2018 Automobile All-Stars: The Winners

So good was the assembly of machines at our 2018 All-Stars competition that our editors at one point stood atop Mount Charleston, soaked in the introspection-inspiring views, and mumbled something about naming every car present an official All-Star, and it wasn’t the thin mountain air talking. We can’t be more clear about this: To receive an invitation to our annual shootout, culled from an initial list of dozens more, always means a car is massively impressive and already a winner worthy of recognition. This year more than ever, there are absolutely no losers in this group.

As always, our formula is simple: no price caps, no categories, and no convoluted point-scoring rules. We pride ourselves on being this industry’s most straightforward awards shootout: The vehicles that spark the most passion, inspire the biggest grins, and deliver an experience as true to their original intent as possible inevitably walk away with an All-Stars trophy.

Is it raw speed that matters most? Physics-defying handling? World-class interior appointments? Those things all count, but this isn’t just a numbers game. It’s a soul-searching quest to identify cars that stir emotions, achievable only by driving them and, more critically, feeling them, hearing them, even smelling them. Because oftentimes the most important elements to dedicated car enthusiasts aren’t apparent on a stopwatch, a dyno, or a score sheet but only through the heart.

This year was among the most difficult evaluations in the history of our event. Compelling arguments were made for far more than the eight vehicles we ultimately chose as the 2018 All-Stars, but when the votes came in, this group stood just high enough above the rest to make the top step of the podium.

2018 McLaren 720

After Every Drive You’ll Expect a Checkered Flag

“A single-seat race car for the road.” That’s the takeaway a lot of us shared after exiting this sizzling McLaren’s form-fitting driver’s seat—once we were able to catch our collective breath, that is. More than any other car in this year’s formidable All-Stars field, the 720S left everyone who drove it gobsmacked, speed-struck, and, frankly, in need of a little quiet time.

“From 100 to 160 mph, it made the Lambo and the Ford GT feel positively wheezy,” gushed our resident hot shoe, Andy Pilgrim, after lapping the Speedvegas circuit. Contributor Marc Noordeloos agreed: “I can’t remember the last time I drove a car this fast. Wow.” Let it be noted that both of those guys spend a lot of time in seriously quick machinery. Then again, such is the giddiness that erupts when you drive a vehicle that can sprint to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds and blitz to a top end of 212 mph. (Fittingly, this track-day predator wears bodywork inspired by the beautifully menacing shape of the great white shark.)

One of the most successful Formula 1 teams of all time, McLaren has notched 12 world drivers’ championships and eight constructors’ titles since its first F1 race in 1966. The company knows a thing or three about speed. That’s evident the moment you slide behind the wheel of the 720S: That same race-bred character is evident in its every molecule, integral to its visceral, purebred purpose. The tub, the windshield surround, and much of the greenhouse are crafted in lightweight, super-rigid carbon fiber. (McLaren claims the new structure—dubbed Monocage II—cuts 40 pounds off the outgoing 650S’ monocoque.) The cockpit is a pilot-focused workspace of premium leather, deep racing buckets, and minimal controls. The view to the front, enhanced by notably thin A-pillars, is nothing short of breathtaking—like riding in the nose turret of a B-17 or, yes, in the open cockpit of a Grand Prix car.

The engine lies right behind you, and what a monumental piece of work it is. Twin turbos and 32 valves feeding 4.0 liters of V-8 displacement, all tweaked and tuned to produce 710 horsepower at a screaming 7,500 rpm. Mind you, that’s 79 horsepower more than the already volcanic Lamborghini Huracán Performante. Add such muscle to the 720S’ light touch on the scales—it weighs less than 3,200 pounds—and you have performance that leaves even veteran auto journalists laughing in disbelief.

The McLaren’s suspension redefines handling brilliance. Outfitted with Proactive Chassis Control II—which continuously monitors driving conditions and automatically adjusts chassis dynamics—plus driver-adjustable modes (including a new Comfort setting) and huge, sticky Pirelli P Zero tires, the 720S delivers both blistering responsiveness on the race circuit and supreme civility on the road. “Precise, linear electrohydraulic steering tells you exactly what the car is doing,” Noordeloos said. “Amazing and rewarding on both the track and the road.” Design editor Robert Cumberford concurred. “Suspension is superb, for handling and for comfort,” he said. The 720S is one of those exceedingly rare sporting machines that truly becomes one with its driver. You wear the car like a wet suit, and through that fine skin you feel every tickle of the road, easily sense the grip of the tires, instinctively grasp the approaching limit. The 720S is better than you are—and in turn wrings the best out of you. Few cars of such extreme capability are so reassuring to push hard.

