This article was last updated by Digital Trends contributor Kristen Hall-Geisler on 6/8/2020.
Digital Trends is in the business of testing new cars and pitting them against each other to find the best of each category. We take on this horrible assignment for you, our readers. Out of the fray of mediocre sedans and monster trucks rise the cream of the crop for each segment. We routinely round up the best of each category — whether it be sedans, SUVs, or hybrids — but it was high time that we rounded up all our favorites of the year in one convenient place so you can see the best of the best at a glance. Without further ado, here are the Digital Trends picks for the best cars overall.
The best car of 2020: Jaguar I-Pace
Why should you buy this? It blends cutting-edge design and technology in a very driveable electric vehicle.
Who’s it for? Luxury SUV buyers who want next-level engineering and design from a brand they know.
How much will it cost? $69,500
Why we picked the Jaguar I-Pace :
The most exciting vehicle on the market isn’t a million-dollar supercar, a broad-shouldered truck, or a seven-passenger SUV. No, the car the world can’t wait to drive is an all-electric crossover from British automaker Jaguar.
Contemporary EVs have several performance advantages over their gas-powered brethren, and Jaguar turns each of these into weapons. It starts with the platform, which stretches the I-Pace’s 90 kWh battery pack across the floor. This gives the vehicle an ultra-low center of gravity and disperses weight evenly front and rear (50:50). Without the burdens of an engine and transmission, Jaguar was also able to push the wheels to the absolute ends of the body, improving cornering stability.
While it does not have better range than a Tesla Model X, or the cargo capacity of the Mazda CX-5, the I-Pace stands out with overall dynamics, packaging, and driving experience. The car simply fades away from thought when you are commuting, but still takes center stage when hustling through tight turns. It is only really let down by its infotainment system, a small price to pay for this level of driving goodness.
The best compact car: Mazda3
Why should you buy this: It’s an economy car with a soul.
Who’s it for: People who want more than just basic transportation.
How much will it cost: $21,500+
Why we picked the Mazda3:
The Mazda3 is the kind of car other automakers should be building. It’s a regular compact economy car that emphasizes style and driving dynamics in a way that most of the competition doesn’t. Many regular cars feel like appliances, but not this one.
Available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, the Mazda 3 isn’t particularly fast, but it’s very nice to drive. The steering and suspension respond with an immediacy other cars in this class lack, as do Mazda’s Skyactiv four-cylinder engines. All models and trim levels get a 2.5-liter engine, which sends 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels through six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. All wheel drive is also available.
Mazda’s Kodo design language yields a car that is handsome and distinctive, without resorting to excessive styling gimmicks. Current Mazda interiors are admittedly a bit plain, but the 3’s cabin is sensibly designed, and Mazda’s rotary knob infotainment controller is easy to use.
Like many mainstream cars these days, the 3 is also available with an array of electronic driver aids, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, and traffic sign recognition.
The best truck: Ford F-150
Why should you buy this: It does everything well.
Who’s it for: Just about anyone who needs a full-size pickup truck.
How much will it cost: $28,745+
Why we picked the Ford F-150:
Because it has the fundamentals down.
The Ford F-150 has been the bestselling vehicle in the U.S. for decades, and it’s easy to see why legions of truck buyers flock to it every year. The F-150 doesn’t dominate any particular category, but it covers all of the bases with solid performance, impressive refinement, and stylish and thoughtful design features.
Under the hood, the available 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 (available in 375 horsepower and 450-hp strengths) offers plenty of torque and very quick throttle response, making it a good choice whether you want to tow a boat or just pull away from lights in a hurry. Ford also offers a more traditional 5.0-liter V8, a turbodiesel engine, and two other gasoline V6 options. The truck itself features an aluminum body that Ford claims saves over 700 pounds compared to a conventional steel body. While the F-150 has fairly basic suspension, the ride is impressively smooth and comfortable. The styling is also a nice departure from the boxiness of traditional trucks.
