Winding Road's Top Cars Of 2013
By Winding Road Staff
January 24, 2013
If you’re buying a new car in 2013, you’ve got a lot of fine options to choose from. As technology advances, vehicles become cleaner, more comfortable, better connected, and safer. Those are all positive characteristics that factor into how we come to view each car as a whole, but the cars that are more entertaining to drive are the fuel that stokes our passions here at Winding Road.
We've divvied the market up into some popular categories including supercars, sports sedans, CUV/SUVs, and more. Each category spotlights the vehicle we think is the best driver's car available. In the great spirit of competition, we've placed honorable mentions at the end of each category. These cars are all great in their own right, but they can't quite match the winners on involvement or driving fun.
So, in that spirit, one of unfettered enthusiasm for driving great cars, on great roads, with great huge smiles on our faces, we bring you our Top Cars Of 2013.
We’ve been doting on this car for a couple years now, and we still have been having trouble finding a car that rivals Ferrari’s fantastic 458 in terms of sheer automotive thrills. Its looks are as evocative as its pedigree, and the 4.5-liter V-8 encased in glass directly behind the driver is the cherry on top of this 562-horsepower sundae.
Inside the car, occupants will find a beautifully tailored interior, with high-quality, sturdy leather everywhere you look. What really draws the eyes, though, is the sport steering wheel, which looks perhaps better suited to a professional racecar than a road-going consumer vehicle. We don’t mind, though, because the feeling of it in hand gets us excited to hit our favorite roads.
Driving the 458 Italia is an unforgettable experience, and our first time in it was one that reshaped the way we perceived what is possible from a passenger car. This Ferrari feels so surgically precise in its handling, the lines between man and machine are blurred nearly beyond recognition. If you are looking for one of the most involving steers of your life, this may just be the perfect vehicle for the person who does their soul-searching on winding country roads.
Honorable Mentions: Porsche 911 Carrera S, McLaren MP4-12C, BMW M6, Jaguar XKR-S Convertible.
If the Lotus Elise and Mazda MX-5 had a child, it’d be the excellent Scion FR-S. Like these two paragons of driving fun, the FR-S is a small, lightweight, and supremely agile package.
But what separates it from the other coupes we considered (cars like the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Ford Mustang Boss 302) is the way it makes its driver work for pace. With a modest 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, it isn’t a car that will forgive sloppy technique entering and exiting corners. If you want to get around a track quickly in an FR-S, you need to nail every aspect of cornering, from hitting the breaking zone, clipping the apex just right, and then getting back on the gas pedal. Did we mention all this needs to be done as smoothly as possible, multiple times per lap?
So no, the FR-S is not an easy car to drive. It forces you to work, and punishes your mistakes. But more than that, the FR-S is just a genuinely nice vehicle to drive in regular conditions. The ride isn’t harsh or overly brittle. There’s engine noise, but it doesn’t drone on the freeway or cause your ears to bleed with sheer volume. It’s a simple car to drive, except when you don’t want it to be.
It is a magnificent accomplishment from a company that we didn’t think capable of building such an excellent sporty car. For once, we couldn’t be happier to be wrong.
Honorable mentions: Subaru BRZ, Ford Mustang Boss 302, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Audi TTRS, Lotus Evora SC, Infiniti G37 IPL.
“A driver’s car that seems truly special and yet offers a reasonable value.” Our Editorial Director, Tom Martin, is a hard man to please, so to heap this kind of praise on the Porsche Boxster is perhaps all that’s needed to understand why it’s our best convertible of 2012.
The all-new Boxster arrives in two trims--the base Boxster with a 2.7-liter, six-cylinder boxer engine, and the Boxster S, with a 3.4-liter flat-six. Both are great, but it’s the smaller 2.7 that really got us talking. With 265 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque hauling around a mere 2954 pounds, it provides the grunt needed to have a good time.
In fact, part of the appeal of the base Boxster is that it is less tech-laden than the more-powerful Boxster S. Its lack of active shocks and motor mounts mean it’s more entertaining to drive in everyday conditions.
Regardless of how you build your Boxster, though, you’ll be in for an amazing ownership experience. There is no other roadster on sale that matches the Boxster’s level of driving purity. It is at the same time accessible and challenging, intoxicating and humbling. It is exactly what you want in a driver’s convertible.
Honorable mentions: Mazda MX-5 Miata, Porsche 911 Carrera Convertible, Jaguar XKR-S Convertible, Mini Cooper S Roadster.