Quibbles? Nothing significant in a car like this. “You need to be a contortionist to get in and skilled at sleight of hand to buckle the safety belts,” Cumberford grumbled. Noordeloos complained about the touchscreen, noting that many often-needed functions—normally operated by cockpit switches or buttons—are buried deep in the system. Also, the McLaren’s standard carbon-ceramic brakes are touchy and take some time to adjust to, though there’s no doubt about their staggering stopping power.

Those are trifles compared with the incomparable driving experience the 720S delivers. Social media editor Billy Rehbock summed up the McLaren’s All-Stars win best: “It’s almost unbelievable how many boxes the 720S ticks. Supercar styling, power, handling, drivability. One of the wildest cars I’ve ever driven. I wanted more the minute I got out.”

—Arthur St. Antoine

2018 McLaren 720S Specifications

PRICE $288,845/$378,215 (base/as tested)
ENGIN 4.0L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8/710 hp @ 7,500 rpm, 568 lb-ft @ 5,500
TRANSMISSION  7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 15/22 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 178.9 x 76.0 x 47.1 in
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
WEIGHT 3,150 lb
0-60 MPH 2.5 sec
TOP SPEED 212 mph

2017 Ford GT

Who Says Racing Doesn’t Matter?

Road racing’s popularity in the United States is a long way removed from its all-time high decades ago, and that’s a real shame in our collective opinion. It’s also a bit bizarre when you consider how many sports cars and supercars this country’s affluent purchasers snap up annually—cars that produce their astounding performance thanks to technologies and engineering lessons learned on racetracks around the globe. Regardless of whether you’re a race fan, the good news for enthusiasts is that manufacturers continue to push the motorsports envelope, leading to ever more impressive offerings for the street.

Make no mistake, Ford’s latest GT is a modern homologation special created first and foremost to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a feat it accomplished in 2016. Its competition-bred roots are apparent immediately in the road-going version—but not everyone appreciates them right away. Some of our staff even initially declared the car a bit of a disappointment, relatively speaking, on the street, as the dual-clutch gearbox isn’t as slick and smooth as some others on the market. And although the twin-turbo EcoBoost’s 647 horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque are nothing to mock, neither do they make the GT as brain-bendingly quick as something like the McLaren 720S. Of course, that really says more about the amazing state of the performance car world when a machine capable of running from 0 to 60 mph in a tick less than three seconds is no longer automatically considered mind-blowing in the acceleration department.

The car’s carbon-fiber monocoque construction is a piece of race-proven hardware, but simultaneously the no-frills cockpit’s motorsports-influenced design and trim give you a bit of that old kit-car feeling. But we knew from our experience driving the GT last year that initial impressions don’t tell anywhere close to the full story. As Noordeloos noted while making it clear the GT didn’t blow him away on the street, “It feels like it’s dying to go to the track.”

Some of us smiled knowingly, as once the GT hit the Speedvegas road course, any lingering doubts about it disintegrated within the first lap or two. Suddenly the engine that sounded a bit agricultural at low rpms on the street began to spit and hiss all manner of turbo and induction sounds, snorting, popping, and screaming its way through corners faster than anything else on site as its monster midrange torque proved massively impressive. Previous grumbles from taller drivers about a lack of headroom disappeared as they suddenly and happily found a way to shoehorn their helmet-clad skulls into the left seat, grinning the entire time. The GT’s steering, braking, and suspension setup are all phenomenal, allowing you to attack apex curbs with an aggressive I-will-own-you style that seemingly rewards drivers more the harder they push.

