On the Road Review: My 10 favorite vehicles from 2019

Mirroring the ascendant rise of all things truck in the American marketplace, this year’s 10 favorites list has only three cars and seven trucks — just like the new car sales ratio of 70 percent trucks dominating the marketplace.

2020 will bring us a plethora of new EVs, electric vehicles, however their current sales ratio here, less than 2 percent of the market, is a giant cloud over how well these vehicles will succeed. With EVs pricing much higher than the average new vehicle transaction price — a heavily truck-weighted $36,402, an increase of over $1,000 from 2018 — buyers can be forgiven for their hesitation at taking the plunge.

However, onward — let’s look at 10 of the 50 vehicles from 2019 that visited and struck a chord.

Circumstances didn’t bring the Toyota Supra, the Hellcat Redeye or the 10-millionth Mustang GT to Maine this summer, but we did get the Mercedes C43 AMG Cabriolet and it was a gem. This handsome four-seat convertible featured AWD mated to a twin-turbo V-6 making a sensory-rewarding 385 hp. Ladled with luxury, brimming with details and exuding a supreme air of confidence, the Mercedes was a cool, calculated hot rod in the tradition of the AMG house of tuning.

Way back last winter, the Genesis G70 visited. The North American Car of the Year, the Genesis lived up to the acclaim. Undercutting the traditional German-built class leaders in the midsize luxury sedan segment, the G70’s price and presentation shows that not only are the Korean automakers finally in tune with our market tastes, but they aim to satisfy our thirst for value, performance and prestige in a stylish package. Read on for more Korean influence.

The only other notable car was a monster slap upside the forehead. The Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor sedan provides thrilling acceleration combined with impressive technology, creating the benchmark for what consumers will expect — demand — from subsequent EV efforts. The Model 3 is not perfect; the styling is staid and the interior could use some work, however there is no denying that Elon Musk’s brand is over the financial hump and certain to alter how we view our cars 10 years down the road.

Four crossovers make the cut this year, all new, from small to large, and each will surely upend their segments.

Jeep’s redesigned Wrangler Rubicon has long been an alternative lifestyle favorite. Jeep enhanced all of the Wrangler’s numerous attributes, propelling the Wrangler with new powertrains, new features, and a modern attitude. Easier to use yet still rugged enough for any planned off-roading you might pursue, the latest Wrangler is a finely honed tool. Pricing could be an issue going forward as new vehicle sales slow down, as even used versions hold their value much better than almost everything else in the market.

At the high end of the scale is the Maserati Levante, an imported FCA product that might prove to be shared with the next Grand Cherokee. Our sampled GranLusso model was the perfect Italian-bred alternative to the Germans; lusty performance, wicked street presence plus a renowned name that simply invites envy. Best part, I got to share the Levante with Mr. Maine, Bill Green, for a white-knuckled ride that is a story best left for another time.

In mid-summer, Toyota’s all-new RAV4 Hybrid came Downeast and upped the ante for the compact crossover class — big time. The RAV4 is America’s best-selling crossover due to its solid performance, reputation and overall value. The Hybrid trim, only $800 more, makes it the fastest RAV4, the most fuel-efficient (40 mpg), as well as the most endowed model. A giant leap over the previous version, the Hybrid was packed with user-friendly technology (not always a given) plus impressive ergonomics in the cabin and the cargo hold. Built in the USA now, everyone else is chasing this compact crossover.

Our favorite full-size crossover was hands-down the Hyundai Palisade. This new model immediately rearranges the established players in this field — it’s that good. Mechanically identical to the Kia Telluride (which is equally admired), the Palisade does so many things well it just shatters your perspective on these vehicles. Overflowing with tech and driving safety, sumptuous heated and cooled leather, plus dual panel sunroofs, blind-spot camera system and a whole bunch more, the Palisade stickers for only $47,000. It’s not a bargain, it’s a steal.

Three different Ram 1500 pickup trucks came under the whip — I could barely find a fault with any of them. Ram has pushed the design envelope inside further than every other truck maker; their cabins are as luxurious as any premium auto you want to mention, all while pulling, pushing, towing, four-wheeling, commuting and playing like few vehicles can. The diesel engine option returns this year, as Ram hopes to retain its new-found sales edge over the Chevy pickup.

Without an HD model to review, the Ram gets edged by the Ford F-series. Five different F-series trucks visited, two Raptors, two half-ton crew cabs, one with diesel power, plus one F-250 Super Duty diesel. An indifferent shopper can say that each truck does one thing better than another, and on and on, yet the stranglehold that Ford has on the American pickup truck sales race — first place for 42-straight years — is irrefutable proof that the Blue Oval has some idea about what it is doing here. When test vehicles leave, and you immediately miss them, you can tell they made an impression. The Ford trucks were all missed as soon as the taillights went out of view.

However, one more pickup is changing how consumers look at, use and select their four-door truck. The Jeep Gladiator has everything that you love, admire and enjoy in the Wrangler — with a 5-foot pickup bed out back to triple your play options. This truck generated the most comments, the most interest, all while outperforming the Wrangler in many facets of why you want a Jeep. That passion in our vehicles is why automakers continue to make cars and trucks that we want.

A happy 2020 to everyone.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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