16 finalists in the running to become Insider's 2020 Car of the Year

  • Welcome to the seventh installment of Insider's Car of the Year competition, featuring 16 finalists. 
  • The finalists come from the more than five dozen cars we road tested during the year — from SUVs and sedans to supercars and EVs. 
  • Brands represented this year are Chevrolet, Cadillac, Ferrari, Honda, McLaren, Jeep, Kia, Lincoln, Nissan, Polestar, Porsche, Range Rover, and Toyota.
  • One of the 16 finalists will be named Insider's 2020 Car of the Year on December 30.

It's officially the best time of the year. Welcome to Insider's annual Car of the Year awards, now in its seventh (seventh!) installment.

This year was hard for everyone, but at least the cars were good. We've tested everything from SUVs, sedans, pickup trucks, and grand-tourers to electric cars, sports cars, and supercars. From all of those, we've selected 16 finalists to be considered our Car of the Year.

This year, Matt DeBord, Alanis King, and Kristen Lee handled the driving, reviewing, and photographing of the cars. We all look for and appreciate different things about different cars, but we were able to agree on these 16 as final contenders.

Our methodology is straightforward, focused on basic questions:

  • Is there a strong business case for the vehicle?
  • Did our reviewers agree that the vehicle should be included? We have to come to a consensus, even though we might disagree on some particulars.
  • Was the vehicle objectively excellent? There has to be some sort of wow! factor.
  • Did the vehicle stand out from the sea of competition, particularly when it comes to technology? A Car of the Year finalist has to be special.
  • Can we strongly recommend buying or leasing the car? We demand to know whether we'd buy the vehicle ourselves if we had the resources.

We'll announce the 2020 Car of the Year on December 30 and prepare you for the big event by revealing our three runners-up the day before.

Cadillac Escalade

Engine tested: 6.2-liter, 420-horsepower V8

Price as tested: $112,000

Why it's here: The Escalade is the undisputed King of Cadillacs, but it's been facing some stiff competition from its redesigned rival, the Lincoln Navigator. In the battle royale of full-size luxury SUVs, the Escalade had been fighting at a disadvantage for several years. But we knew a brand-new, fifth-generation Escalade was coming, and 2020 was the year it landed. The big guy got a moderate exterior update, but inside, the improvement on the technology front was dramatic.

Here's what we said in our review: "Escalade remains large and in charge, a great hulking hunk of a machine, but the new Navigator represented a significant rethink of the overall user experience, so the big question around the new Caddy wasn't whether it would be good at what it always has been but rather: Would it be good at charting a path to a future very different from the world of 1999, when the Escalade first hit the streets?

"As far as the exterior design goes, the Escalade has been updated but not reinvented. Remember, we're essentially talking about a giant box here, so we're not going to be threatening smaller, lovelier SUVs, such as the Jaguar F-PACE, the Maserati Levante, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or the Range Rover Velar.

"The all-new Escalade is most impressive for what it intended to be most impressive at: wowing passengers with its vast, luxurious, high-tech interior.

"Otherwise, it's easier to handle the previous-generation SUV, thanks to a new independent rear suspension that both creates additional interior space and gives the big ol' truck a more car-like demeanor from behind the wheel."

Chevy Bolt EV

Engine tested: 66 kilowatt-hour, extended-range battery pack, single electric motor, with the drivetrain producing 200 horsepower and 259 miles on a single charge.

Price as tested: $44,130

Why it's here: The 2020 Bolt EV got a larger battery pack — 66 kWh, up from 60 kWh — and bump in range of about 20 miles per charge. For parent General Motors, the all-electric Chevy has been the ultimate test platform, validating the automaker's battery technologies and testing the market for alternative models of propulsion. Without the Bolt, GM wouldn't be on track to roll out 30 new electrified vehicles by 2025.

