The Best Cars I Drove in 2022
The 3rd Annual North State Journal Auto Awards
While 2021 felt like a year of transition for electric vehicles, 2022 was the year EVs went mainstream — at least if you’re eyeing something above $50 grand. Carmakers are falling over themselves to offer cars with plugs, even as many buyers are lukewarm to the idea.
But this year’s crop of electrics are just solid cars. For many, the fact that they’re battery-powered comes secondary to innovative design, practicality, and general awesomeness.
At the same time as my reviews appear in this newsletter, they also appear in the North State Journal, a statewide newspaper based in North Carolina. Every year, I pick my favorite vehicles for the North State Journal Auto Awards, and here are the winners of the 2022 edition. The picks come entirely from my impressions when driving a car, comparing them to everything else I drove this year.
The fact that three of the five winners are electric, by the way, is due primarily to carmakers throwing everything they have at the EV space — it is the future, supposedly. Don’t worry; traditional internal combustion isn’t dead yet. That’ll probably come next year.
BEST OF THE YEAR: Ford F-150 Lightning
The Ford F-150 is perhaps the most popular vehicle in America, making an electric version the most important EV ever released. Even better, the F-150 Lightning is a terrific pickup truck, adding a host of features — a massive front trunk and the ability to act as a backup battery to your home in a power outage — that a standard pickup can’t match.
But, in almost every way, the F-150 Lightning feels (and looks!) like a standard F-150. You’d hardly know it was electric unless you knew what to look for. And that’s the magical part: the Lightning is just a pickup truck that happens to be electric. The fact that it can go from 0-60 mph in the mid-4 second range is just a bonus.
SPORTS CAR OF THE YEAR: Nissan Z
Nissan knows that plenty of people still want an honest-to-goodness sports car, and that’s why there’s a new Z. With 400 horsepower standard and a 6-speed manual transmission on tap, the Z has been nipped and tucked and is a gorgeous retro throwback to the Z cars of old.
With sharp lines and homages to its storied lineage everywhere you look, the Z is a wildly fun, well-equipped coupe with a reasonable price-to-performance ratio. It’s the last letter in sports cars, and with 400 horsepower for around $40,000, it won’t blow up your wallet either.
TRUCK OF THE YEAR: Ford E-Transit
With the F-150 Lightning taking my Best of the Year award, that left a big empty hole where the Truck of the Year is concerned. But since I’m giving out the prizes, I’ve expanded the definition and embraced the Ford E-Transit electric work van. Underneath, it’s a Mustang Mach-E drivetrain stuffed into a Transit, making for a fascinating EV trojan horse into the business world.
For many, a company-owned E-Transit will be the first electric vehicle they’ve ever driven. Though it has a range of only 120-ish miles (or less, depending on configuration), that’s plenty for many small- and medium-sized business needs — and, crucially, it should save companies money on both maintenance and gas. Ford has built an entire division, Ford Pro, around fleet sales of its EVs, and I suspect that’s a bet that will pay off.
SUV OF THE YEAR: BMW iX
I can’t get enough of the BMW iX. With an eye-catching design, performance for days, and a bonkers interior straight out of a sci-fi flick, this electric luxury SUV ought to be enough to entice anyone out of their Tesla.
With crystal controls and wood trim, the 610-horsepower iX M60 can whip from 0 to 60 mph in under four seconds, and the iX xDrive50 has a range of as much as 315 miles. But it’s the design that does it for me. The feeling of spaciousness inside the iX is unmatched, and the glass screens floating just above the dash balance high-tech with the wood and crystal controls found elsewhere. It’s genuinely brilliant.
• Read my BMW iX review.
LUXURY CAR OF THE YEAR: Range Rover
The Range Rover is the car of choice for wealthy people when driving themselves around. The new Range Rover is classy luxury at its very best, offering peace and serenity and, if you get the super-fancy SV trim, a wild coffee table that rises from the center console between the rear seats.
The leather is supple, the engines refined, and there’s even a plug-in hybrid version that’s good for 50 miles of electric driving. The long-wheelbase option adds extra space in the back to impress the in-laws (or grandkids), and the stereo has an epic noise cancellation feature that uses microphones outside the car to send a signal through the 35 different speakers to zero out tire and engine noise.
It’s so good that I’d have difficulty deciding between this and a similar Rolls-Royce, especially since you could have two or three Range Rovers for the same money. That’s high praise, and the new Range Rover deserves it. It’s the absolute best way to explore the world in style.
• Read my Range Rover review.
Best of the Year: Ford Maverick
Sports Car of the Year: Ford Mustang Mach-E GT
Truck of the Year: Rivian R1T
SUV of the Year: Ford Bronco
Luxury Car of the Year: Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost