The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This YearS

This being my first season on the Jalopnik staff, I've had the unique power to finagle my way behind the tillers of a wider array of interesting cars than I ever thought possible.

I've always been pretty good at convincing people to let me pilot and/or borrow their cars — just ask Matt Hardigree, every time he sees me, I'm driving a different borrowed ride (It's true, Ben is remarkably charming — Matt) — but my credential as a chronicler of the automotively offbeat has given me an almost unfair advantage that I didn't have before.

Not being one of Jalopnik's more active new model reviewers, I have nonetheless settled quite comfortably into my role as a tester of things old and strange, which, honestly, is just fine with me.

Here's the best and the worst of the driving experiences I managed to contrive this year. A couple are new, and some impossibly old and so weird most of us would never imagine driving such things, but in a world where the most boring new cars are perennial bestsellers, I take heart that such variety still exists.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This YearS

Best: 1968 Jaguar 240

I've driven a lot of cars during my relatively short 34-year lifespan. Everything from a Porsche 911 to a '68 Mustang, and everything in between: jacked up pickup trucks, Volvos, BMWs, an old Mercedes, an Infiniti G35, and even a Fiat X19. But nothing, and I mean nothing gave me quite the sort of feeling I got when piloting a 1968 Jaguar 240 from the right-hand seat with sunshine pouring in through its massive ragtop sunroof.

It was as if the clock had swung back 40 years and I had vast resources and leisure time at my disposal. Not that this is the ultimate rich guy car; far from it. But the sound the car made, the feel of its gearbox, the not overly plush softness of its red leather seats, and the military seriousness of its World War II fighter plane style gauge cluster... The world is probably a better place for more people today than it was then, but this is how I imagine the motoring part of life was like for the "haves" back then.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This YearS

Best: Jeep Wrangler Traildozer Concept

There were cooler-looking trucks at this spring's Easter Jeep Safari in Moab Utah. Everyone drooled over Jeep's J12 and Mighty FC, and there was no shortage of cool custom rigs parading around town on their way out to the area's many trails.

But I fell in love that week, and all it took was a tiny Jeep Wrangler with a 470 hp 6.4-liter V8 stuffed between the front fenders to arouse my amorous sentiments. Even though it was scarcely 40 degrees outside and the Traildozer Chrysler had brought out to Utah had spent the night, top down, in the rain, I stepped over other journos like a greedy gameshow contestant to have a go at it.

I was not disappointed. The exhaust was so loud, it was almost uncomfortably so inside the cockpit. But that's something I've always loved about old trucks with obnoxious exhaust systems. That, its six-speed manual transmission, and its brutish power won me over. That visceral driving experience — the kind I always enjoy because it reminds me of other unrefined vehicles I've owned and loved — affected me enough that I still have dreams about it and occasionally pen poems in the Traildozer's honor.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This YearS

Best: 1978 Subaru GL Wagon

I loved the crap out of this little car. Past its attractive mini-early '70s muscle car-esque long snout styling and small car ease of use, it was also just so simple. No gadgets, no computers. Everything worked as well in 2012 as it had when the car was new. It only had 40,000 miles on it, but still.

One of the best things about cars of this size and vintage is that even when you're going 30 mph, the noise and smallness of the car make it seem like you're going much faster. I've always liked that sensation, because it means I'll have more fun while racking up fewer speeding citations. It must be what I like so much about my own rickety old Subaru.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This YearS

Worst: 2013 Ram 1500

Granted, this was one of the only real new vehicle reviews I did this year, but I'd be lying if told you I really liked it. It's a beautifully styled truck, but from a cultural perspective, when America finally seems almost ready to try something other than the gas guzzling behemoth as its favorite mode of transportation, the Ram 1500 is still somewhat of a fly in the ointment.

Sure it was a nice truck, it performed well, and was full of exciting innovations. But it was a car in a truck's body, not the fun, stripped down sort of truck I've come to enjoy for work and play (and not as a commuter car, as it's being sold) over the years. We might not see it now, but when people from an advanced civilization dig up the remains of a Ram 1500 1,000 years from now, they'll wonder about our fixation with ludicrously huge pickups with absurdly large grilles. That's if we don't destroy the planet with a haze of massive pickup truck induced air pollution first.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This YearS

Worst: 2012 Bajaj RE GDI Tuk Tuk

This lovable little motorized cart was fun, and certainly got us from point A to point B in the Colombian jungle. But I've driven golf carts more refined than this thing. On paved roads its anemic one-cylinder weed-whacker motor strained to keep its non-wind cheating body going 30 mph. Unpaved roads, of which there are many on Colombia's Pacific Coast, made for unsolicited bucking bronco fun. On the plus side, wheels beats heels, and there's no better way to get you, your family, and a bunch of stuff where you're going for not too much money.

Photo credit: Benjamin Preston