It’s a simple question, one I get often when people find out what I do for a living. But it continues to be one of the hardest for me to answer. “What’s the best car you’ve ever driven?” After it comes, I usually do the hem-haw shuffle as I fumble around for a response. I’m doing it as I write this. You’ve perhaps struggled with the same question when it comes your way.
Is it the car or the context of when and where you drove it? Should it always be a new car? A supercar? Something more attainable? I’ve found it nearly impossible to pick just one, so in a cathartic exercise of sorts I’m going to break this down by random category and then carry this page around in my wallet. I’ll add new ones to it as they bump off the old. I should have done this ages ago.
Classic: Easy. My 1970 Chevy Nova, the one I still think about. A friend of mine has a ’70, and getting in it brought back a flood of memories. Sadly, the original only exists in my mind as I sold it back in ’89, and I have no photos of it (before digital cameras). Massive burnouts in the high school parking lot. Drag racing Mustang GTs and Buick Grand Nationals. Not being able to stop thanks to its feeble drum brakes. Close second: the fantastic 1953 Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn I drove for a magazine feature (October 2016).
Supercar: This one is incredibly tough, and it’s usually the car I’ll blurt out when I start to feel the pressure. Who isn’t impressed by some auto exotica? (Well, I can think of a few people.) Of the smallish group of supercars I’ve driven, I’m inexorably drawn to a Prancing Horse, the 488 GTB. It’s the car that ushered in Ferrari’s V-8 turbocharged future—for better or worse. I’d say it’s for the better.
Affordable Fun: Another unbelievably difficult choice as I can think of so many in the $30,000-or-less range that I’d choose. Full disclosure: I’m a Subaru WRX owner, so I’m partial to Subies. It’s my 1A choice. But I’m going to have to go with the Volkswagen GTI. I’ve heard the stories about its long-term reliability, but after seven generations it is arguably the most refined dynamic package you’re going to find at its price point in the world. And it’s practical.
Modern American: It would be easy to go with a Corvette, Camaro, or Mustang here, and cars such as the Z06, ZL1, and GT350 are all killer machines I’d happily drive every day. But there’s one car Cadillac made a little while back I can’t forget. It was a wagon, with a stonking 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 with 556 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque matched up to a six-speed manual. The CTS-V wagon is a true automotive unicorn. It’s a miracle Cadillac made it at all, but the automotive world is better off for it.
Luxury: It packs a V-12, it has a very long wheelbase, and it’s as heavy as a bank vault loaded with bullion, but the Mercedes-Maybach S600 is a spectacularly executed luxury sedan. There are others with higher prices and a few more lavish features and fixtures, but as an all-around exercise in excess that can also handle its business from behind the wheel, the Maybach S600 has few equals. One is coming soon, however, in the form of the new Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Sport Sedan: This one is stuck in my head, and I don’t think I’m ever going to get it out. It’s the fourth-generation BMW M3 sedan with the 414-hp naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V-8. Not too big, not too many nannies. You could tear it up in the canyons during the day and trundle along to a leisurely dinner with friends in comfort in the evening. It’s likely the last naturally aspirated V-8 you’ll ever see from BMW. I realize there are many BMW purists who will disagree, but this was the M3 for me.
Truck: Raptor. No question. Ford outdid itself with its super off-road F-150. If you’re going to own a truck and you don’t need it for work—hell, even if you do—this is the one to have. There is simply no other pickup on the market that comes close to its overall performance envelope, and you can it drive all day long. The Ford SVT Lightning and Dodge Ram SRT-10 were also crazy and memorable performance monsters, but they’re not nearly as well-rounded as the Raptor.
SUV: There are other, far more impressive performance-themed machines I’ve driven—most notably the Porsche Macan, which I truly enjoy. But the Volvo XC90 gets my vote to date. It’s simply the most impressive all-around SUV from a price, amenities, design, and packaging standpoint on the market today.