We thought 2015 was a banner year for the automobile. We weren't wrong, but 2016? Wow. For all the horribleness that 2016 wrought, it was one hell of a good year for cars. We saw supercars like the Ford GT conquer Le Mans (again), and plenty of debuts for cars that we're downright salivating at the chance to drive in 2017. This isn't about those, though. This is about the cars that laid their first rubber to the pavement during 2016, while inspiring passion, striking us with beauty, and advancing technological progress. These are the cars that most reaffirmed our faith in the automobile. 2016, it's been a killer ride.

Courtesy of Cadillac

Cadillac CT6

Base price: $53,495
proper American limousine, as well as an Autobahn cruiser
You don't need many words to explain why the Cadillac CT6 is among the best cars of 2016. In addition to being a powerful statement of American styling, it features world-class fit and finish, and enough power to go up against its European and Japanese competitors. The interior presents a thoroughly opulent experience with acres of space to feel comfortable, while the optional, business-class backseat and all its amenities might just be the best feature. The CT6 also stands out on the tech front, with a truly game-changing rearview camera mirror, a fantastic infotainment interface, and driver assistance functionality that actually works, unlike so many others.

Courtesy of Jaguar

Jaguar XE

Base price: $34,900
Britain's answer to German sport sedans. Finally.
The last time Jag-you-are tried to pick a fight with Germany's sport sedan hegemony, it was absolutely slaughtered in the marketplace. This time, the XE is a bona fide challenger. It's competitively priced, ticks all the right boxes for tech and performance, and is successful at the one thing that matters most for the majority of its buyers: looks absolutely stunning driving down the road. With engine options running the gamut from an efficient diesel to a screaming 340hp V6, how sporty you take your Jag is up to you.

Courtesy of Chevrolet

Chevrolet Bolt EV

Base price: $37,496
The first truly long-range EV for the middle class
With all the hype and pre-order hysteria surrounding the Tesla Model 3, all Chevrolet did was beat Tesla to the punch in producing an all-electric vehicle that can go over 200 miles on a single charge while costing less than $40,000. Officially, the Bolt can go up to 238 miles, but all indications are that it can actually go quite a bit past that, and it's less than $30,000 (granted, barely) after the $7,500 federal EV credit. Throw in performance that meets or exceeds any other EV in its price range, not to mention many non-EVs, and you have a bona fide mass-market, long-range electric vehicle on your hands.

Courtesy of Audi

Audi R8

Base price: $162,900
Try and find another performance car that outdoes it. We'll wait.
The Audi R8 matches or beats its competitors in almost every dimension. It's the kind of machine you can live with all year, thanks to all-wheel drive, performance that outdoes virtually anything else on the road, and the reliability of... an ordinary Audi. 2016 marks the dawn of the R8's second generation, and it truly shines in its attention to detail: the interior customization -- including resplendent, diamond-stitch leather -- is next-level. The R8's exemplary digital dashboard is the way of the future, reducing clutter and providing sharp optical information. The mid-rear-mounted V10 is a work of art, ensuring that running the R8 through the gears never gets tiring.

Courtesy of Ford

Ford F-150 Raptor

Base price: $48,325
A daily driver that can do nearly 100mph in the desert
When developing its second-generation Raptor, Ford could have simply added a few rugged-looking visual cues and a lifted suspension, and still watched customers flock to the beefed-up F-150. Instead, its engineering team put together a truly world-class off-road performance truck that's infinitely more capable than all but the elite few ultra-hardcore buyers of this truck even realize. It can keep you cool and comfy as you push triple-digit speeds in the desert, while handling more like a family sedan than a pickup during your morning commute. This is a serious truck and a feather in Ford's F-150 lineup, even if few will ever set it free in its native habitat.

Courtesy of BMW

BMW M2

Base price: $51,700
A back-to-basics driver's car that's already a modern classic
Such was the emphasis on keeping the M2 a bang-for-your-buck bargain that subtle details like Alcantara trim on the dashboard and contrasting stitching on the leather are the only interior clues to what driving pleasures await. The 365hp M2 excels as a relatively bare-bones car built solely for the freude am fahren (joy of driving) ethos that BMW so loves to hang its hat on. Take into account its impeccable handling, in a package that's easier to drive fast than the much more expensive M4, and it's little wonder that Munich's latest hit has already achieved a lofty status among some of BMW's most revered driver's cars dating back to the late 1960s.

