While we've already told you what cars earned the highest marks in our reviews from 2014, we haven't told you what cars pulled at our heart strings. Numbers aren't everything. These are the cars that we loved beyond any number that we could assign in all of 2014.
I have a specific dream about owning an RV that isn't a huge gas guzzler, that I can easily park, that still has all the amenities I'd need for self-contained living (kitchen, bed, bathroom) and yet is possible to drive long distances without feeling terrible. Alas, the Airstream Interstate RV is as close to that vehicle as I've found.
Based on a Mercedes Sprinter platform and paired with their biggest V6 diesel it's a combination of the best offering from one of the best commercial truckmakers with the name most synonymous with high quality trailers. It drives like any other Sprinter, which is to say it feels smaller than it really is and, even fully laden, returns nearly 18 MPG on the highway.
On the inside, it's more like a yacht than your traditional manufactured-home-style RV. Everything is modular and smartly organized thanks to Airstream's decades of experience. Two people could comfortably live in it for weeks and use very little energy. Raphael and I spent about a week in it, including a few nights, and with no sewer or power connection we never needed to replace the propane tank thanks to a very good solar regenerator (and the diesel engine).
If I was retiring tomorrow I'd buy one and tour the U.S.
My first kiss wasn't magical, but it was cute and awkward and just what you'd want from a first kiss. My first french kiss was bad. After all the hype of touching tongues and how the spark that would follow it was surely going to turn me into a man with chest hair and a booming voice, it was really just a sloppy, drooling mess that couldn't have ended soon enough.
The only thing that had been hyped as much, I think, was driving an air-cooled 911. I've driven at least half a dozen modern 911s at this point and I've loved every single one, so I was curious how much better the original could be.
I wish I could go back in time and just make out with an old 911 instead, because the 1969 911 T I borrowed from the Manhattan Classic Car club was perfect. Being an early carb'd model with a wonky dogleg and only a moderate amount of power I was able to have a pure introduction to the oversteery goodness that is a classic 911.
It's ruined me for other classic cars. Maybe all cars. Unless you daily drive a Se7en, take the amount of road feel and oneness you have with your car and multiple it by 1,000 and you're close to approaching an understanding of what it's like to drive this car. It just magically isolates everything you care about when you drive and dismisses the stimulus you don't want.
I will own one.
- Matt Hardigree
Designing a car is a team effort. Designers, engineers, accountants, marketers, and more all need to compromise to get a product to market. But sometimes, just sometimes, a team of engineers are given free reign to do whatever they want to make a car shine.
That's how the Z/28 was built.
And, in this case, race car driving engineer Mark Stielow was given a mandate to make a track car out of a huge, heavy Camaro. What they built is a 7.0 liter V8, 505 horsepower, carbon braked, Multimatic suspensioned, huge tired, big splittered, track destroyer. It's a Trans Am car with street tires, exactly what a Z/28 should be. I love everything about it. Wonderful car.
I started running endurance races this year with the brand new AER series. The chariot that I got to handle was a 1987 325is set up for Spec E30 racing. It was a ratty car with a junkyard motor. It didn't look like it'd be the recipe to win an endurance race, but it ran like a dream.
So much of a dream that we got second and first in our first two races. Sure the exhaust fell off, sure, at the second race weekend we crashed and didn't know when it ran out of gas, sure, I crashed it into a wall at our last race of the season and ruined the chance of winning, but that doesn't matter.
It's a compliant, easy to drive race car that you could power oversteer through corners with ease. These cars are just fun and totally deserve their stellar reputation. E30 evangelists, I get it.
- Travis Okulski
Electric powertrains are the future of performance and that finally came to fruition in 2014. Put aside the hybrid hypercar trio, and you're left with Tesla Model S P85D and the BMW i8. I only got a brief, mind-blowing blast in the passenger seat of The D, so the i8 tops the list.
Between the torque output from the electric motor/turbo'd three-pot combo, the all-wheel-drive grip, the silent city stalking mode, and the flattest cornering I've ever experienced in a road car, the i8 is the first coupe in that low-$100k segment that has me thinking of something other than a 911. I've had religious experiences in Porsches and the i8 has me reconsidering my faith.
We all knew the Hellcat was going to be force of nature. But I didn't expect it to be one of the greatest GT cars ever created. It's easy to get caught up in the headline horsepower figure, but that's selling the Hellcat short.
Put aside the pavement-rippling power and you're left with a power sliding locomotive – a budget Bentley Continental with more character and a better nav.
- Damon Lavrinc
My first real performance car was a Subaru WRX. I loved that car dearly. I did all the stuff you're supposed to do when you own a WRX — I worked on it, modified it, drove it fast, tracked it, and used it to explore the occasional gravelly backroad. But after I sold it, I never thought I'd want another. I figured I'd try something new and different.