Best Luxury Sedan: Porsche Panamera GTS
When Porsche first came out with its four-door Panamera, we happily embraced it while others seemed scared off by both its concept and its appearance. Since then, it seems to have gathered quite a bit more acceptance, as it began to prove its worth as a quality luxury sedan. Then, along came the Panamera GTS.
The GTS benefits from full-time all-wheel drive, which makes it feel very planted when pushing through corners. With its sonorous 4.8-liter V-8 putting 430 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels, it accelerates surprisingly smoothly and linearly, making it easy to control and drive smoothly. Your passengers will be comfortable, with the rear seats keeping them firmly in place.
The GTS feels especially involving, for a Panamera. Its suspension communicates what’s happening between road and tire to the driver, and the sound of the engine draws you into the experience. Shifts from the PDK come instantaneously when called for from the paddle shifters. Yes, it’s a comfortable sedan that knows how to behave itself, but with just a little spurring, it transforms into an asphalt -gobbling monster. It’s this dual personality that earns it its place as Winding Road’s top luxury sedan.
Honorable Mentions: Cadillac XTS, Lexus GS, Audi S7, Jaguar XJ, BMW 640i Gran Coupe.
“One does not simply beat the BMW 3-Series.” We like to think, being children of the internet, that Cadillac had this particular variant of the Lord Of The Rings meme hanging on the wall of the offices where the ATS was designed and engineered. But unlike Sam and Frodo, who didn’t simply walk into Mordor, the ATS simply beat the BMW 3-Series (and every other sports sedan out there).
It beat it with better powertrains, a more modern interior, cleaner sheetmetal, and most importantly, with driving dynamics that were scarcely imaginable when Cadillac debuted the woeful Catera. Unlike that soggy sedan, this Cadillac does, in fact, zig.
The engines, a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder and a 3.6-liter V-6, are responsive, revvy, and powerful. The V-6 in particular is quite a pleasant departure from the turbocharged BMW mills. It feels fine in the lower parts of the rev range but builds into an impressive crescendo that just isn’t present in the flat and linear 3-Series.
It’s the kind of vehicle we’ve been waiting for Cadillac to build, and it lives up to everything we were hoping for. That’s why it’s our top sports sedan.
Honorable mentions: BMW M5, Jaguar XF Supercharged, BMW Alpina B7
We’ve been forced to watch from afar as the Europeans got to experience a variety of fast Fords. While we were stuck with Tempos and uninspiring Escorts, our friends in the old country got Ford’s RS models, which in turn received a lot of attention from legendary engine builders Cosworth. Finally, though, after missing out on cars like the Sierra RS Cosworth, Escort RS Cosworth, and two generations of Focus RS, we’re finally getting a proper, turbocharged hot Ford. And it is very, very good.
The heart of the ST is its 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder. Mated to a snappy six-speed manual gearbox, there’s plenty of power on offer. The ST’s broad, accessible torque curve makes it a very easy vehicle to drive everyday while still being an absolute riot when the road gets twisty.
The ST is agile and responsive, with quick, low-effort steering that gives the Focus a pointiness that really enhances its character.
The ST is one of those rare cars that arrives in a market with very high expectations and manages to fulfill each and every one. It’s the very embodiment of what a hot hatch is meant to be, delivering pace, agility, and sharp looks for an affordable price. If you need an entertaining three- or five-door vehicle, the Focus ST is what you want.
Honorable mentions: Subaru WRX, Fiat 500 Abarth, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Mazdaspeed3, Chevrolet Sonic RS.
This was a gamble on Land Rover’s part. The Evoque is the complete opposite of what a Range Rover is known for. It’s small rather than imposing. It’s sleek instead of being upright and square. It’s powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder instead of a supercharged V-8. It doesn’t offer a low-range gearbox.
Like the rest of the Range Rover lineup, it is absolutely exquisite to drive, to look at, and to ride in. We’d like to focus in on the Evoque’s looks, in particular, as it is a positively striking vehicle, the sort of thing that leaves you staring as it goes by. The squat, almost chop-topped roofline is a major departure from anything Land Rover’s done before.
Inside, it’s easy to forget that the Evoque starts at a mere $43,995 (not cheap by most standards, but over $17,000 cheaper than the most basic Range Rover Sport). The materials, shapes, and finishes are just as tasteful and luxurious as you’d find on a pricier member of the Range Rover family.
In the end, the Evoque wins our Best CUV/SUV award because it takes all the traits that make the Range Rover lineup great, shrinks them down to an affordable price and a reasonable size, and still delivers the kind of capability that 99 percent of customers will use.
