What is the Best Car? Everyone who writes about cars gets asked, “What’s the best car?” or “What car should I buy?” Beats the heck out of me.
But here’s what rose to the top among the 50-plus cars we drove in 2013, and what I’d be dickering on if I were shopping the holiday sales. What’s a year end without a year-end review?
Near-perfection in a family crossover: Big but not huge, spendy but not painfully so, reasonably fuel-efficient, comfortable, handsome and technologically advanced to boot, Nissan’s latest Pathfinder is everything the American family currently wants in an SUV.
After E comes F: The Jaguar F-Type, that is, the resplendent descendant of the celebrated E-Type. If anything can stir Porsche loyalists to consider another make, it would be this brutally beautiful bare-knuckle thrasher from Jaguar, especially the supercharged V-8 model. We get another new Corvette—from England!
The most fun-est Toyota: This would be the Scion FR-S, as in Front-engine, Rear-drive Sport, the new value-priced sports car jointly hatched by Toyota and Subaru. It’s light, reasonably quick, stiff, responsive, pretty comfortable and quite stingy on gas—and, for you kids who can’t drive a clutch, the automatic transmission doesn’t let the car down.
The Swiss Army Knife Car: The Honda Odyssey has—or can be ordered with—it all, right down to a built-in vacuum cleaner, yet its sleek silhouette and near-luxury interior almost transcend minivan-ness. Spend enough on an Odyssey and you’re at the door to limousine land.
Best car that I don’t even know why I like: Jeep Wrangler—especially the four-door Unlimited color-top model, in Sahara trim and “Dune” (Afrika Korps) beige. It’s got the highway manners of an oxcart, but character out the wazoo. Cloth seats are fine and we won’t need the optional Garmin satnav because it’ll never leave town.
Most efficient family car that doesn’t need 250 pounds of batteries and an extra electric motor: VW Passat TDI, the clean-diesel German touring sedan that anyone with a job can afford, and that gets almost 50 miles per gallon on the highway. Your bladder will give out long before the fuel tank does.
Still my favorite American car: Ford Taurus SHO, now with 365 turbocharged horses, all-wheel drive, serious suspension and brakes, more room for people and cargo, and modernized electronics. If Ford built a flashy body around this platform and dressed up the cabin a bit, they’d have their class-leading new Lincoln.
Another surprise from Korea, Inc. At 42 grand all in, the big Cadenza breaks new ground for Kia and knocks some much more costly sedans from Europe and Japan on the head. Space, comfort, quiet, tasteful design, quality materials, effortless power and good fuel efficiency—not a sour note anywhere.
Luxury sedan of 2013: It wasn’t the biggest or most powerful four-door car of the year gone by, nor was it the most expensive or the most status-y. But If I were looking for a truly advanced and modern luxury sedan with less than Powerball money in my pocket, the Lexus GS450h might be the one—even though it’s a hybrid with a continuously variable transmission.
Best SUV at any price. Look at it this way: one new Range Rover Sport—the supercharged V-8 version—can free up the other four slots in your five-car garage. You’ll no longer need the sports sedan, the limousine, the enclosed all-terrain vehicle for five, or your old daily errand-runner. Makes a hundred grand look almost reasonable, doesn’t it?
Going, going, gone. Order right now and you can still get a BMW M3 with V-8 power, a $75,000 bottle rocket with four seats and a naughty gleam in its adaptive Xenon eyes. Or wait a few months for the M4, with an even more ferocious—and gas-efficient—turbo six. The king is dead, long live the king.