On top of all the mechanical goodness, the more experienced and skilled drivers among us repeatedly mentioned the GT’s aerodynamic performance. “Without doubt it has the most downforce and generates the most lateral g’s on the track, especially when using the suspension in the ultra-low Track mode,” Pilgrim said. “It’s definitely the best-handling car in the field.” Indeed, where other cars required a throttle lift to make it through certain sections of the circuit, the GT dug in and rocketed itself off of corners with no issues. The chassis balance and grip it provided in Speedvegas’s quicker turns—none of which qualify as truly high-speed—and the corresponding confidence it inspired had several of us dreaming about running the car somewhere more wide open, like Road America or Road Atlanta or Spa-Francorchamps.

So then, the 2017 Ford GT proved itself as one of the best, most track-capable production cars of all time, which led to our stable of drivers rethinking its character on the road as well. It won’t feel familiar to drivers of Porsches and Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as its overall design philosophy is far more results-based than comfort- and luxury-oriented. In other words, exactly what Ford Performance intended from the outset. As a group, we were wholly unprepared for this car’s capabilities. It’s a zero-compromises speed master, and if you drive it, you don’t have to give two cents of a care about road racing—but you’ll understand instantly why it still matters. This is easily one of the most intriguing cars of the past decade and then some. After all, almost no one builds them like this anymore.

—Mac Morrison

2017 Ford GT Specifications

PRICE $450,000 (base)
ENGINE 3.5L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/647 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 550 lb-ft @ 5,900 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 11/18 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 187.5 x 78.9 x 43.7 in (41.7 in low mode)
WHEELBASE 106.7 in
WEIGHT 3,354 lb
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 216 mph

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS

From Out of Nowhere

The amusing thing is, we didn’t plan to invite the 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS to this year’s edition of All-Stars. We wanted the latest GT3 and believed we had it locked in. But a ripple in Porsche’s test-vehicle pool meant the car originally earmarked for our evaluation was sent packing back to the mother ship in Germany, leaving us empty-handed.

“But wait,” Porsche Cars North America inquired. “Would you like us to send the new GTS?” We looked at each other for a brief moment, huddled together, and reviewed this 911’s case for attending. We remembered how we laughed last year when we realized this 450-horsepower, turbocharged, rear-drive Carrera is much faster than the turbocharged, rear-drive 993 GT2 of the 1990s, a car that collectors have recently paid millions for. We considered the fact Porsche positions the GTS between the standard Carrera and the “real” 911 Turbo without being as hard-edged as the GT3. “You know,” one of our staffers whispered, “this might be the best 911 Porsche builds right now. Possibly?” Hmmmm. So we picked up the phone and dialed PCNA in Atlanta. “About that GTS … ”

Another funny thing: Halfway through our All-Stars program, you would have thought no one was paying attention to this white coupe. The GTS uses larger turbochargers and a little more boost than the Carrera S, giving it an additional 30 horsepower and 37 lb-ft of torque in comparison. It comes standard with Sport Chrono and the different drive settings the package includes. Dual-clutch-equipped versions such as this one also feature Porsche’s Sport Response “push-to-pass” instant-power button on the steering wheel. Then there is a sport exhaust combined with less sound deadening to turn up the volume, plus those cool center-lock wheels. Not to mention a lower sport suspension setup (optional on Carrera S) and the mean-looking wide-body shell everyone loves on the Carrera 4; this and the GT3 are the only rear-drive 911s to receive it. Additionally, this test car came well-equipped to the fight, carrying both the optional carbon-ceramic brake and rear-wheel-steering packages, as well as Porsche’s active anti-roll bar setup.

Yet for the first day or two, little was said about the GTS as our drivers ran it up and down Mount Charleston. The same proved true at Speedvegas. For some bizarre, unspoken reason, our drivers appeared to have struck a deal to keep whatever excellence they found in the GTS to themselves. Yet when the final discussions and voting for this year’s All-Stars began, the floodgate of positivity burst open.

“This car cannot be faulted and may in fact be the best-value, all-around street-oriented 911 sports car option,” Pilgrim declared. “Sick brakes, too.” OK, no one ever rolls up to another car at a stoplight, looks over, and challenges, “I bet I can outbrake you,” but his point was well taken: The GTS does everything well. Some felt the active anti-roll bars were overkill, perhaps diluting some of the chassis feel, but more members of our team could not have cared less. “This is some of the best steering on the planet, a chassis that’s hardwired to your backside, brakes that never say ‘uncle,’ and speed you literally have to see on the speedo to believe,” editor-at-large Arthur St. Antoine said. “And the thing just reeks of quality. Probably the best all-around 911 ever.”