Ford has also taken the lead in adding tech features to trucks. The F-150 is available with the same Sync 3 infotainment system available in most of Ford’s car models. It’s a solid system with a fairly straightforward menu and a responsive touchscreen display. The layout of the dashboard makes it easy to use both the screen and analog controls. Other notable tech toys include a surround-view camera system and Pro Trailer Backup Assist, which allows the truck to take over steering when backing up a trailer. Even if you don’t opt for these features, the F-150’s ride quality, power, and design should prove satisfying.
The best luxury car: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Why should you buy this: It’s the luxury sedan that says, “I’ve made it.”
Who’s it for: Executives, entrepreneurs, rappers.
How much will it cost: $94,250+
Why we picked the Mercedes-Benz S-Class:
The S-Class has served as the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz lineup for decades. “It has long been the measuring stick by which luxury cars are judged,” we wrote when we drove the newest version of it. It’s well into its sixth generation, but it was recently updated with minor visual tweaks, new engines that use less gas, and a lot more tech features under the skin.
Living up to its motto, “the best or nothing,” Mercedes ensured the S is comfortable regardless of whether the owner is driving or being driven. The sedan coddles its occupants with a spacious, well-lit cabin that’s as quiet as a bank vault, and it offers some of the most comfortable seats you’ll ever sit in.
There’s an S-Class to suit every luxury buyer’s need. The lineup includes an entry-level model with a six-cylinder under the hood, a V8-powered model, an immensely powerful variant made by Mercedes-AMG, and a pair of ultra-luxurious Maybach-badged models. In addition to the sedan, Mercedes offers S-Class coupe and convertible models.
The best wagon: Subaru Outback
Why should you buy this: It’s the jack-of-all-trades.
Who’s it for: Motorists seeking a car that can do it all.
How much will it cost: $26,645+
Why we picked the Subaru Outback:
Most automakers axed their station wagons during the 1990s and filled the voids with SUVs. Subaru stuck to the course because it figured out it could continue to profitably sell wagons by putting them on stilts and making them look a little bit more rugged. Decades of experience make the Outback the best station wagon available new in the United States.
The Outback tries to be everything to everyone and, for the most part, it succeeds. It’s relatively affordable, reasonably efficient, and hugely capable thanks to Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. It’s redesigned for the 2020 model year, and the updates include an available 11.6-inch touchscreen displaying Subaru’s StarLink infotainment system. Users can rearrange the icons on the home menu, just like on a smartphone, and an available Wi-Fi hot spot keeps every passenger connected on the go.
The Outback’s tech can help you disconnect, too. Its infotainment system comes preloaded with an app named Chimani that provides information about more than 400 national parks in the United States, including the history and highlights of each location. Getting to one of the parks shouldn’t be a problem thanks to 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Cargo capacity checks in at 32.5 with four occupants aboard, and 75.7 with the rear seats folded flat.
The entry-level engine is a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter flat-four that makes 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. That’s not a lot for a vehicle of this size, so buyers can step up to a turbocharged, 2.4-liter flat-four rated at a more generous 260 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. Both four-cylinders shift through a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The best hybrid: Toyota Prius
Why should you buy this: The Prius continues to define the hybrid category in most every way.
Who’s it for: Anyone who hates visiting the gas station.
How much will it cost: $24,325+
Why we picked the Toyota Prius:
The name “Prius” is synonymous with “hybrid,” and for good reason. Toyota’s bestselling hybrid continues to prioritize fuel economy above all else, and though efficiency is its main goal, the Prius doesn’t ask buyers to make any major compromises — except maybe in the styling department.
The Prius is the most fuel-efficient hybrid around, getting an Environmental Protection Agency-rated 56 mpg combined in Eco trim. That’s thanks to Toyota’s tried-and-true Hybrid Synergy Drive system, and a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves a 40 percent thermal efficiency, which is much higher than most engines. The Prius also achieves a very low drag coefficient of 0.24, meaning it has fairly low aerodynamic drag, which helps improve efficiency. Toyota’s designers managed to do that while maintaining a roomy cabin and useful hatchback shape.
