Could there be a four-peat?
The question of whether Lamborghini would prove victorious for a fourth year running drew scores of car lovers to multiple Car of the Year sessions in Napa, Calif., and Boca Raton, Fla., for the chance to put a wide assortment of automobiles to the test. It was quite the evolution from our first competition, in 2003, which involved just a handful of people—a small group of friends, really—wagering on a few sports cars.
Acting as “editors for a day,” 171 judges joined gatherings in November and early December 2019 to drive and vote on which among 11 new models would become the 2020 Robb Report Car of the Year. Distilling our judges’ oft-provocative written comments, we noted much consensus within the groups when it came to the positive and negative attributes of each contender.
This year brought together an interesting selection of five convertibles, four sedans and two GTs, insofar as the Rolls-Royce Wraith might be considered such. Notably absent were hard-edge competitors to the Lamborghini. Specifically, latest models like Ferrari’s F8 Tributo, Chevrolet’s Corvette and McLaren’s new GT simply weren’t yet in the media fleets, while Porsche’s new policy no longer allows loans of the duration required for our Car of the Year program. Other excellent models aren’t sufficiently different from last year’s versions but were featured previously when new. And, while we select the cars to be included in COTY, we allow manufacturers to make substitutions based on availability. For 2020, sedans were especially well represented, despite the fact that traditional four-doors have been losing substantial market share to SUVs and crossover alternatives. Their enthusiastic reception by our judges—especially of the big Mercedes-AMG—suggests that rumors of the sedan’s untimely disappearance are, like the report of Mark Twain’s demise, “greatly exaggerated.”
No hybrids or all-electric vehicles were present, though we suspect a few important models barely on the horizon in late 2019 will arrive to shake things up for 2021. Still, a total of 6,375 hp proves that there remains plenty of internal-combustion excitement to be had. The “race” was closer than ever this year, with four cars well ahead of the pack—and without the occasional landslide results we’ve seen in the past. Proof, perhaps, that there are many great cars and, surely, no losers among this group of automobiles.
11. Kia Stinger GTS Special Edition
“Not sure what it’s doing here” was how Mike Bilek put it when he initially saw our Kia GTS. He wasn’t alone in his skepticism. Indeed, bringing a sub-$50,000 car to an A-list party was a bold move, but we wanted to see how the Korean manufacturer’s best sporting effort fit into our rarefied automotive landscape. The Kia’s styling has a refined Euro look, not the clownish grilles of some brands from the Far East. You might even think it German-made—until you catch sight of the logo on its hood. Apart from earning high design marks, it demonstrates that engineers paid attention to sharp handling with an electronically controlled suspension and an all-wheel-drive system with drift mode, which affords the pleasures of rear-wheel-drive dynamics while ensuring all-weather capability. It trailed the other cars in popularity, but the resounding majority of drivers were seriously impressed. “Although not a top performer,” said Bryan Hunter, “it is surprisingly good considering its price.”
“It’s a lot of car for the value,” remarked NASCAR veteran Casey Mears, while Jacob Spencer thought the Stinger GTS delivered a “sleek design and great torque response.” John Conover said it “over-delivers. Light and lively, it’s really a fun car.” The accolades were almost universal, with Nick Linca recognizing the “great look, feel and attention to detail for that price point,” and Najeeb Thomas weighing in with, “There’s probably not a better value on the market.” Tim Trauth put it best, saying, “You know that hole-in-the-wall restaurant with killer food at 1990s prices? That’s like this Kia.”
ENGINE: 3.3-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6
POWER: 365 hp
0-60 MPH: 4.7 sec
TOP SPEED: 167 mph
BASE PRICE: $46,400
OUR CAR: $46,500
10. Roush Stage 3 Mustang
Ford’s Mustang has been an American icon since 1964 and in recent years has acquired genuine sports-car-handling attributes to match its power. Roush Performance gets cars directly from Ford, adds modifications and then sends the cars to Ford dealerships, which are the only places you can order them. Roush’s objective is to start with the excellent Mustang GT and build the most capable Mustang possible.
