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1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen front 3/4

The Best Car I Drove in 2022: 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen

We go back to the beginning

  • We here at Edmunds are taking a look back at everything we drove in 2022.
  • As part of a series, each of our writers is picking a personal favorite.
  • Mine? The first "car" ever made: the Benz Motorwagen.

Like my fellow editors, I drove a lot of very good cars in 2022. I was lucky enough to get seat time in cars like the Pininfarina Battista, an all-electric supercar with more than 1,800 horsepower; the Mercedes-Benz EQXX, a sleek prototype EV that traveled more than 700 miles on a single charge; and the Porsche 911 Carrera T, one of the most engaging and purely joyful sports cars on sale today. But the one car that will forever stand out from all of the others that I drove this year is the both the oldest and least powerful: the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen.

This is it. This is the genesis of it all. It may not look (or operate) all that much like a modern vehicle, but it was self-propelled transport that proved the viability of the so-called "horseless carriage." The Patent Motorwagen's 945-cc one-cylinder engine was initially rated at a single horsepower, though later versions made up to 2 horsepower. Wild stuff. Even better, you didn't have to call a vet when it stopped working. I'm told horses can be expensive.

Sure, it's a bit crude. Rather than pedals, you accelerate and brake by pushing or pulling on a hand-operated lever. Forward to accelerate, back to slow down. The car has brakes, but all the lever really does is drop the revs down. There's no steering wheel either. You turn the single front wheel using a tiller that you move left or right. It's more akin to steering a bicycle than it is a modern car.

But it was so much fun. Yes, the max speed is about 10 mph and, yes, it looks and drives like a park bench on wheels, but there was something distinctly and uniquely thrilling about the Patent Motorwagen. I loved hearing the engine "putt, putt, putt" as it picked up revs. I loved how deliberate you have to be with all of the controls. I loved how everything was out in the open, from the pizza-sized flywheel to the leather drive belt that connected the engine to the axle. I love that there's a genuine chance of breaking a wrist turning while trying to start the car.

Edmunds says

The Benz Patent Motorwagen is widely considered the first car. It may seem archaic compared to modern automobiles, but driving one left a bigger impression than just about anything else I've driven this year.