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The Lamborghini Urus is the Robb Report Car of the Year for 2019

The Italian marque takes top honors for the third year in a row, this time with its 650 hp super sport utility vehicle. Here’s how the entire field finished.

The Car of the Year competition, now a time-honored and eagerly anticipated series of events, started with modest pretensions and nary a hint that it would eventually become a Robb Report tradition. In fact, the event began when a few colleagues and I gathered a handful of new cars and about as many enthusiast friends to spend a few days driving Southern California back roads and deciding which was the favorite vehicle among the group. That was 2003. Today, Car of the Year is a bicoastal contest held on public roads in Napa, Calif., and on public roads and a closed course in Boca Raton, Fla. For this edition, a total of nine groups, averaging 20 judges each—including musician, entrepreneur and producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, race-car driver Casey Mears, and chef Philip Tessier—drove 10 cars with the goal of sharing their observations with hundreds of thousands of Robb Report readers worldwide. But the premise—and the purpose—remains the same as ever: choosing which among an assortment of greats is the greatest new automobile on the market. —Robert Ross 

No. 10: Audi A8

The Audi A8.

“It’s like driving a spa.” Lisa Guerin  Photo by Robb Rice.

Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them.” By that definition, the developers of the Audi A8 should all be members of Mensa. The fourth generation of the German automaker’s flagship sedan is billed as the world’s first production vehicle with Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities, which, in theory, will decrease accidents. This next stage allows the driver to take hands off the wheel—and eyes off the road. The U.S., however, has not legalized such self-driving functionality, leaving Audi to market the autonomous functions as driver-assist systems requiring human input. So the A8 was not able to show its full potential, like an opera singer asked only to whisper. Still, the elegant, understated four-door had its fans. “A terrific car—five years from now, you will still be thrilled you bought it,” said Patricia Low. For Tarek Souryal, it was a pleasant surprise: “I never would have expected the interior from the exterior.” Lisa Guerin mentioned, “It’s like driving a spa.” Some yearned for more horses under the hood. “Underpowered—it needs the V-8,” observed Jared Silver. And Jeff Fisher asked, “Where’s the oomph?” Fair, but we find it a more cerebral sedan. Einstein would have understood.  —Viju Mathew

ENGINE:

3.0 L, turbocharged V-6

POWER:

335 hp @ 5,000–6,400 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

5.6 seconds

TOP SPEED:

130 mph (limited)

BASE PRICE:

$83,800

PRICE AS TESTED:

$101,095

No. 9: Mercedes-Maybach S 650

The Mercedes-Maybach S 650

“Reminds me of traveling first class in an airplane.” Cheryl Holden  Photo by Robb Rice.

While Rolls-Royce, a company that built its reputation on the passenger experience, is now catering to drivers with the more pilot-focused Wraith and Dawn models, Mercedes knows that for its Maybach line, the back seats are still bread and butter. We found the back to be undoubtedly the preferred position in the 2019 Mercedes-Maybach S 650, owing to individual rear seats that can recline 43 degrees and come with calf rests and head cushions, noise-canceling headphones to further hush the already quiet cabin, and a beverage chiller with optional Robbe & Berking stemware. “Let’s be honest, nobody buys this car to drive it,” said Tim Daly. “It’s for the commute to your private jet.” Cheryl Holden also made the aviation connection: “Reminds me of traveling first class in an airplane.” For Sureel Choksi, it was “the best Uber ride ever.” Trisha Mears was infatuated: “If you cannot marry a royal, marry a Maybach—it’s that simple.” David Rosenberg was not as smitten, but only because he couldn’t find a foot massager. Piloting the S 650 is also pampering, thanks to a suite of driver-assistance systems. Add to that the 64-color ambient lighting, and it’s easy to agree with Lisa Guerin, who proclaimed, “The car drives like a lullaby.”  —Viju Mathew

ENGINE:

6.0 L, twin-turbocharged V-12

POWER:

621 hp @ 5,500 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

4.6 seconds

TOP SPEED:

155 mph (limited)

BASE PRICE:

$199,900

PRICE AS TESTED:

$229,300

No. 8: Rolls-Royce Cullinan

The Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

“If you want the nicest SUV on the planet, buy the Cullinan.” Scott Simon  Photo by Robb Rice.

