Rob's Top Five Best Cars of 2014
Metroland automotive journalist Rob Beintema shares his top five best cars of 2014.
Whittling my 2014 test drives down to five best cars is no easy task for an equal-opportunity enthusiast who enjoys accelerating an Accent through urban traffic slaloms just as much as pedal-stomping a Porsche down a long racetrack straightaway.
But let’s give it a shot.
Huh? A minivan?
Yup, and even fifth place should be considered an honour in light of the 5o-plus vehicles tested last year. Minivans are still the best bang for the buck when it comes to efficient and versatile family transportation, swallowing endless combinations of passengers and payloads with ease and room to spare.
Stow ’n Go seating should be ranked as a Wonder of the Modern World. Sometimes I climb around the inside, raising and lowering the seats just to revel in the engineering and try and figure out how the hell it all works.
There’s been some angst over the Grand Caravan being dropped but that’s just Dodge realigning as a performance brand. A wider slate of next generation Town & Country minivans, including a fuel-thrifty new hybrid version, will be coming soon.
Remember, these are just my personal choices and, touched in the head as I am, they really follow no technical rhyme or logical reason.
I think I just got a kick out of the Lemonade Yellow paint job, colour-keyed interior and spunky attitude of this cartoonish putt-putt.
It made me laugh as it stood out as a cheerful counterpoint to the endless streams of silver and grey automotive monotony on the roads around me. Granted, the acceleration snap of the meager 84 hp four-banger didn’t exactly put me in a whiplash collar, but the 6.5/5.0L/100km fuel-econo rating wasn’t too hard to take.
Now if GM would just sharpen their pencils and offer a wider choice of appealingly priced electric-powered versions worthy of the Spark name, we would have a serious contender.
3. Jaguar XJ-L
At the other end of the spectrum is the executive-sized XJ-L, slipping through traffic like some Great White Shark gliding through schools of lesser fish.
That was the mental picture in my head throughout the ride, reflecting this car’s liner-like grace and perpetually unruffled elegance.
And underneath that as-tested cool Polaris White exterior, pulsed the more than sufficient heartbeat of a 340 hp V6, putting power to the road through an all-wheel-drive system and Adaptive Dynamic suspension, among other technologies. A more monstrous 470 hp supercharged 5.0-litre V8 is also available.
This roomy, stretched long-wheelbase model is a unique alternative to Teutonic premium vehicles that seem to have become as common as dirt.
And, as for the Jaguar brand cachet . . .
Slip your own car brand name in the following sentence and see if it rolls off the tongue as nicely.
“Honey, I’ll pick you up in the Jag and we’ll go out to dinner.”
Okay, we’re back down a few sizes, only this time, with power to spare.
I may be a little biased here because Kenny Block once took me on a smoke-festooned run in his 600+hp version, but even a stock Fiesta ST, boasting a GTDI turbocharged 1.6-litre in-line four makes a potent 197 hp and 202 lb/ft of torque, pushing this little pocket-rocket up to speed in a snap. The one-choice six-speed manual shifter is a joy, snapping through short-throws, a perfect complement to a nimble chassis and competent small car handling package.
Yes, we can find slightly bigger cars for the same price with more room for stuff inside and occasional rear seat passengers and blah, blah, blah.
But who cares about them? Tell your friends to buy their own dang car.
Tested in a pugnacious shade of Green Envy, I dare any enthusiast to throw this car around a few corners and not come out with a jealous grin on their face.
I know this flies in the face of my opening statement, but the consistent superiority of an ever-evolving benchmark in sports performance simply can’t be denied.
We can tick all the performance boxes here – the turbocharged 3.8-litre six-cylinder engine making 560 hp and 553 lb/ft of peak torque, the 3.1 second 0-100km/h acceleration rating, the lightning-fast PDK seven-speed double-clutch transmission, the full-time all-wheel-drive, carbon-ceramic brakes, race-derived suspension and a myriad of other dynamic technologies.
But those elements somehow combine to an acme of performance singularity that seems to go beyond the mere sum total of a Porsche’s parts.
Yea, I’m getting caught up in the hyperbole and, yes, there are even better, faster and more expensive Porsches to be had.
But the 911 Turbo S is the one I drove this past year as part of a weeklong automotive car of the year testing session, and it was stunning to experience how one car could make competitors, evolved to their own lofty peaks of performance, simply pale in comparison.
Which is why the Porsche 911 Turbo S takes first place easily on my list.
You might want to add it to your own short list, if those lottery numbers ever come in.