern technology has made vehicles safer, faster, more efficient, smarter, and more complex than ever before. With some exceptions, it’s difficult to purchase a “bad” new vehicle today; the majority of them provide what most people need. Your average A-to-B driver can be in a Honda, Kia, or Volkswagen and probably not know the difference if it weren’t for the brand logos. But still, there are some brands that are known for something, a quality they have mastered over time. The list below was compiled through Digital Trends’ hands-on automotive reviews. Keep reading to find out what automakers are the best in each category.
Best exotic brand: Lamborghini
Why should you buy this: To create a scene everywhere you drive.
Who’s it for: People who want to stand out and draw attention.
Why we picked Lamborghini:
Exotic cars demand head-turning attention and make their presence known to everyone in the area without feeling shame about it. No automaker does that better than the raging bull from Italy, Lamborghini. Ferraris, McLarens, and others also do this well, but not like a Lamborghini. The brand is known for screaming V10 and V12 engines mounted right behind the driver, and their menacing design language is polarizing, making nobody question it’s a Lambo. The flashiness continues inside, and models can be painted in striking colors with names like Verde Scandal, Nero Nemesis, Oro Elios, Arancio Borealis, and Balloon White. Lamborghini is also famed for more extreme, limited production models like the Sián and Centenario.
Lamborghini currently produces the Huracán, which is powered by a 5.2-liter V10 that produces 602 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. The upgraded Huracán Performante nets 29 more horsepower and 30 torque (631hp and 443 lb.-ft.) with the same V10 that revs to a sky-high 8,500 rpm. The Huracán Evo utilizes the same engine but is beefed up with many track-focused upgrades. The brand’s Aventador S model packs a 730hp, 507 lb.-ft., 6.5-liter V12, but the faster SVJ model takes power up a notch with 760hp and 531 lb.-ft.
Lamborghini’s latest model is not a coupe or convertible — it’s an SUV. The Urus is the brand’s first high-riding vehicle, and it doesn’t use a 10- or 12-cylinder engine. Instead, a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 does the job and makes 641hp and 627 lb.-ft. Like all Lambos, the Urus does not look conventional, and the fastback SUV easily stands out from all the other family haulers.
Best hybrid brand: Toyota
Why should you buy this: For a smoother driving experience and to save money at the pump.
Who’s it for: People who drive a lot and want to make fewer trips to the gas station.
Why we picked Toyota:
This was an easy choice because Toyota has been the hybrid king ever since the Prius hit the road. However, other brands like Honda, Hyundai, and Kia are quickly catching up. Still, Toyota has the most models to choose from and is very experienced with these fuel sippers. The Prius is one of the best known hybrids in the world because of its affordability, practicality, and reliability. Depending on the Prius model you buy, EPA-rated combined mpg ranges between 50 mpg (Prius AWD-e) and 56 mpg (Prius Eco). Its hybrid system consists of a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that produces 121hp. The smaller Prius c has an older hybrid system and delivers a lower fuel economy rating of 46 mpg combined.
For the first time ever, Toyota released the Corolla Hybrid for 2020. It uses a hybrid system similar to the Prius and returns 52 mpg combined. The larger Camry Hybrid is rated between 52 mpg (LE) and 46 mpg (XLE/SE) and makes use of a more powerful hybrid system that generates 208hp thanks to a stronger motor and a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Moving up to the full-size Avalon Hybrid, its system is similar to the Camry’s but adds a second electric motor for a total combined output of 215hp. Even though it’s a large and heavy sedan, it returns 43 mpg combined in the XSE and Limited trims and 44 mpg combined in the XLE trim.
If you don’t want a car, don’t worry — Toyota has SUV hybrid options as well. The RAV4 Hybrid was redesigned for the 2019 model year along with the rest of the lineup and is rated at an impressive 40 mpg combined. The compact SUV’s hybrid system is similar to the Camry and Avalon’s but adds a rear-mounted electric motor and has a combined output of 219hp. If you need more room, there is the three-row Highlander Hybrid. It also uses the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors but generates the most combined power, 243hp. Unlike the RAV4 that’s only all-wheel drive, the Highlander Hybrid can be four-wheel drive as well. The FWD model delivers 36 mpg combined, and the AWD model is rated at 35 mpg combined.