No automobile at our 2019 Car of the Year events generated as much debate regarding its purpose as did the Cullinan. Named after the largest gem-quality diamond ever discovered, the much-anticipated Cullinan is every inch a Rolls-Royce. But the notion of the Spirit of Ecstasy atop the grille of an SUV seemed out of character to some, like Howard Dvorkin, who simply asked, “Why?” The idea of pressing Rolls-Royce’s high-riding luxury cruiser into service as an off-road warrior, however, appealed to many of our judges. Niall Hay exclaimed, “Move over, Range Rover, there is a new top vehicle in the segment.” Scott Simon echoed the enthusiasm: “If you want the nicest SUV on the planet, buy the Cullinan.” Its road manners, which Rolls-Royce calls a “magic carpet ride,” received accolades from Faheem Hasnain: “This was a cloud on wheels.” Rick Krause claimed he “could drive all day on the open road.” Emily Spencer likened it to “a well-traveled European aristocrat.” For some drivers, especially those who were already Rolls-Royce owners, there was no contest that the Cullinan was their SUV of choice. Najeeb Thomas mused that it’s the outcome he would expect when “a luxury cruise liner finally has a child.” —Robert Ross 

ENGINE:

6.75 L, twin-turbocharged V-12

POWER:

563 hp @ 5,000 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

5 seconds

TOP SPEED:

155 mph (limited)

BASE PRICE:

$325,000

PRICE AS TESTED:

$420,000

No. 7: Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

The Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid.

“Perfect for dropping the kids off in 3.5 seconds.” Bill Kimberlin  Photo by Robb Rice.

Porsche has not only created a capable sports sedan, it may have made the most capable Porsche, period. Long and low as a dachshund, the most potent Panamera is a virile hybrid that ladles a little bit of “green” on performance and luxury, all in a unique four-door hatchback design. Though its looks may polarize Porsche purists, once unbelievers sit in the driver’s seat, they are left with no doubt that the Panamera is a true Porsche, through and through. William Reilly called it “a family 911,” while Bill Kimberlin echoed the sentiment, observing that the Panamera is “perfect for dropping the kids off in 3.5 seconds.” But the Panamera is a complex car, and some drivers were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of technology. “The interior is extremely confusing,” said Jared Silver. “I need a PhD from MIT to figure it out.” Similarly, Gavin English noted, “It has a complicated human interface. Too much tech.” Masaru Ishii simply acknowledged that there was “a lot going on.” But most drivers appreciated the big sedan’s ability to deliver massive power and torque without a hint of drama. “There is a place for this car in my garage. It’s the smoothest sports car I have driven,” said Steve Flynn. “You’ll have it all with this car.” —Robert Ross 

ENGINE:

4.0 L, twin-turbocharged V-8

POWER:

680 hp @ 5,750–6,000 rpm (combined gas and electric)

0 TO 60 MPH:

3.2 seconds

TOP SPEED:

192 mph

BASE PRICE:

$184,400

PRICE AS TESTED:

$201,540

No. 6: BMW M850i xDrive

The BMW M850i xDrive.

“A big German muscle car that even a soccer mom can drive!” Ginger Mollo  Photo by Robb Rice.

