What have we learned after a year of driving more than 100 new cars? As automotive reviewers for the Globe, we’ve crawled in and out of more models than most people see in a lifetime. We’ve driven everything from Aston Martin to Volvo, following winding roads and interstates all over New England, in all four seasons.
With so many impressive competitors, it’s especially tough to pick 10 favorites for 2013. Our Top Drives span a wide range of prices and vehicle segments, but all carry the same core traits: excellent performance, quality construction, fine details, and most of all, solid value. Consider all of these cars for 2013.
Toyota Camry Hybrid
We drove three Camrys, aV-6, I-4, and hybrid, this year and all got two thumbs up.The hybrid was our favorite, which may surprise some readers because it falls short of the fuel economy numbers posted by Toyota’s Prius family, the brand that has made the term hybrid synonymous with fuel economy.
The hybrid Camry, unlike the Prius, isn’t designated for maximum economy; instead, it’s a mix of economy, performance, and comfort. Individual drivers can adjust the economy equation in various ways. While all hybrids have an ECO gene, many also have a bit of performance built in. The electric motors in the system are high-torque and able to provide quick acceleration. The Camry edges into this category.
Figure on averaging between 37 and 43 mpg instead of of the near 50 on a Prius. The extra $2,500 or so you’ll pay for the hybrid over the four-cylinder LE would be recouped over 80,000 to 90,000 miles, assuming gas prices remain in the $3.75 range, sooner if fuel costs spike. –BG
Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Here’s a toast to those who dare to be different, a category that definitely includes the Hyundai Veloster.
The Veloster made its debut as a 2012 model, but it’s the spiritual successor to Hyundai’s Tiburon, which was on the market from 1996 to 2008. The Tiburon—Spanish for shark—was a car that seemed to be the modern interpretation ofVolkswagen’s Karmann Ghia, an economy car with a sporty body.
Style-wise, theVeloster isn’t your ordinary hatchback.There’s a huge front grille that looks as though it’s ready to gobble up the competition. In back, a pair of large circular exhaust outlets exit in the center of the bumper, a styling cue that is mindful of some of my favorite Ducati sport motorcycles.
The Veloster should become a tuner’s delight, ready to compete (in sales and performance) with theVolkswagen GTI, Mini Cooper S, Mazdaspeed3, Ford Focus ST, and Honda Civic Si. –BG
With pedigree, comes greatness. That’s what we discovered after eight straight hours in the redesigned Mercedes-Benz SL, after which we stepped out completely relaxed and unstressed. You pay well over $100,000 for this two-seat convertible, and for very good reason.
The SL has enjoyed an uninterrupted bloodline since the ﬁrst 300SL Roadster in 1957, a race car reengineered for the street. Today’s SL is much in that vein, incorporating an optional active suspension that nearly eliminates roll and a standard 429-horsepowerV-8 that swallows up the miles (if it isn’t enough, two more engines deliver up to 621 horsepower).
But today’s SL is no sports car. Even with the new car’s extensive use of aluminum— which both lightens and strengthens the stiff body—the SL is meant for long-distance cruising in superb comfort. There is nothing on sale, not even a Bentley for twice the price, that can do all this Benz can do. The big star on the front is obnoxious, yes, but why hide history? –CA
Among luxury cars, the Audi S4 is all we could want. It’s hot on the curbside but not too ostentatious. It’s fast and unbreakably stable, yet not outrageous enough to make you lose your license on contact. Smooth and quiet enough to take the in-laws to the airport, yet barking and snappy for the ride back. And the S4 will, with snow tires, grip to the wall all winter without hesitation.
The air conditioning controls confuse everyone who touches them, and the radio volume knob is so poorly placed it might as well be on the ﬂoor. But no other car is this solid-feeling and tight for $55,000.That money could also buy a well-equipped A6, a C350, or a 335i.There are plenty of choices if you’ve got the money. For young families and singletons who don’t mind a smallish back seat, the S4 ticks every box. My only suggestions: Save your extra money for fuel, and don’t let this sport sedan’s capabilities turn you into an idiot. –CA
It’s not often that two carmakers, in this case Subaru and Toyota, combine forces to build one car. But the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S—identical save for some minor trim changes—is that car. Whichever is more responsible, we’re not sure. We only drove the Subaru version, and that’s the one we’d recommend twice over.
