The life of an auto reviewer can be a difficult one. We are forced to drive a brand new car every week; some weeks we must travel to big cities such as New York, or Los Angeles, or Chicago for auto shows. There we’re schmoozed by auto makers and forced to endure receptions, carry heavy bags filled with copious amounts of swag and deal with hangovers. Other times we have to travel to racetracks such as Daytona International Speedway where we are forced to drive supercars like Lamborghinis, Ferraris and the like. Other times we can be treated like doctors; when someone knows how we make a living we get asked advice on all manner of automotive things; “I’m thinking of buying a ….what do you think?” “Auntie May wants to buy a ….can you get her a deal?” (The answer is no by the way). All in all it can be a very taxing lifestyle.
Okay, maybe there’s a wee bit of exaggeration there. The truth is we are offered a myriad of cars to test during the course of the year. It can be a dizzying array of machinery that sometimes leaves us wandering a parking lot while we try to remember just what the heck we are driving this week, (god bless ‘panic’ buttons). Among this plethora of cars we find models we like, some not so much. Some we hate to give back, others we can’t wait to.
The real measure of whether I really like a car or not, however, stems from a single idea: Would I actually buy it? Could I write the check for the car payment once a month? Would I leave my house every morning and smile when I see it in my driveway? There may be cars I like but wouldn’t want to own. A few however are standouts, ones I would be happy to live with for several years. Thus, in no particular order, I present my top 10 cars for 2013 that I would put in my driveway. A little caveat here: with only 52 weeks in a year and thousands of cars on the market I didn’t get a chance to drive everything, so my list is confined to the cars I did drive in 2013 including 2013 and 2014 models.
The SUV is the common mans covered wagon. It’s used to carry kids to school, haul pieces for home improvement projects, and carry copious amounts of groceries. Perhaps more than any other type of vehicle the SUV becomes a member of the family, like the faithful family dog ready to run out and fetch the morning paper. This class includes the smaller “crossovers” and the large luxury SUV models that seem to glide across the road like a cruise ship (think the Infiniti Q56). There were a few standouts this year. The Cadillac SRX is an awesome crossover, especially on the open road, the Chevy Traverse is also a fine choice, and the Dodge Durango was surprising. But two models competed for favorite this year: The 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan, which forces us to give up our man card but seems ready to take whatever the modern suburban family can throw at it, and the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited I had in the summer (a few weeks later I got the SRT version of the Grand Cherokee to try, it’s like a Jeep on steroids; fun, but not really practical for everyday). In the end the Jeep Grand Cherokee is the winner in this class.
The sedans this year show that American auto makers have really stepped up their game; the Ford Fusion, Chevy Impala and Dodge are the kind of everyday cars we can now feel confident about driving, at an affordable price (under $50,000). We can’t forget about Toyota and its Avalon, or the Hunyadi Genesis. The two standouts this year though came from Dodge with its Charger, and Buick with the Lacrosse. The Lacrosse with its surprising performance and understated luxury won out for the top spot. There is another one on this list, given the crowded field. The Chrysler 300 gave impressive performance without being too stuffy; it ranks a close second behind the Lacrosse.
If the automotive advertisers were to be believed, we all live in big stately homes bordering a golf course or the ocean and we all make our living as financiers or some other executive position that pays six figures. It seems that we are assaulted by ads for BMWs, Audi’s but most of all for Lexus. On the press side, Lexus certainly continues this trend. They seem to be all over TV and all over the press fleet; (cars that are sent to reviewers). As such I had my share of Lexus products this year: The GS350, the RX350 sport, the LS460 sport and the 300 hybrid. All were very luxurious and enjoyable to drive. However, in keeping with the theme of American auto makers stepping up their game the winner in this category for 2103 is a surprise. I drove the Lincoln MKS for a week and fell in love with it. Everything in this car seems to be just the right fit; from the EcoBoost engine back everything seems to be just right. It’s also a great deal more affordable than most of the others. Way to go Detroit.
They are not designed to take long trips on an interstate highway, small cars are designed to zip us around town and find small parking spots where others fear to go. In this category cars such as the Dodge Dart, the VW Beetle and the Fiat 500 live. I drove all three this year, the Fiat left me shaking my heads, while the Dart left me wanting more under the hood. Despite some misgivings about looking too feminine prior to driving, I found the Beetle turbo I had for a week was a great little car. With the new design it does indeed shed the feminine image of its recent past. With the top down the fun is only increased. With a perfect weight to power ratio, good gas mileage and a fun drive the Beetle would fit perfectly in my driveway.
A vehicle designed for the working man (or woman if you are so inclined), the pick-up is a very competitive class. Some are big, the Chevy Silverado, the Ford F-150, the Toyota Tundra , while others not so much, the Toyota Tacoma for example. The little Toyota Tacoma X-Runner I had for a week was an absolute blast to drive but may not be practical for hauling much more than itself. The winner for me this year was the Tundra. Without all the fancy bling or even a great deal of accessories for that matter, the Tundra seems ready to go to work when the whistle blows.
They are the future of motoring according to some. Many of us old gearheads shudder at the thought but we acknowledge that the hybrid will continue to grow in market share. I drove several this year and while there are many on the market, I had the Prius C and V (I wasn’t all that impressed), the Lexus 300 hybrid (nice, great drive) and the Toyota Avalon hybrid. While the Lexus was good, the Avalon seems to be a better fit for everyday life and is much more affordable.
These are cars that don’t really fit into any class. Among them is the Subaru Outback which is sort of a station wagon, the Hyundai Veloster, sort of a hatchback and the Rogue and Juke from Nissan ,both of which stand out on their own. The Rogue is considered an SUV and while it may seem underpowered it really isn’t and is very affordable. It’s no wonder then why it’s one of the top sellers in America and my favorite “Whatever” for 2013. The Outback runs a very close second here as well. It’s a bit smaller but has its own features that allow it to stand out.
Clearly the favorite of the kid in all of us the sports cars are the bane of the middle age crisis or the young successful people wanting to simply have fun. While we would like to include the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 I drove in the summer, let’s face it this list is about cars that most of us can afford. The cars that can be considered “sporty” that I drove this year were the 2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport, The Hyundai Genesis coupe, the Porsche Boxster, the 2014 Nissan 370z roadster, the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ. The Boxster was clearly the class of this field (and my overall favorite of the year, I hated to give it back), but owning one means selling a kidney, the model we had topped out at $75,000; for something more affordable the BRZ especially with the six-speed manual and a price that tops out at $28,000, is the way to go.
So then, here is the ranking of the top 10 cars I would put in my driveway for 2013. See you next year, happy motoring.
10. 2014 Toyota Tundra
9. 2013 Chrysler 300
8. 2013 VW Beetle Turbo convertible (60’s edition)
7. 2013 Nissan Rogue
6. 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
5. 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited
4. 2013 Lincoln MKS
3. 2014 Buick LaCrosse
2. 2014 Subaru BRZ Limited
1. 2013 Porsche Boxster