Amazingly for our group of wags, those sentiments were almost unanimous, making the GTS a clear All-Star. Everything about this Carrera whispers balance, the kind that makes it a joy to drive even moderately fast. “Porsche’s decades of refinements come through perhaps most clearly in this model, which provides just enough edge without abusing or overstaying its welcome,” contributor Basem Wasef concluded. “Short jaunt or long road trip, the GTS is equally adept at either.” No one was compelled to argue with him.

Does that make it the best new 911 available? With no less than 23 911s to choose from, a formula for almost anyone’s taste, it’s impossible to unequivocally hand the Carrera GTS that title. But we’ll be hard-pressed to debate for long with anyone who reaches such a conclusion. As for why our crew kept its praise to itself until the end of our All-Stars event? The only explanation we’ve come up with says that after countless combined years behind the wheel of 911s, no one expected anything less.

—Mac Morrison

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS Specifications

PRICE  $120,050/$151,995
ENGINE  3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6/450 hp@ 6,500 rpm, 405 lb-ft @ 2,150-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION  7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT  2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE  20/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H  178.3 x 77.9 x 51.0 in
WHEELBASE  96.5 in
WEIGHT  3,241 lb
0-60 MPH  3.5 sec
TOP SPEED  192 mph

2018 Honda Civic Type R

The Show Stealer

The Honda Civic Type R sets an astonishingly high benchmark in the performance-per-dollar category, and it easily stole many hearts and minds at this year’s All-Stars shootout.

In my experience coming from the racing side of the automotive business, it is not normal to find a gaggle of journalists waxing lyrical about a vehicle that costs less than $35,000, especially when they have access to a bucket full of supercar keys and the green light on a racetrack. Proving the point: Out of the 26 vehicles at this year’s All-Stars event, the Type R was the only one picked by every single contributor as part of their top-10 list. St. Antoine confirmed, “Hands-down the No. 1 All-Star at this contest.” Online editor Ed Tahaney added, “A real-deal, six-speed pocket rocket and a serious bargain.”

No surprise, the Type R’s styling inspires people to passionately join warring camps. Design guru Cumberford critiqued it as “the perfect daily driver for an enthusiast, a truly excellent, pleasingly fast, good-handling car spoiled by its exterior.” Rehbock countered, “You’ll forget about the goofy looks, which I’ve come to love, the minute you step on the pedal, bang through the excellent manual transmission, or tear through a corner.” A pragmatic retort from Tahaney said, “Total All-Star! Get over the looks already.” From my perspective, I don’t hear many negative opinions expressed about the arguably silly-for-the-street, winged appearance of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS or a Mercedes-AMG GT R. Apparently the Type R’s World Touring Car looks don’t rate highly. Maybe if Honda charged $150,000 for it, some folks might like it better.

Move past that debate, though, and there was universal agreement about anything associated with the Type R’s performance. The Honda-developed seats are very comfortable and supportive for everyday street driving and track use. The steering wheel and pedals are well-placed, providing excellent usability. Seat adjustment is manual; we had no issues finding a perfect driving position.

The engine pulls hard enough to make you think this Civic has more than 306 horsepower. Amazingly, it exhibits zero torque steer under full acceleration, thanks to its brilliant dual-axis strut suspension up front. The engine/induction/turbo sound inside the cabin is most pleasing in Race mode, but even then it’s still pretty quiet and not as racy-sounding as, say, the Ford Focus RS.

The brakes are superb and exhibited no fade while lapping at full-tilt speeds in the process of trying (and managing) to lose a well-driven 603-horsepower Mercedes-AMG E63 S. Talk about an overachiever. The Type R’s handling is so well-sorted that I’m not sure I’ve ever driven a better-handling street car on a track right out of the box, not counting far more exotic models that usually have a starting price four to five times greater than the Honda’s.

The six-speed manual gearbox is brilliant. The shift gates are spaced perfectly, and it’s easy to shift ridiculously fast. I only heard praises for this wonderful transmission from our judges at All-Stars, and not a single grind was heard on street or track.