This year marks BMW’s first 8-Series since 1999. Like Rip Van Winkle, BMW’s top luxury coupe awakens after 20 years with an all-new look. This coupe says “elegant”—and puts BMW back in the luxury GT game. The M850i xDrive Coupe also screams “performance,” thanks to one of BMW’s workhorse engines: a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 that, in this model, is the most fine-tuned version to date. Equally impressive is the entry-level price. “The bang for the buck is incredible,” said Avrum Elmakis. Aaron Hasnain added, “This car is a sleeper and a tremendous value. It’s a car I can have a blast driving to the office without looking too pretentious.” Ginger Mollo called it “a big German muscle car that even a soccer mom can drive!” But Scott Ramsey felt it was too understated. “If only they had sexed up the exterior,” he said, “it would be nearly perfect.” As with most other carmakers’ GTs, “plus-2” seating is more concept than reality. “The rear seats are useless,” noted Hicham Khodr, “even for kids.” Comparing the BMW with the pricier competition, though, Sureel Choksi said, “It vastly exceeded my expectations. BMW finally got its mojo back!” Maybe Rick Stavola put it best, exclaiming, “BM-WOW!” —Robert Ross 

ENGINE:

4.4 L, twin-turbocharged V-8

POWER:

523 hp @ 5,500–6,000 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

3.6 seconds

TOP SPEED:

155 mph (limited)

BASE PRICE:

$111,900

PRICE AS TESTED:

$117,945

No. 5: Aston Martin Vantage

The Aston Martin Vantage.

“An automotive dopamine injection.” Spencer Wells  Photo by Robb Rice.

For years, Aston Martin’s platforms, engines, and electronics lagged behind the competition. This all-new Vantage puts the marque squarely back in the running. “Driving the Vantage is such a visceral experience,” said Spencer Wells. “The steering is razor-sharp, and the engine note is perfectly tuned. An automotive dopamine injection.” Part of that thrill is thanks to a new V-8 engine from power-train partner Mercedes-Benz. “Bravo, Aston, for bringing a modern platform to your always beautiful cabin,” said Brent Holden. “Easy winner for most improved.” Gavin English observed, “The base price of [about] $150,000 seems like a good value for a car with this performance and exclusivity.” Nicholas Mastroianni III agreed: “A lot of bang for the price point. It’s a best-in-class car. Most likely to be the next addition to my fleet.” Of course, as always, nothing looks better than an Aston Martin. If looks could kill, the new Vantage might well assassinate the competition. “The exterior styling is off the charts,” said Mike Harms. “Always dressed for cocktails,” quipped Aston DB9 owner Patricia Low. In the spirit of 007, John Tolbert, president and managing director of Boca Raton Resort & Club, pronounced the Vantage, “Bond reinvented.” —Robert Ross 

ENGINE:

4.0 L, twin-turbocharged V-8

POWER:

503 hp @ 6,000 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

3.6 seconds

TOP SPEED:

195 mph

BASE PRICE:

$153,081

PRICE AS TESTED:

$186,806

No. 4: McLaren 600LT

The McLaren 600LT.

“The most smiles per hour.” Ruben Oliva  Photo by Robb Rice.

McLaren Automotive is like that seven-year-old prodigy who just graduated college—ridiculously accomplished at such a young age. Although McLaren has been selling production cars in North America only since 2011, the British marque has built immense brand awareness and customer loyalty with the frequent release of innovative models that combine eye-candy aesthetics with racing performance. Among the latest of these, the 600LT is inspired by the McLaren F1 GTR “Longtail” racer and sports a lengthened body that, for enhanced aerodynamics, includes an elongated front splitter and all-new rear diffuser and rear wing. “This car screams to be taken out to the track,” said Ruben Oliva, who noted that it gave him “the most smiles per hour.” Handling is otherworldly, according to Aydin Senkut. “It doesn’t drive as much as it telepathically transports you to where you think of going,” he said. The motorsports pedigree is more than apparent. Roy Arnold opined, “Once inside, you literally strap it on and launch yourself!” But not everyone was enamored by the ergonomics. “No need for yoga or Pilates: Just get in and out of this car,” said Michael Glennie. Perhaps it was observing such contortions that caused Dylan Jones to comment, “Awkward—like an American not understanding dry British humor.” Regardless, all who sat behind the wheel concluded that the 600LT was no joke.  —Viju Mathew

ENGINE:

3.8 L, twin-turbocharged V-8

POWER:

592 hp @ 7,500 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

2.8 seconds

TOP SPEED:

204 mph

BASE PRICE:

$240,000

PRICE AS TESTED:

$280,700

No. 3: Bentley Continental GT

The Bentley Continental GT.

