Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg
Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Year in Review: The Best Cars of 2017

These beauties aren't cheap, but you don't get to the top of the heap by scrimping.

There’s no such thing as the perfect car.

But there is possibly such a thing as the perfect car for a given situation.

That’s the premise under which I operate as I evaluate cars each week for Bloomberg. It’s like this: No one wants to drive the low, stiff, delicate McLaren 720S for very long on the cobblestone streets of downtown Manhattan, but you need to know it will blow your mind on a highway traveling upstate.

Pulling onto the track in a Volvo station wagon will probably elicit snickers and not a lot of respect (unless you can drive like Lewis Hamilton). If you're driving around the corner to meet a friend for coffee, you'll probably leave the Rolls-Royce Phantom—and the attention it invariably attracts—at home.

The cars on this list were the ones I drove that best fulfilled their intended purpose in 2017. Each excels at its given task, is priced fairly, and looks good doing the job. 

Coupe: Mercedes-Benz AMG GTR
Coupe: Mercedes-Benz AMG GTR

As I said in my review, it’s rare that I walk away from one of the dozens of cars I drive each year with a sinking feeling, as if I know I'll miss it. I felt that way with the $157,000 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT R. The GT R sits at the top of the Mercedes AMG GT line, with a 4.0-liter V8 bi-turbo engine that gets 577 horsepower and can hit 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. Those specifications beat the next-fastest GT C by 27hp and 0.1 seconds; they beat the GT S by 62hp and 0.2 seconds. The difference in speed and sound from behind the wheel is palpable; the GT R possesses by far the most character of the bunch. It has more personality and animal instinct behind the wheel, whether crossing corners or racing to 100mph, than most anything else I drove this year. 

Inside, it feels roomy but remains intimate: The power-heated AMG performance seats and AMG alcantara-covered, racing-style sport steering wheel are handsome and ergonomic; the round dials on the control system on the center console are beautiful and intuitive to use. Outside, the AMG GT R has a less natural look than something like a Porsche 911, which embodies the handsome German racing design that has withstood the test of decades of fads and trends since it debuted in 1964. You may or may not like the Mercedes: It almost looks enhanced. The AMG GT R has quite a long nose, with a wide, grinning grill and headlights slightly upturned, into a kind of beguiling smirk—the look a person gives you across the bar to make you do a double take. Is there a hint of entitlement behind that grin? Maybe. Is the person giving it to you alluring enough to get away with it? Usually.

Honorable Mention: Porsche 911 GTS 

Honestly, it's a toss-up between these two. With understated good looks, track-ready performance, and a starting price of $120,000, the Porsche 911 GTS has an edge, largely because of its more-affordable price point and classic good looks. In fact, it is the obtainable alternative to the ultra-exclusive 911 R and the thinking man’s version of the flashy GT3. It comes with a boxer-six engine tuned for 450 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. What’s more, the twin-turbo 911 GTS hits 60 mph in 3.9 seconds in manual (more on that in a second) form, just 0.1 second slower than that hyper-fast GT3. And the top speeds are basically the same: just shy of 200 mph. Of all the 911 range, this is the value-added one you will want to take out—consider it the sweet spot in the 911 lineup you may have overlooked.  

Source: Mercedes

Hatchback: Ferrari GTC4Lusso
Hatchback: Ferrari GTC4Lusso

Don’t let anyone tell you the $300,000 Ferrari GTC4Lusso isn’t a “real” Ferrari or isn’t as aggressive to drive as its counterparts from Lamborghini or McLaren. This V12, 680-horsepower car has power-to-weight and compression ratios that far exceed anything in the grand touring category. Zero to 62 mph is 3.4 seconds; top speed is 208 mph. New this year are about four new traction control systems, which also help things immensely.

The GTC4Lusso manages to be simultaneously balanced and extremely aggressive on the gas; you get smooth, consistent power through all seven double-clutch gears in an acceleration arch as smooth as silk.

What’s more, it has a back seat that can actually fit adult-sized legs (as opposed to the back seat in the Aston Martin DB11 and any Porsche 911), with a rear trunk large enough to handle the week’s grocery—or skiing run. The cockpit is roomy, intuitive, and extremely well-made, with top-of-the-line leather, metal, and carbon-fiber finishes.