I used the most comfortable settings most of the time while driving on the road. This nicely softens the suspension and the throttle response, effectively turning the R into a compliant and economical daily commuter. (I saw better than 34 mpg during one 90-minute run.) Wasef summed it up best, praising “a delightfully revvy powerplant, nimble handling that belies its front-drive configuration, and a driver-focused demeanor that begs for apex hunting.”

When it comes to real-world performance on today’s roads, the Type R delivers about as much fun as we would ever want or can reasonably use. On a track, the R will ably punch above its weight, and it’s no stretch to put it in the same driver-satisfaction category as the Porsche 718 Cayman S, a major compliment. The Honda Civic Type R is a practical rocket ship, an incredible value, and a most worthy All-Star.

—Andy Pilgrim

2018 Honda Civic Type R Specifications

PRICE $34,775/$34,775 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4/306 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 22/28 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 179.4 x 73.9 x 56.5 in
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
WEIGHT 3,106 lb
0-60 MPH 5.4 sec
TOP SPEED 170 mph

2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R

Monstrously Quick, Monstrously Rewarding, Monstrously Easy

I tested a Mercedes-AMG GT3 race car about a year ago and excitedly anticipated the chance to drive the street version, the AMG GT R, ever since then. Somehow, I managed to not drive it on the road before our All-Stars track day at Speedvegas. So when the track opened, I was strapped in and ready to roll despite temperatures in the low 30s.

In a real racing environment, cold temperatures and wide, low-profile tires can make for some wicked entertainment, and that was my initial situation with the GT R. I wrestled with it for three full laps before I got even a little help from the frozen tires. By that time, my passenger, who had mistakenly jumped in the car right before I set off, was about to recycle their breakfast and was turning purple. I pitted and wrote in my notepad, “This car is not for herbivores. Driving it makes you crave raw meat!”

Emotion seems to erupt around this car. Upon exiting it, St. Antoine exclaimed, “Holy Mother of Affalterbach! With that long hood and all that V-8 up front, I never expected this brute to turn in like Baryshnikov. But it does. Brilliant on its feet!” Rehbock echoed, “Holy hell is this thing good!” Executive editor Mac Morrison climbed out, stared at the GT R hard for a good 10 seconds, and performed a little head shake. “I’m absolutely blown away not only by how well this car handles and attacks this racetrack but also by how easy it is to drive quickly and aggressively,” he said. “This is one of my favorite cars in years.”

Later in the day, temperatures warmed up a bit, so I grabbed another run. The driver setup is excellent in terms of pedals, steering wheel placement, and a well-bolstered driver’s seat. It is a superb driver’s office and extremely comfortable.

The engine makes 577 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, sending it all to the huge 325/30R-20 rear tires in a flash, pulling hard all the way to redline in a most unturbolike way. The sensation of unrelenting acceleration is aided by a brilliant dual-clutch gearbox, which I felt shifted as quickly as the latest Porsche PDK. The brakes are exactly what you would expect from a car like this, superbly effective with loads of feel. Engine sound is a growling V-8 rumble that is a little reminiscent of old American big-blocks to my ears.

The GT R’s on-track performance makes it just as much fun as, perhaps even more than, every other high-priced supercar we had at our disposal. Frankly, it was kind of ridiculous how late I could leave my braking and then how I could—while still trailing the brakes heavily—almost violently rotate the R into an apex then immediately get back to the gas with almost zero steady-state throttle time. The excellent traction control allows as much power to the tires as they can take while still pulling massive cornering loads. Nothing but impressive.

Later I found something interesting in my notes to possibly explain why I and others felt so comfortable aggressively manipulating the 577-horsepower R through every turn. “I think the long hood, a more rear-placed driver position, and a superbly connected steering feel combine to give a unique driver perspective out the windshield. It felt like I had extra time to get the car sorted on turn-in, almost like changes were in slow motion. This perspective also seemed to give me a really early indication of when the car was even thinking about getting out of shape.” The result was immediate trust and confidence driving the GT R at the limit. I wasn’t the only one. As Tahaney declared with enthusiasm, “Oh my God, it’ll make a rock star out of anyone—even me.”

