I’ve been writing for Jalopnik since September 2011, but only this year were my superiors dumb enough to let me drive a number of cars that weren’t mine.
So now I’ve driven everything from a 662 horsepower pony car to a 74 horsepower hatchback, and like my coworkers Jason, Patrick, Matt, and Travis, I can finally have some kind of ‘best’ and ‘worst’ list of cars I’ve driven in 2013. I expect you’ll see a few trends in what falls where on my good/bad scale.
I used to sit behind the wheel of my parents’ 1989 Volvo 240 wagon, straight Northern California farm roads stretching out ahead of me, and dream of what 600+ horsepower would feel like. Now I know.
Instead of being violent, jarring, difficult, the Mustang GT500 is the most relaxing car I’ve driven all year. Step on the gas and the car tuns into a yacht, sailing on waves of smooth, sweet tire smoke at the rear. It’s not an objectively high-quality vehicle, but it’s so very charming.
I intended to run my Baja Bug at a rallycross event a few months back, only to have the car snap its clutch cable, then toast its starter motor. Amazingly, the World’s Nicest Man rescued me and told me that since my car was broken, I’d drive his stripped, caged, welded-diff’d, rally-prepped rear-drive Plymouth Arrow (aka Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste).
In his fixed seats, I could barely reach the pedals and I could barely see over the dash but holy crap was this car amazing. The engine singing through dual Weber carbs, the diff sliding from one corner through the next. And most importantly, it was orange.
If you want proof that even the cheapest, chintziest cars can make you happy, look no further than the Mitsubishi Mirage. I expected the thing to be painfully dull, instead it was outstanding. It felt light, eager, and with its grumbling little inline-three, it just made me want to drive it like a lunatic. And I did, and it was fantastic.
The 2014 Corolla isn’t a hateful car. It uses age-old technology, which is encouraging for reliability, and while it doesn’t have a zingy engine or tight handling or a supple ride or anything that makes it stand out as a car you want to drive, it’s a reasonably sane proposition for a brain-dead commuter.
But I can’t stand the 2014 Corolla because it somehow burrowed into my brain like a Ceti eel. I can’t stop thinking about what the regular car buyer needs, or deserves, or what I’m doing as a car reviewer, or what I’m doing with my life. Every 2014 Corolla I see on the road is a reminder that I see the world differently than most people, that I am strange, that my opinions are unwanted. The 2014 Corolla is the crushing weight of society, manifested in an automobile. I love it, I hate it. I wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the night, its not-very-slick six speed running through my brain.
The 2014 Nissan GT-R is a fantastic car, full of feel and soul, and don’t let anyone tell you different. But I drove it and I was so below its limits that it felt bored. I was bored. No, I was shamed. The GT-R reminded me how bad of a driver I am. Inexcusable.
The highs, the glorious highs of my first year of Baja Bug ownership are more than I can describe. Roaring sideways in a snowbound parking lot. Heaving through turns on my favorite back roads. Controlled oversteer on a sunny dirt driveway, rocks shooting from my tires, a Formula Drift driver giving instruction at my side. Booming satisfaction of wrenching on my own car for the very first time.
My most recent memory of the Baja Bug is crawling up the 59th street bridge at a whopping 16 miles an hour. That was top speed. No clue what was wrong with the engine, steering lock I broke with my hands, hotwired ignition because I lost my one key, no headlights in the sleet, falling snow blanketing the rear view, the window open with no heat thanks to no defroster. I looked to my left and there was a cop passing me on the right, her jaw dropped, her eyes wide open, unable to process this rusty, primered heap misfiring all through second gear, barely able to make it up the slightest grade.
But this is giving you the wrong impression. I don’t hate my car because it’s awful.
Everything that a new car has that scores good marks (power steering, anti-lock brakes, the ability to go for five hours without some part breaking) is completely absent in the Bug. That’s probably because I don’t like my cars with power steering, and thanks to this Stockholm Syndrome, I like working on the ever-changing series of faults that crop up. If it were perfect, it wouldn’t be what I wanted. It’s an anti-car.
It might be awful, but that’s exactly why I love it.
Photo Credits: Jason Torchinsky (Topshot, Mitsubishi Mirage) Raphael Orlove (GT500, Plymouth, Corolla, GT-R, Baja Bug)