PerformanceDrive’s Top 10 Cars of 2019

Brett Davis

Just as 2020 swings into full stride, we thought we’d take a look back over some of the highlight vehicles of 2019. Think of it as like our ‘car of the year’ awards, with no advertising dollars influencing the list.

This is specifically for vehicles that we’ve driven and reviewed on the website/YouTube channel in 2019. Some vehicles might be superior in respective segments, but this is for vehicles that either came out in 2019 or ones that we haven’t been able to drive until 2019 – including new variants of existing model lines. Keep in mind not every single car brand is willing to provide PerformanceDrive with vehicles to review.

The marking criteria is simple; best fit for purpose. In other words, what is the vehicle designed for and how well does it do it? We’re also looking at value for money, standard features, and things like innovation and powertrain performance against the given segment standards. To cater for as much of the market as we can, we’ve tried to look at and include a wide range of vehicle segments.

Of all the cars we tested this year, these are the ones that stood out and remain firmly etched in our memories. We’ve ordered them from best to bestest, overall. (Our latest reviews are linked in the respective titles).

10. BMW X7

Of all the massive, show-off, look-at-me SUVs out there, we think the new BMW X7 is the best execution of this formula. Yes, it’s not for everyone and it is a bit brash and even vulgar. But if you do want a mother-of-all-SUVs, with a very luxurious cabin and properly high-end attention to detail, the X7 is about as grand as it gets for a mainstream production vehicle.

Prices start at a somewhat reasonable $125k, which isn’t bad considering just how much vehicle you’re getting – a top-spec Toyota LandCruiser, which is slightly smaller, retails from around $115k. And perhaps even better is the fact that the X7 rides on a well-sorted platform with standard adjustable air suspension, so it feels much lighter and more nimble than the stature and weight figures suggest.

Our pick is the X7 M50d. It uses a quad-turbo (yes, four turbos, fittingly) 3.0-litre inline-six that develops 294kW and 760Nm. It’s smooth, majestic, and ever-empowering. Again, if this is the sort of thing that tickles your fancy, the X7 is very fulfilling. There’s also a more normal 30d, and barking M50i V8 petrol available.

9. Volvo XC40

The small premium SUV market offers a range of great products right now. But for us, the Volvo XC40 stands out as the best. Volvo’s cool and calm approach filters out all of the SUV noise going on at the moment, leaving a peaceful yet highly thoughtful and advanced proposition. It’s just the right size to be small enough for city users, but large enough to store the shopping and carry five passengers.

We love the tablet-style touch-screen on the dash, which, again, seems to adopt the most relaxing layout of menus and controls. A minimalist approach is applied for the ‘hard’ buttons, so there aren’t many at all, while the decor is refreshingly Swedish and of high quality, with lots of innovative touches seamlessly blended in.

Volvo offers a range of engine options, and most of them are powerful enough to keep up with or surpass the market rivals. Our pick would have to be the top T5 R-Design, although for this list we have to refer to the T4, which is just as good, as that’s what we drove in 2019 (review linked in title).

8. Jaguar I-PACE

Most electric vehicles on the market at the moment go to great lengths to advertise the fact they are electric and hug trees and all of that. We love the I-PACE because it, first and foremost, is a luxurious mid-size crossover, wrapped up in an elegant design inspired by pedigree and heritage. In other words, it’s a modern Jag that just happens to be powered by batteries. Not only that, the drive experience is lovely, presenting both a quality ride and engaging and capable handling. Again, it’s a modern Jag.

The I-PACE deserves special merit because it was the first fully-electric premium mid-size SUV/crossover to hit the market. While Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW (in that order) were busy away working on their answers, the Jag pounced. And pounced perfectly onto a high perch. Power comes from a 90kWh battery that provides a WLTP-rated range of 470km. Two electric motors supply all-wheel drive, and an output of 294kW/696Nm.

We clocked 0-100km/h in 4.62 seconds, which is seriously quick, especially for something that’s not really pitched as a performance model. Jaguar claims the sprint in 4.8 seconds, and that’s quicker than all of the aforementioned rivals (Mercedes EQC; 5.1, Audi e-tron; 5.7, BMW iX3 still at concept stage).