Cabin controls are typical Mercedes quality, and the infotainment system seemed a little more user-friendly than most. Cabin noise was surprisingly quiet, especially when compared to most of the other quick cars we had rolling on huge rubber. There is an impressive amount of storage room in the GT R as well. The rear trunk is plenty big enough for a couple of sets of golf clubs and bags for the weekend. This all adds nicely to the car’s case for being a great daily driver, too.

The GT R might be the best example of brute force with no ignorance I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. Now all many of us can think about is, when do we get to have another go?

—Andy Pilgrim

2018 Mercedes-AMG GT R Specifications

PRICE  $157,995/$187,345 (base/as tested)
ENGINE  4.0L DOHC 32-valve twin-turbo V-8/577 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION  7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT  2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE  15/20 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H  179.0 x 79.0 x 50.6 in
WHEELBASE  103.5 in
WEIGHT  3,650 lb
0-60 MPH  3.3 sec
TOP SPEED  198 mph

2018 Lexus LC 500

Putting the LC Into GT

When the Lexus LF-LC concept—the car that would become the LC 500—rolled onto the floor of the 2012 North American International Auto Show, the buzz was louder than a beehive after being whacked like a piñata. Sure, Lexus had built the LFA, but that was a V-10-powered, carbon-fiber-clad, relatively unobtainable supercar—and it wasn’t exactly gorgeous.

Styled in Southern California by the company’s Calty studio, the LF-LC presaged a decidedly more attainable flagship coupe wearing what was the most expressive version yet of the brand’s now-ubiquitous spindle grille and L-shaped headlamp styling cues. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda wanted to bring some sexy to Lexus, and the Calty team didn’t disappoint the boss.

Although it took some time for the LC to make it to production, the end result was a dead ringer for the concept on the outside. Not that anyone complained about that, including our own Cumberford. While he picked some nits with the design as a whole, Cumberford lauded its proportions in our previous issue (“that stance tho,” in today’s parlance).

“Amazing looks that cause everyone to gawk,” remarked features editor Rory Jurnecka of the Infrared-sprayed LC with a carbon-fiber roof we tested. Even those of us who aren’t fans of the Lexus mug begrudgingly gave it some props. “The ugly Lexus nose works on the LC much better than on its other products,” Noordeloos said.

Praise was more universal for its lavishly appointed cabin. “The LC 500’s interior feels like a Gucci by Tom Ford spaceship teleported from the 1970s,” Wasef opined. In typical GT style, you’re not going to fit any adults in the rear seats, but the kiddos would be fine back there, as would some gear for a long weekend. The front seats are eminently comfortable for extended journeys while also being snug enough for more aggressive driving—at least the Alcantara-swathed buckets that were part of the test car’s optional $5,960 Performance package. About the only demerit anyone issued was for the Lexus haptic touchpad and controller setup, which, like the grille, is an acquired taste.

Dynamically, the LC 500 is a car you need to put into context. Again, this is a GT, not a balls-to-the-wall, track-attacking super sports coupe, though we bet an F version could be if Lexus develops one. (LC race cars have already competed and won in Japan’s Super GT series.) Lexus is one of the few carmakers left that offers models with a naturally aspirated V-8, in this case a 5.0-liter unit with 471 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque hooked up to a 10-speed automatic with magnesium paddle shifters. (A greener LC 500h featuring a 3.5-liter V-6 with 354 total hybrid system horsepower is also available.)

The V-8 won’t send anyone to the chiropractor after you put your foot to the floor, but it’s no slouch cowering in the corner, either. It sounds downright mean at times. Throw it into Sport+ mode, and the LC predictably sharpens up. Its active rear-steer feature (also part of the Performance package) helped keep what is a relatively heavy car lapping pretty well on the track.

“It makes nice noises, especially the blip on downshifts—pure race car,” Pilgrim said. “Solid, predictable handling on the street, and it’s not bad on the track considering its mass.”

A couple of editors had some issues with the steering feel near its limits, but the open road is where the LC will do most of its roaming and where it does its best work. At 92 large to start, this car will not sell in bulk. Rather, this is a coupe that wears the crown, a car that Mr. Toyoda can point to and say the team nailed the brief.