Best truck brand: Ford
Why should you buy this: You want the best all-around trucks on the market.
Who’s it for: People who need a truck for their utility or those who just like driving trucks.
Why we picked Ford:
It shouldn’t surprise you that the brand who manufactures the best-selling truck in the world — the F-150 — is also the best truck brand. The F-150 has been the most popular truck for decades, and its big brother, the Super Duty heavy-duty truck, is also a bestseller in its class. Returning for the 2019 model year, the Ranger is Ford’s smallest truck. Ford has done well building its truck reputation over the years and is the go-to brand for most American truck buyers.
The F-150 can be specced in many ways, so there is one for just about anyone. Besides the different body styles to choose from, the F-150 has six engine options (more than GM or Ram): A 3.3-liter V6, a twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6, a 5.0-liter V8, a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6, a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6, and a high-output twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that cranks out 450hp. There are also seven trims to choose from, including the off-road-specced Raptor and top-of-the-line Limited (more than Ram and GMC but not Chevrolet’s eight). Ford is currently developing the next generation 2021 F-150 and has already announced a hybrid and an all-electric model.
Ford’s Super Duty series (F-250, F-350, and F-450) made big news with its 2020 refresh. An all-new “Godzilla” 7.3-liter V8 that churns out 385hp and 430 lb.-ft. joined the lineup for those who want extra power without upgrading to the Power Stroke turbodiesel. Speaking of the turbodiesel, that 6.7-liter V8 was upgraded and now makes a mind-numbing 1,050 lb.-ft. of torque and 475hp (more than Ram and GM). The base engine is a 6.2-liter V8. There are also seven trims to choose from, and the HD truck can be optioned with different towing packages. Like the F-150, the Super Duty outsells its HD rivals from Ram and GM.
Ford brought the Ranger back from a long absence, but the little guy still falls behind the popular Toyota Tacoma and the Chevrolet Colorado in sales. The Ranger is powered by a single engine option: A 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 270hp and 310 lb.-ft. There are rumors of a Ranger Raptor for 2021; let’s hope they’re true.
Best luxury brand: Rolls-Royce
Why should you buy this: You want to drive or be driven in one of the finest vehicles in the world.
Who’s it for: People who demand the best in luxury and customization.
Why we picked Rolls-Royce:
Sorry Bentley and Mercedes-Maybach, Rolls-Royce has you beat. When it comes to luxury, no one tops the British automaker. The brand’s image, workmanship, powertrains, and high-quality materials are unmatched — so much so, every Rolls-Royce comes with a large amount of panache and opulence for free. One the road, ride quality is beyond first class. Other cars make room when they see that unmistakable grill coming their way. Like our exotic brand choice, most know it’s a Rolls-Royce when they see one, and most know it’s the premier brand for extravagant luxury.
Rolls-Royce vehicles are also some of the most customizable cars in the world. Owners can configure their Rolls-Royce to be one of a kind in the world if they’d like. Custom embroidery on the headrests and personalized glove box lids are just the beginning. The brand is also known for impressive features like their starlight headliner, lambswool floor mats, door umbrellas, gold-plated Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament, handcrafted wood veneers, privacy suite with privacy glass, and a champagne cool box. You can even display your choice of bespoke artwork behind a single panel of glass that spans the dashboard.
Roll-Royce currently sells the extravagant Phantom sedan, the Cullinan SUV, the Ghost, the sporty Wraith, and the Dawn convertible. Black Badge models have increased power and features that are unique to these special models.
Best electric vehicle brand: Tesla
Why should you buy this: You want a vehicle that drives smoother, has instant acceleration, needs less maintenance, and doesn’t need gas. You’re also tired of emitting exhaust fumes.
Who’s it for: People who don’t want the aged internal combustion engine and would rather drive the future of transportation.
