These are the best cars we tested in 2018

Key Points
  • Of the dozens of cars CNBC tested in 2018, we whittled the list down to five all-star performers that blew us away.
  • To recognize a variety of cars, we picked one vehicle for each of the following categories: Best Mainstream Car, Best Mainstream SUV, Best Luxury Vehicle and Best Family Vehicle.
  • While they vary in price, we believe each of these vehicles offer fantastic value for money.

In 2018, we had the opportunity to sample nearly 50 new cars, trucks and SUVs from myriad of automakers. We tested everything from $16,005 hatchbacks to six-figure coupes, doing our best to cover the gamut of fresh sheet metal on sale today.

Of all of the cars we tested, though, some distinguished themselves. While many cars impressed us, these six set themselves above the rest.

Best Mainstream Car: Mazda 3

The 2018 Mazda 3 Grand Touring
Mack Hogan | CNBC

While everyone is packing into bigger and bigger cars, trucks and SUVs, the Mazda 3 remains the sensible choice for most people's needs.

Packing all the technology you demand into a lovely hatchback form factor makes it a perfect companion for your practical needs, while an inspired chassis and available manual transmission make it a more fun choice than its dreary competition.

This distinction was hotly contested. The Volkswagen GTI, Toyota Camry and even the Honda Clarity are all fantastic choices, but ultimately the Mazda 3 offers style, functionality and fun at a price point that makes it a no-brainer.

Best Mainstream SUV/Truck: Chevrolet Traverse

The 2018 Chevy Traverse
Mack Hogan | CNBC

We've long been proponents of minivans over crossovers when it comes to hauling families, but the Chevy Traverse is the best of the crossover breed.

It offers a cavernous interior, compliant driving manners that mask its size and a class-leading value proposition.

Every part of the Traverse seems meticulously designed for maximum usability in day-to-day, with an easy-to-use infotainment system and ergonomic interior. It's quiet, refined and never feels lumbering. If you're in the market for a family crossover, the Traverse simply has to be on your list.

Best Luxury Car: Cadillac CT6

The 2018 Cadillac CT6 Platinum
Mack Hogan | CNBC

After a long hiatus, Cadillac is back to being a marque that offers world-beating technology. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the CT6, where the company's Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system takes center stage.

It was already the best such system when we first tried it earlier this year, but Cadillac recently updated it provide the driver with even more information. It's the most responsible, communicative semi-autonomous system by a long shot, putting all competitors to shame.

If that isn't enough, the CT6 Platinum we tested packed 34 speakers, 404 horsepower, magnetic suspension, four massaging seats, rear-seat entertainment screens and a night vision camera for $88,295. It's expensive, but it's still $5,000 cheaper than the base model of the Mercedes S-Class. That's an amazing bargain for an amazing car.

Best Luxury SUV: Acura RDX

2019 Acura RDX
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Our full review on the fully redesigned Acura RDX is still to come, but the new crossover represents a massive leap forward for the brand. The RDX has moved away from its plebeian Honda roots, embracing a new Acura-exclusive platform and a premium interior that exceed the standards of its class.

Plus, with torque-vectoring all-wheel drive and a quick 10-speed transmission, the RDX is enjoyable to drive. A standard panoramic sunroof and available high-fidelity audio system help cement it as a smart pick, but ultimately the RDX wins out because of its ground-up approach to making a delightful compact luxury crossover.

Best Family Vehicle: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2018 Chrysler Pacifica
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The Traverse may be the best SUV we drove this year, but when it comes to hauling nothing beats a minivan. Chrysler, the company that popularized the minivan, struck gold again with the new Pacifica. Over hundreds of miles, the Pacifica proved to be a comfortable and capable hauler fit for even the most demanding families.

Plus, it's the only minivan to offer a plug-in hybrid option that delivered an astounding 29 miles per gallon on a trip covering highway and city miles. It's brimming with technology, trimmed in soft leather and ready for anything a messy family can throw at it. And if you qualify for the federal tax credit, you can run away with a base model for $32,495.

Best Performance Vehicle: Ford Mustang Bullitt

2019 Mustang Bullitt
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The current Mustang is already the best it has ever been, with fantastic styling and a modern chassis that makes it more sports car than muscle car. But that isn't good enough for Steve McQueen, which is why Bullitt edition Mustangs get cooler styling, more power and a bushel of performance goodies to help you embarrass any lesser 'Stangs that cross your path.

To put it simply, the Bullitt is the Mustang that drives like you always thought a Mustang would. No mushiness, no sloppiness; just unadulterated awesomeness and V-8 fury, channeled through a six-speed manual with a pool-ball shifter. Ain't nothing cooler than that.

Ford rolls out new Bullitt Mustang