Test Drive: Reflecting on 2018's best rides

Revisiting the dozens of cars we reviewed in 2018, we were struck by the absence of a familiar category — large sedans. Oh, they're still around. Over the years, we've driven the Chevrolet Impala, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon, Dodge Charger and various big Buick models, but none darkened our driveway last year. Sadly, the Impala and Buick LaCrosse will be discontinued next year, as General Motors revises its offerings in response to market trends.

So, here's to a dying breed — the full-sized sedan. And here's to the following models that made a favorable impression on us during 2018.

Compact hatchback

In designing the Golf, little changed since 2015, Volkswagen sought the sweet spot between European-style refinement and Asian pricing — and in most respects, found it. Roomy, fun to drive and solidly built, the Golf is a bit of a throwback, Volkswagen having spurned the tall stance and big greenhouses common to modern compacts. It also delivered impressive fuel economy, reaching 40 mpg and rarely falling below 36 in mostly highway driving, and it has earned high crash-protection ratings. At $20,910 for a base model, the Golf is a little pricey compared with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Honda Civic, Mazda3 and other compacts. But for people who love to drive, it's among the top choices in its segment.

Interestingly, the Golf falls between the subcompact and compact segments, while the somewhat larger Volkswagen Jetta — another VW model that made a good impression on us — falls between compact and midsize. We didn't test-drive any true subcompact or mini-cars in 2018; in the recent past our favorite subcompact has been the Toyota Yaris iA, derived from a former Scion model. Also solid subcompact choices are the Hyundai Accent and the similar Kia Rio.

Midsize sedan

The Toyota Camry used to rule this category, but other automakers eventually caught up with the class leader. Toyota noticed and redesigned the Camry – and redesigned it exceptionally well. We found the 2018 Camry Hybrid XLE “roomy and comfortable, with superior road manners.” Its hybrid system was rated at 44 mpg in the city and 47 highway. Even the conventional Camry, without gasoline-electric apparatus, can achieve 41 mpg. The 2018 Camry is what the Camry always has been — a safe, comfortable, reliable, fuel-efficient, reasonably priced 5-passenger car that will never let its owner down…so long as he keeps it on pavement.

Sport wagon

New for 2018, the Buick Regal TourX is a sport wagon with sport-utility pretensions, thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. But its sharp handling gives away its real character. Built in Germany, the TourX brings to mind the old Volvo V70, available with AWD but not as rugged as its sister model, the Cross Country. “We were impressed with the (Regal's) road feel, steering response and stability during hard cornering,” we observed last summer.

The TourX starts just under $30,000, and our test car cost nearly $40,000. We were able to squeeze 30 miles out of a gallon of the recommended premium gasoline. Considering the Regal's roomy cabin, 250-horsepower engine and 73.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seat lowered, the fuel-economy numbers aren't bad. And as we get older, we must confess Buick's simple, easy-to-read controls make the whole experience a lot more comfortable.

Next week: Compact, midsize and full-sized SUVs, and our favorite fun ride.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.