Jeff Jablansky/Thrillist

Kia Optima LX 1.6T

Base price: $24,140
Kia's best-kept secret
Among the super-performers in this cadre is a big surprise from Kia: The most frugal and least sexy Optima, the LX 1.6T, is a sensational car for a road trip. Of the three engine and transmission choices for the Optima, it's the 1.6T (T, for turbocharged) that feels European in nature, thanks to a superb 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, smooth power delivery at low RPM, and fuel economy that hits the mid-40s on the highway. The Optima's styling is among the most attractive in its class, and inside, the tech features are competitive and hyper-efficient in nature. Cloth seats are a welcome reprieve from overdone leather and vinyl perches so often found in cars in this class, and they're comfortable enough that you can drive for 10-hour stretches without fatiguing.

Courtesy of Volvo

Volvo S90

Base price: $46,950
The holy trinity for near-luxury sedans: tech, safety, and beauty
Volvo's new flagship sedan combines the expected (you know a Volvo is going to be safe) with the unexpected surprise of being a damn pretty car from the moment you feast your eyes on its "Hammer of Thor" headlights. Climbing into the orthopedically optimized seats is a pleasure that doesn't wane as the mileage beats on. Volvo spent the past few years slowly re-establishing its mojo, and between the S90's eminently sexy V90 wagon sister (not to mention the V90 Cross Country for those wishing to go beyond the beaten path) and so many advanced driver aids that it amounts to a middle finger pointed squarely at Tesla, it's safe to say the Swedes are back.

Courtesy of Honda

Honda Ridgeline

Base price: $29,475
Tough without being rough around the edges
That the second act of the Honda Ridgeline was going to be a success was hardly a foregone conclusion, but Honda absolutely hit it out of the park. It's a pickup truck for people who don't have axle ratios or towing capacities memorized, but it can double as a family sedan for the semi-occasional hauler. This is a truck that drives more like an Accord than an F-150, with glass-smooth ride quality and an interior nicked from the Pilot. Factor in its covered, in-bed trunk and acoustic laminated glass, and the Ridgeline is a road tripper that can haul everything you need. If you love pickup trucks and still need convincing, just drive one.

Courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Base price: $72,000
An Italian beauty with beastly performance
Just take a second to soak in the glorious Italian styling, and you'll understand. Rare is the sedan that oozes raw sex appeal, and for the Giulia -- specifically the high-performance Quadrifoglio version -- that beauty isn't just skin deep. A 505hp engine under the hood only fuels the lust for Italy's first true competitor to the venerable BMW M3, and the 3.8 seconds it takes to hit 60mph from a standstill doesn't hurt, either.

Jeff Jablansky/Thrillist

Jaguar F-PACE

Base price$41,990 
Capability is rarely also this desirable and affordable.
Out of nowhere, Jaguar upended the establishment this year with the F-PACE, the company's very first stab at an SUV. Beautiful though it is, the F-PACE doesn't rely on its looks to garner accolades. It's amazingly fun to drive, and not just for an SUV: the F-PACE is as much a sports car as it is a family hauler. There isn't a bad choice among the myriad F-PACE power plants, from the thrifty 2-liter diesel to the powerful 3-liter supercharged V6, and they all feel and sound like a proper Jag. There's room for five people and their luggage on board, and the premium 825-watt stereo absolutely rocks.

Courtesy of McLaren

McLaren 570GT

Base price: $201,450
A supercar, a grand tourer, and a supermodel, all in one
The 570GT is a high-performance two-door that can be driven every single day. While the GT has a very similar sister car in the 570S, the GT is the better car, for its ever-more-beautiful lines and slightly softer disposition. You can spend all day stomping through the hills of Malibu or high-tailing it on the interstate, and all it takes to have fun is to dip into the throttle a bit. The 570GT holds a prime advantage over other supercars at its price point and above: lightning-quick responses in steering, throttle, and braking. If this gorgeous car has a downside, it's that the roof lets in too much heat and brightness on sunny days. Still, don't pity the 570GT driver with the A/C on full blast.

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Aaron Miller is the Cars editor for Thrillist, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook. You should be able to guess by now which of these cars he wants in his garage.

Jeff Jablansky is a contributor to Thrillist Cars with an acute McLaren obsession, which is understandable. Follow him @unclewithcars.

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