Veloster N is Road & Track’s 2020 Performance Car of the Year!

November 5th, 2019 by

2020 Performance Car of the Year

Eleven worthy competitors, one surprising winner.

Crowning the Road & Track Performance Car of the Year is not an easy task. Each fall, we gather every new or revised performance car that we can get our hands on. While some of these candidates naturally worm into our hearts, this is more than a popularity contest—the award doesn’t simply go to the machine we like the most or the one we think is the coolest. PCOTY is about looking to the future and finding the car that provides the most hope for the enthusiast: a machine that offers everything you expect of a modern vehicle yet still tugs at the heart.

To pick a winner, we used the following criteria:

  • Outright speed and testing numbers are part of the package, but they don’t determine the winner. Beyond sheer pace, a car has to bring emotion to the table.
  • The car must embrace track duty while still being enjoyable on the road.
  • Technology has to be used in service of the driver, not just added speed. Feedback and sensation via complexity is great, but complexity alone doesn’t cut it.
  • Lastly, we ask ourselves, would any other manufacturer build it? Does the car feel uniquely of its story and brand, with a personality all its own?

This year’s test saw 11 cars join us for two days at Northern California’s Thunderhill Raceway Park. A staff vote at the end of our track time cut the field to six contenders. Those six were then road-tripped on a winding, demanding test route through the Sierra Nevada, ending at Lake Tahoe. A final vote at the end of the journey determined the winner.

You might be wondering why we elected to conduct track testing first this year. Past PCOTY contests have tested cars on the road first, then trekked to a closed course. Our current method gave the staff a chance to drive every car in similar conditions, learning their limits in a safe, controlled environment.

When it came to lap times, we enlisted a licensed club racer with no Thunderhill experience: me. We did this for a reason, and it wasn’t to build my ego. Most of our readers are not pro drivers. When you buy a new car, a professional’s lap time at any track is an interesting metric, but it’s rarely reflective of a normal person’s experience. We wanted to stress accessibility and adaptability. How easy is it to get up to speed in a given car? How communicative is the car? Is it hard to learn the quirks? Under the watchful eyes of our testing staff, every PCOTY contender got a quick warm-up session to set tire pressures, then no more than seven timed laps. Just enough to establish a representative lap and suss idiosyncrasies, not enough to set a record.

Of course, no method is perfect. Ambient temperature during our lapping day started at around 85 degrees Fahrenheit and eventually hit 107. That kind of heat doesn’t help lap speed, and it ensured that late runners needed shorter stints, as times immediately dropped off. While I made every attempt to, as one of our contributors once said, “underserve all the cars equally,” most amateur drivers will get faster over the course of a day at a track they had never before seen, learning the pavement’s nuances, and I am no exception. With those caveats in mind, it’s best to view the lap times as bellwether, not absolute. A loose guide to judge the spectacular machinery on these pages.

In the end, that’s the key. We hold PCOTY testing each year as reason to celebrate the future of the performance car, not lament it. The industry is undergoing transformation. More than ever, regulations try to force automakers into a box. Consumer trends lean toward amorphous appliances. At Road & Track, we drive hundreds of new cars each year, which means our affection for hydraulic steering, natural aspiration, lightweight efficiency, and a good, old-fashioned stick shift is tested on a regular basis.

Yet look at the field we have here. These cars are proof that there’s still plenty to be excited about. None of them fade into the background or aim to remove you from the experience. In a time when we’re told that the driverless car is around the corner, these machines put the driver squarely at the front of the experience. As it should be.

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