2019 AutoGuide.com Car of the Year: Meet the Contenders

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

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Consumers may be shifting to crossovers at a seemingly unstoppable pace, but cars are still big business, despite what some pundits and prognosticators may opine.

A cornucopia of brand-new or totally redesigned vehicles debuted for model year 2019. This list may include more crossovers and pickup trucks than grains of sand in the Sahara, but yes, even the humble car was well represented.

Aston Martin, for instance, launched a completely overhauled Vantage sports machine. There’s a stylish new Audi A7 liftback and BMW took the wrapper off its reborn 8 Series, which is available as either a coupe or convertible, however, it wasn’t just high-end models that made waves. Toyota launched an easy-riding new Avalon sedan for 2019 as well as a redesigned Corolla hatchback. There were fresh versions of the Buick Regal, an all-new Lexus ES, and even the subtly Swedish Volvo S60 took a bow.

But of this latest crop of all-new cars, we narrowed the field down to five of the most significant.

As always, this is NOT a direct comparison for obvious reasons; pitting a hot-hatch against a hybrid, for instance, makes no sense whatsoever. What we aim to do in these tests is find out which car raises the bar most for its brand, segment or even the automotive industry as a whole. We evaluate each competitor against other vehicles in its segment to get a better sense of how much it sets a new benchmark. Also, we want to make sure all the cars we consider are accessible to most people, which is why you don’t see mega luxury cars or supercars here. Stay tuned for our Utility Vehicle of the Year and Truck of the Year evaluations as well!

Here, in alphabetical order, are the contenders vying to be AutoGuide.com’s 2019 Car of the Year.

Genesis G70

Like Japanese automakers three decades before, South Korean automakers want in on the highly profitable luxury market, which is why Hyundai launched Genesis as a standalone brand several years ago. Further fleshing out this upscale division’s vehicle portfolio is the G70, an all-new sports sedan that’s sized and equipped to make the even the Germans take notice. But perhaps even more important than either of those points, this car also looks, drives and feels like a worthy rival to the vaunted BMW 3 Series and high-tech Audi A4.

We expected good things from the G70 given its robust genetics, and it did not disappoint. This Genesis is, after all, based on the shockingly competent Kia Stinger, our 2018 Car of the Year.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Genesis G70 Review

Nestled behind that gaping mesh grille is one of two engines. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is standard, churning out 252 horses, however, the model provided to us brandished the optional powerplant, a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6. Rated at a ground-pounding 365 horsepower, it delivered astonishing acceleration at any speed, rocketing the G70 to mile-a-minute velocity in as little as 4.5 seconds, aided by an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Atypically for a powerplant of the bent-six variety, the Genesis’ engine was liquid smooth, transmitting virtually zero vibration to the passenger compartment, something that underscores this car’s overall refinement.

In addition to a liquid-smooth powertrain, the G70 offers exemplary on-road manners including particularly sharp steering. Upscale Brembo brakes are available, as is a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. Throw in an unexpectedly luxurious interior and this car is certain to cause panic within the walls of rival automakers’ headquarters.

Honda Insight

When it comes to saving, few cars beat the new Honda Insight. It saves fuel while saving you money at the pump; it also saves polar bears, carbon emissions and, ideally, humanity from holes in the ozone layer. This economical hybrid melds astonishing efficiency and a livable overall package to form a vehicle that’s arguably more than the sum of its parts.

Sized between the Civic and Accord, two pillars of the Honda lineup, this gasoline-electric four-door looks like either of its siblings, with plenty of familial design elements including an arching roofline and chrome mustache running along the upper grille.

The Insight’s cabin also resembles any other modern Honda, which is a very good thing. Everywhere you look or touch you’re likely to find premium materials; there’s loads of technology including standard Honda Sensing, the automaker’s suite of advanced driver aids; and if that’s not enough, this hybrid is also surprisingly spacious, with a backseat that’s able to accommodate fully grown adults without complaint.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Honda Insight Review

But what matters most with a car like this are the bits and pieces you don’t really see. Underneath that broad, flat hood the Insight features a 1.5-liter DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine that’s paired with – you guessed it – an electric motor. Working together, this drivetrain duet delivers a total system output of 151 horsepower with 197 pound-feet of torque, figures that deliver adequate, if not breathtaking performance.

The tradeoff for less-than-inspiring acceleration is unfathomable fuel economy. This electrified Honda maxes out at 55 miles per gallon in city driving (4.6 L/100 km), 49 on the highway (5.3 L/100 km) and 52 mpg combined (4.9 L/100 km). Top-trim Touring models are slightly less efficient, sacrificing about 4 miles per gallon in each category, the cost of added luxury and amenities (4.6, 5.3, 4.9 L/100 km, respectively).

But what you won’t pay for this car is a fortune. The Insight’s base price is around $23,000, including delivery fees. If your heart desires a maxed-out model, plan on shelling out about 30 grand.

