So as the year's about to turn, and as we're readying brand-new daily cat calendars for our cubicles, our editors are all taking time to reflect on the machinery that made this year so special, with one simple, open-ended question as the guide – a question that we're asked quite frequently, from friends, family, colleagues, and more.
"What's the best car you drove this year?"
When I review the list of everything I drove in 2014, picking an absolute favorite becomes almost impossible. I mean, how does one delineate between the joy offered by cars as different as the Alfa Romeo 4C, Volkswagen Golf R, Mercedes-AMG GT S and even the humble-yet-wonderful Chevy Colorado?
Okay fine, I'll just pick the Lamborghini.
I drove the Lamborghini Huracán LP 610-4 on a racetrack, in the mountains, and along southern coast of Spain. It felt like the king of the car jungle in all of those places, sucking the eyeballs of observers nearly out of their heads as it drove by, and almost melting my brain with its cocktail of speed and grip and intense communication.
It feels a little easy to say that the one new supercar I drove this year was also my favorite, but the fact is that the Huracán is one of the finest cars I've driven during my career, let alone 2014. Judge me if you must.
There are a couple of ways to look at the question, "What's the best car you drove this year?" In terms of what was so good I'd go out and buy one tomorrow, that'd be my all-time sweetheart, the Volkswagen GTI. Or if I'm just talking about sheer cool-factor, maybe something like the Galpin GTR1, BMW i8, or Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG. But instead, I'm going to write about the sheer opulence of being the best of the best. The hand-crafted, holier-than-thou, shut-your-mouth-when-I'm-talking-to-you supremacy. I'm picking the Rolls-Royce Wraith.
I drove the Wraith for a week in April, and was really, really impressed. This car does everything, perfectly. It handles city streets with poise and grace, it glides down highways (with that special Rolls-Royce waft) without a sound or an issue, and it's actually a pretty good driver's car, all things considered. To call it comfortable is a foolish understatement, and to call it nicely equipped is like calling the Sistine Chapel "a pretty neat painting." It has lambswool carpets, LEDs in the headliner to bring the night sky into the car, doors that shut themselves, and it's all put together in perhaps one of the finest packages ever built. The fit-and-finish is better than any car I've ever sat in – ever. Oh, and even its name is super cool.
The Rolls-Royce Wraith does everything. And in the $300,000 space, it should. But the price isn't the point here. It's about a car that was first and foremost crafted to be the absolute best at what it does. There are zero compromises here, and the end result is a car I won't quickly forget.
It'd be easy to say that the best car I drove this year was something ultra posh, exotic, or stupendously powerful. I've been fortunate enough that there were plenty of vehicles that fit those descriptors in my driveway this year, and I'm tempted to lean on some of them here, but I'm not going to.
Given the cornucopia of performance and lux on offer, picking the Volkswagen GTI may seem like I'm eating humble pie, but that's hardly the case – this VW is a savory and satisfying dish. Not only is it the best sort of workaday transportation, it's more entertaining to drive – and more exploitable on a daily basis – than many cars with a multiple of its modest 220-horsepower top specification.
The GTI's handling is sweet; its powertrain flexible; its cabin simple, robust and well laid out, and it's got enough cargo room to make it an able partner for nearly every use. It's an honest, affordable piece of work for most drivers and a powerful and enjoyable tool in the hands of the enthusiast.
I'm even starting to get over my longstanding heebie-jeebies about VW quality and reliability, and that, friends, is really saying something.
I'm not the only one on staff who really loved the BMW i8. Of all the cars I drove this year, this one attracted the most attention. Literally a head-turning vehicle. As we pointed out in a story in October, this car attracted crowds in parking lots. It feels like something out of a movie, a cross between Tron and Back to the Future. It's got lightweight carbon construction, a through-the-road hybrid system, and some cool-ass doors.
A couple of people I chatted with (in a Walgreen's parking lot in northern Michigan) looked disappointed when I told them it was a hybrid. But the electric motor gives it instantaneous torque, so when you hit the 'gas' pedal this car is ready to fly. Like a spaceship or something. When we ever get those flying cars we've been promised, they'll probably look something like the i8.
It's also pretty expensive, topping $140,000. But that's what makes being in this industry so cool – getting to drive things I'd never actually be able to afford. Everyone at Autoblog geeked out over this car, so much so that we named it our 2014 Technology of the Year.
Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe
I've only ever driven a few cars that I would, without a single complaint, drive every single day for the rest of my life. The 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is one. The Range Rover Sport Supercharged is another. And the 2015 Jaguar F-Type V6 S Coupe is the most recent. It's that good. I could write a whole lot on what's so great about the F-Type, but I'll limit it to just two items – the sound and the looks.
You might think that if you want the best sounding F-Type, you need the 5.0-liter, supercharged V8. You're so, so wrong. While the F-Type R sounds wonderful, the V6 S delivers a far richer and more interesting exhaust note. It belches angrily on wide-open-throttle upshifts and cackles and snaps on the overrun. It is simply addicting.
The best-looking vehicle I've ever seen is the Series I Jaguar E-Type. Considering the F-Type so happily cribs that car's looks, you can imagine how I rank the classic's spiritual successor. The Coupe is quite simply stunning, but it's best quality is that, especially in British Racing Green, it's not a shouty vehicle. It's anonymous to the average passerby, while those in the know will do nothing but stare at its meaty haunches. I absolutely adore it.
This year has been a great year for me in regards to cars I've driven, from the BMW i8, to the new Mustang and the Challenger Hellcat, but hands down the best car I drove in 2014 was the Pagani Huayra. With only a dozen or so of these cars in the US, most people never get to lay their eyes on one of these hypercars, but I was lucky enough to drive it in the Southern California desert in July. The whoosh of the turbos, thrust of the 12-cylinder engine, and the terror of being in the driver's seat of a $1.84-million vehicle was something I may never again experience in my lifetime.
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Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Like many of us, I'm fortunate to say that I've driven some awesome cars this year, but the one that sticks out the most is the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. It narrowly beats out the BMW i8, for me, anyway. The reasons? Well, the simple acts of depressing the heavy clutch, gripping the shifter and then mashing the throttle produces feelings-and sounds-unlike any other car I have driven recently. I was also among the first to drive the Challenger Hellcat on public roads before it was on sale, and it really was like being a rock star. People were in awe of this thing, and I had it at the Woodward Dream Cruise, where there's a lot of cool metal.
The i8 is awesome, too, in every way. It looks like a spaceship, and people were just as entranced by it. But at the end of the day, it's more fun to drive 707 horsepower in something called the Hellcat than it is to drive a hybrid.
Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake
This year I was privileged to drive a wide array of machinery, from nippy city cars and sizzling hot hatches to a diesel luxury sedan and pickup truck, and even a few pre-production prototypes. But if I had to pick one that stood out above all the others, it surely was the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake.
Sadly unavailable (in wagon form at least) in North America – and otherwise available only with a diesel even in Europe – the XFR-S Sportbrake is everything an enthusiast could ask for: a 542-horsepower supercharged V8 and all the upgrades that go along with it, from the beefier suspension, rolling stock and brakes to the aero and interior enhancements. But it also packs all the cargo space you'd want in a crossover or SUV, without the added bulk. Think of it as a Mercedes E63 AMG Wagon or an Audi RS6 Avant, but without the turbo lag and all-wheel drive.
Of course the location at which I drove it didn't hurt, either. The Nürburgring Norschleife has what it takes to unveil the flaws in any chassis, but heavy as it is, the XFR-S Sportbrake didn't miss a beat – even compared to the lighter XJR, F-Type R and XFR-S sedan with which we alternated between hot laps of the most vaunted racing circuit ever devised.
It was with trepidation that I initially approached the BMW i3. You see, I was immediately attracted to its overall look and design – I like a traditional BMW just as much as the next auto journalist, but I'm also not so tied up in traditionalism that I can't appreciate when a company goes in a completely new direction, so long as that direction has specific intent and rational thought behind it. The BMW i3 has these in spades, but what I wasn't sure before driving it was whether or not it was as rewarding to drive as it was to ponder.
I was pleased to find that, if not fun to drive, the BMW i3 is at the very least fulfilling. The model I piloted was equipped with the range-extended engine, and that's the way I'd spec an i3 if I were to park one in my driveway. The vast majority of the time, my wife and I would run on pure electric power, but for those times when we need our only car to take us a hundred miles away, it's not out of the question.
The BMW i3 I drove took part in a drive, along with a number of other cars and trucks, that was a few hundred miles in length, and, just like all the more traditionally powered vehicles it was included with, it arrived at its final destination, and was then driven back a few days later. It's certainly not a perfect vehicle, but its execution is good enough that I consider it the best car I drove this year, due mainly to the fact that it's capable of doing things most other eco-friendly cars can't, and it does so with style.