Why we picked Tesla:
Tesla was the first successful electric vehicle brand and is still by far the best in the business. That’s partly because other EV brands have yet to produce a production version of their vehicle, but even when you include the ones that have, it’s no comparison. When you factor in the big traditional premium automakers, their first EV examples (Jaguar I-Pace, Porsche Taycan, Audi e-tron) are good, but don’t have the technology to match the efficiency of Tesla vehicles. Not to mention neat features like Navigate on Autopilot, Sentry mode, Dog mode, Celebration mode, whoopee cushion farts, and a racing game you can play with the pedals and steering wheel. We also have to mention the over-the-air (OTA) updates that can improve many things including the vehicle’s power. The company’s Supercharger network of charging stations is a huge plus as well.
If you’re worried about range, Teslas currently have the most. The Model S Long Range has an EPA-rated range of 373 miles, and the recently released Long Range Plus is said to have a 390-mile range (the EPA hasn’t given its official rating as of this writing). The smaller Model 3 Long Range has 322 miles of range (EPA rated). The Model X Long Range is rated at 328 miles by the EPA, but the latest Long Range Plus can travel 351 miles and hasn’t been rated by the EPA yet. The soon-to-be-released Tesla Model Y Performance already has an EPA-rated range of 315 miles. For comparison, the EPA rates the Audi e-tron at 204 miles, 234 miles for the Jaguar I-Pace, and between 192 and 201 miles for the Porsche Taycan.
Best sports car brand: Porsche
Why should you buy this: To experience the most driving has to offer.
Who’s it for: People who like to have fun while driving a luxurious car.
Why we picked Porsche:
Sports cars aren’t entirely made for straight-line speed or big power; they are developed to be enjoyable to drive. Balanced handling, good power (but not too much), precise steering, a responsive throttle, and linear braking should all be part of the formula for a sports car. Instead of ripping down a drag strip, sports cars are meant to put a smile on your face while whipping around your favorite canyon road.
There is one brand that puts driving dynamics ahead of anything else, and that’s Porsche. Porsche cars are some of the best driving cars in the world, and they have been for a long time. It’s in their DNA. While some brands have softened up — ahem, BMW — Porsche continues to deliver precision and pleasure.
The German brand is known for their iconic 911 Carrera model and its many variants. Currently, there are twenty-two 911 models, that’s an impressive amount. This includes examples like the base 911 Carrera, the 911 Targa 4, the 911 Carrera GTS, the 911 Turbo, the 911 GT3, and the limited-production 911 Speedster. The more affordable 718 Cayman and Boxster models aren’t as powerful as the 911 but handle with all the elegance of their big brother. Top 718 models include the Cayman GT4 and the Spyder.
The Panamera models are large and front engine, unlike the 911 and 718, but still handle like you’d expect a Porsche to handle. Don’t let the size fool you — Panameras handle like smaller cars. Porsche’s latest vehicle, the all-electric Taycan, doesn’t have Tesla-like driving range, but that’s partly because it’s designed for driving enthusiasts. This EV was made to be driven.
Best SUV brand: Jeep
Why should you buy this: You like the extra space of an SUV and enjoy hitting dirt trails.
Who’s it for: People who want capable SUVs.
Why we picked Jeep:
What brand sells zero cars and mostly SUVs? The one and only Jeep. The brand’s latest vehicle, the Wrangler-based Gladiator truck, is now the only non-SUV model in its lineup. Off-roading has been etched in Jeep’s DNA since day one, and that hasn’t change. Although some models aren’t trail kings like the long-running Wrangler (looking at you, Renegade), they are still very capable and can tackle most of what average drivers throw at it.
But if you thrive off the beaten path, go for the Wrangler. Some versions of it, like the Rubicon, are almost unstoppable and easily compete with more expensive rivals like the Mercedes G-Class and Toyota Land Cruiser.
Jeep’s lineup starts with the little Renegade then moves up to the larger Compass, and the popular Cherokee sits in the middle. The Grand Cherokee is currently the largest model and offers trims like the luxurious Summit and the insane, Hellcat-powered Trackhawk. Those are just two of the 13 trims offered on the Grand Cherokee. The iconic Wrangler and Gladiator truck are the last two in the lineup. A turbodiesel was recently added to the list of engine options for the Wrangler, and a plug-in version is on the way. But for those who need something big, the full-size Jeep Wagoneer will be hitting the market soon.