But a long summer road trip in the 2015 Subaru WRX STI made me re-think all that. Like my old car, it can conquer any challenge you put in its path, from rallycross to being a practical daily driver, only it does it harder, and better, and faster, and stronger.
As far as I'm concerned, (and I could see the 2015 Mustang GT giving it a run for its money, but I haven't driven one yet) this is the best all-around performance car you can get for less than $40,000. COME AT ME, BRO.
Any time I test a fast car for this site that costs more than $50,000, I always ask myself the same question: "Is it better than the Corvette Stingray?" And more often than not, the answer is "No." It's the conclusion I came to when I drove the Jaguar F-Type, the Audi S5, the Porsche Cayman S, and a host of others.
The new Stingray is more than just the best sports car America has ever made. It's the new performance benchmark. You can spend a lot more on a car and get a lot more power, but you'll have to do a ton of both before you can even come close to the this car's goodness.
- Patrick George
Was there ever any doubt about this? Of course it's the Tatra. The T87 is a glorious, rear-engined, V8 air-cooled refugee from a much cooler world of zeppelins and jetpacks that we never got to have. It's not just lovely, innovative, impeccably detailed and unique — it's downright otherworldly.
Character and class radiate out of this thing in visible beams. Use one as the source for a tanning bed and you'll walk out a better, more interesting person. This is all that's engaging and fascinating in the world in a glossy black scarab-shell, with a long fin on top.
This second 'best' car was very hard to decide — I drove so many interesting things this year — a dragster, a Lotus Evora, a Rolls-Royce Town Car, a 1928 Hanomag — but if I really think about a car that's given back to me more than any, it probably has to be this RV.
This RV is what made my move from LA to NC bearable, logistically and emotionally. It gave me a focus to divert me from all my conflicted feeling of a move that happened more out of need than desire, and provided a great link between my old home and wherever I end up.
Its big, thirsty old V8 made it across a continent with no worries, and it has more luxuries than anything on the market. Your Bentley has tauntaun-leather seats and XM radio? Neat. My '77 Tioga has an oven to make pizza rolls while playing on the Wii U. And then you can take a comfortable shit.
- Jason Torchinsky
It's when Chevy's beast goes beastmode and just yells things and goes fast and makes strange noises and it's a tractor but weirdly, it can handle too. It's everything wonderful that old men in pleated jeans wax poetic about from the 1960s, with none of their other extraneous crap. Parking it in a snobby Manhattan neighborhood makes people look at you like you've just exposed yourself at a fancy dress party, as it's all big black vented hood and tires wider than the Pacific, compared to the usual sea of Mercedes S-classes.
It's the punk with the purple hair of our era, and somehow also the one outsmarting the people that have math PhDs. It pisses off everybody. It's the one that Mom gets upset about if she finds out you two have been hanging out. The one that makes your date's dad take out the shotgun for. And at the same time, it's comfortable and it can turn corners. It's perfect.
Plus it looks so much better than a Nissan Versa.
It sounds ugly, it's uncomfortable, it's fat, it looks like it was beaten with a horse's leg, and it's a better inducer of depression and anxiety than a crappy dream about a math test that you had three weeks ago even though you graduated from elementary school thirty years ago.
Those are all the things you would say about the Abarth that would be incorrect.
It's amazing, wonderful, a joyful expression of life itself. One day Fiat will make another generation, a new model, and I can't imagine it being anywhere near as good as this one.
- Michael Ballaban
In some ways, the one liter Fiesta was the worst car I drove in 2014 given that I got it stuck in the woods and scraped and fuck everything it still makes me so mad at myself.
But I did drive the little thing quite a bit before I crunched it into a New Jersey pine, and seriously, this car is fantastic. It has more than enough power to keep up with even the most aggressive highway traffic, it's comfy, it's roomy, and when you go in a little to hot on a wide dirt corner, brushing the brake with your left foot, it goes sideways. It's not the scary kind of sideways, ether. Pause a moment, catch the steering, and then you can pull yourself out of the slide on the throttle. It's a good mood car. It's a peace with life and the universe car.
I got to drive this car built by an Omaha local at the SCCA Rallycross Nationals this year and I still can't get over how good it is.
It's not that it's great to drive. I mean, it is. It's all about how Doug built the car. It's stripped of everything that the he doesn't need. No headlights, no taillights, no interior, nothing. Three fuses in the whole car! It's like a roll cage with an engine on the back.
And even then, the engine has all stock internals. The whole car is easy to work on, get parts for, and maintain.
The idea was that it was affordable, usable, and manageable. The idea was to make it something to enjoy. Isn't that what cars like this are all about?
- Raphael Orlove
With its plucky motor, unsynchronized gears, no seatbelts, and no frills beyond a turn-signal indicator the '65 Datsun pickup truck I drove was so primitive it made a John Deere Gator feel like a well-appointed S-Class.