Bear in mind that the BRZ is meant to be sparse and simple. It’s a lightweight, rearwheel-drive coupe with 200 horsepower, a 6-speed manual, and that’s about it. Navigation is optional (it’s terrible, I got over it), but everything is centered around pure driving bliss. I haven’t driven a car so balanced and in tune with the road all year, save for the Porsche 911.The BRZ costs $25,000.
What’s even more surprising is how comfortable and well-built it is. After 800 miles, we never felt leg cramps from shifting, and despite the high-revving four-cylinder, it’s quite easy and practical in everyday driving. The BRZ is a reminder that automakers can shove aside all the mind-numbing electronics and just create some fun. –CA
Honda has a new LaneWatch System—a camera in the right side mirror that displays its image on the main audio/navigation screen—to stand out in the technology lane.
But the new (ninth generation) Accord also is notable for being smaller on the outside even as its already roomy interior adds space. It’s also a big improvement on the model it’s replacing.
We found the four-cylinder (185 horsepower, 181 lb.-ft. of torque) was more than adequate in all situations, didn’t make annoying engine noise, and contributed to the Accord’s nimble feel. It’s rated at 27 miles per gallon city and 36 highway. We averaged 33.7 mpg over mostly highway driving, although it included one long delay in Boston’s rush-hour trafﬁc. –BG
Subaru XV Crosstrek
Subaru’s newest model, the Subaru XV Crosstrek, has rectiﬁed what we’ve always considered the brand’s biggest drawbacks, fuel mileage and ground clearance.
The Outback Sport was my favorite Subaru. By chance, it’s been discontinued and replaced by the Crosstrek, which gets better mileage (28 mpg combined), has higher ground clearance (8.7 inches), and a higher seating position.
All-in-all, it’s taken the all-wheel-drive brand’s footprint into a different category while retaining all of its utilitarian virtues. The Crosstrek is poised to become a serious player in the competitive compact SUV category. Its 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder boxer engine and CVT (continuously variable transmission) is a nice combination, and the MPG/ECO gauge can be addictive in making you a fuel-conscious driver. –BG
What was the Lexus GS prior to the 2013 model year but forgettable? Lexus has broken out of its conservative, copycat skin and built a mid-size luxury sedan that you’ll actually remember. The silky engines and quiet ride remain.The new GS adds razor sharp handling, precise steering, and a sportiness that the latest BMW 5-Series has ignored.
The GS takes some risks, especially with the ultra-wide infotainment display controlled by a ﬁnicky, distracting mouse tracker (we absolutely hate it). But even with a software misstep, it’s clear the GS is ﬁnally deﬁning Lexus in its own right. There’s no wrong choice among theV-6,V-8, or Toyota’s brilliant hybrid system. The GS used to be sidelined because “sport’’ and “Lexus’’ mixed like oil and water. Now, the GS is a complete luxury sedan that’s outdone what the Germans in this class claim to do. We’ll gladly remember that. –CA
Porsche has been updating this rear-engine Beetle derivative for 50 years. The latest 911 isn’t my favorite—a certain 1996 model springs to mind—but it is the most reﬁned, balanced, and technically impressive 911 yet. Because it’s also a darn ﬁne sports car, it lands on our list.
The ﬂat-six is raspier and more powerful than ever, yet with auto start/stop and direct injection, it’s also cleaner and more efﬁcient. This car is roomier and longer than ever, too, yet it’s lighter and just as nimble on all four huge tires. A 911 is exorbitantly expensive any way you order it. Yet unlike some other high-strung exotics, a 911 is simple to buy and reliable. The new electrically assisted steering is a bit numb, but it’s not enough to fault the precision and tact of this iconic sports car. Here’s to another 50 years. –CA
There has to be one fantasy vehicle in every group, and the $140,000 Jaguar XKR-S is ours. After all, it’s a roadster with 550 horsepower and a throaty exhaust burble that turns heads at a muscle car show.
Jaguar has produced a number of legacy vehicles, among them the XK120, the XKEs, and XJ12, but the XKR-S stands atop the mountain as the quickest and most powerful production sports car in company history.
This XKR-S puts Jaguar in the exclusive 300 kilometers per hour class with its 186 mph top speed. That doesn’t mean much to those of us in the daily driver world, but it’s a milestone in the collector/exotic car world.
Jaguar’s specs say the XKR-S will do 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds. While we have no reason to doubt that, we don’t have the equipment to verify it, either. However, it seems even faster when you use that power in real-world applications, almost instantly going from 25 to 50 on an on ramp or 45 to 60 in a passing situation. –BG