Honorable mentions: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Porsche Cayenne Diesel, Porsche Cayenne S, Mazda CX-5, Mercedes-Benz GL350.
The centerpiece of this winning truck is its biturbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which offers the sort of power we’d expect of a V-8 and the fuel economy of a V-6. With 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, it is fun to drive and provides the sort of refined sound we’re not used to hear coming from a pickup. It can also work, hard, too with a towing capacity of up to 11,300 pounds.
Even with this sort of construction-site credibility, it still returns pretty darn good fuel economy. Achieving 22 miles per gallon on the highway, this would be our pick for some long-range trucking. Besides being economical, it’s a comfortable cabin in which to spend some time. Noise, vibration, and harshness are kept well in check, and it still feels entirely stable even with a trailer bouncing down the road behind you. The F-150’s six-speed automatic transmission makes life easier, too, with smooth shifts, Progressive Range Select, and a capable manual mode for easy downhill speed modulation.
The F-150 has long been a Winding Road favorite, and the inclusion of the brilliant EcoBoost V-6 allows it to reign as our top truck even now, a couple years after its debut.
Honorable mentions: Ram 1500, GMC Sierra Denali 2500.
The new Ford Fusion is available with three different engines, two of which keep the car under the $25,000 mark. The S trim starts at $21,700, and comes with a 2.5-liter inline-four, good for 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. And with EPA ratings of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway, it remains a fairly economical vehicle to live with.
Our pick, though, would be the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine offered in the SE model, mated to the manual transmission. This comes in at $24,495 before destination charges. It gets more standard features than the S trim, but the real reason to choose this version of the Fusion is to be had in the driving experience.
The small turbo engine spools up smoothly, and rowing the gears on your own allows you to take advantage of the entire power band. Granted, 178 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque aren’t mind-blowing numbers, but you can’t help but enjoy working to wring out every last drop of go-juice. Plus, the beauty of EcoBoost: 24 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway.
And all this comes in a very attractive package that embodies all the great things Ford is doing these days. Money well spent.
Honorable mentions: Ford Focus ST, Fiat 500 Abarth, Chevrolet Sonic RS, Dodge Dart.
This all-electric sedan, despite a newness bordering on the experimental, is a very solid and compelling sedan. Were it traditionally motivated, it would have a lot to compete with--there is no shortage of sporty luxury sedans on sale right now. Its electric powertrain, though, makes it a standout, carving out a segment all its own in the market space.
Pictures don’t really do the Model S justice, and the car is particularly beautiful when viewed in person. With its sleek profile and somewhat compact dimensions, it’s sportier-feeling than when viewed on a computer screen. It features door handles that are flush to the body when the car is in motion, but extend when the car is parked. Other than that, it’s looks are fairly conservative. We can appreciate this, as it feels special, but doesn’t draw too much unwanted attention.
Special it is, and to drive it is a novel and exciting experience. It is supremely quiet, and very quick. In Performance trim, it makes 416 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of instant-on torque. It accelerates stealthily from 0-60 miles per hour in a mere 4.4 seconds. Everything happens immediately, and with no gears to shift, acceleration is uninterrupted. The fact that the electric Model S provides the equivalent of 89 miles per gallon, once you factor in all its other merits, is simply just a (admittedly very hefty) bonus.
Honorable mentions: Mazda3 Skyactiv, Ford Focus Electric, Ford C-Max.
Best Factory-Sold Racecar: Ford Mustang Boss 302S
Are you a fan of the Mustang Boss 302 (Of course you are), and are looking for a race-ready car for track days and road racing? Write this down: M-FR500-B302S.
That’s the part number from Ford Racing designating the 2013 Mustang Boss 302S. It’s a factory-built, track-ready racecar that you can run in certain SCCA and NASA classes.
The Boss 302S employs the 5.0-liter V-8 of the road-going car, but calibrated especially for racing. Combine that with an upgraded cooling system, major suspension improvements, brake upgrades, a big, adjustable carbon fiber wing in the rear, and AIM data acquisition system with GPS, and you’ve got yourself an impressive contender. Plus, there’s the racing seat, six-point harness, quick-release racing steering wheel, fire system, window net, and a lot of other features that make this more capable on the track, and up to spec for approval from sanctioning bodies.
There are a growing number of great consumer racecars out there, but with this sort of pedigree and prowess, the boss 302S deserves your attention.
Honorable mentions: Ariel Atom 3, Radical SR3, Lotus Evora GTN, Ferrari Challenge.