Boasting 250 hp more than a stock Mustang GT, Roush’s Stage 3 version is about “brute power,” according to Simon Firth, who was wowed by the acceleration. “The roar of the engine is like a fantasy coming to life!” Ryan Brandsma said. And Tom Mont- Gomery opined, “If you’re buying this car, it’s for the power and responsiveness.” Some, however, found it lacking in refinement. “The ride feels like a blender,” mused Roger Cary. Others, including Stuart Winston, remarked on the “cheap-looking interior.” Jon Huertas said, “I’m not a fan of the [10-speed automatic] transmission,” while Roy Arnold said it “needs a manual.” (A 6-speed stick shift is available.) Differences of opinion notwithstanding, perhaps Peter Wright said it best: “When in doubt, peel out.”
ENGINE: 5.0-liter, supercharged V-8
POWER: 710 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.3 sec est.
TOP SPEED: 180 mph est.
BASE PRICE (MUSTANG GT WITH ADDITIONAL FACTORY OPTIONS): $51,530
OUR CAR: $77,900
9. Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody
Almost as polarizing as today’s political landscape, the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody elicited the strongest reactions from our voters. One point all could agree on was that it had plenty of bravado. Developed by Dodge’s Street and Racing Technology team, the four-door owes its ferocity to a 6.2-liter, supercharged Hemi V-8 corralling 707 angry horses.
“It’s the quintessential muscle car,” said Peter Li. Similarly, Bryan Hunter was seduced by the “sheer thrill when you punch it. The response is almost instant, and it’s only too happy to let the tires spin while screaming off the line.” All that brawn led Scott Simon to caution, “It’s an easy car to underestimate.”
The opposition was equally opinionated. “American muscle with no manners,” was how Mike Davis put it. Tim Trauth was also not a fan. “This car is like a bar at 2 a.m.,” he noted. “Loud, obnoxious and sloppy.” Nathan Tan painted an even more colorful picture: “Driving the Hellcat is akin to Wile E. Coyote with a rocket on his back and roller skates on his feet—prodigious power but no control.” Perhaps its unbridled nature is what Harry Lange related to when he quipped, “I should have bought it when I was 18.”
ENGINE: 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8
POWER: 707 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.6 sec
TOP SPEED: 196 mph
BASE PRICE: $69,645
OUR CAR: $83,205
8. Audi RS 5 Sportback
A sensibly sized daily driver that delivers impressive performance, Audi’s RS 5 Sportback offers four-door practicality with the styling and handling dynamics of a coupe. The car is distinguished by an aggressive front end with a capacious grille and lower air intakes, but its sporting spirit is really apparent from behind the wheel. Tuned by Audi Sport—formerly Quattro division—the all-wheel drive maximizes traction and hustles the car around corners while directing more power to the rear wheels in dry conditions to provide the driving excitement of rear-wheel drive. Most drivers shared Jared Silver’s appreciation for “the well-balanced chassis, transmission and power.” Silver concluded it was “the most confidence-inspiring car that wasn’t a supercar.” While a few drivers were unsettled by the stiff suspension, Riccardo Spagni found the RS 5 “surprisingly aggressive, letting you play with it but still making sure you are in absolute control. Driving it is incredibly reassuring.” Francois Grand remarked on the “great power and responsiveness,” while Kimberly Worsnop appreciated “its ethereal feel—quick yet light on its feet—like driving on a cloud, and it gets better with speed.”
Like every Audi, the design is sophisticated yet understated, which no doubt suits the personality of many owners who appreciate highly engineered automobiles with vault-like build quality and a car that Jeremy Hand called “conservative yet promiscuous.” Many also thought the Audi’s price was conservative, relative to the car’s performance. But its low-key styling underwhelmed more than a few drivers looking for a little more visual panache, including Kelley Jones, who said, “The exterior design could be more distinctive.” A last-minute snag prevented the Audi from making an appearance in Florida, so its overall ranking reflects the reduction of votes from those three sessions. Its eventual absence aside, John DePaola was emphatic about the Sportback: “It was the most fun car to drive of all 11!”
