We search for the best car on the market today that caters for the widest range of our motoring needs.
Every car on sale is by necessity a well-calculated compromise. The more focused it is, like say an off-roader, the more compromised it will be in other areas. In a perfect world we would all have a fleet of cars to suit our every need and mood. A racy little two-seater for the weekend, a big luxury family hauler for holidays and a quirky British classic for when we feel like fixing an overheating engine by the side of the road. In the real world though we are generally limited to one car that will have to cover all the major motoring bases.
Crossovers and SUV have seen an incredible rise in popularity over recent years, but do they really offer the best mix of abilities out there? Perhaps something a bit sportier and less off-road biased may be a better fit for the majority of motorists. We will need to assume a few things about the average family so let’s begin by assuming that our typical household consists of two adults and two children and that trips to work, school, the shops and the odd holiday are also part of their routine. Then to add a bit more pressure let’s assume that dad (or mom) also enjoy a bit of a blast through a mountain pass on occasion.
These requirements already exclude the two extremes of the motoring landscape, namely the single-minded two-seater sports car and the practical but dynamically inept minivan. Our choice will need at least four seats, enough cargo space for a weekend away and a chassis and engine combination that can provide some proper driving excitement without sucking up the kids’ college fund in gas and maintenance bills. A quality interior, decent safety equipment and the ability to venture off-road is a bonus too, hmm, perhaps this is not as simple as it seems.
Before electric car fans start getting all excited and start pointing at various Tesla models, let’s not forget that even the cheapest Model S 75D is $74,500 before federal tax savings. It is undoubtedly capable, with a 4.2-second 0-60 mph time and a 259-mile range. It's spacious too, but longer trips may still be limited by the available recharging infrastructure and off-road excursions are not on the cards either. So, as a one-car-fits-all solution the Model S is not the one.
The A4 Allroad offers an intriguing combination of luxury, practicality, style and off-road ability. It may not excel in any one area but that is a good thing when you are trying to cover a lot of bases. It also offers plenty of cargo space thanks to the wagon body style. But, while it is less costly than the Model S, it’s still a hefty $44,500 and comes with only one engine option, an efficient yet uninspiring 252-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four. Our search continues.
The 5-Series has been the benchmark luxury sedan for as long as the segment has been around. Despite strong competition from Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the latest generation is still the enthusiasts’ family sedan. A 540i xDrive is arguably the best balanced of the range, offering AWD traction, a turbocharged 335-hp 3-liter inline-six engine and razor-sharp handling. Efficient, spacious and quick the only hurdle here is the $60,000 starting price. It should cope just fine with dirt roads but anything more challenging will require something with a bit more ground clearance.
The Camry has been similarly popular a few rungs lower down the mid-size sedan ladder. The 2018 refresh has brought it right up to date in terms of technology and safety and for our purposes the 301-hp 3.5-liter V6 model comes closest to being the perfect all-rounder. It offers strong performance and plenty of space for the family, the top XSE trim comes in at $34,950 which is good value too. If you are not going hiking in the Rockies then this sedan will do just about everything else. It may not be as exciting to push to its limits as the 5-Series but then again it is almost half the price.
The Dodge Charger offers 5-Series rivaling acceleration, Camry beating interior space and the 370-hp R/T 5.7-liter V8 is a very reasonable $35,495. So where is the catch? Well, the interior materials are not exactly class-leading and the handling is best described as ‘entertaining’. You may also want to put some extra cash aside for the frequent gas station visits. Yet it is still an intriguing option and that V8 makes up for a lot. If you are tempted it may be worth going one step further and getting the 485-hp Daytona 392 instead. For Audi Allroad money you can have a seriously entertaining if flawed 6.4-liter V8 family sedan.
Volkswagen actually means ‘people’s car’ in German so surely, they have something on offer that meets our disparate needs. The Golf GTI was the very first hot hatch, its slow evolution since 1974 has led us to the latest 220-hp version. It is still the best in a very competitive class and at $26,415 is our most affordable option. The power, handling, economy and equipment levels all check out, the only stumbling block is the slightly cramped rear bench and a trunk that is not quite as generous as you might like for a long road trip.
Crossovers and SUVs are by definition compromised, less dynamically capable than similar sedans and less able to go off-roading than proper rugged 4x4s. Still, few motorists will be looking to attend track days and climb mountains in the same car, and the capabilities of modern luxury crossovers like the Porsche Macan are bound to have you shaking your head in disbelief. This car can do both. The Macan ticks all of our requirements excepting the need to maintain the kids’ college fund (it starts at $47,800 before options) but if money is not an issue then the base 340-hp Porsche Macan is dangerously close to being all things to all men in one desirable package.
Our final choice shows why compact crossovers are so popular these days, as they tend to offer that little bit more overall than a similarly priced sedan or station wagon. If the Macan is a bit too pricey there are other capable, more affordable, offerings out there like the all-new BMW X3 which starts at $41,000 or the Mazda CX-5 which is even more affordable at $24,150 (although some may crave a bit more power). These vehicles can offer just the right balance of pace, space and utility to keep our hypothetical family smiling whether they are on a road trip, work trip or the school run.