Editor’s Note: Autotrader’s Must Test Drive accolade marked its final year in 2018. Starting in 2019 we introduced an all new accolade — Autotrader’s list of 12 Best New Cars for 2019
We’ve spent a year road-testing just about every new model on the market in basically every driving condition, from off-roading to kid-hauling duty — and now it’s time to publish our annual list of cars you absolutely must check out before buying a new car this year. These are our 12 “Must Test Drive” vehicles of 2018.
Choosing the vehicles for this list is never easy. We drive basically everything, and many new cars are excellent — but this list includes only our favorites; essentially, the cars we really feel you need to drive before buying or leasing any competitor. When choosing these cars, we have a few important items in mind. For instance, each car on this list must be available for $75,000 or less in its base trim, and each of our choices must have been available for our editorial team and staff to drive by March 1, 2018.
Each member of our team rated the vehicles on a wide variety of criteria, including interior comfort and materials, available tech features and ride quality. To be considered for our list, a vehicle had to earn an average score of 3.5 or higher on our 5-point assessment scale. And we decided no car would make the list unless it was agreed upon unanimously by the entire editorial team.
But the most important item for consideration is that every car on our list of “Must Test Drive” vehicles has to have some unexpected benefit or feature that changes the way you’d think of the car or brand in question. Simply retooling the sheetmetal of an older model isn’t good enough for us; if a car appears on our list, it means it has something special that separates it from the competition.
With all that in mind, here’s our list of the new 2018 cars you simply must test-drive — along with commentary from our executive editor Brian Moody, managing editor Tara Trompeter, automotive data manager Ben Cheney, content specialists Dwight Cunningham and Tommy Flanagan and associate editor Rob Nestora.
2018 Buick Regal TourX
The Buick Regal TourX is a midsize station wagon with all-wheel drive. That may not sound so enticing, but the TourX is one of the first real competitors to the Subaru Outback — and we were impressed with virtually every aspect of it. “If there’s a chance for wagons to come back in the U.S., this vehicle will start the revolution,” noted Dwight. And, indeed, not only does the TourX combine crossover or SUV cargo capacity with a carlike driving experience, but it also boasts excellent fuel economy (21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway) despite a potent 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. But it’s more than numbers: “The Regal TourX is shockingly fun to drive,” said Brian, who further described it as “a standout and a car that will change America’s perception of the entire Buick brand.” If you’re looking for an alternative to the typical midsize crossover, this is a good one, with a reasonable starting price of around $30,000. Find a Buick Regal TourX for sale Find a Buick Regal Tour X for sale
2018 Chevy Colorado ZR2
The Chevy Colorado ZR2 combines the easy-to-handle dimensions of a midsize pickup truck with the cool off-road capabilities some shoppers need — or at least the capabilities they say they need, even if they just plan to mostly use their truck in the city. Yet the ZR2 manages both, with Dwight noting that “for a serious off-roader, the ZR2 handles city driving with the ease of a nice sedan.” Of course, with that said, the ZR2 still accomplishes its purpose quite well; Ben notes the ZR2 is “a true off-road machine,” while Rob says it’s “rugged and ready for almost anything you can throw at it.” Although the Colorado ZR2 can be pricey, with a starting MSRP of around $41,000 with shipping, Brian sums it up best: “Nearly everyone shopping for a small truck thinks they want a Toyota Tacoma, but this proves there are credible alternatives.” Find a Chevrolet Colorado for sale
2018 Honda Accord
The latest Honda Accord is simply the best-ever version of the popular midsize sedan. While you might be tricked into thinking it’s just a refreshed Accord with some more features, you’re wrong; as Tara says, “The 2018 Accord is different from the previous generation in every way that counts, easily setting the bar for the segment.” Of course, the styling is different, and there’s more available equipment — but big news for the 2018 Accord is the fuel economy, which now reaches as high as 30 mpg city/38 mpg hwy, which is a level previously thought only achievable if you bought a compact or subcompact car. Rob calls it “a grown-up car that’s both attractive and smart,” while Brian notes the new Accord hints at “a luxury experience without denying the practicality Honda Accord owners are known for.” Find a Honda Accord for sale
2018 Jeep Wrangler
The latest Jeep Wrangler is an excellent SUV — and while it looks fairly similar to the outgoing model, serious shoppers will notice the big differences. There is, for instance, a new turbocharged 4-cylinder powertrain, which will improve fuel economy, along with a revised interior that’s dramatically more comfortable than the outgoing model’s cabin. Then there’s the top — or, should we say, tops, as there are many different options, all of which are easier to remove and install than the tops in prior models. Dwight summed up the Wrangler in one sentence, noting it “provides everything you know and love, plus a modernized and well-appointed interior” — and it does so with a fairly small price jump, as it starts at a reasonably affordable $28,500 with shipping. It’s an American icon, and changes for the 2018 model year will ensure it stays that way. Find a Jeep Wrangler for sale
2018 Kia Stinger
