2017 will forever go down as a landmark year in both the motorcycle and automotive industries. Innovation, design and performance generously adorned new cars and bikes throughout the year, making it abundantly clear that we’re at the threshold of a new era.
Successes in the small and mid-sized motorcycle market herald a new generation of riders, ready to take to the streets on a genre of bikes that haven’t seen this level of popularity in the U.S. in decades. Liter-bikes that were once headline-grabbers and show-stoppers are now losing out to the excitement surrounding retro-styled cafe racers and small adventure bikes. Over in the four-wheeled world, the horsepower war raged on while many new manufacturers introduced all-new design languages and raised the bar on performance and engineering. This year has been a watershed moment of sorts — which only makes us more excited about the innovations and advancements yet to come.
2017 Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled
Originally poised as an entry-level motorcycle to the Ducati brand, the Scrambler quickly morphed into a beast of its own: an entire sub-brand. And to keep things fresh, Ducati spun off different versions of the Scrambler, though the first round of models were merely optional-extra showcases with special paint jobs, like many other bikes on the market using “scrambler” terminology. When the Desert Sled came along, it was anything but. A higher ground clearance, re-tuned, longer-travel suspension and a redesigned and reinforced frame turned the Ducati into the shining dirt-slinging definition of a true Scrambler.
2017 Mercedes-AMG GT R
When the Mercedes-AMG announced the GT as the successor to the gull-winged SLS, no one was disappointed with the looks or with the performance, but something felt lacking. It was clear AMG was holding back, and the GT R is evidence of that. Admittedly, even with 577 horsepower, the 4.0-liter twin turbo V8 powering the GT R still feels as if it has more to give, but the GT R feels like the car the base GT should have been right out of the gate. It’s a perfect balance between hardcore, race-bred performance and real-world road manners. Is there another, more powerful version on the way? Almost certainly. But that extra punch might push the next-level GT too far in one direction. Right now, the GT R sits in the sweet spot.
2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifolio
If the 4C was Alfa Romeo’s initial wave to reestablish its presence in the U.S., the Giulia Quadrifolio is the cavalry — a full-on assault to firmly plant a flag on American soil. The Italian enlisted the help of a few Ferrari engineers to help design, engineer and tune the all-new four-door. On handling alone, the Giulia put the well-entrenched Germans sports sedans on notice, making short work of canyon roads, backcountry lanes and track days all the same. Under the hood, the Giulia gets power from what essentially amounts to a Ferrari 488 twin turbo V8 with two cylinders removed. The Giulia Quadrifolio may not wear a Ferrari badge, but in spirit it’s clear from which part of the family it descends.
2018 Lincoln Navigator
In terms of luxury, capability and technology, the all-new Navigator — the first complete redesign in its 20-year history — is replete with technology and comfort and convenience features that are, simply put, on par with those found in the quarter-million-dollar luxury stratus. Exterior design is elegant yet oversized; inside, horizontal lines draw your eye from left to right over a retro-modern, progressive styling. It drives like a dream, but to its competition it’s more of a nightmare. Topping out right around $100K, this is the luxury SUV to pay attention to in 2018.
2018 Audi TT RS
The constant march of innovation and technology means it’s inevitable that even the most practical modern cars will outperform the supercars and sports cars from decades past. That’s what you’re witnessing with the 2017 Audi TT RS, except that you don’t have to go back decades to find an exotic performance car with similar numbers — just look to Audi’s own 2012 R8 4.2-liter V8. The twin-turbo five-cylinder in the TT RS makes nearly as much horsepower as the V8 but doesn’t have to worry about pulling around an extra 150 pounds. The TT RS represents a page in Audi’s history where upper echelon performance was repackaged and made available for the rest of us.
2017 Honda CRF250L Rally
Big, heavy, intimidating motorcycles dominate the world of adventure riding — and it makes sense. When it comes to overlanding, monstrous SUVs are the ideal four-wheelers, so when it comes to two-wheeled adventures you want something just as tough and durable. But, in fact, that doesn’t mean it has to be just as big. There’s an entirely new generation of riders looking to explore the world of motorcycles and up until recently, the ADV world seemed to shut out the less experienced or smaller-statured riders. The CRF250L Rally opened those doors back up with a friendly, approachable engine and all the basic extras you need to competently tackle the road less traveled.
2017 Aston Martin DB11
Of all the cars on this list, the Aston Martin may be the most drastic step into the future for any mainstream manufacturer. Not only is it the next in line in the legendary DB class from Aston Martin, but the DB11 ushers in a completely new design language and is also the first car from the brand to benefit from a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. For the foreseeable future, all Aston Martins will have re-tuned Mercedes engines — the DB11 utilizes the same fantastic V8 from the Mercedes-AMG GT.
2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country
The V90 Cross Country carries on a now two-decade-old series of rugged, all-terrain-focused vehicles from everyone’s favorite Swedish carmaker. It’s new from the ground up, meaning it’s purpose-built to, well, be better. It’s better-looking, not derivative; supremely comfortable, not smugly cushy; power delivery and management are engineered for excellent response and mileage, an aim of Volvo’s new era. The V90 CC is sports 8.3-inches of ground clearance (it’s raised 2.4 over the standard V90) and a satisfying combination of luxury, sport, tech, safety and design all rolled into one wagon — a great representation of Volvo’s latest design direction and a solid nod to its quirky performance past.
Lexus LC 500
The all-new LC 500 is so original and impressive in design execution that it automatically rises to the top — above BMW’s stale 6-Series and Mercedes’ admittedly very plush but quite staid S-Class Coupe. The LC 500 is based on an entirely new front-engine, rear-drive platform with an all-new 10-speed transmission, rear steering and a true dual exhaust. It’s got ultra compact, high-tech LED headlights; the weird “spindle grille” for which Lexus is notorious has been modified to blend more beautifully with the car’s design, both inside and out. Point is, there is a boatload of new and impressive on this car, which drives like a dream, stands out from the crowd and satisfies enthusiasts. The LC500 is a very, very attractive shot across the bow of the competition.
2017 Honda Civic Type-R
It only took 20 years and five generations, but the Honda Civic Type R has finally made it to American soil. Combining the sensibility, practicality and reliability of the Honda Civic with the raucous 306-horsepower turbocharged inline-four engine and bringing back the top-of-the-line performance hatch back nearly created a bigger stir than when the new NSX finally broke cover.
2017 McLaren 720S
As far as 2017’s crop of supercars are concerned, the McLaren 720S comes out above the rest armed with the all-new 4.0-liter V8 and sleek, flowing design language. But it’s not the engine or the looks that earn the new McLaren Super Series family member top marks, it’s that the Woking manufacturer was able built such an incredibly powerful, capable mid-engined supercar for the track that’s also weirdly civil on everyday roads.
Singer Vehicle Design x Williams Advanced Engineering
When musical supergroups band together, energy and excitement surrounding the project is electrifying — the prospect of something truly great is almost too much to bear. The same is true in the automotive world, like when Singer Vehicle Design teamed up with Formula 1 stalwarts Williams Advanced Engineering and Hans Metzger, the man responsible for Porsche’s most famous air-cooled engine. Singer handled the design while Metzger set about on making an air-cooled flat-six for the 21st Century, then Williams focused on making the entire package light as a feather. The result is a classically-styled sports car with modern performance and handling, powered by a 500-horsepower engine that screams all the way to 9,000 rpm.