TTAC Editors Pick Their Best And Worst Of 2013

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
ttac editors pick their best and worst of 2013

Over the past year, we’ve collectively driven hundreds of cars between us. We thought that we’d bring you an unofficial list of some of our favorites for the year.

Jack Baruth:

Best car: Regrettably, it’s the Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series. It combines all the drama and thrill of the Viper with a buttoned-down suspension that makes it usable on fast back roads. Did I mention the gullwing doors? You can drive the car with them up. This car causes more dropped panties than a Victoria’s Secret changing room. It’s so far above the other $296,000 cars on the market it isn’t funny.Honorable Mention: If you don’t have $296,000, then this year I’m recommending the Camry SE in four-cylinder trim. Supple, capable, trackable. Probably will last forever. And for 2014 they upgraded the interior just a bit.Least favorite car of the year? Probably the BMW 435i, which isn’t a bad car measured objectively against the Audi and Mercedes competition but which utterly fails to evoke any of the delight you used to get from the E46 or even the outgoing E90 coupe.Derek Kreindler:Best car: The Ford Fiesta ST lives up to the hype, and is even better than the “warm hatch” Focus ST. On a 250 mile highway round trip, while returning 34 mpg. The 1.6L Ecoboost chugged along, delivering tugboat-like thrust, and I sat comfortably in the fat-bolstered Recaro bucket seats, enjoying a relatively civilized ride. It may not beat Jack’s beloved Camry V6 in a stoplight drag race, but when the road deviates from straight, it delivers the “driving a slow car fast” thrills of a Miata without being all that slow. If you can get past the build quality issues (which were present on my tester), it’s the most enjoyable junior performance car on sale today, bar none.Honorable mention: The Jaguar F-Type is not as competent on track as its rivals, but nothing I’ve driven this year makes you feel so alive. On the truck side, the Ram 1500 Diesel delivers outstanding fuel economy in a capable, half-ton package.Worst car: The Lincoln MKZ. My review may have been a bit harsh, but it offers no real compelling reason to buy one over any competitor. The Jeep Cherokee I drove was competent off-road but immensely disappointing on-road considering how much promise it had – and how good the Grand Cherokee is – but I’ll be getting another production example in March to re-evaluate it.

Ronnie Schreiber:

Both cars are Chrysler products. The car that impressed me the most was the Chrysler 300S AWD and the car that disappointed me the most was the Dodge Dart Limited.

Favorite car I drove all-year: Last year I reviewed a Chrysler 300 Luxury Series that was fully loaded save for the fact that it came with a Pentastar V6 and an 8 speed automatic transmission, not the Hemi and a six speed. I happened to have driven it back to back with a Jaguar XF Supercharged and since the cars were both 5 passenger RWD sedans with tons of features, I couldn’t help but ask if the Jaguar was worth $25,000 more than the Chrysler. I decided that the refinement and the extra 200 horsepower of the XF explained the difference. This year I got to drive a Hemi powered AWD Chrysler 300S and while it didn’t have quite as many luxury features as the 300 I drove last year, if that Luxury Series 300 had been equipped with the Hemi, that $25,000 question would have been much harder to answer. The 300 is a fine automobile, evidence that American car companies are capable of building a great sedan.

Biggest let-down: the Dodge Dart to see if the folks in Auburn Hills had made a class competitive compact car for the American market from the bones of an Alfa Romeo platform. There were things about it that I liked, it’s spacious and comfortable and can almost handle but the 2.0L/automatic drivetrain was such a dog that it impacted my overall impression of the car. I rarely used paddle shifters or autostick it in cars so equipped but it was necessary to keep up with traffic safely in the 2.0/auto Dart. Also, driving it back to back with the Chrysler 300 drove home the fact that there are substantial differences in component and build quality between a car with a base MSRP of ~$17,000 and one that starts closer to $30K. While photographing the car I noticed a paint flaw, where the paint had left a “run” about an inch and a half long. I used to work in an automotive paint R&am

p;D lab and I haven’t seen a flaw on a production car’s paint like that in about 20 years.

Special Honorable Mention: the Toyota Crown Royal I got to drive at a Toyota hybrid event, because I’m old and I sometimes like a little insulation from the world. In many ways it’s the antithesis of the Chrysler 300S or the Jaguar XF. There is nothing sporty about the Crown Royal, it has no S setting, but it was just so smooth and serene that it was worthy of note. There were a lot of unusual and interesting vehicles to drive at that event, but just about everyone wanted to try out the Crown Royal and all that did exited the car with smiles on their faces.