Here's what we said in our review: "Some EV buyers might now see the Bolt as more of a means to an end, given that it's nowhere near as overtly high-tech as the Tesla Model 3, nor as nicely appointed as the Nissan Leaf. The much more plush MINI Cooper SE Electric has less range but comes off as more solidly made. And then there are your Audi e-Trons and Jaguar I-PACEs and, on some distant, exalted plane, the Porsche Taycan. In that company, the Bolt is basic.

"But it's been effective basic since 2017, and it continues to offer the best bang for the buck in the nascent EV market. I called it a masterpiece back in 2017, and although it competes in a more crowded arena these days, it's still a car that I hate to give back when the test week is over. 

"In other words, if I were buying, there's a good chance I'd be buying a Bolt."

Chevrolet Corvette

Engine tested: 6.2-liter, 495-horsepower V8

Price as tested: $80,315

Why it's here: It's the mid-engine Corvette! It's a car seven decades, and 7 million rumors, in the making. The automotive industry has talked about this thing nonstop since right after the original debut of the front-engine Corvette — the only kind of Corvette we've known from the 1950s until now. For the eighth generation of America's Sports Car, the engine was finally moved to behind the driver. True, the option for a manual transmission also disappeared, but that didn't dampen the Corvette's hype at all.

Here's what we said in our review: "Head-on, the C8 is a visual punch to the face. Low, pointy, and wide, it captures the wild essence of great supercar design. Everyone will wave at you. Everyone will be stoked to see it. Smiles all around, and you'll feel just a little bit famous.

"But as striking as its face is, the C8 is docile. Driving it, you'll forget the car is mid-engined at all. It handles beautifully as a cruiser, agreeable and quiet, kind on your body over bumps but also not erasing the sensation of road imperfections altogether. It strikes a nice balance.

"That tame mood also extends to when you want to push the car a little bit. Oh, there's power, no doubt about that, and it'll do the fast stuff just fine — but the C8 doesn't feel innately hyped-up and ready to go like other sports cars do.

"As a base model, though, it's clear that Chevrolet left room for what's coming next. It's the only explanation for all the tameness. The upcoming performance versions will build on what the C8 already offers, and will likely surpass what they were in the C7 generation when they put down 650 horsepower and 755 horsepower."

Ferrari Roma

Engine tested: 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged, 611-horsepower V8

Price as tested: $220,000

Why it's here: The new Ferrari Roma is a grand-touring coupé that now represents the entry-level hardtop for Maranello. It is, in short, a very good-looking car. What we have here is a beauty so breathtaking, so thorough, and so sleekly rendered that words such as "timeless" enter the imagination. But the Roma also has the most high-tech interior Ferrari has ever offered.

Here's what we said in our review: "What Ferrari has done is to create a car of monumental beauty that also embodies a new embrace of technology and still vacillates gracefully between high-speed comfort and extreme velocity wild-animal mode. The 0-to-60-mph dash is over in 3.5 seconds, and the Roma tops out at 200 mph. 

"At no point in exploring the torque curve or pushing the perfectly calibrated suspension to manage some back roads curves did the Roma even appear that it might break a sweat. 

"But trying to fluster such magnificence is hardly worth the effort. Instead, follow the Roma's lead and allow it to be your performance tour guide. Above all, this car showcases Maranello's wisdom, hard-earned and refined over the decades, on racetracks and roadways.

"Ferrari has squared a circle with the Roma. All the traditional values are present, from the snarling, burbling V8 to the edgy sense of slight danger that even seemingly calm highway drives serve up when you're behind the wheel. But this Ferrari is also packed with technology, more than I've encountered in a Prancing Horse in the past six years.

"Bravo, Ferrari! But they didn't forget that beauty is the most important value of them all."

Honda Civic Si

Engine tested: 205-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo

Price as tested: $25,200

Why it's here: The Honda Civic Si is a mainstay, and it's one we're lucky to have. In a market dominated by crossovers and SUVs with seamlessly smooth automatic transmissions, the Si is a practical small car that you can only drive if you want or know how to use a clutch pedal. The Si goes against the trends, giving those of us who do the same a choice in an ever-dwindling segment of the car market. 

