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Leftlane list: The gifts we received from the auto industry in 2017

  by Leftlane Staff

Leftlane list: The gifts we received from the auto industry in 2017

If you jumped into this slideshow expecting to see confessions of journalistic largess, we're afraid you've come to the wrong place. Here at Leftlane, we spend time driving cars, not selling media kits on eBay. We'll gladly skip the shrimp if it means more seat time. 

It should stand to reason then that the gifts to which we are referring are the four-wheeled kind. We drove quite a few cars in 2017. Some were excellent. Some were not. With the holidays quickly disappearing in our rearview, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the machines that impressed us over the past 12 months.

Think we missed something? Let us know. 

Jeep Wrangler

This is one of two Jeeps that will appear on this list, and it's arguably the more important of them. While other Jeep nameplates may be critical to the brand from a volume perspective, the Wrangler is one of America's true icons, and it's still an enthusiast staple to boot. 

Even if off-roading isn't your flavor of automotive tomfoolery, you have to acknowledge that Jeep is building a vehicle that ticks enthusiast check-boxes left and right. It's simple. It's offered with a manual in both configurations. It's capable--the best at what it does, in fact--and it's obtainable. This is the off-roader's Miata, plain and simple. 

For 2018, Jeep took that formula and gave it the once-a-decade update that it desperately needed. Nothing changed dramatically, but that's the point.

Kia Stinger

When we drove Kia's new Stinger, we expected to have to temper any praise with the phrase, "for a Kia." Boy, were we wrong. The Stinger GT is not the fire-breathing, V8-powered monster you'll find wearing a Dodge badge, nor is it the prestige automobile that Audi will sell you, but that doesn't mean it's not excellent in its own right. 

The simple fact of the matter is that Kia is offering an enthusiast-oriented, rear-wheel-drive liftback sedan for the price of a Nissan Maxima. Sure, it makes a little less power, but who cares? And if you're willing to spend more, a twin-turbocharged V6 and a limited-slip rear differential are available to you. 

If you have the opportunity, do yourself a favor and take one for a spin. You might just be surprised. 

Mercedes-Benz S63 and S560 Maybach

With this pick, we go from surprise to staple. As with the Wrangler, some things are best when they simply do exactly what is expected of them. 

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been a mainstay of the executive sedan segment forever, and with good reason. For 2017, the S-Class lineup received a mild overhaul, but we found it to be exactly what was necessary and nothing more. 

That's not to say that excess isn't still available if you're seeking it. The Maybach variant was rolled out alongside it, and we drove (and were driven in) both, allowing New York City traffic to simply melt away for an afternoon

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

The Colorado ZR2 doesn't have the off-road bona fides of the Jeep Wrangler or the imposing presence of a Ram Power Wagon or Ford Raptor, but that's precisely why we like it. 

The ZR2 is the Wrangler's better on the road and the Raptor's on a tight trail. It never tries to be something it's not, which is reassuring. It's proof that capability doesn't have to come with compromises or an astronomically high price tag, and that practical can also be fun

Along with the Kia Stinger, the ZR2 was one of the stand-out surprises of 2017. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Practicality... right. 

Look, we're not going to mince words here. The Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is stupid. It's a 5,500-pound, 707-horsepower minivan with a seven-slot grille. Nobody on Earth needs this vehicle. There's no case to be made on paper for purchasing one. Like we said: stupid. 

Stupid awesome

The experience of driving the Trackhawk simply cannot be conveyed in words (though we tried). The sound alone is other-worldly, and the experience of being rocketed to 60 miles per hour in under four seconds behind the wheel of a mall magnet is something every car enthusiast should have.

It seems disharmonious to us that the best, most complete SRT cars aren't cars at all, but SUVs, but Jeep has proven it yet again. What a machine. 

Honda Civic Type R

Next to the Wrangler, this may be the "purest" enthusiast car to make our list. Despite heaps of initial praise, the Type R was in many ways overshadowed by Honda's own Accord, but that in no way diminishes the significance of its introduction to the United States. 

The ranks of purebred enthusiast cars seem to be dwindling year after year, but Honda's choice to double down and bring both of its sport compacts Stateside this year gives us hope that the segment has life in it yet. 

What's better is that this front-wheel-drive maniac holds its own in a segment that now belongs to all-wheelers. The Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru WRX STI became its anchors when the Evo got the axe, but so far the Type R has earned its place