Through scenic landscapes and bouts with Carmaggedon, you’ll need these cars to get you through the Golden State

Creating a list of the best cars for California isn’t as easy as it looks. As one of the most beautiful places in the world, let alone in the U.S., the Golden State’s diverse population, lifestyle, and landscape creates a vibrant melting pot of vehicles that you can drive in this place. Whether you’re living in the busy streets of downtown Los Angeles or the suburbs of Thousand Oaks, there’s a car for everyone who calls this beautiful place home. Coupes, sedans, wagons, SUVs, trucks, hybrids, and electric cars all have a place in California’s auto scene. For what all of that is worth, we’ve got through this compilation of the best cars you can use, drive, and own in this hip-and-happenin’ state.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5 High Resolution Exterior
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How does it feel to drive along California’s long highways in a 180-horsepower, open-top sports car that handles great on the road, all while returning 35 miles per gallon? You really don’t need to answer this question. We know it’s going to be amazing. We know it’s going to be fun. Most importantly, we know that with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, it’s an experience that’s well within reach for most people. The MX-5 is, in many ways, the ideal sports roadster to drive in California.

It doesn’t matter where you live in the Golden State, and if you have an MX-5 Miata, you're going to enjoy all the beautiful and scenic roads this state has to offer.

The fact that you can do it without having to burn holes in your pockets buying the car and fuelling it up makes this Japanese sports roadster all the more appealing.

Mazda MX-5 Miata drivetrain specifications
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder SkyActiv G engine
Horsepower: 181 horsepower
Torque: 151 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): RWD
0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 140 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Volvo XC90

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Volvo XC90 - I never thought I’d live to see the day where the words “Volvo” and “hipster” would go seamlessly together. And yet, here we are. SUVs are all the rage these days, and while it doesn’t possess the same name-recall as other models, the Volvo XC90 stands out as one of the best options in the market if you want to steer away from the skid.

The Volvo XC90 is the perfect SUV for California. It boasts great looks for the vanity-obsessed population of the state.

It’s loaded with premium features and state-of-the-art technology. It has a multitude of engine options, including a hybrid version. Most of all, it’s a versatile model. You can use it if you’re in any one of the state’s crowded cities. You can use it to bring your kids to their weekend soccer games. You can use it to go on a road trip. You can use the XC90 anywhere, and wherever you go, people will notice you and your ride. If validation is what you’re looking for, the Volvo XC90 gives you that, and so much more.

Volvo XC90 drivetrain specifications
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 316 horsepower
Torque: 295 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): FWD or AWD
0-60 mph: 6.0 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

Read our full lreview on the 2020 Volvo XC90.

Honda CR-V

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For those who can’t afford a $50,000 SUV like the Volvo XC90, there are cheaper options available in the market. One of them is the Honda CR-V, which is, arguably, one of the most well-rounded crossovers you’ll find in the market. The first thing you need to know about the CR-V is that it costs only around $25,000. The second thing you need to know about the CR-V is that it features a responsive 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque.

That’s enough pep in the step for all manners of California driving.

That same engine is as responsive as they come, too. It creates a very relaxed driving experience that goes well with the creature comforts provided by one of the most spacious cabins in its segment. The Honda CR-V is not a sexy choice in this list, but there’s a reason it’s one of the best-selling models in California.

Honda CR-V drivetrain specifications
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 190 horsepower
Torque: 179 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): AWD
0-60 mph: 7.6 seconds
Top Speed: 124 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 Honda CR-V

Ford F-150

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People often mistake California as strictly a land of glitz and glamour, and while there are kernels of truth in that statement, it’s also dismissing the vast outdoors scene the state has to offer.

For those people who do appreciate the roads less traveled, there’s no better companion for those trips than America’s best-selling truck, the Ford F-150.

You name it; the F-150 has it. Excellent engine lineup? Check. Class-leading capabilities? Check. Innovative high-tech features? Check. Opt for the F-150 Limited trim, and you also stand to receive a spacious interior with a smattering of luxury goodies that fill up a good size of that space. There are no pickups in the world that can flex like the Ford F-150 flexes. Justifiably so, too, since it has everything you need for that trip to Big Bear or that chill time at Hermosa Beach.

Ford F-150 drivetrain specifications
Engine: 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine
Horsepower: 450 horsepower
Torque: 510 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): RWD and AWD
0-60 mph: 5.1 seconds
Top Speed: 110 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 Ford F-150

Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe

2013 Roll Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Series II
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There is a predisposed notion that, in California, people want to see and be seen. When it comes to cars, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe will get the job done for you. The Phantom is the crème de la crème of luxury convertibles.

It’s dripping in the finest in luxury amenities, and the convertible nature of the model means that everyone’s going to be looking at you when you’re rolling down Rodeo Drive while the Californian sun bathes you in its golden glow.

The Phantom Drophead Coupe isn’t cheap — it’ll cost you well over $400,000 for a brand new model — but that’s the price you have to pay if you want this town to look at you in a certain way.

Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe drivetrain specifications
Engine: 6.75-liter twin-turbocharged V-12
Horsepower: 563 horsepower
Torque: 664 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): RWD
0-60 mph: 5.5 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe

Toyota Camry Hybrid

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For most people, driving in California is simply about getting from Point A to Point B with as little issue as possible. Rising fuel costs make it difficult for most cars on this list to accomplish that, but for the Toyota Camry Hybrid, it just might be the car for the job.

