Insider Report’s Ten Best Drives of 2013

Published December 30, 2013

In 2013, I was truly fortunate to be able to drive a wide range of exciting cars all in an attempt to keep Wheels.ca readers entertained. From North of the Arctic Circle, to the Pacific Ocean and all across North America, the Insider Report climbed aboard planes, trains and buses en route to race tracks and far off twisty roads. The great experiences were too many to recount here, so I thought that a Top Ten list of great cars would be perfect for wasting some of your hopefully short New Year’s Eve work day.

Here, in alphabetical order, are my Top Ten Drives of 2013

Audi S5/RS4
Yes, I am fully aware that there is a huge difference between Audi’s RS5 Coupe and the wicked RS4 sedan. The setting where I sampled them however, was absolutely perfect for showcasing Audi’s Quattro drive system. Nokian Tires Ivalo test facility, known as the White Hell, is 200 KM North of the Arctic Circle. I was able to flog an RS4, sporting studded Nokian Winter tires, around a massive test track on the frozen surface of one of Finland’s many lakes. Later, we hit the road for a long drive through windy forest roads and snow covered highways in the simply spectacular RS5. Both of these cars almost seem more at home on ice than anywhere else.

Chevrolet Corvette
For decades, “America’s sports car” has always had a “but” attached to it. It handled like a Ferrari, it stopped like a Porsche and it went faster than either, but, the interior was never up to the same standards. So much so that I myself compared the interior of the sixth generation car to a SeaDoo jet boat. The C7 Stingray carries no such tag after any descriptions. The all new ‘Vette makes no apologies. It is fast, loud and has an interior that is the equal to anything created by the Europeans. The C7 is a World class sports car that is a blast to drive in any setting.

Ford Fiesta ST
The Blue Oval’s smallest entry into the performance car market may well be the biggest surprise of the year. I have yet to speak with anyone who has driven it who didn’t instantly fall in love. Perhaps more than any car on the market, the Fiesta ST embodies the spirit of the term Pocket Rocket. Light, nimble and quick, the ST also looks the part with the requisite collection of go-fast visual aids to set it apart from more pedestrian versions. It is impossible not to smile while pitching the little Fiesta into a turn and squirting down the next straight.

Jaguar F-Type
The newest offering from Jaguar, the F-Type is the first true sports car from the British brand since the ever popular E-Type. Still considered one of the greatest styled cars of all time, the shape of the E-Type has most definitely inspired the new roadster, which is even more sensual than its ancestor if that is possible. Interior fit and finish are second to none, as the Jag feels tailor made to just about every driver. While maybe not quite as quick as its perennial competitor, the Corvette, the F-Type emits the most incredible howl from its dual exhaust that is worth the price of admission all by itself. Add in the stellar acceleration and tail happy handling and you have a sports car that is as much fun to drive to the mall as it is on a winding road.

Jaguar XK-R
Like an older brother with a family who’s rep still carries weight at the kid brother’s high school, the XK-R is a bit more socially responsible than the F-Type. You could say it walks softly and carries a big stick. At this year’s VARAC Historic Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, I was tasked with giving VIP guest rides during the lunch session. Even though the XK-R has a back seat of sorts for the kiddies, the 550 horsepower monster under the hood was strong enough to propel the big cat to over 250 km/h up the back straight as I attempted to keep up with Ludwig Heimrath in his 911.

McLaren MP4-12C
Just a couple of weeks before the snow began falling here in the GTA, the folks at McLaren Toronto tossed me the keys to a McLaren MP4-12C and then turned me loose on the streets of Toronto. The McLaren is a bit of an odd contrast of a car. It looks as wild as any supercar you could dream up and with a twin turbo V8 that generates more than 600 horsepower, it has the performance to back it up. Despite all of that, the interior is surprisingly sedate. Stylish as one might expect, with wonderful fit and finish, but entirely comfortable for use as a daily driver. I intend to spend more time with this car in the Spring.

Nissan GT-R NISMO
The 2015 Nissan GT-R is latest version of the car they call Godzilla. The problem with the previous version of the current generation, as a Nissan exec told me, is that the car wasn’t GT enough, nor was it R enough. The NISMO version is Nissan’s answer to the lack of R. Stiffer body shell. Stiffer springs. Race ready drivetrain components. Aero add-ons that are more function than form. I only spent four laps behind the wheel of the GT-R NISMO, on the Sodeguara Forest race track near Tokyo, but it was enough to tell me that it may be the most race ready road car ever sold. This evil machine is more worthy than ever of comparison to a terrifying reptile.

Porsche 911
Having grown up spending as much time as possible in my best friend’s house, a real Porsche family, I have a bit of a soft spot for the brand’s premier machine. The 911 is more than an icon, it is a part of my life. The newest version of the 911 has been criticized by some for being bigger than past models, but the interior dimensions are perfect in my eyes. I supposed the biggest compliment I can give the 911 is that it does just about everything well. The styling is classic 911. The interior is stylish, comfortable and top notch quality. It goes and whoa’s with the best of them, while creating that unique soundtrack that can only come from a flat six engine. I’ll take mine in yellow please.

Porsche Cayman S
Of all of the cars I drove in 2013, the new Cayman S might just be the one that is the easiest to drive fast, even if it is the most difficult for me to get in an out of with my big belly and bad back. Even still, Walter Rohrl, the legendary Porsche racer and king of the Nurburgring, considers the Cayman S to be a better choice than the 911. Does anyone else’s opinion really matter?

Range Rover Sport
While the rest of my Top Ten list consists of sports cars, life does not revolve around speed alone. Sometimes we also need to carry other people and stuff too. The Range Rover Sport combines off road ability, cargo and human capacity and on road performance into what might be the coolest package on the market today. With 510 horsepower, you aren’t likely to lose many stop light contests in this SUV.

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