Here's what we said in our review: "The Civic Si, like many cars of its nature, is pretty much the full package for someone who wants a new sporty car that won't require choosing between said car and ever having a hope of retiring.

"In a roughly $26,000 package, the Civic Si comes with the tech and safety comforts a car needs along with all the fun a buyer might want. With its four doors and trunk big enough to fit at least two humans (or, to be less ominous, two humans' worth of groceries for a couple of weeks), its sporty driving characteristics are balanced out by the fact that you could easily use it to bring home new furniture.

"Shifts are effortless. The light clutch pedal doesn't push back or provide much tension, but that doesn't matter. The lack of resistance and ease of shifting just feels right. You want to drive the Si, and it wants to drive with you.

"We've shown, at least in America, that our tastes generally aren't for cars like the Si or its counterparts. We're into big crossovers with enough room for the kids and enough cup holders for the lattes, and we want transmissions so smooth that we forget the car is even shifting from one gear to another.

"But for the few who venture toward a clutch — reluctantly or not — cars like the Si remain, with their small statures and very obvious gears that need to be manually changed, catering to that 2% of us who still want to buy a new car with that funky third pedal.

"That's a choice we're lucky to have, even if only a few of us know it."

Jeep Gladiator

Engine tested: 3.6-liter, 285-horsepower V6

Price as tested: $62,020

Why it's here: Midsize pickups are all the rage and Jeep wanted to get in on things. The Gladiator is the Jeepy competitor against the popular Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, and Ford Ranger — but its Mojave and Rubicon trims are for those who truly want to test the off-roading limits of their pickups. Plus, the Gladiator's doors come off! 

Here's what we said in our review: "I liked the Gladiator. I appreciate its existence. I respect its off-road capabilities and how stable it always felt. If I lived in the desert, preferably somewhere in the American Southwest, I'd definitely consider one. But as it currently stands, I live in Brooklyn, and in Brooklyn, the Jeep pickup truck simply feels too big to be allowed. 

"That being said, I have a hard time figuring out who the Gladiator is actually for. You'd think, given the popularity of midsize trucks, they would sell more quickly than Jeep could make them. It certainly seems like the automaker was betting on this very thing to happen. But it didn't.

"Perhaps it's because the Gladiator markets itself a little bit too much to the niche truck buyer. The higher price tag certainly suggests that. This truck appeals to the buyer who probably wouldn't use their Gladiator as a work tool, but rather as a recreational vehicle. A playtime buggy. A toy. 

"Look no further than Jeep's own press images of the truck, which feature it prominently at play (or doing play-adjacent activities): fording creeks, going to the beach, rock crawling, hauling a boat, and transporting kayaks and dirt bikes. This is the truck you load up with camping equipment to get to that far-out campsite that's inaccessible to everything except lifted Jeeps and donkeys. 

"It's not a bad territory to occupy, even if a little niche."

Kia Telluride

Engine tested: 3.8-liter, 291-horsepower V6

Price as tested: $47,310

Why it's here: Buyers cannot seem to get enough of the Telluride, Kia's hot-selling midsize SUV. Was it the price or the utility that attracted people? Both, as it turned out! The Telluride gives you a lot of car for the money and its interior is shockingly upscale for how it's priced. Ours also had a roof-mounted tent, which Kristen Lee spent a night in.

Here's what we said in our review: "In terms of getting the best bang for your buck, I can't really see how you can go wrong with the Telluride. It's got an interior that not only blows the unfair Kia reputation out of the water, but also one that feels far more upmarket than it is. It's spacious, roomy, and quiet.

"Aside from my wishing that it came as a hybrid and getting better gas mileage, I really couldn't find anything glaringly at fault.

"Kia is clearly doing something right here. It's given people a midsize SUV option that's handsome, has a great interior, and is aggressively priced. 