It barely had enough power to catch up to suburban Nashville's conservative speed limits, made so much noise you could swear you'd left a running lawnmower in the bed, and quivered like an elderly dog as you nudged it between lanes in traffic.
Shifting gears required the kind of rev-matching precision you see on the Touge circuit, braking required pre-planning and a second exit strategy as stopping power would inevitably fade halfway through the pedal's travel.
Driving the 1965 Datsun 1200 was a nightmare, and I loved every second of it.
Several accomplished racers in the Ultra 4 series have been trying to establish an amateur "Spec Ranger" racing series that basically pits stripped rear-drive Rangers against each other on short dirt courses.
King Of The Hammers champ Erik Miller was kind enough to let me take a few laps around a cornfield in his Ranger; which was pretty much just an engine, a roll cage, and a steering wheel.
Relieved of almost all the original truck's weight, the rebuilt 2.3 four-cylinder felt surprisingly motivated to whip the homemade death trap over, around, and through just about anything you pointed it at.
Steering with the throttle wasn't just easy; it was not even optional. The nature of the course had me bouncing so hard it was impossible to keep steady pressure on the go-pedal, which meant the engine was burping the rear tires ahead of the fronts every chance it got.
Overbuilt remote-reservoir suspension soaked up bumps I could have been lost in and the featherlight truck fired itself out of holes like a puppy chasing tennis balls.
The vehicle's only real drawback was it's complete lack of protection from the elements; there was no way around wearing whatever obstacle you drove through.
- Andrew Collins
I was genuinely very nervous the first time I drove this car – not because of it's reputation for tricky handling, but because I didn't want to be disappointed. I didn't want this to turn into a "don't meet your heroes moment." Thankfully it didn't – it was way better than I hoped it'd be. It's light, it has just the right amount of power, the steering is sublime, the visibility is panoramic, and it's great to drive around town. You can't carry that much stuff/people, but other than that, it's all the car you'd ever need. Or at least, all the car I'd ever need.
The project 5 speed Lexus race car was not a great car. It was extremely broken at best, which is exactly what you'd expect from a car bought for $600. This didn't make the car any less enjoyable. Driving a tatty, loud Camry with leather and a giant purple dildo in place of a proper shifter was exactly the sort of ridiculous thing I hoped I'd be doing when I started at Jalopnik. It was hilarious. It's also probably the rarest car I've driven, and that has to count for something, right? The 5-speed Lexus is dead. Long live the 5-speed Lexus.
- Chris Perkins
There's nothing more satisfying than having finished a gargantuan project of your own, especially when that project is a race car. There's a lot that's wrong with this car. The suspension is long-dead, so soft that it makes my Puffalump bunny jealous that her poly-fil stuffing isn't that cushy. It leaks oil everywhere, providing a nice protective layer of goo and stuck-on road detritus on the outside of the engine and everything beneath it.The rear end gets light as it dips below a half-tank of gas, making it go from a well-balanced race car to a twitchy spin machine. Who cares? It's my race car, and as long as you keep oil in it, it'll run for about two hours on just a little over half a tank of gas. It finished both 24 Hours of LeMons races I entered this year and will definitely enter a few more next year.
There's a catch-22 to owning a race car that nobody likes to mention. You now have a car that you love to drive, but you have to drive something a lot less enjoyable to actually take it anywhere. To me, towing always entails a small person trying to fumble around a large truck while managing not to hit anything. As someone who's perfectly sized for most race cars, tow vehicles seem like they're made for a 6' 6" 350-lb brick house of a person—not me. Not this truck.
The Silverado 2500 High Country was so big that it wouldn't fit in my carport, yet somehow, they thought to include so many steps and adjustments to make even me feel like driving it was no big deal. It towed the 944 and all of its related necessary junk effortlessly. It also had enough bells and whistles inside to make it the perfect in-vehicle getaway between run groups. I could charge my phone, put the heated seats on full blast and blast the stereo every time I got done in my car. Shoot, I could have even watched a movie in the back seat if I moved all of my Porsche parts out of the way. This was the truck that finally proved to me that towing with a truck doesn't have to suck.
- Stef Schrader
Mitsubishi's final version of its flagship sports car was undoubtedly its best, and amongst the rarest, with just 274 examples made. It had just enough of that "designed in the 80s" DNA to make getting in and out of it a little less than pleasant, but driving it was an experience like no other.
The car felt enormous, yet planted. It was the Dodge Viper that was constructed when calmer heads prevailed. It was fast, unique, and I loved it.
Not only was this car the most novel experience in a vehicle I have ever had, it was the most exhilarating by a wide margin. The car forces you to be alert in a way that tricks your body into thinking it's in a violent street fight.
Adrenaline pumps, your wits are at 10/10ths, and your happiness is absolutely unrelenting. It's a bucket list car, and I can only thank my now great friend Alex Roy for the experience.