Bark M:Favorite Car of the Year: 2014 Shelby GT500 Mustang. Yes, yes, it’s predictable that the Mustang owner would pick a Mustang as his favorite car of the year, but it’s also just the truth. We may never see its kind again—a whomping 662 horses in a no-excuses package. They removed the grill, for chrissakes. It’s hard to see Ford greenlighting another monster like this one. Grab one if you still can. It’s just insanity on four wheels.Worst car of the year: 2013 Chevrolet Captiva Sport/2013 Volkwagen Passat. The Captiva is just a discredit to everybody involved—GM, the rental car companies, the dealers who buy it at auction. It’s based on a platform that’s a nearly a decade old, with none of the modern conveniences one would come to expect with a vehicle labled as a “2013.” If they kept it rental-only, fine. It’s when it shows up as a late-model on a Chevy lot that it becomes truly embarrassing.The Volkswagen Passat (The American version, that is) has done nothing but get worse and worse every year, to where it’s barely recognizable as a Volkswagen. Even VW has apparently realized the damage they’re doing to their nameplate with this car and is restoring a few features to it for 2014. Thank God.

Alex Dykes:


RAM 1500 Diesel – The car company lampooned last decade for doing everything wrong seems to have found their mojo. 2014 combines a sweet 3.0L V6 turbo diesel engine with a ZF 8-speed automatic, healthy tow ratings and one of the best infotainment systems on the market. Chrysler will gladly stuff the torque-happy towing champ in their base Tradesman pickup or their cowboy Cadillac with stitched leather dash bits and real wood trim. Yeehaw!

Honda Accord Hybrid – Honda has tried dethroning the Prius for ages with hybrid Civics and even dedicated hybrid models to no avail. Until now. The 2014 Accord is combines decent handling, traditional sedan looks and impressive fuel economy numbers. There have been others that have claimed 47 MPG, but the Accord is the first to deliver in the real world putting the better handling, more attractive and more comfortable Accord just 3 MPG shy of Toyota’s fuel sipper. By not attacking the Prius head, on Honda has accidentally created the best Prius alternative to date.


MitsubishiOutlander – Let’s face it, unless Mitsubishi pulls a rabbit out of their hat, they are the latest dead brand walking. The new Outback is unremarkable inside and out. Old engines combine with slow transmissions and 1990s interior styling to create a completely forgettable crossover. The Outlander is $4,000 less than a 7-seat Kia Sorento, unfortunately for Mitsubishi, the Sorento is totally worth the $4,000 bump.

Smart FourTwo – At $13,270 the Smart sounds like a great idea. Until you look at the price and discover a Nissan Versa sedan is 10% cheaper, seats 150% more people, carries more stuff, gets better fuel economy and has a transmission that doesn’t shift like a drunk 14 year old learning to drive a stick. If you really must own a 3-cylinder conveyance in America, get a 3-cylinder Fiesta or a Mitsubishi Mirage.

Murilee Martin:

Best car: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with manual transmission. This car is so spirally-eyed ridiculous and its powertrain such an engineering masterpiece that you won’t mind the tooth-loosening ride, tinny Lancer bodywork, and dismaying thirst for fuel. Of all the press cars I’ve driven in recent years, this is the one I’m most tempted to go out and buy. You must get the manual transmission to appreciate this car, even though it’s an early-90s-style 5-speed that keeps the engine screaming at nearly four grand on the highway.

Best light truck: Piaggio Ape. So small it barely exists, yet does most of what a truck should do: haul stuff, keep the rain off you, repair easily. Needs a stereo, though.

Worst: Rental-car-grade Nissan Altima. The civilian Altima might be just fine, but the several rentals I had over the last year managed to be even more unpleasant to drive than the previous LeMons Staffer Worst Rental Car of All Time (the Dodge Nitro). Steering feels disconnected from driver input (a pro racer says it feels like there’s a built-in 1/10th-second delay in steering input), resulting in exhausting and constant overcorrections on the highway. CVT howls, hunts for ratios, can’t find them. If you have a choice between the Altima and a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe at the rental-car counter, take the Cozy Coupe.

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  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Dec 28, 2013

    I actually rented an Altima, almost, just last week. Hertz tried to put me in one, but it wouldn't start. They gave me another one, and IT didn't start. I ended up with a year old Taurus. I'd love to try a B car or even compact that I reserve, but when you rent at the end of the day, all they have left is a "free upgrade" to a mid size or full size car. I'm afraid to reserve an A car - if I reserve a Smart4Two, I'll probably get it, so I envy the TTAC rental testers.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jan 06, 2014

    Holy typos this article needs editing. Pretty sure it's the Mitsubishi Outlander, not Outback. The text seems unsure.

  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.
  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.