7. Kia Picanto GT

Yes, this is PeformanceDrive and we love a good driver’s car. You probably won’t take us seriously but this here, the cute and spritely little Picanto GT, is indeed a driver’s car. How? Well, we define a driver’s car as something that you really, really want to drive and something that is really, really enjoyable when doing so. Yep, the Picanto GT is just that.

Under the tiny bonnet is a 1.0-litre turbo-petrol three-cylinder engine that joyously thrums and buzzes out 74kW and 172Nm. Our best 0-100km/h was 9.79 seconds during our testing. And we know, that isn’t fast. However, it matters zip-squat when you’re driving it, because it feels like it is doing much quicker than whatever speed you’re doing.

In our opinion, the feeling is just as important as reality. It’s fun to chuck around corners and it has enough torque – thanks to the turbo – to boost between them. On top of all of that, it’s a modern Kia. So, it’s very practical, user-friendly, extremely well-equipped for its class, and surprisingly premium in interior design. There’s also a seven-year warranty. If you’re looking for a second car or a city run-around, look no further.

6. Hyundai i30 Fastback N

If we were going to buy a small car, it’d have to be a hot hatch. And if we were going to buy a hot hatch, our favourite right now is the i30 N. Since the i30 N hatchback came out in 2018, the Fastback version, launched in 2019, becomes our pick. Mainly because we wanted to get the i30 N, in whatever body style, somewhere in this list. It’s too much of a good thing to leave out.

Hyundai’s R&D department is now headed up by former BMW M boss, Albert Biermann. He knows a thing or two about driver’s cars and track cars. Blend decades of this experience, previously only applied to premium vehicles, with Hyundai’s extensive practicality know-how, and you’re left with an unbeatable product.

The engine is very powerful and produces all of the exciting pops and bangs when you want it to, yet you can adjust the vehicle settings so it’s more like a warm hatch for everyday driving. You get the sense you could trash this thing for years and years with no issue, too. Hyundai’s warranty even covers track driving.

5. Lamborghini Urus

While there are many SUVs on the market at the moment that promise all levels of performance and ‘sedan-like’ handling and whatnot, the Lambo Urus really is just another mental Lamborghini. The fact that it kinda looks like an SUV/crossover doesn’t really matter; you’ll still be blown away by the drive experience.

We clocked 0-100km/h in just 3.44 seconds, which is very, very near supercar territory. In fact, McLaren claims its 540C does the sprint in 3.5 seconds, so the Urus is technically quicker than an actual supercar. Being a product overseen by Audi, the build quality inside is incredible and the attention to detail never ceases to amaze you. There are five seats inside, too, so you can take all the family for joyrides whenever you like.

4. Toyota RAV4

Yes, it’s just a Toyota RAV4. How good can it possibly be? Toyota has obviously gone back to the drawing board for the new-generation model and had a long, hard, window-gazing think. It has also, obviously, taken in lots and lots of customer feedback as it developed the new model. We say this because all of it really is obvious, as soon as you jump in.

The cabin is extremely well thought out and practical, with non-slip rubber-surfaces for the important areas and creative flourishes for other areas, and lots of space for storage where you need it. It doesn’t really matter if we like it. It’s almost to the point where it’s not our opinion. The latest RAV4 simply passes tests with higher scores in more areas than any other mid-size SUV currently on the market. In fact, the only real area it can’t compete with a rival is with its five-year warranty, as opposed to the rivalling Kia Sportage’s seven-year warranty. With fuel-efficient (in the real world, too) hybrid engines and good performance to match, the RAV4 more than makes up for it.

Our pick is the non-hybrid and lively-designed Edge variant, but we can totally understand why everyone will want to go for the hybrid, of which is available in all trim levels (except the Edge).

3. Suzuki Jimny

You might be wondering how this is our number 3 car of the year? It is hard to explain. You really need to drive one to fully understand. But, we’re sue you’ll agree once you drive it, there is definitely many things that make the new Jimny so loveable. The character, the surprisingly extensive list of standard features, and of course its goat-like, go-anywhere capability make it a genuinely interesting and appealing product.

With live axle suspension front and rear suspension, it’s also one of the most capable off-road vehicles we’ve ever tested. Plucky is probably the best word to describe its off-road performance, and its attitude, actually. You might think it can do it. However, the Jimny gives off such an ambitious and courageous personality that, more often than not, it can, after all, do it. And do it with ease.