The Camry Hybrid isn’t winning any acceleration, or top speed runs, but you’re not buying this model for either of those things.

You’re buying the Camry Hybrid because of its impressive fuel economy (52 mpg combined), its array of standard advanced features, and it’s surprisingly well-appointed interior. Throw in the $22,950 price tag and all the fuel savings you get from its hybrid setup and the Camry is well-suited for its role as your car-of-choice in California.

Toyota Camry Hybrid drivetrain specifications
Powertrain: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas-electric hybrid
Horsepower: 121 horsepower
Torque: 108 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): FWD
0-60 mph: 7.0 seconds (estimate)
Top Speed: 100 mph (estimate)

Read our full review on the Toyota Camry Hybrid

BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

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Wagons aren’t as cool as they used to be, but they’re still very useful models in a place like California. The BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon counts as one of the best ones you can buy, and it’s well-suited for the multi-purpose lifestyle that people from this state live up.

The 328d xDrive SW has a lot going for it. There’s the robust turbo-four engine that packs a mean punch for a wagon.

There’s the smooth delivery of that power to the four wheels. There’s the wagon’s handling, which is considered one of the best in its segment. Interior space isn’t an issue with the 328d xDrive, either. You can drive this sporty wagon anywhere in the state. Getting stuck in traffic won’t deplete you of fuel, and if you have a big enough family, the wagon’s five-person standard seating and copious amounts of interior space ensure that no ride in this model counts as uncomfortable.

BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon drivetrain specifications
Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 180 horsepower
Torque: 280 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): AWD
0-60 mph: 7.6 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

Honda Civic

2016 Honda Civic High Resolution Exterior
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The Honda Civic is the most popular car in California in 2018, at least according to a survey conducted by Insurify, a car insurance quotes comparisons website. Now, sometimes, popularity doesn’t usually equate to quality. Some “popular” cars are gas-guzzlers while other “popular” cars have enough room in the interior for two well-built adults and not much else.

The Honda Civic isn’t popular through these metrics; it’s popular because it packs a surprisingly powerful engine, returns tremendous fuel economy numbers, and carries a below-$20,000 price tag.

More than these things, the Civic is tried-and-tested. Generations of Californians have owned countless Civics dating back to a time when the model was still offered primarily in hatchback form. To this day, the Civic remains the most popular car in California, and with good reason. It has the best value for money among all cars in the entire industry. That value is seen by a lot of Californians. That explains why the Honda Civic was the best-selling car in California last year with 80,190 sold units, almost 20,000 units more than the runner-up, the Toyota Camry, which tallied 61,553 sold units in the state in 2018.

Honda Civic drivetrain specifications
Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 158 horsepower
Torque: 128 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): FWD
0-60 mph: 6.8 seconds
Top Speed: 120 mph (estimate)

Read our full review on the 2018 Honda Civic

Tesla Model S

2017 Tesla Model S Exterior
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A list of the best cars for California is incomplete without mentioning the Tesla Model S. If you want the perfect “it” car for Hollywood, you buy the Tesla Model S. If you want the ultimate car in gas savings, you buy the Tesla Model S. If you want to be seen as a progressive-minded individual with a heart for the environment, you buy the Tesla Model S.

It also doesn’t hurt that the Model S is arguably one of the most technologically advanced vehicles in the market today.

It’s unmistakable in its design, and it has performance chops that can put even the fiercest of exotics to shame. It doesn’t even have to be a Model S, too. You can buy any of Tesla’s offerings — the Model X, for example — and you’re still getting the same benefits and applause from a lot of people in the state. Heck, the upcoming Tesla Model 3 hasn’t been released yet, and it already unseated the Honda Civic as the top-selling car in California in the second half of 2018. For the year, the Model 3 ranked as the fourth top-selling car in the state, beating established titans like the Nissan Sentra, Ford Fusion, and yes, the Toyota Corolla.

Tesla Model S drivetrain specifications
Powertrain: Front and rear motors; 100 kWh battery pack
Horsepower: 483 horsepower
Torque: 487 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): AWD
0-60 mph: 3.9 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 Tesla Model S

McLaren 720S

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California is often called America’s playground for the rich and famous. If you want to stand out in this sea of wealth and affluence, you’re going to need a ride that can help you get noticed. I’d pick any supercar, really, but I’m going with the McLaren 720S for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. Second, there aren’t that many McLarens in California compared to Ferraris or Lamborghinis. Third, McLaren has never been as popular and as famous as it is today.

The McLaren 720S is one of the best cars for California.

Imagine for a second that you’re driving one along California Highway 1 between Morro Bay and Carmel-by-the-Sea. You have one of the fastest and most powerful cars in the world, and you’re driving in what is arguably the most scenic 155-mile stretch of road in the world. That’s a perfect coming-together of the joyride of our dreams.

McLaren 720 drivetrain specifications
Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine
Horsepower: 710 horsepower
Torque: 568 pound-feet
Drive (AWD, FWD, RWD): AWD
0-60 mph: 2.8 seconds
Top Speed: 212 mph

Read our full review on the 2018 McLaren 720S

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