If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would I, too? Well, that depends—how sweet is the jump? Can I borrow the wagon I use for rallycross shenanigans? And, uh, what am I landing on? I can't swim, dude.
I've only been a contributor for half a year, but my tendency to defile clutches and violate tires has made 2013 a pretty impressive year.
I launched that loaner Legacy Turbo wagon in the air at a NASA Rally Lab, experienced ludicrous speed in a McLaren 12C and put Fluffy Bunny's lilac butt on enough racecars to make The Stig himself blush.
So, without further procrastination, here are the high and low points of a year that really needs to end now.
Best: Lotus Exige
This is—admittedly—not the first year I've driven a Lotus Exige, but since I drove an Exige at all this year, it's impossible not to include an Exige on this list.
Many of my picks for this list are cars that surprised me in some way. The little Lotus shocked me in every way possible when I discovered that it was very easy to drive with one wrist in a cast and a bunch of other post-accident aches and pains. Rear visibility was nonexistant, but clever convex side mirrors made it easier to move around without having to move my sore neck much to see.
I knew this car was fairly easy to drive from previous excursions in Exiges. In fact, the first time I drove one, the owner said "I bet you won't stall my car." Much to my amazement, I didn't. The combination of a very light car and an easy to use clutch pedal makes this little rocket incredibly easy to get moving.
I still feel like a total n00b every time I get into a car with a manual transmission. Sure enough, I stalled the Exige this time when I got a little lost crossing Austin to put it back in its garage. That was a little painful since the car's battery was dead, and I had to wait for its owner to jump the car to restart it, but once the jumper cables were attached, it was super easy to get started again.
This car handles as well as everyone says it does, shoots your nose hairs into the back of your spine when you press the whee pedal, makes a run-of-the-mill Toyota engine sound like the voice of God, and is amazingly drivable on normal roads. In short, it's everything you'd want in a car.
Well, at least it's everything I'd want in a car since I tend to pack light and rarely have more than one person with me. Pfft, details.
Best: Fiat 124 Spider Racecar
Contrary to popular belief, I actually got to do some endurance racing this year. It wasn't in my car, but I still did it, and it was glorious, and everything I'd been missing since I raced the lilac Type 3 "Bunnywagen" back in 2011.
This little Fiat had been left behind by subsequent changes to the ChumpCar and LeMons rulebooks, but was deemed fine to run in Harris Hill Road's local enduro series.
Nicknamed "The Carrot" for its bright orange hue and bunnytacular "Looney Tunes" artwork, this was perhaps the slowest car entered in this race, but it handled so well that it was easy to keep up with and annoy faster cars in the corners.
Obviously, you don't want to block traffic, rack up blue flags and frustrate other people on track, but I made other drivers really earn that pass around the 124—until we got to a straight, that is. Then they'd just stomp on the gas and leave me far behind, but let's be honest: I was having too much fun in this car to care.
If you ever get a chance to race a 124, I highly recommend it. Rear-wheel drive. Manual. It's a Fiat, so it sounds like a Fiat should when you rev the snot out of it. Do it.
Shoot, if you get the chance to enter an enduro in anything, do it.
We talk a lot about cars that feel raw on here—cars with a lot of feedback, with manual controls, that are simple and easy to hoon. Sometimes you have to go back a few years to find them.
Best: Audi A7 TDI
This is a big sedan. It has a lot of bells and whistles. Its focus is on better fuel economy, which it gets. It's the exact opposite of everything I've put on this list thus far. Not only did I not hate it, I kind of didn't want to give it back.
Audi has put together a big diesel car that's genuinely easy to use, fun to drive like a maniac and stunning to look at. I got more compliments from random strangers on how this car looks than anything else I've driven around town.
It's a feat—and it would go from Freedmen's to Stanley's and back on one tank of diesel.