“The LC 500 is a halo product Lexus should be proud of,” contributor Chris Nelson said. “The grand tourer has animated styling, exemplary fit and finish, and lavish trim with a tactile feel. On the highway, it’s effortless and heavenly.” It’s also a car we’re proud to call a 2018 All-Star.

—Mike Floyd

2018 Lexus LC 500 Specifications

PRICE  $92,995/$105,710 (base/as tested)
ENGINE  5.0L DOHC 32-valve V-8/471 hp @ 7,100 rpm, 398 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION  10-speed automatic
LAYOUT  2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE  19/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H  187.4 x 75.6 x 53.0 in
WHEELBASE  113.0 in
WEIGHT  4,280 lb
0-60 MPH  4.4 sec
TOP SPEED  168 mph

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design

We’re Still Smitten With an Old-School Segment

Anyone older than 40 remembers a day when there were more wagons on the road than high-riding SUVs and crossovers. Sadly, that day has come and gone, and no matter how much we want it to, there will never be a Cinderella-story comeback. Dead segment driving, you might say.

Thankfully there are still a few companies keeping the fading wagon dream alive here in America—chief among them Volvo. And in case you hadn’t noticed, we love us some Volvos. The V90 wagon’s S90 sedan sibling scored a Daily Double last year as our Design of the Year and a 2017 All-Star. It’s pretty simple why: The new Volvos are that good.

To clarify, there are two flavors of the V90, the straight-up wagon New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman and friends drove to South Carolina and back as part of our January 2018 issue and the V90 Cross Country, a slightly cladded and lifted version Volvo can better market as a crossover alternative (because of course). As Kitman pointed out, the non-Cross Country V90 is only available for special order, so you really have to want one to get one. We wanted, and we went with a V90 T6 AWD with the R-Design package sprayed up in a sweet metallic shade called Bursting Blue for our All-Stars evaluation vehicle.

“Sharp—that’s how you describe the Volvo V90,” Nelson said. “It looks sharp, drives directly, operates in a straightforward manner, and has clean-cut aesthetics. Minimalist design means superfluous bits are contained to small trim pieces and the like.” Put another way, the V90 is tacklike, never tacky, and although it’s no hot-rod sled, it’s plenty capable dynamically.

“Beneath the V90’s slick surface treatments reside the usual Volvo underpinnings—a feeling that is solid, trustworthy, built to last,” Wasef said.

All-wheel-drive versions of the Volvo V90 come with the 316-horsepower tune of Volvo’s 2.0-liter super- and turbocharged I-4 paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. (Front-drive models get a 250-horse turbo-only variant.) The powertrain provided more than enough motivation on Nevada’s freeways, state roads, and the delightful stretch of Highway 157, also known as Kyle Canyon Road, near our cozy and accommodating base camp at The Resort on Mount Charleston. “This I-4 is plenty of engine for this relatively big car, further proof there is a substitute for cubic inches,” Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa said.

Relatively big is a good way to put the V90. At 54 cubic feet of cargo room with the second-row seats folded, it’s nine cubes shy of its XC60 crossover cousin. That’s more than enough room to pack in gear for two for a weekend at the lodge—or for a pack of dogs.

Inside, Volvo carved out an interior style that evokes a Swedish dance club for the R-Design—industrial chic—especially with the killer optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system spinning the cuts. Its 9.0-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen, with its tabletlike approach to operating vehicle features and connectivity options, is among the best going—although some editors pined for a few more vital control buttons. Some things never change, though. “The seats are typical Volvo—mega comfortable,” Noordeloos said.

Another Volvo constant is an emphasis on safety, and as with the rest of its lineup, the V90 is stacked with more nannies than an au pair convention. The overarching focus is on crash avoidance, including detecting moose, which is a thing in Sweden, apparently.

We’ll let Cumberford have the last words: “If you like station wagons—I do, very much—this is the one to have. Good-looking, great interior, plenty of room, plenty of performance, good road behavior. Of all the cars in the test fleet, this is the one that I can imagine buying and keeping in use for 10 to 15 years without much maintenance expense and with safety for all passengers. Nice is a good word for this car. And it will be the right word far in the future, when colors have faded and there are scratches and dents and signs of normal wear and all the new has disappeared.”

