As a car writer, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel. In the last few months alone, I must have put several thousand, mostly aimless miles across Southern California in the various cars I get the pleasure of reviewing. I am constantly amazed at how certain cars make me feel. Here are a few surprises, trends and some of the best cars out there we had a chance to drive in the 2022 lineup—from luxury SUV’s and rugged off-roaders, to sedans, minivans and everything in between—with a roundup of my very top picks at the end.
I mean, I knew I liked minivans, but as a dad of two young kids, I now LOVE minivans. I had the chance to spend some time living with one of the best on the market—the swagged out Toyota Sienna Hybrid Platinum AWD which, I may add, was loaded with all the bells and whistles (Captain’s Chairs for all, y’all!) needed to keep a family happy on a long road trip—as a bonus, there’s a hybrid powertrain that gives you a 500 mile plus range on a full tank of gas. Is a minivan for everyone? No, but to me, that’s what makes them so special.
TOYOTA SIENNA HYBRID PLATINUM (FROM $34,560)
EVERYTHING IS RUGGED
Big wheels and knobby tires, check! A lifted suspension, double check! More off-road capability than you’d really ever need, triple check! Like the rise of the ‘tool watch’, we’ve been given the gift of a whole lot of big, beefy, go anywhere cars in the last year. Ford has their Bronco and Bronco Sport models. There is the Land Rover Defender—a can-do-anything type of car if you spec it right. And even Subaru got in on the action with their Outback Wilderness Edition, basically a factory-stock lifted-wagon with 9.5 inches of ground clearance.
Both the Bronco and the Defender have basically limitless options and packages, so you can spec them out to fit certain aesthetic needs and desires. Even if you never really go off road, it’s good to look like you can. Then there is the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, which is Jeep’s plug-in hybrid model, good for about 21 miles of all-electric power—meaning that when I went off-roading in Gorman, CA, I had a chance to quietly crawl through the trails without scaring away the wildlife.
FORD BRONCO (FROM $29,300)
FORD BRONCO SPORT (FROM $27,415)
LAND ROVER DEFENDER (FROM $48,700)
SUBARU OUTBACK WILDERNESS (FROM $36,995)
JEEP WRANGLER 4XE (FROM $53,795)
SUVS ARE LIKE, REALLY FANCY
A lot of the SUVs I drove the last year—Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GLE63, and the Lincoln Navigator Black Label—were well over $100k, and the ones that weren’t—Kia Telluride, Dodge Durango SRT, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, Jeep Wagoneer and the Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 eAWD Inscription—were sitting at about $60, $70 or $80K plus. Even the all-electric and very utilitarian Volvo XC40 Recharge was 60K and some change out the door.
So what do you get for that much scratch? A lot of luxury. Like a McIntosh car stereo on the Jeeps, a rear entertainment package with better equipment than your house on the Caddy, and on the Benz—perhaps the best sounding engine in any vehicle today: a 603 horsepower, hand-built AMG twin-turbo V-8. Are some of these over the top? You betcha, and they are worth every damn cent.
CADILLAC ESCALADE (FROM $76,195)
MERCEDES-BENZ GLE63 (FROM $116,000)
KIA TELLURIDE (FROM $33,090)
DODGE DURANGE SRT (FROM $66,275)
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE L (FROM $37,390)
JEEP WAGONEER (FROM $58,845)
VOLVO XC60 RECHARGE T8 EAWD (FROM $56,000)
SEDATE NO MORE
A big surprise for me was how much I liked sedans and convertibles all over again. I spent some time in a few Lexus models: their flagship LC 500 Convertible and the entry level IS 350. The brand’s new design cues showed me that big front grilles, dynamic lines, and beefy engines went a long way to changing my mind about the brand.
I felt similarly about the Kia Stinger GT sedan, which reminded me of an Audi S7 but for a third of the price. As well as the all-new, all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E, which surpassed my expectations in terms of design and drive, and made me want to actually buy a Ford for the first time in a long while.
I also enjoyed my time in the Polestar 2 Long range Single Motor which is good for a 270 mile range and whose stark, minimalist design grew on me and is worth a look.
LEXUS LC 500 CONVERTIBLE (FROM $101,100)
LEXUS IS ( FROM $38,775)
KIA STINGER (FROM $36,290)
FORD MUSTANG MACH-E (FROM $43,895)
POLESTAR 2 (FROM $45,900)
MY TOP PICKS
So, the last year (years?) have been a blur and looking back on my driving notes, a few cars stood out: the all-new 2022 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the recently redesigned Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet (or as the Porsche nerds call it, the 992). After driving both of these heavy hitters from Stuttgart, they rekindled my love and admiration for the two aspirational German brands, and made me reflect on why they still inspire such a sense of devotion to their buyers even after all these years. I say, if you can afford one—both well past $100,000—they are vehicles to aspire to.
But my two favorite cars, the cars that got stuck in my head weeks and months after I last drove them, were oddballs at the opposite end of the spectrum. First, the Mercedes-AMG GLA45, an AMG-powered, tricked-out hot-hatch which provided more fun behind the wheel than I had in a long time—so much so, I went through two tanks of gas in a week. It’s a bargain, with a price starting at $54,500. The GLA45 AMG looks and sounds and drives, well, ridiculously—and to be honest, I loved it so much. It’s like if the new Civic Type R was made for aging millennials or gray-haired Gen-Xer’s.
The second best ride was the new Rolls Royce Black Badge Ghost, a car so over the top that it’s hard to find any faults even with its massive price tag—from $393,500—and the one I drove was $492,250! From the retractable Spirit of Ecstasy on the front grille that lights up like a Christmas tree to the blinking starlight headliner in the interior, Rolls Royce transcends boundaries and makes everyone happy to see it, even the nice people stuck in Los Angeles rush hour traffic who let me change lanes without the usual fuss. On I went, in the Rolls, like the Red Sea parting for this glorious over top sedan.