The current-generation Prius is also appreciably sportier than previous models, thanks to changes like a lower center of gravity and a more sophisticated double-wishbone independent rear suspension system. Like other Toyota models, the Prius also gets the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver-assistance features (including adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection) as standard equipment.
The Prius is still a fuel economy champ, but the current version’s emphasis on sporty handling and technology make it a better all-around car than ever before.
The best SUV: Jeep Wrangler
Why should you buy this? It’s the original go-anywhere off-roader.
Who’s it for? Those who want to explore the great outdoors.
How much will it cost? $28,295+
Why we picked the Jeep Wrangler:
The Jeep Wrangler traces its roots back to the original Willys that was developed during World War II. It’s evolved considerably over the past few years and generations. The redesigned 2018 model finally swallowed the tech pill its predecessors refused to get anywhere near, but its spirit is still the same. That means it’s simple, relatively affordable, and virtually unbeatable off-road.
The Wrangler lineup includes the standard two-door model and a more spacious four-door version. All variants leave the factory with either a soft or a hard top (a power-operated soft top is offered at an extra cost), making the Wrangler one of the most affordable convertibles on the market. As a bonus, buyers looking to do some serious off-roading can customize the Wrangler by buying parts directly from Jeep or from a seemingly endless list of aftermarket suppliers.
While the entry-level Sport model remains relatively basic, the more upmarket trim levels are much nicer inside and comfortable even around town. If you’re the adventurous type, the Wrangler is your best choice in the SUV segment.
The best hatchback: Volkswagen Golf
Why should you buy this: The Golf ticks every box in the mainstream hatchback segment.
Who’s it for: Anyone who just needs a car.
How much will it cost: $23,195+
Why we picked the Volkswagen Golf:
The Volkswagen Golf hasn’t been the bestselling car in Germany for decades by accident. Now well into its seventh generation, Volkswagen’s most popular nameplate continues to offer one of the best interiors in its class, a generous amount of trunk space, and agile handling at an attractive price point.
The Golf speaks tech, too. All but the lowest trims come with a state-of-the-art infotainment system displayed on a color touch screen, and the list of options includes driving aids such as a lane departure warning system, forward collision warning, and adaptive cruise control. You can even get a digital instrument cluster, which is normally found on much more expensive cars.
Volkswagen offers several variants of the Golf. Buyers in select states can pick up an all-electric model called the e-Golf that’s capable of driving for up to 125 miles on a single charge. At the other end of the spectrum, the iconic GTI is one of the very best hot hatches money can buy. And the Golf R tugs at the heartstrings of speed aficionados with a 300-horsepower turbo four and all-wheel drive.
The best sports car: Audi R8 V10 Performance
Why should you buy this: It’s the everyday supercar.
Who’s it for: Those who want high performance without sacrificing comfort.
How much will it cost: $195,900
Why we picked the Audi R8 V10 Performance:
The Audi R8 is an anomaly. Audi has built a car that’s as refined as a luxury two-door with the power of a hypercar.
The low-slung coupe uses sharp creases, carbon fiber accents, and a mid-engine layout to distinguish itself from lesser sports cars, but it doesn’t command attention in the same way as rivals. Its 5.2-liter V10 delivers 602 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Acceleration is blistering: 0 to 60 mph takes less than 3.2 seconds and top speed is a blazing-fast 205 mph.
Within the cabin, occupants are treated to a magnificent engine wail and class-leading convenience features. Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display gives drivers access to every vehicle function and reduces clutter. Audi Drive Select adjusts suspension damping to transform ride quality from mellow to aggressive in an instant. It’s not just fast and sharp; it’s high-tech, too.
At the sub-$200,000 price point, the Audi R8 V10 Performance invites challenges from McLaren’s 570S, Porsche’s 911 Turbo S, Acura’s NSX, Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage S, and Mercedes-AMG’s GT R. Each vehicle is astoundingly quick, attractive, and desirable, but the R8 is the only supercar that’s as thrilling on a track as it is in a neighborhood.
