January 8, 2013

News & Features

Porsche and Tesla among the best of 2012

Bloomberg News

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The Tesla Model S was a memorable ride. (Tesla)

Automobiles occupy an outsized chunk of my time. When you drive as many as three new cars a week, every week, slamming doors, pinching leather, evaluating gas mileage and figuring out how the radio works, the small stuff matters. I love the smart, outrageous and practical, and am exasperated by the wrongheaded, timid and abstruse.

Looking back on the past year, I rarely remember what happened in any given month. Instead, I recall the first time I stepped inside the Tesla Model S. Here are a few of the cars and features that I liked.

Breakout of the year: Tesla Model S
An all-electric sedan with good range, it's fast and it handles well. The Model S seats five adults comfortably and has a gorgeous cabin.

The well-optioned model I tested came to $102,000, about the same as a decently optioned Porsche Panamera. For that you get a suite of gee-whiz electronics, including the most advanced touch-screen system I've ever experienced.

You can operate the screen faultlessly even while driving, proving that Silicon Valley does have something to teach Detroit.

The Model S easily could have qualified as my green pick of the year, or executive sedan, or perhaps even my favorite sports car. Instead, I'll simply say it rates high in all of those categories.

Engine of the year: BMW's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
This is the first Bimmer four-banger available in the U.S. in more than a decade, optional on both the 3 and 5 series and standard on the Z4 Roadster. It's fun, fast and efficient, and I prefer it over the 300-horsepower six-cylinder. The little engine that could.

Most desirable ride: Porsche Boxster S
The new incarnation of the two-door roadster is about the most fun you can have driving with the top down.

Most overpriced ride: Porsche Boxster S

Our as-tested model came to $88,870. See the problem?

Bang for the tire-screaming buck: Ford Focus ST

There's something special about a light, small and relatively inexpensive sports car. The ST version of Ford's chic hatchback has 252 horsepower and makes easy, controlled drifts, so you can feel like a race-track hero. And it starts at $23,700.

Niftiest amenity: Kick-activated tailgate
Approach the rear of a Ford Escape with an armful of groceries and you won't have to juggle to open the tailgate. Simply kick the underside of the bumper and it'll pop open (provided the key fob is in your pocket).

Comeback story: Chrysler

The long-beleaguered carmaker, in tandem with Fiat, has reworked its interiors and infotainment systems. It has improved underperforming engines and creaky transmissions.
For instance, the standard-issue, primeval five-speed automatic, which always seemed to be hunting for the correct gear, is being replaced by a slick and fast eight-speed.

These upgrades suddenly transform cars such as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger from has-beens into sales-lot contenders.

Most enticing of all is the all-new, super-cool SRT Viper, with 640 horsepower. Bad to the bone and unabashedly American.

Cars I want to drive again

In no particular order: Fiat 500 Abarth, Bentley Continental GT V-8, Audi S8, Subaru BRZ, Scion FR-S, Honda Accord Coupe, McLaren MP4-12C.

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