The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This Year

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Jalopnik ReviewsAll of our test drives in one convenient place.

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.

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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.

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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

Illustration for article titled The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This Year

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.

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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.

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Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

Illustration for article titled The Best And Worst Cars I’ve Driven This Year
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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

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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.

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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.

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Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

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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.

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Photo credit: Benjamin Preston

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DISCUSSION

TexasEdition
TexasEdition

Benjamin, cool write up, and I soulfully share your love of well built, reliable old vehicles like that '78 Subie. Few things are as enjoyable as taking an old, solid, reliable, infotainment-free vehicle for a long drive, simply to enjoy driving it and appreciate the elegant engineering behind it.

However, I strongly disagree with the logic supporting your hatred of the Ram, and your general contempt toward trucks or anything like them. And, before you front page vigilantes jump on me for my Texas username and hurl insults at me, take a breath, and read what I have to say.

Let's tackle the fuel argument first. Do pickup trucks get the best fuel mileage of all vehicle options you have? Hell no. Why don't you try moving 6-8,000 lbs down the highway at 70 MPH, it's not exactly easy. But, these trucks are indeed quite efficient relative to their weight and capabilities; especially diesel trucks. Now remember this point: A 5.0L V8 Ford F-150 can carry 6 people down the road, pull a 15,000lb trailer, or go almost anywhere off road, AND when traveling, get 22 MPG on the highway and 20 in town.

Now, compare those numbers and capabilities to the Lamborghini Aventador. An incredible car that everyone here knows and loves; a car that has certainly never been "hated on" by any of Jalopnik's writers, or maligned as a cultural abomination. This car gets a combined 13 MPG, carries two people, and does absolutely nothing useful. Sure, there are many more pickups than Lamborghinis, but if practicality is the argument against evil pickup trucks, its not a very good one. (Want another, more popular example? BMW 135i, 20 MPG, BMW 328ci 20 MPG. Great cars, not exactly capable, or efficient.)

Now, let's get to the cultural side of things. Why the hell, why the hell do people continue to fling hatred and animosity toward other individuals for the vehicles that they choose to drive. I completely and wholeheartedly believe it is wrong to do so; if a vehicle makes someone happy, whether that is a Diesel F250, a Prius C, a Chevy Volt, a Honda Civic, a Mercedes S63 AMG, or a 1981 Volvo 240, they should not be slandered for it. If someone is a dick, then its okay. But labeling someone based on what they drive is certainly foolish and thoughtless.

Finally. Air pollution. You can argue with emotions all you want. But insisting that pickup trucks are solely responsible for vehicle induced climate change (whether that really exists or not) is absurd. If vehicles are responsible for climate change, it is all vehicles, not just one sect of them. (Though, if you really want to combat air pollution, go after coal fired power generation, not personal automobiles.)

TL;DR - 1.) You like what you like, I like what I like, others like what they like. Let's not hate on anyone for that. 2.) Don't succumb to popular cultural ideology; think for yourself, and get over people who don't agree with you, like, well, this.

I tried to cover my basis here, but I'm sure I missed some things and people will be angry about it.