The best sedan: Honda Accord
Why should you buy this: It’s the quintessential midsize sedan.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a car.
How much will it cost: $23,870
Why we picked the Honda Accord:
Along with its rival, the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord has long been the default choice for a vast swath of U.S. car buyers. The name Accord is so associated with quality and reliability that Honda could probably sell it even if the seats were covered in spikes. But the latest Accord definitely earns its reputation.
The last redesign added some zest to the Accord, which is known for being both incredibly competent and somewhat dull. The current model borrows styling cues from the smaller Honda Civic, giving it a more stylish appearance that won’t offend buyers who just want to blend in with traffic. Honda also increased rear legroom and trunk space.
Drivers will find plenty to like, too. The Accord is one of the few midsize sedans still available with a manual transmission, and you can pair that six-speed stick with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine from the Civic Type R (base models get a 1.5-liter turbo four). You don’t get as much power (just 192 horsepower, down from 306 hp in the Type R), but the Accord can definitely get out of its own way and take corners with poise.
The Accord also represents a good tech value. Every Accord trim level includes the Honda Sensing suite of safety features (forward collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and traffic sign recognition), as well as a backup camera. A 7-inch touchscreen display is standard; an 8.0-inch unit with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is optional.
The best electric sedan: Tesla Model 3
Why should you buy this? It’s the first EV to deliver on the promise of a high range and a low(ish) price.
Who’s it for? Tesla fans with smaller budgets and drivers ready to take the all-electric plunge.
How much will it cost? $39,900+
Why we picked the Tesla Model 3:
The most exciting vehicle on the market isn’t a million-dollar supercar, a broad-shouldered truck, or a seven-passenger SUV. No, the car the world can’t wait to drive is an all-electric sedan from a startup automaker called Tesla.
Modestly stylish on the outside, luxurious on the inside, surprisingly fun to drive, and available with up to 310 miles of range, the Tesla Model 3 checks all the right boxes. But that’s just the beginning. Where the Model 3 truly impresses is its innovative convenience and safety features (including some of the industry’s best semi-autonomous driving aids) and future-proofed technology. Thanks to Tesla’s over-the-air updates, the Model 3 is always improving, and can be reconfigured according to your needs and wants — even after you buy the car.
Tesla may be experiencing the growing pains most mainstream automakers have long overcome, and the Model 3 hasn’t been immune from quality-related problems, but the tech startup has much to teach the automotive industry about how to build a compelling product. Though it may be a while before your Model 3 order is fulfilled, we can assure you this one is worth the wait.
The best coupe: Ford Mustang
Why should you buy this: It’s an American legend that lives up to the hype.
Who’s it for: Anyone who has seen Bullitt.
How much will it cost: $26,670+
Why we picked the Ford Mustang:
The Ford Mustang is an icon, but that doesn’t mean every version of it has been a good car to buy. That is the case with this one, though. Introduced for the 2015 model year and significantly refreshed for the 2018 model year, the current-generation Mustang has the spirit of the 1960s original, but also has what it takes to be a standout performance coupe in the 21st century.
Mustangs have always been good at driving fast in a straight line, but Ford added cornering to the current generation’s resume by adding independent rear suspension (with adaptive dampers as part of the optional Performance Pack), and creating the hardcore, track-focused Shelby GT350, GT350R, and GT500 variants. On the tech front, Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is a major improvement over the automaker’s earlier efforts, and a 12-inch digital instrument cluster is on the options list. There’s also a Bullitt edition inspired by the 1968 Mustang GT from the iconic Steve McQueen movie with a 5.0-liter V8 engine.
A real Mustang needs V8 muscle, and Ford doesn’t disappoint. The Mustang GT puts out 460 horsepower, the Bullitt bumps output to 480 hp, and the Shelby GT500 tops them all at 760 horsepower. On the other end of the spectrum, Ford offers a 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that gets a good-for-a-muscle-car 25 mpg combined, and still churns out 310 horsepower.
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