Best: Tesla Model S
Again with the surprises. Like the A7 TDI, it's a big car with a gorgeous hatchback shape and a lot of interesting toys. To be honest, the A7 TDI is still the more usable car: fueling locations are much more common, it takes far less time to fuel it up once you're there, and the range on one tank of fuel is almost twice what you'd get on one [super]charge.
But I'd be doing this list a huge disservice if I didn't include the single best electric car to date.
It doesn't look like a golf cart or an existing model of something else—it looks like a car, and a beautiful one, at that. It's a stunning futuristic design, both inside and out. I'd like how it looks no matter what drivetrain they put in it.
There's ample usable interior space, and even a frunk. It's not yet another electric/hybrid subcompact. Rather, it's comfortable enough for a whole family.
There are even rear-facing seats. Rear-facing seats! I can't fit in them with the hatch closed, but they're awesome.
Will it baby? Err, will it bunny? Yes.
I'm not a huge fan of big touchscreens in cars, but this one seems more usable. Buttons were bigger, and shapes made sense even when glanced at through the edge of my peripheral vision. Bonus: anything numbered goes to 11.
Actual thought has been put into the whole "charging" issue with the network of superchargers. I hate waiting, but 40 minutes is a huge improvement over multiple hours.
Best of all, it drives well. Ample torque hurls all 4,650 lbs forward with some kind of physics-defying wizardry. The low center of gravity from all the batteries at the bottom means that it handles bizarrely and unexpectedly well, without any of the usual floaty floppiness you'd expect in a big sedan.
We put three big dudes and a Stef in a Model S and it still made my neck a little sore when the driver floored it.
If it's not already obvious from the contents of this list, I love me some torque.
I can't have one since I lack any kind of electrical outlet whatsoever near where I park, but I won't turn my nose up at killing some electrons when I get the chance. The Model S isn't without its issues (one friend's already experienced the "door doesn't open" firmware problem), but even so, it's completely redefining expectations of what an electric car can be. You know, things like a normal, usable car.
Worst: Toyota Camry Rental
Much like Patrick was afraid the Infiniti Q50's drive-by-wire system would become the standard for luxury cars, I am terrified that the Camry's drive-on-novocaine experience seems to be infecting other base model rental-spec sedans.
You're so disconnected from the actual driving experience in this car that it feels like you're driving the world's worst video game, complete with little to no feedback in the wheel.
I now understand overly aggressive drivers in late-model Camrys. They just want to get out of that thing.
The Camry (almost) makes me want to ragequit cars every time I see one.
Worst: Chrysler 200 Rental
Wait, wasn't this on Matt's list? I'm pretty sure I've seen that exact same photo before somewhere on this website. Well, I got stuck with one, too, while my Lancer was being repaired.
While it is a bit of an improvement over the Camry (the steering wheel feels connected to something? HUZZAH!), the fact that it has the single worst automatic transmission I've ever driven makes it a solid "worst" pick.
I was able to confuse this car's slushbox with a moderately steep hill. Since that hill is my route home, I turned it back in to Enterprise after a day and asked for something else. I couldn't take any more of that. No way, no how.
Honorable Mention: The Lulzcer
There's something about having your own car. You have ample time to tinker around with it, so you know what it will do. You're not timid about hooning it.
And hoon it I did.
I've had this one since it was new, and I knew that I would have a beast of a time finding a replacement in a similar condition if it got totaled.
The couple months without my car while it was being repaired were torture. The rentals I had in the meantime weren't my car. They were more numb, often not as powerful, not as easy to use and just not right. Other people have been in them. Messy people.
My own personal space had been missing. It's weird to think of a car as part of your home, but mine is—and I probably care about it more than I do my apartment.
It is an automatic Lancer GTS, and it is the greatest car in the world.
Photo credits: Kelly Hightower (head bump), Brianne Corn (Legacy wagon as Space Shuttle), Mike Jankowski (Stef with Fiat as Bunny Food), Randy Whitten (Model S as scourge of parking lot), Matt's "Best of" List (worst transmission in the history of transmissions), Thomas Endesfelter (Lulzcer in its natural habitat)