The Kia Stinger is a rear- or all-wheel-drive turbocharged performance sedan from … Kia. It’s a shock for anyone who’s spent much time in an Infiniti Q50 or Lexus GS, as the Stinger doesn’t seem too far removed from those vehicles — except, you know, it’s a Kia. Said Brian, “Once you get over the shock that you’re driving a Kia, you’re left with a very good, very attractive sport sedan.” Tara echoed the sentiment, noting “the Stinger looks GOOD” and predicting “this sport sedan will definitely change the way you think about Kias in general.” And we’re not just talking about the top-level Stinger GT, which starts around $39,400 and features a muscular 365 hp. Even the base-level Stinger, with its $33,000 starting price and 255 hp, is a potent vehicle with excellent performance and a high-quality interior. As Rob put it: “It’s fast. It’s striking. It’s luxurious. It’s practical. It needs to be in my driveway.” Find a Kia Stinger for sale
2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar
The Range Rover Velar is absolutely gorgeous, whether you’re looking at it from the inside or the outside. The exterior styling is handsome and sleek, and the interior is modern and top-quality — and we like the high-tech center screen, though diehard traditionalists will decry it as overly complicated. Brian called it “one of the most attractive cars available today at any price,” and surprisingly, the price isn’t that high: It starts around $51,000 with shipping, which is a decent value for such a desirable vehicle. As Brian further commented, “This is one of the few luxury vehicles where I can actually see and feel exactly where the money was spent,” while Dwight noted that “daring exterior styling and an elegant interior make it a standout in Land Rover’s lineup.” Find a Land Rover Range Rover Velar for sale
2018 Lincoln Navigator
The latest Lincoln Navigator is the best version yet of the full-size luxury SUV — and it may just be the best full-size luxury SUV available today. As Brian said, it’s a “giant leap forward” from the outgoing Navigator, and “the colors and textures inside are well beyond anything we’ve experienced in any Navigator before.” And he’s right. Sure, the Navigator is more expensive than the outgoing model, with a starting price of around $73,000 with shipping, but it’s also absolutely gorgeous. Meanwhile, although the powertrain is “only” a V6, it makes a healthy 450 hp and never seems to be wanting for power. Tara called it “the ultimate in family-hauling luxury,” while Dwight noted that the Navigator’s impressive presence, build quality and press coverage “reminds everyone that there’s still room for large SUVs on the market.” Find a Lincoln Navigator for sale
2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe may not be the most exciting 2-door model in the Mercedes-Benz range, but it’s one of the most elegant and graceful. With a starting price of around $60,000 with shipping, the E-Class Coupe is, as Brian says, “the best grand tourer available for the price,” further noting the car “is the epitome of understated elegance,” with an exterior that “isn’t garish or flashy.” And while the E-Class Coupe is certainly pricey, especially as you add options, several of our staffers noted that climbing inside the car feels like getting inside the more expensive Mercedes-Benz S-Class — high praise for the midlevel E-Class. It’s an excellent car with excellent performance, touting a 329-hp turbocharged V6 that pushes it from zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds. Find a Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe for sale
2018 Nissan Leaf
The latest Nissan Leaf is a big leap forward over the old model, and it now provides an excellent value in its segment. Boasting an impressive range of 151 miles and a reasonable starting price of around $31,000 with shipping (but before incentives, which can be substantial), the Leaf is a huge leap forward in the electric-vehicle realm. Brian notes that it doesn’t have the longest range for an EV, “but it perfectly balances range and price” — a good point, considering the Chevy Bolt boasts an impressive 238-mile range but a pricey MSRP that starts just under $38,000 with shipping. Tara notes the extended range “seriously eliminates range anxiety” while also complimenting the car’s highly improved interior and “loads of awesome tech and safety features.” Find a Nissan Leaf for sale
2018 Subaru Crosstrek
As Brian notes: “Every Subaru has this fun quality that can’t be explained by just facts and figures.” Sure, the new Crosstrek looks good on paper, boasting a reasonable starting price of around $22,800 and excellent fuel economy figures of up to 27 mpg city/33 mpg hwy — but it also has the characteristic Subaru look and feel, which seems to entice young, active car shoppers. Rob notes that it’s a “plucky compact crossover that offers all the things we love about the Impreza, with off-road chops to boot” — and, indeed, maybe that’s why we like it so much, as it’s basically a carlike wagon with standard all-wheel drive and a little more ground clearance for when the going gets tough. Find a Subaru Crosstrek for sale
2018 Toyota Camry
The latest Toyota Camry offers major changes from prior models — a difficult feat, considering prior models were pretty impressive. It also expands the Camry brand into some different realms, including sportiness — something Toyota has tried to do before and failed. Brian calls it a “Camry with attitude,” and notes the car won him over after some initial skepticism over whether Toyota could really create a sporty Camry; Tara says “Toyota is taking risks, and we like it.” Admittedly, the new Camry isn’t just sporty and bold — it’s also still the same reliable, roomy sedan that’s always been highly popular in the United States, and it’s priced reasonably to compete with rivals, with a starting price of around $24,500. But it just happens to be a little more enticing than prior versions. Find a Toyota Camry for sale
2018 Volvo XC60
The new Volvo XC60 delivers Volvo’s impressive interior and technology to a completely new segment, scaling down the same stunning cabin from the popular XC90 into a more affordable package. Indeed, the XC60 is a huge upgrade from the outgoing model, but without a significant price jump, as it starts from around $42,000 with shipping. As Tara says, “the XC60 is the total package, from its good looks to its fantastic infotainment system and seemingly endless safety and tech features.” Ben says it’s “every bit as nice as an XC90, just in a smaller package,” while Brian says it’s “simply an excellent luxury SUV that manages to reinvent and, at the same time, reinforce Volvo stereotypes.” Find a Volvo XC60 for sale