Manual or auto, available in lots of cool colours, and there’s plenty of factory and aftermarket accessories on offer. The Jimny compliments your personality in a way that many, much more expensive cars can only dream of. Not convinced? We’ve put together a 45-minute video that pretty much explains it. See below.

2. BMW 330i

During 2019 we had a chance to drive the new G20 3 Series in 330i and 320d form. However, it’s the 330i M Sport that really stood out for us. BMW usually resets the benchmarks for the sporty, premium mid-size sedan segment with each generation it creates. But with the G20, we think it has moved the bar to a higher-than-usual level. It might look like a fairly humble German sedan, but don’t be fooled. The 3 Series packs a heap of class-leading and class-resetting standards.

Okay, the 330i is no longer a six-cylinder, and hasn’t been for quite a few years now. But, some how, the 190kW 2.0-litre four-pot turbo manages a real-world 0-100km/h sprint of just 5.51 seconds. That’s way more than quick enough for a mid-level variant. It sounds pretty good, too. Our favourite element of the new model is easily the handling, though. You can drive it like a downright hooligan and it responds like it’s already one step in front of you. Throw it into a corner too fast? Don’t worry, just turn and it will turn. It’s insane.

A lot of this is thanks to the new CLAR platform that holds it all together, also providing a low tare weight of just 1433kg. For a premium vehicle filled with lots of premium gear, such as a great multimedia system, good seats, quality materials, and a decent boot, we’re still scratching our heads about that weight figure. Check out our 36-minute review below if you need more explanation.

1. Porsche 911 Carrera 4S

We call it the king of sports cars, and there are many fans around the world (perhaps millions) that would call the Porsche 911 the pinnacle driver’s car of all time. As with every generation that passes, the latest 992 is the most evolved version ever. And when you constantly build and expand on something that’s already very good, and decades old, the latest version is always, inevitably, going to be an absolute cracker.

The 992 911 Carrera 4S stood out as the best car we drove all year. We love the bulletproof build quality, the simplicity of the cabin and controls, and of course the performance from the twin-turbo powertrain. This was one of the quickest vehicles we’ve ever tested, clocking a 0-100km/h run in just 3.43 seconds and covering the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds.

But it’s not all about speed and acceleration. The C4S is also incredibly balanced and controlled when you want it to be, with outstanding brakes and stability, but also very playful and shapeable if that’s your style. It’s perfect. Check out our 27-minute review video below for more.

Honourable mentions:

We knew the new Audi RS 5 was quick but we didn’t know it was going to be this quick. It’s an absolute rocket ship, getting off the line in scurry of all-wheel wheelspin and planting its rear end like a crazy powerboat. We clocked 0-100km/h in just 3.78 seconds. The quattro all-wheel drive system is also very nice in the corners, providing precise steering and lots of surefooted grip. As with all modern Audis, the interior puts most rivals to shame with utter quality and craftsmanship.

The new Lexus ES 300h was probably the calmest and most relaxing vehicle we drove in 2019. Based on the latest Camry, which is a very good product as well for its intended purpose, the ES 300h turns up the appeal with Lexus’s typically outstanding fit and finish, and attention to detail. It’s also, of course, very fuel efficient.

Both the Kia Seltos and Cerato GT deserve a mention. These take bread-and-butter classes and sprinkle them with heavy dustings of new-age standard features, credible performance, and outstanding practicality and peace-of-mind. If you’re in the small SUV class or small car class, browsing for a new purchase, we can’t recommend these enough. Very good work, Kia.

The Toyota LandCruiser Troop-carrier, all-new Toyota HiAce, and Toyota Supra (tested in 2019 but not yet published) have also left a lasting imprint in our memory, while the RAM 1500, although flawed and aged, was our favourite ute. Lastly, we can’t not mention the mental McLaren 720S, especially since it produced the quickest-ever 0-100km/h time we’ve ever tested.

Bring on 2020. We’ve got plenty of exciting new models arriving in Australia this year, and we look forward to bringing you as many reviews of them as we possibly can. If you have a favourite of 2019, feel free to add your two cents in the comment section below.

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