Best performance brand: McLaren
Why should you buy this: To beat everyone at track day.
Who’s it for: People who want to win.
Why we picked McLaren:
Performance cars differ from sports cars in one big way: They are bred for numbers. The best possible numbers, and not much else matters. Performance cars want to be the quickest and fastest on any type of track. It’s all about being the king of the track. These types of cars can also be fun to drive, but with massive power and capabilities, you can’t reach their full potential on regular roads, and they can be a handful if not dangerous to drive outside of a track.
British automaker McLaren makes the best examples of performance cars. The top Ultimate Series models like the 789hp Senna (and the discontinued 903hp P1) are known to destroy road tracks and drag strips. Even the lower Sports Series model, the 710hp 720S, will conquer most — if not all — rivals on the track. The company’s next Ultimate Series, called the Speedtail, will make a massive 1,055hp, but only 106 examples will be made. So far we know the Speedtail will hit at least 250 mph and it only takes 12.8 seconds to hit 186 mph.
Like the P1, the Senna has broken records on several well-known tracks and seems to defy the laws of physics. Much of this is accomplished through the performance nerds at McLaren who develop complex electronics with complicated algorithms purely for the sake of superior handling, acceleration, and speed.
Best safety brand: Genesis
Why should you buy this: You want a very safe vehicle while being coddled in luxury.
Who’s it for: People who see safety as a top priority.
Why we picked Genesis:
It might not sound fair since the Korean luxury automaker currently only has three models, but all three Genesis sedans are safety standouts. The 2020 G70, G80, and G90 were awarded the IIHS’s 2020 Top Safety Pick+ award, the institution’s highest honor. Top Safety Pick+ means the vehicle received the highest score in all crash tests and performed well in crash avoidance and headlight evaluations. This is not an easy award to receive, and only certain vehicles are able to achieve it.
When it comes to advanced driver assist safety features, all Genesis models come standard with a full suite including emergency automatic front and rear braking, lane centering, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, high beam assist, lane change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and driver attention warning. If the trend continues, the upcoming GV80 SUV should perform well in crash testing and should come standard with lots of advanced safety bells and whistles.
Best car brand: Honda
Why should you buy this: You want the best the car world has to offer without paying a premium price.
Who’s it for: People who don’t want SUVs, trucks, or luxury brands.
Why we picked Honda:
Honda might not offer the widest variety of cars (sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks), but the cars it does have are all great choices and are usually class leaders. Starting at the bottom with the Fit, no one else has a hatchback with so much room and such a little footprint — not to mention, it’s actually fun to drive. Up next is the Civic, another class leader. Even though the redesigned Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Kia Forte are newer, the Civic still tops them with its strong powertrain, solid handling dynamics, comfortable cabin, advanced safety tech, good build quality, and premium interior. Also, there is the Civic coupe, hatchback, the sporty Si, and the high-performance Type R.
The Insight hybrid is basically a Civic hybrid but with a slightly different exterior and interior. When compared with the Toyota Prius and Hyundai Ioniq, the fuel efficiency is very similar, but the Insight looks sleeker inside and out and drives much better than the other two. Honda’s largest car is the class-leading Accord. The Accord can be had with the base engine, a hybrid powertrain, or a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired to a 10-speed automatic or six-speed manual (rare for the segment). Its upscale design will make you think this sedan comes from a premium nameplate.
The brand’s final car is the Clarity sedan, which comes as a plug-in hybrid, an EV, or a fuel cell electric vehicle. This model isn’t as popular as the rest due to its limited availability but still impresses. The plug-in hybrid model currently has the longest EV range in the segment (the Chevrolet Volt has more but has been discontinued), and the fuel cell model has an EPA-rated driving range of 360 miles. Honda’s one weak link, the Clarity EV, only has a driving range of 89 miles and has been discontinued for the 2020 model year.
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