MiataBy John Miller
and Lynn Beckwith

What makes a car or pick up the best, or the worst?

How do you pick the best car for you? There are basic metrics that you can find in a hundred different reviews, articles, and maker’s websites. The selection may vary considerably based on the driver’s needs and budget. Let’s not forget one of the biggest factors motivating the purchase, the buyer’s ego. In the end, I believe it is totally subjective, the opinion of the person in the seat. Here are my seat of the pants opinions of the rides of the year, and as someone with over 50 years as an automotive professional and a couple of decades as an industry journalist I think it counts for something. Of course, my kids may disagree with that.

Sedans aren’t dead!

The 2019 Toyota Avalon was by far the easiest to pilot, most operator friendly and bang for the buck four door people hauler I had the pleasure to drive in 2018. Considering I had just gotten out of a week-long test of the high-end Lexus LS 500 and was still impressed by the Avalon that’s a big statement. Sure, the LS is more luxurious, has a quieter cabin and sports much more technology, but it is two and a half times the price of the Avalon and let’s face it, for most people way out of financial reach.

The Buick Regal GS is faster than the Avalon, corners better and offers a sporty

drive experience, but it also is harder to get in and out of, has a considerably smaller cabin with less room to spread out front or rear and has less storage space. The Avalon shines against the Regal with a smoother ride, less road noise, better safety technology included in the base price and better fuel economy.

Other sedans we had the opportunity to drive last year include the Lexus ES 300, a very nice but overpriced offering, the Toyota Camry, a great budget entry that comes standard with a full suite of driver safety aides and the VW Passat GT which was by far our worst pick of the year. The Passat was notable for its blandness. It is underpowered with a mediocre interior, poor suspension, and only fair infotainment. The killer for me was being in a rainstorm and learning that the noise level of the drops hitting the roof resembled being in a tin barn.

The capstone of the Avalon’s performance was the amazing 44 miles per gallon we experienced on a two-week drive in the hybrid model.

Sports performance cars thrive!

It is always a thrill for a journalist when he gets to road test a performance car for a week. Last year we drove a couple of Mustang GTs, a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack and a Mazda Miata MX5. We missed out on a Chevy Camaro in 2018 but did drive it in 17.

Our favorite was by far the Mustang GT with the 5 liter V8 and 6-speed standard transmission. It offered the best hands on driver experience, 465 horses of raw power and great electronic packages to aid the driver in both safety and performance. The 10-speed automatic version of the Mustang GT was still a lot of fun to scoot around in and if your old knees won’t work a clutch in traffic is a good alternative to the stick shift. It was a close call with the Challenger Scat Pack that does have a slightly bigger cabin and useable rear seat. If I had to haul my grandkids much I would do it in the Challenger.

The Miata has been a long time favorite, but is purely a sports car made for fun and games and won’t fill the bill for most people who need to at least justify the purchase with daily use.

Pickup trucks still rule!

2018 brought the remodeled versions of the Ram and Chevy trucks for the 2019 model year, a slight refresh on the F150 and a continuation of the workhorse Nissan Titan. All are very good trucks, each with its own personality and very loyal following. It was hard to set aside my long time prejudice for Ford and look as objectively as possible at these trucks. Based not only on my impression after a week in the seat, but also on the selections made by Motor Trend and the Texas Auto Writers, I have to go with the new 2019 Ram 1500 as the best truck.

Ram’s new interior is well thought out and very luxurious in the higher trims, particularly in the Longhorn edition. Driver safety aides abound and user electronics are excellent. The new Rebel 12 includes U-Connect’s new 12-inch vertical screen, air ride suspension and off-road capabilities just a notch under the Power Wagon.

Chevy’s Z71 Trail Boss was a close second, but the less than spectacular interior redesign and the drop in fuel economy from last year kicked it to second place.

The big offering from Ford in the F150 for 2019 is the long awaited 3 liter Power Stroke diesel. About time Ford! Ford combines the 3.5 EcoBoost with a 10-speed automatic transmission that improved performance and economy for 2018 and 2019.

Texas Auto Writer’s picked the Nissan Titanas the best value in the Pickup, Luxury Pickup, and Off-Road Pickup class. Nissan cheats a little with a mid-class offering in the Titan XD; more than a half ton, but not a heavy duty big rig. It brings the Cummins diesel and tough Asian transmission for big jobs like hauling your RV.

SUV’s remain popular.

From a field of about a dozen SUVs we had to pick our favorite and here I have to admit that the aforementioned ego came into play. I picked the 2018 Dodge Durango RT,

a standout bad boy in the field. Motor Trend selected the Wrangler Unlimited

and while I have to agree that it offers a lot of character, it just doesn’t have the comfort, drive ease, quiet cabin or raw performance of the Hemi powered Durango.

The best way I can describe my feelings driving the Durango RT is positive. Everything about the experience felt firm, controlled, powerful and tight. The electronics center on the U-Connect system, the best in the industry in my opinion, and all the goodies from cross traffic alerts to emergency braking and adaptive cruise set this vehicle above others from front to rear. Priced from the mid-thirties to the high forties the Durango is within reach of most buyers. They even offer a kick butt SRT version for the folks with bigger egos than mine.

The Lincoln Navigator was excellent, if pricey. It compares very favorably to the even more costly Lexus LX 570 and Cadillac Escalade. They each offer a full complement of high end finishes to appeal to the country club clique and in many cases are just too nice to let my grandkids ride in.

My thought is that most people who drive an SUV are looking for a bit of class with a lot of function and for most of them off-roading is not a high priority. While the Wrangler Unlimited is a great off road trekker it just isn’t quite a true SUV and falls to my worst in the class pick.

CUVs are coming, everywhere.

Crossover sales continue to climb as buyer’s opt for utility, real or perceived, over the traditional four-door. In the past year we had the opportunity to test a wide assortment of not quite SUV’s.

The Nissan Rogue remains the best seller in this class for good reason. It comes well equipped and well built, but it is not alone as an outstanding choice. The Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro each bring middle-class comfort, confident ride characteristics and lots of safety and fun options. Toyota Safety Sense+P is standard on the C-HR but these goodies are available at little extra cost on all models we tested.

The favorite pick here is a bit tricky. If I were driving around town I would select the Kia Niro, for the highway, the Rogue. It may not sound nice to say, but I was surprised by the Kia; it’s not meant as a general slam to the manufacturer.

The Niro impressed me with the cabin comfort, finish and ease of use on the infotainment. It also drives easily, could negotiate in town streets and in the hybrid version got over 42 MPG. The only downside was the lack of power at only 139 horsepower. That’s why it is my “in-town” pick.

The Rogue had much better acceleration, especially from speed as needed to pass on the open road. Rogues Zero Gravity seats eliminate the fatigue and pressure that can have you doing the cheek dance as you rock from side to side to relieve the pain of a long cruise.

Toyota’s offering is very good, and you wouldn’t go wrong selecting it if you can get past the peculiar styling. The company is well known for its quality products

Cadillac provided us with an XT5 and it was the biggest disappointment of the year. I like Cadillac, they have a long-standing, well-earned reputation for comfort and performance, but they totally missed the mark with the XT5. Powered by the same engine used in the Buick Regal it performs nowhere nearly as well. It reminds me of the old Cimarron. Yeah, I’m old, but that 1980’s failure still rankles.

So, Where Does That Leave You?

Picking your new car is a very personal decision, much like picking a life mate, thankfully not as painful when you get it wrong. These opinions are mine, but your tastes may be a lot different, and that’s why they build so many different models. Take your time, road test as much as possible and have fun with the hunt for your new car.