“Probably the best redesign I have ever seen.” Avrum Elmakis  Photo by Robb Rice.

During last year’s contest, one of our judges referred to the Aston Martin he drove as “a wolf in an English gentleman’s suit.” Fair enough. But that would make the new Bentley Continental GT a werewolf decked out in Savile Row’s finest. For the third generation of its four-seat grand tourer, Bentley has given the Continental GT an improved 12-cylinder heart paired with a dual-clutch eight-speed transmission—a more responsive power-train configuration not found in the predecessor. Handling is also refined with a new adaptive chassis. Interior upgrades include the option of dual veneers from a range of exotic woods, koa now among them, and the dashboard’s innovative three-sided display rotates to present either a flush surface, a 12.3-inch touchscreen, or analog dials. Our drivers delighted in all of the fine-tuning. “Damn it, Bentley. I own the old one, and now—with all these improvements—I’ll have to buy the new one,” complained Brent Holden. “Probably the best redesign I have ever seen,” noted Avrum Elmakis. “The car is incredible in its fit and finish.” Then there was Nicholas Mastroianni III, who, after his turn behind the wheel, asked incredulously, “Did that just happen?” Yes, Nicholas, it did.  —Viju Mathew

ENGINE:

6.0 L, twin-turbocharged W-12

POWER:

626 hp @ 6,000 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

3.6 seconds

TOP SPEED:

207 mph

BASE PRICE:

$214,600

PRICE AS TESTED:

$276,730

No. 2: Ferrari 812 Superfast

The Ferrari 812 Superfast.

“It’s the most fun I have ever had on the street.” Casey Mears  Photo by Robb Rice.

As a purist with a penchant for Italian GTs, I figured Ferrari had Car of the Year in the bag. After all, it has the most powerful naturally aspirated production-car engine ever made. In the words of Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, “If this had more power, it would be a rocket.” If that’s not enough, the 812 is the fastest series-production Ferrari in the company’s 70-year history. “It’s a complete celebration of the internal combustion engine,” exclaimed Karl Zeile. “Rejoice in a V-12!” To many of our judges, it was the best GT ever to wear a prancing horse, and maybe the best GT anywhere. “The Superfast is aptly named,” Andy Johnson said. “It is the best grand tourer I have ever driven.” High praise came from stock-car racing champion Casey Mears, who claimed, “It’s the most fun I have ever had on the street. Racer or not, you can’t help but appreciate this car.” “Not for the timid,” added Rick Stavola. The name celebrates Ferrari’s first 4.9 Superfast, a luxurious grand tourer from the late 1950s that made Ferrari famous, not just on the track but in the driveways of playboys and gentleman racers everywhere. The only reason the Superfast didn’t take the top spot was the lack of multipurpose prowess compared to the champ. Still, as Rick Reiss put it, “OMG. I mean OMG.” With Ferrari, some things never change. —Robert Ross 

ENGINE:

6.5 L, naturally aspirated V-12

POWER:

789 hp @ 8,500 rpm

0 TO 60 MPH:

2.8 seconds

TOP SPEED:

211 mph

BASE PRICE:

$335,275

PRICE AS TESTED:

$465,509

No. 1: Lamborghini Urus

The Lamborghini Urus.

“It has multiple personalities, and I love them all.” John Tolbert  Photo by Robb Rice.