"To those of you feeling hesitant merely because the Telluride wears a Kia badge, put that aside. Go sit in a Telluride. Nothing in there would indicate it's the Kia you once turned up your nose at — whether fairly or not. 

"Kia is carving out a permanent space for itself in the market. And it brought a giant, Telluride-sized shovel for the job."

Lincoln Aviator

Engine tested: 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, 494-horsepower hybrid V6

Price as tested: $83,245

Why it's here: Lincoln's been knocking it out of the park with its luxury SUVs. The Aviator competes in the high-demand but highly saturated midsize SUV market. But with an interior that gives far more expensive luxury brands a run for their money, the Aviator is a strong competitor. And it's so, so fast with the hybrid engine.

Here's what we said in our review: "Mash the throttle down and suddenly you're speeding for the horizon, the sheer force of almost cartoonish acceleration mingling with your own dumbstruck disbelief. With the Aviator's substantial girth, you wouldn't think it can move the way it will, drop down the gears as rapidly as it can, send you roaring ahead like it does. 

"The best seats by far are the front and middle-row seats. Those are the ones that get priority. The captain's chair middle-row seats reclined, slid back and forth on rails, had armrests, and offered enough legroom fit for a king. Middle-row passengers also get their own infotainment and climate controls.

"Despite its excellent hardware, the Aviator's still a relatively new player in the game. It still needs time to become a household name."

McLaren GT

Engine tested: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, 612-horsepower V8

Price as tested: $237,930

Why it's here: McLaren's road-going cars have been praised for their comfort and everyday usability. The GT is that idea, made even more practical with increased storage space and added grand-touring characteristics: a smoother ride, an engine tuned to be less violent. It's an expensive way to road trip, for sure, but at least you can take it to Costco.

Here's what we said in our review: "It's clear, especially when you consider everything it's up against, that McLaren still values performance over comfort. Distilled, the GT is a mid-engined car and with carbon-fiber tub — bones that make sense, because it was built by a company that has only ever known race cars and seismically fast road cars. The GT will never shed the driving characteristics that those basic qualities bring; it simply has a bigger trunk and a less bitey personality than the other McLarens.

"So, sure, the McLaren GT might be a 'grand tourer.' But don't get into one expecting it to shroud you in pillowy opulence.

"Instead, get into one knowing that it's just as capable as any McLaren — and totally down to whisk you and (some of) your baggage away on a weekend trip."

Nissan Rogue

Engine tested: 2.5-liter, 181 horsepower four-cylinder engine

Price as tested: $35,275

Why it's here: The compact crossover segment is the most competitive in the US auto market, and the Rogue has been Nissan's champion, going wheel-to-wheel with the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CRV. The Rogue is thus Nissan's most important vehicle, so the pressure was on for on the third generation of an SUV that has, in the past, been able to sell 400,000 units every year.

Here's what we said in our review: "Nissan could have held the line and given the Rogue a mild makeover, but the company went much farther, basing the 2021 Rogue on a new platform that generates something of an optical illusion: It's about the same size as the previous generation, but it looks larger.

"The upshot is that Nissan has pushed itself just enough with this crucial vehicle, fixing what wasn't so appealing about the previous generation while not messing with what worked. The result is a Rogue that's close to perfect, although with a few lingering problems — most related to a small-ish engine, lacking a turbocharger.

"I wouldn't call the new Rogue exciting so much as reassuring. It's moderately fun to drive, but it truly shines in simple puttering around the suburbs, running errands, or on highway jaunts when the continuously variable transmission and the engine can reach a mellow cruising velocity. It has plenty of room for stuff in the cargo hold, and the back seats are roomy enough that adults should be able to tolerate them for short trips.

"The verdict on the 2021 Rogue is Nissan didn't fix what wasn't broken and did fix what some owners might have complained about, while not messing with a successful formula so much that sales could be threatened."

