Buying Guides

7 Most Improved Vehicles of 2018

Small changes can make the biggest difference

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

There are fewer crappy cars being made today, and that's huge news for car buyers because it's really hard to go wrong (but still possible with cars like the Fiat 500L). But even in a field of very good cars, trucks, and SUVs, there are some that have improved this year more than others. We've chosen some of the most improved cars for 2018 and some 2019 models. It's not that the previous models were bad, but manufacturers have really knocked it out of the park for these models.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

 
  • PROS: The best-looking Corolla to date, capable handling and steering, easy-to-use interior.
  • CONS: Could use about 20 more horsepower, needs more cabin storage, infotainment system still needs work.

You'd never guess that the Corolla Hatchback and the Corolla sedan are related. Well, they are only in name, really. In fact, the new hatchback takes the mantle from the Yaris iM and takes the Corolla name. The two couldn't be more different to drive. The new hatch not only looks fantastic (like a true hot hatch) but manages corners and brakes like a champ. Everything about it is better than the iM was, and it looks Toyota has a compact champ on its hands. Go with the manual transmission for more fun and make the most out of the spectacular chassis.

2019 Lexus ES 350

 
  • PROS: Finally sexy sheetmetal, build quality is better than ever, improved infotainment system, great to drive for a front-wheel drive sedan especially in F Sport trim.
  • CONS: Infotainment system still needs better controls, could use all-wheel drive to eliminate wheelspin

The new ES is a revelation compared to previous geriatric-friendly versions. Not only is it beautiful to behold for the first time, it's engaging to drive with improved steering and handling and far more connection with the road than ever before. The standard Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 is packed with features such as all-speed radar cruise control, lane tracing assist, steering assist, and panoramic and birds-eye cameras. The interior is spacious, beautifully appointed, and the huge 10.3" touchscreen is marvelous to look at.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Best

for the driving enthusiast

  • PROS: Palpable power increase, improved handling abilities, four-seasons capability with the RF retractable hard top RF model, great exterior styling, one of the best manual transmissions around.
  • CONS:Not as much off-the-line punch as we'd like, some cheap interior bits, rear-view mirror is too large and obstructs vision for taller drivers.

The most noticeable change is the 26-horsepower bump that takes the Miata to 181 horses. It's a big jump, but it's the 750 rpm redline increase that makes the most difference for midrange capability. There's also more standard equipment including a telescoping steering wheel and heated seats for the Club trim, which also now gets standard Bilstein shocks, a shock tower brace, and a limited-slip differential. A car that was once fantastic to drive is that much better and easily stands as one of our favorite cars on the road today.

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

Best

for families

  • PROS: More upscale inside and out, more interior space, improved visibility, excellent infotainment system, future diesel engine is coming.
  • CONS: Steering needs more feedback, acceleration numbers are less than impressive.

The Santa Fe Sport 5-passenger is no more, replaced by what's now just "Santa Fe" (still 5- passengers) and the former 7-passenger Santa Fe is now the "Santa Fe XL". Confused yet? The great news is the fact that the wheelbase has been stretched, so there's more room for rear passengers. The interior is fancier than before with pattern stitched seats, pyramid-textured speaker covers, and a much better center console and infotainment screen. The Santa Fe looks and feels more premium than ever before, too.

2018 Jeep Wrangler

Best

for weekend warriors

  • PROS: Better handling and steering than any Wrangler before it, a modern interior with improved materials and ergonomics, a real infotainment system for once, still superb off-road capabilities, cleaner exteriors styling no longer looks clunky, superb roof options.
  • CONS: Awkward center stack mounted window switches, too many side badges, low cabin storage options are frustrating.

It's hard to count the improvements in the new Wrangler, there are so many. Aside from the cleaner and leaner design, the driving dynamics and the tech improvements are the most significant. Not only is the steering better than ever, the Jeep just feels more secure on-road. The new Uconnect system and interior ergonomics are quite good (except for those quirky window switches). Even room has improved in both two door and four door models. That's great for non-off-road folks only, though.

2018 Toyota Camry

 
  • PROS: Styling is finally attractive and even sexy, even roomier than before, double wishbone suspension in the back improves ride and handling dramatically, great fuel economy, powerful engine choices
  • CONS: Infotainment system is still hard to use and looks cheap.

The new Camry might just be the most dramatically redesigned car for 2018. Whereas previous Camrys were good but a snoozer to drive and look at, the new one bucks the trend. It's more composed on-road, has better engines and a new 8-speed transmission, as well as interior appointments that belie its older self. Even the base trim now gets Toyota Safety Sense-P with smart cruise control, automatic emergency braking in case of an imminent forward collision, lane departure warning and mitigation, and auto-dimming LED headlights. It really is not the Camry you're used to seeing.

2019 Acura RDX

 
  • PROS: Bigger in practically every dimension for more space, excellent brand language design looks far better, SH-AWD handling package provides excellent driving dynamics, serious safety package
  • CONS: Weird infotainment touchpad controls.

Did anyone even notice the old RDX? Well yes, because it sold quite well, but in terms of visual drama, it was pretty vanilla. The new one changes all that with head-turning looks. It's roomier than it's predecessor (and more expensive) but also comes packed with features like panoramic sunroof, an acoustically insulated windshield, heated mirrors, heated 12-way power-adjustable front seats, LED head- and taillights, push-button start, two USB charging ports in front, adaptive cruise control, a multiview backup camera, and the AcuraWatch package, which features forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane- and road-departure warning systems, and lane-keeping assist. If you can get used to the touchpad controls for the infotainment system, it's a gem of a luxury crossover and far better than the one it replaces.

When good cars become great

  • Styling has vastly improved over the previous generation.
  • Technology has been upgraded.
  • New safety features have been introduced.
  • The driving experience is more engaging.

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