The winner of the 2019 Robb Report Car of the Year is proof that there’s a renaissance in the automotive realm, and, fittingly, it has begun in Italy—Sant’Agata Bolognese to be exact. There, on the outskirts of Bologna, the city where Michelangelo drew inspiration for his later work on the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Lamborghini has created its own magnum opus, the Urus. Touted as the first super-SUV, the Urus—named after an extinct ox—is a class-defying breed. “Our vision was for the Urus to be able to explore completely different surroundings, which, until now, was not possible to do with our cars,” explains Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s chief technology officer. “We wanted a new dimension—everyday usability and versatility.” This raging bull is unique among Lambos as it features six drive modes (including ones for snow and sand), but it also inherited aerodynamic attributes from the Huracán Performante and handling elements (such as four-wheel steering, active damping, and four-wheel drive) from the Aventador S. That sibling connection was clear. “No need to have a sports car and SUV, this is the total package,” said professional racer Casey Mears, who added, “don’t mind me if I use it to pick up the kids later.” Josh Gottlieb concurred, noting that “it’s simply amazing to drive a sport utility vehicle that accelerates, corners, and rides like an Indy race car.” This duality is also what appealed to John Tolbert: “The power and strength of the Urus combined with a magical interior make this an exceptional vehicle. It has multiple personalities, and I love them all.” Understandably, nearly a dozen judges have already contacted the marque as potential buyers. The ferocious four-door does have one flaw, according to Roger Smith: “There is no way your groceries won’t end up scattered over the car.” Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson didn’t share that concern. “I wish I already owned it, or could just take this one home.”   —Viju Mathew

ENGINE:

4.0 L, twin-turbocharged V-8

POWER:

650 hp @ 6,000 rpm

0 TO 62 MPH:

3.6 seconds

TOP SPEED:

190 mph

BASE PRICE:

$200,000

PRICE AS TESTED:

$242,998

Rules of Engagement

As always, our criteria for selection required that a car be all new. So, while we love Porsche 911s and Lamborghini Huracáns, this year’s models weren’t sufficiently different from last year’s to be considered new. What we did round up for our stable included some vehicles—like the Lamborghini Urus and Rolls-Royce Cullinan—that had just arrived in the western hemisphere. That meant that our judges were among the first to sample some very special stock. This year, we also scaled back the selection to 10 cars, in response to driver feedback that eight or so hours were insufficient to test the 13 that have been our traditional number since 2004. Unique to the 2019 Car of the Year is that for the first time no convertibles were among the fleet. No slight was intended: It’s just a reflection of the contemporary market, which is populated by so many standout hardtops, sedans, and SUVs. While having fun is the order of the day, our judges actually have to work at Car of the Year. They’re enthusiasts—not automotive journalists— who love and buy cars, and their job is to report to our audience—and the manufacturers—what they think about our automotive candidates. Though most all are members of RR1 (rr1.com), some of this edition’s judges have participated for years, while others were first-timers. On a subjective scale of A to F, they graded performance, suitability as a daily driver, value, fit and finish, and a variety of other criteria to arrive at a favorite. We share some of their illuminating comments; others are unpublishable but equally telling. With so many characteristics being weighed, it’s certainly possible for a stellar sedan to win out over a drop-dead gorgeous supercar. And this year, surprises were in store for everyone. —Robert Ross 

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and John Tolbert.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and John Tolbert sipping Jackson’s Le Chemin du Roi Champagne.  Photo by Stewart Cook.

Four Wheels, Three Stars, 100 Points

Car of the year wouldn’t hold quite the allure it does without the hospitality of Meadowood Napa Valley, the luxury resort in St. Helena, Calif., that has hosted us for years, or Waldorf Astoria’s historic Florida property, the Boca Raton Resort & Club, home to the second year of our East Coast sessions. Both venues boasted food-and-wine experiences as exceptional as the cars being driven.

Serving Louis XIII at Meadowood Napa Valley.

Serving Louis XIII at Meadowood Napa Valley.  Photo by Stewart Cook.

The Restaurant at Meadowood’s Michelin three-star chef, Christopher Kostow, treated all of our Napa groups to great fare at his nearby restaurant, the Charter Oak. Each group of our judges and their guests—significant others, children, or friends—spent the evening prior to the drive day enjoying a special meal, making friends, and getting a quick introduction to each car from our editors. Early to bed and early to rise: The next day’s itinerary featured a full schedule of serious driving, followed by a dinner where microphones were passed, opinions expressed, and verdicts rendered. As with most legislative bodies, participants freely voiced their discord, but consensus sometimes prevailed, especially as regards the culinary efforts of our hosts.  Robert Ross

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