Polestar 1

Engine tested: 2.0-liter, supercharged and turbocharged, 619-horsepower four-cylinder hybrid

Price as tested: $155,000

Why it's here: As a new EV spinoff from Volvo and Geely, Polestar is worth paying attention to. It first and halo model is the 1, which brings incredible beauty and hybrid efficiency to a comfortable grand-tourer, otherwise known as a Big Coupe. It doesn't look quite like anything else on the road. It's expensive and it'll be made in very limited numbers. We think it's a future collector's item.

Here's what we said in our review: "The driving experience isn't transcendent the way the Porsche Taycan EV's was. Don't get me wrong, it was very nice and the combined power makes you feel like a tacit force, but the curb weight does not make the car feel particularly agile. It is happiest sitting at speed, quietly, on a highway, or sweeping along a wide back road in a brisk but not breakneck pace.

"But I can also easily see this 1 becoming a future classic. It's already got the looks and exclusivity. 

"Plug-in hybrids are that weird stop-gap right on our road to cutting out the reliance on fossil fuels altogether. Cars such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime and the Polestar 1 offer more range than most current EVs and they're largely more powerful than their solely combustion-engine counterparts. Until the EV revolution fully takes hold, plug-in hybrids are our long-distance and efficiency solution.

"But when the EV revolution finally does happen, I bet we'll look back on cool hybrids like the Polestar 1 with the same sort of nostalgia that people look back on vintage analog cars with now."

Polestar 2

Engine tested: 408-horsepower, dual-motor setup

Price as tested: $59,900

Why it's here: Polestar wowed everyone with the stunning 1, but the all-electric 2 will be the volume seller. Aimed directly at the Tesla Model 3, it's a sedan that further normalizes the EV driving experience. Its interior is recognizably one that belongs to a car — not an overly futuristic minimalism-mobile — and even features the Android operating system natively.

Here's what we said in our review: "The Polestar 2 drives great. This much I was able to glean in the one afternoon I spent with it.

"But what's packaged around that driving experience is also great. The 2 is a machine that has wonderfully sharp looks that'll stop passing pedestrians in their path — but not because it's flashy. It draws your eye because it doesn't look like anything else that's currently on the road. 

"Sitting in the 2, driving the 2 — both worked to achieve a mood of peace and serenity. The quietness from the lack of an engine contributed to that, too, of course. But there's an unmistakable sense of quiet quality here, one that doesn't need to go around shouting to make itself heard. 

"For a car built in China, the 2 feels overwhelmingly Scandinavian: smartly designed and well assembled. I guess this is what happens when you buy a car company, give them a bunch of money to do what they're good at, and then leave them the hell alone."

Porsche 911

Engine tested: 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged, 443-horsepower flat-six

Price as tested: $135,840

Why it's here: The hallowed 911 is now in its eighth generation, internally called the 992 generation. The 911 Carrera is more powerful than ever, but it's also bigger and heavier than ever before. And you can no longer get any new Carrera model without a turbocharged engine, which is a big deal for 911 enthusiasts. You can still get certain Carrera models with a manual transmission, though. To visit this particular aspect, we tested out the Carrera S.

Here's what we said in our review: "The 992 911 is objectively great, but it's hard to expect anything else. It's great this generation, it was great the previous generation, and it was also great the generation before that. Porsche's been perfecting this very formula for nearly 60 years, and I would be shocked if the 911 suddenly became bad. 

"The 911's biggest problem is that other 911s exist. Older ones that have all those pure driving characteristics that enthusiasts love and seek. That's why prices for used, air-cooled 911 have risen so stratospherically high in recent years. People want 911s, and they are willing to pay more for an old one just so they can have the tactile feedback that the new ones just don't offer. 

"That's one side of 911 ownership, to get sucked into the heritage of it all. 