Hyundai Veloster

Undoubtedly, the most entertaining vehicle in this year’s car-of-the-year competition was Hyundai’s Veloster N. About as asymmetrical a vehicle as you’ll find on the market today, this three-door hatchback provided plenty of turbocharged thrills, courtesy of a force-fed 2.0-liter engine. Although we had the N for our evaluations, we are evaluating the Veloster lineup as a whole, base models and all.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Hyundai Veloster Review

With the available Performance Pack, this car thunders with 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That options group also includes a limited-slip differential, 19-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli summer tires and an oh-so-fun variable exhaust system that allows the decibels to range from Monday-morning mild to race-day wild. Skip this extra options group and you’ll miss out on the abovementioned goodies and lose 25 ponies, though on the plus side you will save $2,100. (In Canada, this car is only available with the performance package and stickers for around $35,000.)

Smooth, light through its gates and precise like a scientific instrument is this car’s slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, which routes all that twist to the front wheels. Thanks to thoughtful engineering torque-steer is all but absent in the N, even if you pounce on the accelerator while mid-corner on a road with undulating, off-camber pavement.

But we’re not just evaluating the highest-performance version of this car; we have to consider the rest of the Veloster lineup, too. There’s a base model that chugs along with a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine, one rated at a rather measly 147 horses. Stepping up from there, you can get a Turbo model with appreciably more giddy-up, a healthy 201 ponies, though neither of these models hold a candle to the pavement-pounding N version.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Hyundai Veloster N Review

Setting performance aside for a moment, the new Veloster is surprisingly versatile. Its interior is well built and functionally designed. The backseat is more than spacious enough for adults and since it’s a hatchback, there’s plenty of cargo space.

Unquestionably, the all-new Veloster is light-years ahead of its crude, largely unlovable predecessor, but is the top-shelf N model better than a Golf GTI, Ford Focus RS or Honda Civic Type R? That’s a much tougher query to reckon with.

Kia Forte

Handsome, of high quality, efficient and attractively priced, the 2019 Kia Forte offers a lot for a compact car. But does it raise the bar for this mass-market segment?

The latest and greatest Forte is priced to sell, starting around $18,000 ($19,000 CDN). Check every box and plan on spending around 26 large ($31,000 CDN) a figure that means it’s still totally attainable for many motorists.

In traditional Kia fashion, this vehicle is loaded with standard features including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control and a tilt-telescopic steering column. A generously sized trunk, spacious backseat and some of the most elegant styling this side of an Audi are also included at no extra cost.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Kia Forte Review

The new Forte is hauled around by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 147 horsepower with 132 pound-feet of torque, identical numbers to what offered in the base-model Veloster. In this application, it can be matched to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission. Next year, a 1.6-liter turbo-four should join the lineup as an optional powerplant, a welcome addition to the Forte.

While we’re rarely fans of CVTs, the unit in this Kia is generally agreeable, maximizing fuel economy while also simulating gear changes under heavy loads to minimize engine droning. According to Uncle Sam, this car should return 30 miles per gallon in urban driving (7.7 L/100 km) and 40 on the highway (5.9 L/100 km). Combined, it should deliver 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km).

Nissan Altima

Nissan’s stalwart Altima sedan is all new from the platform up for 2019. The car is more refined, feature-laden and handsomely styled than ever before.

But it’s also far more premium. While its interior isn’t quite as nice as what you get in a current-generation Honda Accord, it’s still attractively styled and perhaps more sensibly laid out than what’s offered in a Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata or Chevy Malibu. It’s also incredibly comfortable, with acres of backseat space and front-buckets that rival recliners in overall cushiness.

Two engines are offered in this new Altima. As before, the base unit is naturally aspirated and displaces 2.5-liters, but that’s where the similarities end because for 2019, this unit has been thoroughly overhauled and is about 80 percent new. With gasoline direct injection and myriad other technologies, it’s rated at 188 horses and 180 pound-feet of torque, perfectly class-competitive figures. But better than this is its overall refinement. Unlike the older unit, this one is smooth and quiet, going about its business with minimal fuss, a much-appreciated (and much-needed) upgrade.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Nissan Altima Review

If more power is desired, Nissan also offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged-four, an engine that’s augmented by an ingenious variable-compression system that maximizes output while reducing fuel burn. It also features both port and direct fuel injection. All told, this engine cranks out 248 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of tire-roasting torque, allowing this car to pull like a freight train, especially as the tachometer needle hits around 4,000 rpm.

For better or worse, the only “gearbox” offered in the Altima is a continuously variable automatic, though it’s more than livable in day-to-day use. All-wheel drive is also offered for the first time in this car, though, curiously, it’s only available with the base engine.

This newest Nissan sedan starts at around $24,000 ($30,000 CDN), though it can be pushed into the mid-30s ($39,000) if you go hog wild with options. Even if it doesn’t win top honors in this car-of-the-year showdown, the Altima still a winner in the midsize-sedan segment.

And the Winner is…

You’ll have to watch the video above to find out!

Check Out Our Previous Car of the Year Evaluations

Video and Photos by Ben Sanders and Brett Colpitts

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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