All told, Ferrari’s brilliant oddball is the rare instance of a super-luxury car that is practical across a wide variety of scenarios—and a total delight to drive.

Source: Ferrari

Supercar: Lamborghini Aventador S
Supercar: Lamborghini Aventador S

Lamborghini’s “S” badging has always meant enhanced performance and technology. This is no more beautifully in evidence than with the $422,000 Lamborghini Aventador S.

In addition to being a four-wheel-drive car, the latest version of the Aventador is also a four-wheel-steering car. This means that on corners the rear wheels can turn themselves and shorten the distance to the front wheels, which effectively creates a shorter wheelbase. That's a good thing: Short wheelbases are more nimble than long wheelbases. Conversely, on a straightaway at high speeds with all four wheels pointed forward, the car is at its longest (188.86 inches), lending greater stability for the carbon-fiber monocoque in a straight line. The result is that you get the benefits of having two cars in one—a shorter Aventador S for cornering and a longer one for straight shots. It’s a great feeling.

Under the hood, the 2018 Aventador S’s V12 engine is a massive upgrade on the same boundary-breaking, naturally aspirated mid-rear V12s that went on to catapult the Muira, Countach, Diablo, and Murciélago to legendary status. It produces 40 more horsepower, on top of the 2017 Aventador’s already hefty 700. It also produces higher torque and higher revs in general than last year’s model. What’s more, it goes zero to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds (down a fraction of a second from its predecessor and faster than the 3.2-second Huracán). You’ll hit 124 mph faster than you can count to 10, and 186 mph in fewer than 25 seconds. Top speed is 217mph. When it comes to raw aggression, those numbers—and the Aventador's sexy edges—are unbeatable. 

Honorable Mention: Acura NSX ($156,000)

It's so underrated. Just read this. Then drive it and see. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott

Large Sedan: Rolls-Royce Phantom
Large Sedan: Rolls-Royce Phantom

The largest vehicle Rolls-Royce makes, the $450,000 Phantom comes with a 6.75-liter, 563-brake-horsepower, V12 engine powerful enough to run a tank. It can hit 60 mph in just over five seconds—remarkable for a car of its heft.

Most impressive is the car’s magic carpet-caliber suspension, library-silent ride, and four-wheel drive, which allows each wheel the autonomy to choose traction and vector over any change in direction. This will be your secret to breaking even the toughest mountain pass, even in such a long sedan: As the Phantom thrusts forward like a bullet train, it will dance across the path like a much smaller car. Its nimble handling will surprise at every turn.

That said, in order to appreciate the Phantom’s full glory, start outside by admiring the sheer wall of the grille, from which all the other elements flow. Each steel prong has been hand-polished to mirrored, deco glory; the rectangular headlights are the only ones in the world frosted in Lalique glass. Then fall into the back seat. With a gentle pull, the rear-hinged door closes toward the front of the car. The interior is specifically designed to dazzle, with its inch-thick dyed lambswool carpeting; high-gloss, polished-wood paneling; drinks cabinet with whiskey glasses, decanter, Champagne flutes, and chilled compartment; and a ceiling that glitters with tiny lights.

This is the car that Queen Elizabeth—and myriad Middle Eastern tycoons—buy as their stateside ride. One drive—whether or not you’re behind the wheel—will reveal exactly why.

Photographer: Yann Gross for Bloomberg Businessweek

Sedan: BMW 760iM
Sedan: BMW 760iM

The $156,495 BMW M760i has powerful and athletic handling, fresh new colorways, and a massive back seat. In a segment filled with forgettable town cars, BMW's sedan captures attention from all angles, whether you're behind the wheel, in the back seat, or watching from the sidewalk. 

It comes with a big V12, 601-hp, twin-turbo engine good enough for zero-to-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. That engine comes from the same line as those used at sister company Rolls-Royce, and the familial relationship is abundantly clear both inside the car and under the hood: Everything about this car feels like a reward. 

The back seat alone has multiple entertainment screens, massaging reclining lounge chairs, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system, and interior automatic-dimming mood lights, as if it were a spa. The panoramic sky lounge roof ($900 extra) and multicolored mood lighting add to the effect, as does the $5,750 “Rear Executive Lounge Seating” package that includes a power rear seat and footrest, an executive lounge-style center console in the rear, a removable seven-inch tablet and two large TV screens, and rear lounge armrests and seating that are all heated and cooled. If you’re lucky enough to get the back seat, you won’t want to leave.

Honorable Mention: BMW M550i ($72,000)
It's the less-expensive choice. And it more than covers the bases for what a luxury sedan should be. 

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg

Convertible: Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet
Convertible: Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet

At $182,000 (including options such as a $510 interior "light-design package" and fees) the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet is expensive. From the outside, though, it looks basically the same, minus some venting, as the non-Turbo Porsche 911 Cabriolet that costs $80,000 less.

What’s more, it looks milder than others in its category, such as the sexy and fast Audi R8 Spyder ($175,100) and the handsome, classic Mercedes-Benz AMG S63 Cabriolet ($176,400). Compared with those two convertibles, which communicate their driving capabilities with ribbed rears, side vents that seem to span the width of the car, and grills that dazzle like Lil Wayne’s orthodontia, the 911 Turbo Cab looks humble. But that’s part of its charm.

In fact, the 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo Cabriolet is faster to 60 mph than both those cars (3.0 seconds compared with 3.5 and 3.8 for the Audi and the Merc, respectively). It also dominates that high-profile segment in top speed (198 mph), torque (523 pound-feet), and handling (it makes you feel like a car-racing god).

It’s also far more fuel-efficient. With its interior space, its worth as a daily driver, and its relative fuel efficiency, you might even call it practical.

Photographer: Porsche

Crossover: Volvo V90 Cross Country
Crossover: Volvo V90 Cross Country

Volvo already has the excellent XC60 and XC90 SUVs, but is betting that it can make a station wagon stylish and aggressive enough to garner a slice of the SUV market.  

Enter the $55,300 V90 Cross Country, the heightened version of the $49,950 V90 wagon. Both are new for the year and are bigger and better-equipped than wagons from previous years. If Volvo were to create a Venn diagram of an SUV and a wagon, the V90 Cross Country would occupy the middle: The extra $5,000 required to get the Cross Country edition affords nearly three inches of additional height over the standard V90, several inches worth of additional ground clearance, and lots of handy extras, such as full LED headlights that bend around curves as the car moves forward.

With ample storage and passenger space, all-wheel-drive capable of handling treacherous terrain, and that superior ride height, the V90 Cross Country makes full-size SUVs feel bloated—superfluous for all but the largest families or most devoted weekend warriors. And it feels much more special than the crossovers that litter every strip mall in middle America. 

Volvo makes some of the most beautiful interiors in the car industry, regardless of whether you’re including “luxury” brands. Its cars have cabins filled with so much light and warm wood that at this point, comparing them to a Swedish sauna is just a cliché. A moonroof that spans the width of the ceiling enhances visibility, as does the extensive camera- and radar-enabled blind-spot identification system in the 9-inch vertical touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. 

These are all trappings that are de rigueur for pricier luxury cars. They help make the V90 Cross Country a good value for the money.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott

SUV: Porsche Macan S
SUV: Porsche Macan S

Yes, this is a small sport utility vehicle. But there’s a reason it’s Porsche’s best-selling model: The $55,400 Macan combines practicality and Porsche performance in a package fairly priced for its segment—and it looks more distinguished than its more appliance-like competitors, too.

The base model gets 19 combined miles per gallon on its 340-horsepower, twin-turbo, V6 engine and can hit 60mph in just over five seconds. The seven-speed paddle-shifting transmission, all-wheel-drive, and stability- and sway controls make for a smooth ride, while the Sport drive mode makes it feel sporty to drive, as true German engineering should.

Inside, myriad cupholders, ambient lighting, storage pockets, leather, heating, and entertainment systems make it feel luxurious without it feeling over-stuffed and without spiking the price.

Source: Porsche