ENGINE: 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6
POWER: 444 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.8 sec
TOP SPEED: 155 mph, limited / 174 mph, optional
BASE PRICE: $74,200
OUR CAR: $97,220
7. Rolls-Royce Black Badge Wraith
The bespoke Black Badge series from Rolls-Royce not only offers a brooding, edgier aesthetic but also a bump in performance, with an additional 37 ft lbs of torque. Rolls developed the Black Badge option to attract a younger demographic—and it’s worked. Currently, one out of three cars sold in the Americas by the marque features the elite presentation, and the average age of that buyer is now under 40 years old. But the Black Badge–enhanced Wraith in our contest bridged any generation gap.
According to Jeremy Oster, the vehicle combines “opulence with flawless execution and is a lot more fun than past Rolls models.” Both the cabin and the drive experience garnered praise. “The interior is beyond compare; everything is done immaculately,” observed Ryan Brandsma. Jill DePaola’s favorite aspect was under foot: “The plush carpets are the bomb!” Milli- cent Puglisi was equally enamored of the pampering, noting, “As a passenger, if I were to close my eyes, I would feel as though I was in the most luxurious spa in the world.”
The Wraith did not win everyone over, however. “An armored vehicle crossed with a couch” is how Amy Mullally described it. And Daniel Maas likened it to a “beautiful tank.” There were also a few nautical references. “The suspension is not super-tight—it felt like I was sailing, not driving,” said Nicole Huertas. “It’s like a cruise ship,” agreed John DePaola. Although personal preferences varied, the baronial two-door remains in a class by itself. As Tom Montgomery pointed out: “It’s a Rolls. Enough said.”
ENGINE: 6.6-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12
POWER: 624 hp
0-60 MPH: 4.3 sec
TOP SPEED: 155 mph, limited
BASE PRICE: $380,000
OUR CAR: $450,050 Napa / $380,000 Boca
6. Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster
With a look and lineage that harken back to the Golden Age of motorsports, the Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster would be equally at home competing alongside the famed 1950s Mercedes-Benz 300 SL in that era’s Mille Miglia and Targa Florio endurance races as steering through any of today’s torturous freeway commutes. The convertible’s elongated front end, missile-like silhouette and impressive power-to-weight ratio had many from our field of judges proclaiming it the definitive road rocket.
“The engine note was amazing,” gushed Jared Silver. “It sounds like it’s ripping a hole in the space-time fabric!” Both the car’s drive dynamics and body styling—shaped in classic lines without being overly sculpted—were appreciated by David Alan, who noted that the roadster was “sporty, fast and powerful without making too much fuss over itself.” Ron New- man felt similarly, saying, “It has the perfect amount of performance combined with practical technology.” Jon Huertas was taken by how it “conveys excitement in a beautifully wrapped package, as was Bill Varner, who noted that “the long hood and short trunk on this car look terrific.” Scott Sullivan’s only complaint was “I don’t own one.”
Weighing in at 3,660 pounds, the GT C Roadster was the second-lightest car in our lot, which a few evaluators felt hampered its performance when considering the engine and suspension pairing. “The acceleration lifted the car instead of making it grab the road,” said Adam Dornbusch. James Field deemed the handling “inferior,” explaining, “Going into corners, I did not have confidence.” But those turned off by the roadster were in the minority. Hillary Simon called it “the perfect daily driver,” and Craig Stull compared the vehicle to what Napa is known for, referring to it as “big and bold, like a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 550 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.6 sec
TOP SPEED: 196 mph
BASE PRICE: $162,400
OUR CAR: $179,795
5. BMW M8 Convertible
After a two-decade absence, BMW brought its 8 Series back full throttle with the 2019 M850i xDrive Coupe, a car that finished sixth in our rankings last year. This time around, it competed as a roadster with M-badge bragging rights and jumped up a notch. Based on the M850i platform, the 2020 BMW M8 Convertible gets an additional 77 hp and all the finer tuning expected of the German automaker’s M performance division. Though the model was recalled due to a transmission problem shortly after our sessions ended—a roughly one-hour fix at an authorized BMW center—it certainly hit a high note with fans of the marque.
“Everything works so well together,” said Dan Zepponi. “It is a symphony, but with Led Zeppelin as backup.” Scott Sullivan also sang its praises: “Dollar for dollar, it’s the best high-performance sports and luxury car by far.” Handling was a hit for Jared Woolf, who thought it was “shockingly fast and agile, with amazing brakes.” And Mark Komine lauded its “highly intuitive drive.”