—Mike Floyd

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD R-Design Specifications

PRICE  $56,945/$68,290 (base/as tested)
ENGINE  2.0L DOHC 16-valve supercharged and turbocharged I-4/316 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 295 lb-ft @ 2,200-5,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION  8-speed automatic
LAYOUT  4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD wagon
EPA MILEAGE  22/31 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H  194.3 x 74.0 x 58.1 in
WHEELBASE  115.8 in
WEIGHT  4,189 lb
0-60 MPH  5.8 sec
TOP SPEED  130 mph

2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Sport

Still One of the Best Cars You Can Buy

What, you might ask, is a $31,200 (as tested) family sedan doing among these $100,000 to $300,000 stunners? Kicking their butts, mostly.

The Honda Accord is a legend among the car-buying public and automotive writers alike, and for good reason. It’s consistently one of the best vehicles on the road, often not because it excels at any one thing but because it’s so good at so many things for relatively little money. That’s still true for the all-new 10th-generation Accord.

In fact, it might be truer than ever. “I stepped out of the Lamborghini Huracán and into the Accord and didn’t feel the slightest bit of a letdown,” St. Antoine said. “That’s because the brilliant automotive engineering just shines through in this piece. In execution for its intended mission, the Accord Sport ranks as one of the true greats.”

At the heart of the new Accord lies a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that shares much of its internal structure and parts list with the rabidly robust Civic Type R. “Particularly satisfying is the powertrain, which operates with such an absence of vibration it feels as if the entirety of its insides are coated in Teflon,” Wasef said.

Although the new 10-speed automatic offered with the 2018 Accord is sure to be the most popular pick, our example was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission. Pilgrim enjoyed the power from the new turbo-four and pointed out that “the manual gearbox is a bit sloppy, but fast operation is flawless.” Tahaney took it a step further. “This is one of the rare vehicles that would probably be more enjoyable as an automatic instead of a stick,” he argued. It wasn’t the tightest gearbox we’ve handled in the past year, but the fact Honda offers a manual at all is a tick in the win column for most of us.

Wrapped around the potent yet smooth engine is an all-new body structure that’s not just re-engineered but also redesigned. To many of our eyes, it’s not a particularly attractive vehicle, either in silhouette or in detail. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder; in Nelson’s eyes, “The most enjoyable commodity sedan you can buy is more handsome than ever—modern, bold, clean.”

But regardless of its looks and its drivetrain, the Accord Sport is a winner for its overall package. Rehbock especially enjoyed the Accord. “I spent the most time in this of all the winners,” he noted. “It’s a no-compromise daily driver with loads of interior room, a big trunk, and driving dynamics that excite and engage.” Lassa noted the Accord lacks the “rich materials” of the more expensive Toyota Camry ($39,300 as tested) but said its “satinlike cloth seat inserts are rather nice—a neat departure from the usual pleather in this class of car.”

If there’s a weak spot in the Accord Sport’s likelihood for success, it’s one it can’t really help: It’s not a crossover. This was a theme picked up on by more than one of our evaluators, including senior digital editor Kirill Ougarov. “Hard to say that it’ll be a market mover,” he argued, “given the trend toward crossovers.” Noordeloos expanded on the thought: “A shame that the sedan world is dying, because this car is better than nearly every SUV/crossover on the market—plus it’s cheaper and gets better mileage.”

We found the Accord Sport to be both comfortable and fun to drive in a way Honda has long been known for—not with hit-you-over-the-head performance like an AMG or even the finely tuned poise of a Porsche but with the simple, honest character of a car designed and built well—and built to be used, however you plan to use it. It’s a prime example of why you should appreciate the inherent Honda-ness of the Accord. “As easy as it is to hate on the idea of the Accord (No Boring Cars!),” Wasef said, “the 2.0T Sport does what it does with elegant simplicity, just as we’ve found with the best Hondas over the years.”

—Nelson Ireson

2018 Honda Accord 2.0T Sport Specifications

PRICE $31,200/$31,200 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4/252 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 22/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 192.2 x 73.3 x 57.1 in
WHEELBASE 111.4 in
WEIGHT 3,362 lb
0-60 MPH 6.2 sec
TOP SPEED 124 mph


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2018 Automobile All-Stars: The Winners

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