2018 Volkswagen Atlas
For years, Volkswagen’s strategy was to build cars that the German automaker thought Americans should want, not the cars Americans actually did want. The all-new 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SUV may be the first vehicle in VW’s long history to nail the needs of modern American buyers.
It’s big — very big — and able to seat seven people in complete comfort, regardless of which seat they’re in. That’s an astonishing accomplishment for a three-row SUV and one of the reasons it blew away the competitors in our 2017 Three-Row SUV Challenge. With a sliding second-row bench or captain’s chairs that also tilt forward to allow you to keep a child-safety seat installed in place, entry and exit from the third row is a breeze, and adjusting legroom among passengers once settled is easy.
It may be big, but it also drives well. The standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is only available with front-wheel drive, but if you live where all-wheel drive is not important, this is a perfectly acceptable powertrain. Even loaded with a full complement of passengers, the torquey little four-cylinder pulls strongly in traffic, and the chassis easily handles the heft of the Atlas with or without a load on board. The V-6 provides more oomph if it’s wanted, with smooth power delivery through the eight-speed automatic transmission. It may not be the most athletic-handling SUV out there, but that’s not its mission — it’s a comfortable, capable people hauler. The ride quality is outstanding, the brakes are strong and consistent, and its cabin noise levels are impressively hushed.
The Atlas is also available with all of the latest electronic gadgets, from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to forward collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control and a surround-view camera for easy parking. You can load one up to luxury levels with leather and wood trim, or keep it simple with more basic interior upholstery. And to top it all off, the Atlas offers the best standard warranty in the industry: bumper-to-bumper for six years or 72,000 miles. However you equip one, the new Volkswagen Atlas may be the most spot-on interpretation of an American family SUV that we’ve seen in ages.
2018 Honda Accord
With the redesigned 2018 Accord, Honda has given mid-size sedan shoppers plenty of reasons to put the Accord high on their list, leaving little untouched in the redesign. The 2018 Honda Accord has a stylish and upscale look, upgraded interiors, standard safety technology on all models, and a much-needed overhaul of its multimedia system thanks to fewer menus and real volume and tuning knobs.
Beyond the overall improvements, the reimagined Accord still is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. A new, more efficient 252-horsepower, turbo 2.0-liter replaces the old V-6 for buyers who want more power. Not that the base 192-hp, turbo 1.5-liter is shabby; with impressive 30/38/33 mpg city/highway/combined EPA ratings, it stacks up well against the competition as a base engine that will satisfy most mid-size buyers.
Want a sportier car? The 2018 Accord Sport offers a different look and feel, plus a six-speed manual shifter with either engine. And if pampering is your thing, the top Touring trim has a near-luxury interior, plus comfort and convenience features that should give you pause before you spend more on a luxury brand.
2018 Honda Civic Type R
The Civic Type R doesn't really fit in with the rest of our finalists, but it's no ugly duckling. It just has a different focus: performance.
Though this is the fifth generation of the Type R, it's the first time one has been offered in the U.S., and the car was worth the wait. Its six-speed manual transmission, throttle and steering work so closely in concert with each other and with the driver that it feels as if you're moving the car telepathically.
It does all of this while having two fewer drive wheels than its competitors. The work Honda has done in making a front-wheel-drive car somehow feel so neutral is praiseworthy, and torque steer is somehow a complete afterthought.
Backing up that performance is some practicality. Peek underneath that outlandish exterior and you'll find a hatchback with plenty of cargo room and a backseat that can fit adults.
2018 Kia Stinger
Kia wowed us with the Stinger when it debuted at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, and we're still buzzing about it a year later. From its sinister good looks to its near-luxury interior quality, the Stinger is a shot across the bow of the luxury sports sedan class from the unlikeliest of automakers. What's more, it backs up its aggressive styling with an optional twin-turbo V-6 engine that pumps out 365 horsepower and is good for a zero-to-60-mph time of just 4.7 seconds, according to Kia. Driving enthusiasts will also like the Stinger's responsive Sport mode and precise steering.
While performance is primary, the Stinger is also reasonably practical. It's a four-door hatchback with 23.3 cubic feet of cargo room, a comfortable backseat that's big enough for adults and a base turbo four-cylinder that gets an EPA-estimated 29 mpg on the highway.
In an era where shoppers are flocking to SUVs and the future of the passenger car is questioned, a car like the Stinger is a delightful surprise that will challenge consumers' perceptions of Kia once again. We gave it our Best in Show award after its auto-show debut, and it's just as compelling today.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
Consumers are chomping up SUVs faster than Cookie Monster can raid a bakery, and compact SUVs are among the hottest sellers. For 2018, the Volkswagen Tiguan rises to the top of this class. The redesigned SUV makes big strides in passenger comfort, drivetrain refinement and technology.
The 2018 Tiguan is bigger, inside and out, and more family-friendly, too, with a lot more passenger room and cargo space than the previous model as well as a standard third row in front-wheel-drive versions. It excels in terms of features, with an updated entertainment and control display that features standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration as well as a modern-looking digital instrument cluster, a 12.3-inch display that's easy (and fun) to configure. It doesn't disappoint in the safety department, either, with excellent crash-test scores and a front collision warning with low-speed automatic emergency braking system standard on all but the base model.
What hasn't changed for 2018 is the Tiguan's dynamic road manners. The turbocharged 2.0-liter is punchy, and handling feels crisp and agile, making the Tiguan one of the most fun to drive in the class.
2018 Volvo XC60
With the redesigned XC60, Volvo extended the current XC90's appeal to a smaller, more affordable SUV. That's no small feat: The XC90 garnered Cars.com's top accolade two years ago, but the XC60 is 10.3 inches shorter and $5,400 cheaper. Still, it preserves the XC90's Euro-chic styling on a smaller canvas, and it retains much of its larger sibling's tech-focused opulence. Three capable drivetrains give shoppers a wide range of choices, including a plug-in hybrid that's good for a sub-5-second sprint to 60 mph. The backseat offers much-improved comfort over the outgoing XC60's, and Volvo's semi-autonomous Pilot Assist II is a must-have option for stop-and-go traffic.
Forego any options and the XC60 remains a strong choice even in its entry-level form. In a segment where too many rivals charge extra for common luxury amenities, the XC60 packs a relative trove for its low-$40,000s starting price — among them automatic emergency braking, lane departure steering assist, a panoramic moonroof and a 9-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Value is hard to come by in a luxury vehicle, but Volvo makes a strong case in the XC60. In the dozens of cars that vie for Cars.com's top award, Volvo's redesigned SUV easily made the short list. This Swede has swag, plain and simple.