"The Porsche 911, for many, has checked so many boxes for so long that it's sort of become the go-to answer at this point. Perhaps other cars might bring you more fulfillment and joy. But going home with a 911 is an unthinking choice, one that's guaranteed not to lead you astray if you're risk-averse. 

"It's the safe option, and there's power in that — because when you keep at something for 60 years, there had better be."

Porsche Taycan

Engine tested: 562-horsepower, dual-motor setup

Price as tested: $143,690

Why it's here: As Porsche's first EV, the Taycan is worth paying attention to. We tested out the Taycan 4S, which is currently the base-model version. But even calling it that feels disingenuous. It's heavy but feels planted and handles like a sports car. It is so, cosmically fast. And, being a Porsche, it is expensive.

Here's what we said in our review: "I liked the Taycan quite a bit. It's not built on an internal-combustion engine platform that's been repurposed for an EV, so there aren't any glaringly obvious passenger or cargo room compromises. Sitting in the back does not give you the distinct feeling that you're astride a battery pack.

"The Taycan weighs more than two tons, but it conducts itself like a very planted sports car. The optional rear-axle steering helped with maneuverability in tight spaces. It cruised quietly and smoothly on the highway when it wasn't gluing my passengers to their seat backs."

Range Rover Velar SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition

Engine tested: 5.0-liter, 550-horsepower supercharged V8

Price as tested: $94,655

Why it's here: The Velar nameplate is a relatively new one for Jaguar Land Rover, but the SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition trim level genuinely shows what the vehicle is capable of. It combines a fantastic design with compelling driving dynamics, serious off-road credibility, and a sophisticated level of luxury — exactly the package that JLR needs to go up against SUVs from Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Alfa Romeo.

Here's what we said in our review: "The Velar really is a proper, downsized version of the Range Rover SVAutobiography, its $200,000-plus full-size counterpart. I, at no point, felt as though I were piloting a midsize SUV — that massive engine subdued any smallness in the SUV. The solidity of the vehicle also made for an impeccable merger of freeway cruising a twisty-road cornering.

"I didn't explore the Velar's off-road capabilities, but they are many: hill-launch assist, low-traction launch, hill-descent control, all-terrain progress control, and dynamic terrain adaptation. These accompany a passel of driver-assist features, including adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keep, and a rear-traffic monitor.

"What you get with the Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic is a potent backwoods chariot that can also dash from 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds and, despite its heft, gobble up curves with composure. Conjoined with the beauty of the machine, it all made me think that while $95,000 is a lot, it isn't that much — not when you're getting so much SUV.

"The 2020 Range Rover SVAutobiography Dynamic Edition has achieved something special in the age of the luxury sport ute: It can reasonably claim to do it all, and look glorious the whole time."

Toyota RAV4 plug-in hybrid

Engine tested: 2.5-liter, 302-horsepower four-cylinder hybrid

Price as tested: $49,831

Why it's here: The Toyota RAV4 was the fourth best-selling vehicle in the US in 2019. Its trucky looks and nearly unbeatable utility make it easy to see why the car is so popular. The plug-in hybrid version of the RAV4 adds horsepower and efficiency into a package that's tough to beat. Even Honda doesn't offer a plug-in version of the CR-V — the RAV4's main competitor. The only drawback is the Toyota RAV4 Prime is a bit pricey for a RAV4.

Here's what we said in our review: "The RAV4 is Toyota's volume seller, so it's an important one to get right. And for the majority of US buyers, it's exactly what they need. 

"It's comfortable, utilitarian, highly practical, well thought out, and incredibly easy to drive and use. When it came down to building a mass-market car, Toyota nailed it. No wonder the automaker sold nearly half a million of them last year.

"Then, Toyota took that package and made it a plug-in hybrid — a good one, at that.

"In my own testing, I saw a return of about 42 mpg. Our EV-only stint returned about 35 miles, as mentioned above, and that was mostly on a highway. For someone looking for a fuel-efficient car that can also haul around just about everything, the RAV4 Prime is the perfect solution."

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