2013 in review Part 3 – Remarkable Drives That Failed to Make our Top 10 List

2014 Acura RLX - comfortable and competent, Acura's flagship sedan is a good sedan, yet failed to make our Top 10 Drives of 2013 list

2014 Acura RLX – comfortable and competent, Acura’s flagship is a good sedan, yet failed to make our Top 10 Drives of 2013 list

“Where are all the domestic cars?”, demanded my friend Brent after we released our list of the Top Ten Drives of 2013.   Brent is a dyed-in-the-wool GM customer.  And to paraphrase that motorcycle t-shirt, he’d rather eat worms and chew broken glass than own anything other than a product built or sold by General Motors.

There were a lot of good (and not so good) cars that just didn’t make our persnickety Top Ten list.  Because testing took place in the 2013 calendar year, there’s a mix of 2013 and 2014 models.  Listed in no particular order:

2014 Chevrolet Impala is beautifully styled and drives more like a European sedan

2014 Chevrolet Impala is beautifully styled and drives more like a European sedan

2014 Chevrolet Impala.  Normally, we test new vehicles for a full week, and we previewed the new Impala at a GM fleet vehicle demo event.  We got to drive it on a short, pre-planned route through the city for about twenty minutes, and without our normal test period, felt we couldn’t put it on The List.  The new Impala is impressive, arguably one of the nicest body styles to come out of Chevrolet in a long time.  Fit and finish are excellent, and it drives more like a European sedan – firm and responsive – than its boat-like predecessors.

2014 Cruze diesel is Chevrolet's answer to the Volkswagen Jetta TDi

2014 Cruze diesel is Chevrolet’s answer to the Volkswagen Jetta TDi

2014 Chevrolet Cruze diesel.  Here’s another one we tested at GM’s fleet demo event.  Again, insufficient test time prevented us from listing it as a Top Ten favourite.  We’re big fans of diesels, and the Cruze is Chevrolet’s answer to the Volkswagen Jetta diesel – a car we’d buy with our own money.  The Cruze has a very European feeling chassis, and the diesel engine is quiet and powerful.  Although the Chev diesel engine has better specs than the Jetta TDi, the VW feels livelier due to its much more responsive automatic transmission.  But the Cruze is impressive, nevertheless.

We test the 2014 Porsche Cayman S in the aftermath of a Canadian blizzard - does it survive as a winter daily driver?

We test the 2014 Porsche Cayman S in the aftermath of a Canadian blizzard – does it survive as a winter daily driver?

2014 Porsche Cayman S.  Widely regarded as one of the world’s finest sportscars, the Cayman S didn’t make The List.  Howcum?  Because we tested 325 horsepower rear wheel drive German wundercar after northern Alberta got whacked with two ferocious snow storms.  Even with high performance winter tires, the lightweight Cayman S coupe was significantly less fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys when used as a snow plow through deep snow.

2013 Toyota Highlander

2013 Toyota Highlander

2013 Toyota Highlander.  The V6 Highlander was totally competent and very comfortable.  The Highlander – like all Toyotas – is bulletproof and as reliable as an anvil, but is as exciting as a new dishwasher.  This is the perfect vehicle for people who see cars as appliances.

2014 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman All4 - adding two doors and AWD sadly sapped the fun from this sporty ritish icon

2014 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman All4 – adding two doors and AWD sadly sapped the fun from this sporty ritish icon

2014 MINI John Cooper Works Countryman All4.  The MINI is remarkable because we disliked it so much, and is one of the few cars tested in recent years we’d vociferously recommend against.  Overpriced, overweight and ungainly, the marketing mavens rub salt into the wound by sticking it with a stupid, long name.  MINI’s entrée into the sport-cute market is a grievous mistake.  We love the MINI JCW S 2-door hatch for it’s light weight and scalpel sharp handling.  The Countryman conversion is like saddling a Mazda MX-5 roadster with all-wheel-drive, 4 doors and breadbox hatchback.  Simply atrocious.

2014 Ford Focus ST.  We expected to love the 252 horsepower turbocharged, hot hatch, because we were so impressed with the Focus Titanium 5-door we tested a year ago.  But the super sporty hatch just didn’t grab our heartstrings.  Undeniably quick with sharp handling, the ST is perhaps is too refined for our taste, and we prefer that slight rawness of the now aging 263 horsepower MazdaSpeed3.

2014 Mazda CX-5 GT.  Here’s another vehicle we wanted to love, but couldn’t.  We’ve always adored Mazdas for their superb handling, and we’ve always maintained that Mazda, for the most part, is the ‘poor man’s BMW.’  New for 2014, the CX-5 compact SUV gets the ‘big’ 2.5-litre with 184 horsepower, an option to the standard 155 horsepower ‘Skyactiv’ 2.0-litre base engine.  For sure, the CX-5 GT upholds that fine ‘zoom-zoom’ handling prowess, but we found the GT’s suspension overly stiff, even for enthusiast drivers.  Our advice – if you want a CX-5 (and we recommend it), buy the 2.0-litre version.

2014 Acura RLX.  There’s been a long drought for Acura.  When’s the last time Honda’s upscale brand launched an exciting, new vehicle?  The RLX is the flagship sedan that should have changed that, establishing a foothold in the lucrative premium sedan market.  Priced comparably to the new Cadillac CTS (from $50,895) and Lexus GS 350 ($52,200), the RLX is technically advanced and competent, but its lack of focus on any truly outstanding feature failed to hook us.

2014 Toyota Yaris is an excellent urban runabout let down only by its archaic 4-speed automatic transmission

2014 Toyota Yaris is an excellent urban runabout let down only by its archaic 4-speed automatic transmission

2014 Toyota Yaris.  We like the subcompact Yaris.  Roomy, practical and frugal, it works well as a city runabout.  Limiting its all-round capability is its archaic 4-speed automatic transmission, particularly if highway use is part of the car’s commuter duties.  The Honda Fit has a much higher fun factor and is still our preferred choice.

2013 Ford Explorer excels as a work SUV but lacks any fun factor for enthusiasts

2013 Ford Explorer excels as a work SUV but lacks any fun factor for enthusiasts

2013 Ford Explorer.  The Explorer is a big SUV that’s great for the work crowd, but for driving enthusiasts, it’s just too big and cumbersome if you yearn for any driving joy.  For the work environment, it does what you need.  For enthusiasts, it’s about as much fun as donning a hard hat and steel toe boots.

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