But not all opinions were in sync. Sam Akabas was disappointed in what he felt was “late throttle response,” and Jerónimo Guzman found “the exhaust note a little numb for my taste.” More than one driver thought that the M8’s styling hadn’t kept up with its engineering. “Seems to have stopped just short of refinement,” said Milo Benigno, and Ruben Oliva joked that the vehicle was for “somebody who likes to go fast on Throwback Thursday, since both the exterior and the interior seem stuck in the past.” One of the fairest assessments came from Christopher Carpenter, who said the M8 is the perfect choice for those who “want to make a statement, not necessarily a scene.”
ENGINE: 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 600 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.1sec
TOP SPEED: 156 mph, limited / 190 mph, optional M Driver’s Package
BASE PRICE: $142,500
OUR CAR: $157,195
4. Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S 4-door Coupe
The four-door coupe is the design du jour of manufacturers looking to blend practicality and performance in a package with more pizzazz than a traditional sedan. In usual AMG fashion, a hand-built engine is massaged to maximum output and delivers blistering acceleration and massive torque, which many drivers found quite addicting. All-wheel drive keeps the big AMG glued to the road, and despite its sedan pretentions, the firm ride and raucous demeanor feel more dynamic than one would expect, as noted Samir Mitra, who described the entry as “a four-door sedan that acted like a sports car,” while Karen Stull saw “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But David Reis mentioned that the “rear end can be squirrelly in Sport Plus and Race modes,” while Sam Akabas observed that “traction control in Race mode allows too much to go unanswered.”
Acknowledging that the large AMG did most things well, Ricky DeCastro said, “It’s everything you would want in a vehicle.” Jean-Marc Bories dubbed it “the rocket Pullman sedan,” with Scott Simon imagining a mix of automotive DNA: “Tesla meets Maybach.” “One of the most incredible combinations of power, luxury and performance, all while still being somewhat practical,” said Avrum Elmakis, and Mark Spencer called it “fantastic all-around.” Though the GT 63 S was the overall winner of a few sessions, some drivers remarked on its uninspired exterior styling, which Mike Davis found “a little bulbous.” Rear seating was not generous, according to some back-seat drivers, and many disliked the platter-like rims (optional, thankfully). But from a bird’s-eye view, Larry Mueller summed things up, saying, “It sets a new bar for performance sedans under $200,000.”
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 630 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.1 sec
TOP SPEED: 195 mph, limited
BASE PRICE: $159,000
OUR CAR: $184,285
3. Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible
The famed Bentley Boys may have won five times at Le Mans between 1924 and 1930, but imagine what those gentlemen racers could have accomplished with a machine like the Continental GT V8 Convertible. The 542 hp roadster is the new sibling to the 12-cylinder coupe that came in third place in our contest last year, and, once again, the British marque’s entry had few detractors.
“I feel like I’m in a cocoon of tranquility while sitting on top of a rocket,” said Sean Hayes. For Daniel Stern, the open-top tourer blew the roof off its predecessors. “The refinement is heads above the previous generation,” he said. “The engine is more responsive at first touch of the pedal and also has more pull on the higher revs.” But the fact that the car tips the scales at 5,163 pounds was a concern for some, especially on the closed autocross course in Florida, where Samir Mitra noticed the Bentley was “heavy on the turns.” Eric Thompson agreed, noting that the “steering was a little too soft for such a big car.”
Still, the majority of judges were smitten. “The most exclusive English gentle- men’s club on wheels,” lauded Roy Arnold. Its appeal, however, had no gender barrier. Jill DePaola asserted that “you will not find a sexier interior,” and Millicent Puglisi admitted, “I think I love this car more than my husband.” The combination of posh detailing and performance, a hallmark of Bentley’s 101-year legacy, was perhaps best summed up by Christian Navarro, who called the convertible “a perfect car to take Grandma to brunch—at 90 mph.”
