The Insider Handicapper's Guide To 2014's Performance Car Of The Year

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

You’re never as well-known as you think you are. When I helped the nice people at Road&Track select the C7 Corvette as their 2013 Performance Car Of The Year award, I had the amusing experience of being told that I was “on GM’s payroll” and a “shill for GM” by hundreds of people who were disappointed by our choice. In a perfect world, I could put all those people on a Staten Island ferry, put all the TTAC readers who claim I’m unfairly persecuting GM on another Staten Island ferry, and give each group a trigger that would blow the other boat up. Original idea, huh?

Anyway, it’s time for 2014’s PCOTY which means that I’ll be spending the next four days living my childhood dream of driving brilliant cars for free and possibly getting the magazine to pick up my Ketel One tab at dinner. Click the jump to get the list of all fifteen contenders, along with my early thoughts on each.

1. BMW M3. I drove the new M3 during photography for this article and I was impressed by the massive shove from the turbo six. The M3’s never been more like a Trans Am for the snob set, and I mean this in a very loving way. But the Trans Am rarely won driver’s-car comparisons.

2. Alfa Romeo 4C.. Probably the most eagerly awaited car of the past year, the American version of the 4C has added a few hundred pounds. Will the resulting power-to-weight ratio prove to be the Alfa’s Achilles heel?

3. Viper TA. Lightly revised for this year, the Viper TA was my favorite car in R&T’s “Z/28 Vs. The World” test. In fact, the Viper is pretty much my favorite car, period. Since my vote is just one vote out of fifteen drivers, however, the outcome of PCOTY 2014 probably won’t be up to me.

4. BMW M235i. Some people have higher hopes for this car than they do for the M3. It’s arguably closer to the classic idea of a performance Bimmer, in size and power. More satisfying? Maybe. But how long would you be satisfied waving the bigger car by on every back straight?

5. Subaru WRX STi. Ooh, this is one I have not driven — but my drive of a TTACer’s 2015 WRX has me feeling quite hopeful. Certain to get smoked at the Motown Mile track, but very likely to display depth of talent on the roads.

6. Camaro Z/28. It’s the STi on Opposite Day! But if any ponycar can win the thing, this is probably the one to do it…

7. Jaguar F-Type Coupe R. …unless the Jag is the ponycar to win it. Some of my fellow editors object to my calling the F-Type a ponycar. Duh, it sooooo obviously is.

8. Ferrari 458 Speciale. I thought the Ferrari F12berlinetta more or less ran away with the track portion of the comparison last year. Unfortunately, it didn’t hold up on the road. This eight-cylinder Ferrari is the other kind of Maranello sled. My grandfather would have identified it as a Dino. I’ll be curious to see how it compares to the Viper around the Motown Mile.

9. Dodge SRT Challenger Hellcat. My love for the Hellcat is already on the record. I think it might prove superior to the Z/28 and F-Type as a road-going proposition.

10. Ford Mustang GT. The unknown factor in the mix for sure, the 2015 Mustang won’t have the power of the Camaro but it’s a full development cycle ahead so on Ohio roads it might just shine the brightest of all.

11. MINI Cooper S. The Cooper JCW Works didn’t capture our hearts last year — the Fiesta ST was just more fun to drive for less than two-thirds of the cost. This year the MINI’s new from the ground up and the early reports are very encouraging. Remember that PCOTY is a subjective thing and that it’s not just a time trial.

12. Nissan GT-R NISMO. Can it smoke the Viper and the exotics around the Motown Mile? You’d be a fool to bet against it. My experience driving Switzer GT-Rs at full chat on twisty roads suggests that the NISMO might also have a chance off the track, as well. I’ve enjoyed each revision of the R35 more than its predecessor so this could be a contender.

13. Lexus RC-F. Our own Alex Dykes rated the IS350 pretty highly, an opinion shared by my son as well. The RC-F is the two-door version of that car with a 467-horsepower five-liter Toyota V8. This will be better than anyone expects, I think, and if it can’t match cars like the Z/28 around the track you just know it’s going to be better on the long freeway hauls.

14. Volkswagen GTI. Derek loves it! I love it! Great car! And, don’t forget, driving a slow car fast is better than driving a fast car slow. The question is whether driving a GTI at the ragged edge is better than driving a Viper at the ragged edge. Assuming you can get to either nowadays; today’s GTI would give the first-gen Viper RT/10 a hard time on some racetracks.

15. Porsche 911 GT3. If you must have a 991-generation Porsche, this is surely the one to have. Some editors already think it will crack the road-and-track, pun intended, equation better than the Ferrari or the Viper. I’ve already been warned that I’m allowed to “whine about the *&%#$ing Metzger motor thing” exactly once during the entire test, said whining being confined to my hotel room while I’m alone.

We’re not allowed to pick a winner until we’ve driven them all — but you, the reader, are under no such constraint. Place your bets below. The first three readers to accurately predict the winner will receive a TTAC Racing shirt in size XL, because that’s all I have left!

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Ccd1 Ccd1 on Sep 09, 2014

    For me the car has to do something special, it can't be more of the same, even if it does it better. For a supercar to win, it has to point to the future (think BMW i8). Otherwise, who cares??? This leaves four new models: 4C, M235i, F Type, RC-F and the GT3. I'd exclude the Bimmer immediately. It's a new model, but it is really a result of the 3 Series getting bigger. The 4C reminds us of stripped down, minimalist cars but this is a minimalist car with a big price tag due to its construction. At its asking price, the 4C is not compelling for me. Minimalism shouldn't be this expensive. The F Type is like a British muscle car but Jag has been doing this more or less for years. This is more a refinement of the concept, though a VERY good looking one. Ultimately, it does not do enough. So the prize comes down to the Lexus and the Porsche. If Lexus has introduced a new model that is credible on the track and a good cruiser, I think it should be the pick. Alternatively, I'd go with the Porsche, but only if the GT3 is substantially better as an everyday road car. Bridging the traditional gap between track and road cars would put the Porsche in the winner's circle for me.

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    • Ccd1 Ccd1 on Sep 09, 2014

      @Chan To the extent, the GT3 is just a better track car, I totally agree with you. If the car is also a good every day car then that versatility (and the fact that hardly any good track cars are tolerable as daily drivers) might put it in the winner's circle for me. I mentioned the Lexus for its potential to have similar flexibility. As for the 4C. You are right. It may be expensive, but is cheaper than most of the cars on the list. But it is tough for me to give the 4C the crown for old school appeal when it lacks the option for a manual

  • Tedward Tedward on Sep 09, 2014

    Just curious here. Will contestants be penalized for failing to offer manual transmissions? I see a 4C, GT3 and GTR that right off the bat fail to offer a technology that improves their subjective appeal to a large number of target shoppers and readers. If one of them wins could R&T please offer a sidebar of alternative rankings perhaps for those of us who aren't willing to compromise on the most important part of the car? Every time I read a subjective group test where an automatic wins I literally shrug and view the read as basically a waste of my time. If this was an objective track test it would be another story of course. In the case of the 4C in particular this lack is galling. It's a shame I'll never be able to recommend this car or buy one myself.

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