ENGINE: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
POWER: 542 hp
0-60 MPH: 3.9 sec
TOP SPEED: 198 mph
BASE PRICE: $218,350
OUR CAR: $293,670
2. Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante
The clear winner in two sessions and a strong second in others, the DBS Superleggera Volante nearly nabbed first place, offering a visceral driving experience with dashing looks that make it a superstar in the company of some very capable competitors. The Volante—convertible in Aston-speak—is the company’s only drop-top with a V-12 engine and is priced $18,000 more than the hardtop. Delivering 715 hp to the rear wheels, the Volante was also the most powerful car in this year’s competition, prompting Jeremy Oster to pronounce it “the most engaging and exciting car to drive, with pure adrenaline on tap. The engine sound and overall feel encourage driving harder and exploring what this machine can do.” Indeed, the car had drivers enthralled, and when asked what they didn’t like, many remarked, “Nothing!” Moti Ferder said, “It gets your blood boiling, and you can drive it every day.” William Waesche appreciated the dual nature of the beast, calling it “the perfect combination of luxury and sport.” Remarking on the Volante’s relative understatement, Julian Rizzuto said, “I love this car because it’s one of the most amazing cars I’ve seen and driven, but still under the radar and stealth.”
Naturally, James Bond references abounded, and like the spy, the Volante employs state-of-the-art tech like a carbon-fiber-and-aluminum chassis, yet its fabric top is a nod to tradition, in the spirit of a Savile Row suit. The car’s cabin, on the other hand, received mixed reviews from more than a few drivers, including Bill Varner, who thought “interior details were lacking for a $400,000 car.” Milo Benigno suggested the “interior could be reworked,” and John Conover called it “busy.” Others remarked on the car’s cost relative to perceived value. “The price is too high—come on, guys, fancy it up!” was Hillary Simon’s assessment. Still, consensus was in the big Brit’s favor, aptly expressed by Tamara Stanfill, who said, “It totally left me craving more.”
ENGINE: 5.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-12
POWER: 715 hp
0-62 MPH: 3.6 sec
TOP SPEED: 211 mph
BASE PRICE: $328,100
OUR CAR: $386,886 Napa
1. Lamborghini Huracán Evo Spyder
We waved the checkered flag this year for a convertible at the crossroads of automotive innovation and artificial intelligence: Lamborghini’s game-changing Huracán Evo Spyder. A raging bull with a true brain, the 631 hp Evo debuts the Italian marque’s Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata (LDVI), a super-processor that anticipates driver inputs and correspondingly adjusts the torque vectoring, all-wheel steering, advanced traction control and related systems every 20 milliseconds, give or take. Basically, the car predicts your next move and sets you up for success, often despite yourself. And it’s all complemented by 10 cylinders of naturally aspirated fury.
“The sound of that V-10 can cure depression,” said Jerónimo Guzman. “I’m recording the engine noise for my phone’s ringtone.” Nathan Tan concurred: “Every downshift, I found myself giggling along with the pops and crackles. The life worth living exists north of 7,000 rpm in Corsa mode.” The experience elicited the same childlike enthusiasm from Christopher Carpenter, who said, “I believe there are two things that are impossible to do with a frown on your face—skipping and driving this Lamborghini.” For Lee Gossett, the Evo is “as close as the average human will ever get to Formula 1.”
Still, although it did tally the top score and nearly everyone heralded the vehicle’s engineering, the ergonomic considerations were another story. “It’s like a cheap seat on an airline—no legroom,” said Craig Stull. Erik Hagstrom warned, “If you’re over six feet, visibility is an issue.” Our editor in chief, Paul Croughton, was equally disappointed by the interior’s height limitations. “I don’t fit,” he said simply.“ There were so many blind spots,” mentioned Shaunmarie Gutbezahl. “It made driving stressful.” A daily driver? Tamara Stanfill didn’t think so. “It would be lots of fun for a day or a weekend—a one-night stand, but you wouldn’t want to marry it,” she concluded. In the end, however, the vast majority of our judges would have opted for long-term relationships with the model. “The Lambo is the most impactful vehicle I have ever driven,” declared Peter Wright. It’s hard to compete with that.
Engine: 5.2-liter, naturally aspirated V-10
POWER: 631 hp
0-62 MPH: 3.1sec
TOP SPEED: 202 mph
BASE PRICE: $287,400
OUR CAR: $349,345