Just about every morning, before our cup of joe, we slap ourselves as a reminder of how lucky we are to drive some of the best cars in the world and get paid for it. 2013 was another year of stupendous privileges, with wheel time in Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Land Rovers, Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Porsches, Jaguars, Mercedes-Benzes, Audis, BMWs, Aston Martins and more. We’ve been the beneficiaries of a huge upswing in the automotive marketplace in terms of style, quality and driving excitement through virtually all segments. And you know what that means: 2014 should prove to be even better.
Here are the cars we most covet for the new year, each one a standout in its segment by virtue of its quality, technology, design, driving experience or all of the above. In a stellar field, these are the ones that stir the petrol in our veins the most. As we embark on a new year, here’s a toast to what should be an incredible 2014 on the digital pages of Octane.
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1. Alfa Romeo 4C
Bringing the Alfa Romeo brand back to the U.S. will start off with a bang in the form of the spectacular 4C (~$86,000). The mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater is undistilled performance with a 1.7-liter turbo four-cylinder good for 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Those don’t sound like huge numbers, but the low 2,200-pound curb weight should give it an impressive power-to-weight ratio. Plus, the 4C looks like a mini-Ferrari Enzo, and that’s not a bad thing. Just ignore the wolf spider eye headlights. Look for this Italian rocket to go up against the likes of the Porsche Cayman and 911. Those are some serious crosshairs, eh?
2. Chevrolet SS
As great as the new Corvette Stingray is, we need four doors for the everyday. What better way to build an American sedan than with a taut, understated body and 415 rip-roaring horsepower from a 6.2-liter V8 engine? But it’s not just power the SS boasts, it’s balance. A 50/50 weight ratio, combined with multi-link front and rear suspension and a limited-slip differential means the car handles as blisteringly as it accelerates. It’s the GM performance sedan we’ve been waiting for since the departure of the Holden-sourced (Australian arm of GM) Pontiac G8 in 2009. This time, it’s better looking and more refined, and by all accounts it’s a thrill to drive. See? America cares about the family man with the lead foot.
3. Maserati Ghibli
In terms of style, the new Ghibli has nothing on the original that was built between 1967 and 1973, but it certainly is still a head-turner. No longer is the Ghibli a 2+2 grand tourer. Instead, it’s a high-performance sedan meant to go against the German four-door coupes. Ferrari-built twin-turbo V6 engines with 345 and 404 hp in two different versions of the Ghibli (base and S models) move the cars quickly, and the taut chassis should provide them with great handling for their size. We’re just glad to see an Italian luxury performance sedan as an option for those well-heeled gents who want something off the beaten path.
4. Cadillac ELR
It’s what the Volt wanted to look like instead of showing up to work as boring as the day is long. The more upscale ELR is first and foremost one handsome automobile with its tight dimensions and rakish sheet metal; it also possesses one of the finest interior digs of any homegrown car we’ve ever seen. The same GM Voltec powertrain from the Chevy Volt shows up in the ELR with a slight software-sourced power increase that’s good for 207 hp (up from 149 in the Volt). The ELR also gets an 84 hp 1.4-liter engine that turns an electric generator for actual propulsion to the front wheels via a planetary gearset. The ELR is about twice the price of a Volt, but in our opinion, it’s worth every penny. So, 33 combined mpg and 82 MPGe aren’t completely mind blowing, but the combination of solid handling and performance, environmental consciousness and American automotive finery make the ELR a hybrid worth drooling over.
5. Jaguar F-Type R Coupe
As much as we loved the F-Type Roadster, we’re really hardtop guys at heart, and the F-Type R Coupe plucks all the right strings. The addition of a solid roof and resulting increased rigidity provide both design unity and improved handling. 550 hp supercharged V8 and bellowing exhaust don’t hurt, either. A sub-four-second 0-60 time and a top speed of 186 means that this is no tame cat, and the Sport suspension with Adaptive Dynamics and Active Sport Exhaust provide sure footing and loud growling for all to see and hear. If it drives even just a little bit better than its convertible brother, we’ll shout it from the mountain tops. It’s the Jaguar sports car we’ve been waiting for — and we don’t have to worry about losing our hat.
6. Porsche Macan
The Cayenne has a baby brother, and, as is every younger sibling’s right, the Macan ($52,000-$62,000) wants to carve out its own path. Smaller and arguably better looking than the Cayenne, the Macan takes styling cues from the Porsche line with 911 and 918 Spyder DNA. The base Macan S has a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 with 340 hp, while the top-end Macan Turbo delivers 400 hp from its 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6. However, we’re most impressed by the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel-drive, which can deliver up to 100 percent of its power to either the front or rear wheels. Porsche SUV naysayers can go pound sand. They’re here to stay, and the Macan should be wahoo-worthy.
7. Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Merc’s best seller gets serious new clothes that trickle down from the all-new S-Class flagship. That translates to a more fluid and opulent look that eschews some of the harder lines from the previous car. It also drops 220 pounds, or the equivalent of your rotund friend Eddie. The new C also borrows heavy safety tech from the S-Class, making it one of the most technologically advanced small luxury sedans on the market. It will be offered with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine good for 235 hp and 273 lb-ft (C300 4Matic) and a 3.0-liter turbo V6 with 329 hp and 354 lb-ft (C400 4Matic). We also wait with bated breath on the wicked AMG version, which should show up later in the year. With the new S, E, C and the brand new CLA, Mercedes has just about everyone’s attention.
8. BMW 4-Series
Thanks to altered nomenclature, the former 3-Series coupe and convertible become the 4-Series. But it’s more than just a name change. The car is all new and about as sexy as a BMW can get. More than just a two-door version of the 3-Series, the 4 is wider and lower than the sedan and looks more aggressive due to sporty styling elements that provide real presence. Though the 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four in the 428i and the 300-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six in the 435i are carryovers from the 3-Series, the steering, chassis and suspension have been improved for better feel, responsiveness and handling. And even though we can’t wait for the maddening M4 performance version, the “regular” 4-Series will be pulse quickening enough.
9. Subaru WRX
Though we mourn the loss of the squatted aggressive look of the five-door hatchback, we’ll still take the rally-capable sedan any day of the week. The potent turbo four-cylinder boxer engine spits out 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque for a mid-five-second push to 60. What’s more, the new WRX is way stiffer than the last version and has sharper steering and handling. The standard six-speed manual transmission is our shifting method of choice, and with all of the hooligan fun hiding within the WRX, we’re willing to ignore the still-spartan interior digs. It won’t win any prizes in the looks department, but who cares? It’s the best-driving WRX yet, and the lame Impreza moniker is gone, too. Now, all we need are some dirty, snowy roads and possibly a hose to use afterwards.
10. BMW 2-Series
The polarizing 1-Series 2-door becomes the 2-Series as BMW moves all coupes to even-numbered monikers. No longer a stubby oddity like the 1-Series, the 2 is more elegant but still retains that air of aggressiveness. The wheelbase has been stretched and the track is wider, giving the car more presence and an opulence not seen in the 1. The interior also gets a good once-over, receiving a much more high-rent look than its predecessor. We’re particularly pining for the M235i — the famous silky inline-six engine, rear-wheel-drive and M-like performance with tweaked suspension bits, upgraded exhaust and enhanced aerodynamics see to that. What’s more, you can opt for the sweet six-speed manual tranny at no extra cost. It’s the purist’s BMW that we’re thankful still exists.
11. Kia K900
A Kia flagship has been a long time coming. It should be head and shoulders above…well nothing, actually. It’s their first real foray in the world of near-luxury cars, and it certainly looks the part. Though “K900” sounds like a robot vacuum model, it’s really a full-sized Kia that’s aimed at the big boys Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, and sister company Hyundai, for that matter. The body is reminiscent of the Optima and the Cadenza but far more regal. The 5.0-liter V8 boasts a healthy 420 hp and should get the big Kia to 60 in 5.5 seconds, which is more than enough to put it in good luxo-barge company. Though we’re sure the Kia name will be an obstacle that luxury car buyers may not be able to overcome, the car has both presence and interior quality. We’ll have to wait to see how it drives (and how it feels to be chauffeured in), but the K900 is good news for everyone concerned: competition breeds the good stuff.
12. Mazda6 Diesel
As great as the new Mazda6 is, it’s the diesel-powered version we’re waiting for. It was slated for the end of 2013, but it’s looking like spring 2014 is when it’ll hit our shores and showrooms. The beautiful lines of the 6 will supposedly be propelled by a 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D diesel four-cylinder with 173 horsepower and an astounding 310 lb-ft of torque, providing just the kind of oomph the 6 needs to make it better than its already excellent petrol partner. If Mazda’s as much about driving as they claim, they’ll fit it with a 6-speed manual. Awesomeness.
13. Volvo V60 R Design
Talk about a welcome wagon. Volvo’s revival of their wagon offering is finally back after the disappearance of the V70, and it should prove to be their best ever. With muscular lines a la X60 and S60, the V60 is a far cry from the (still handsome) 240 wagon — in that it won’t have the drag co-efficient of an AC compressor. In bumped-up R Design garb, the V60 should be good for 329 horsepower, a stiffer chassis and tweaked performance suspension bits to make it the best grocery getter on the block. Don’t worry. Hippies will still salute you, we think.
14. Acura NSX
We’re waiting for the new NSX more than just about any car here. Enough teasing already, Acura. We don’t care about Tony Stark anymore. We care about us. The NSX’s hybrid power and twin-turbo V6, all-wheel-drive and possible 8-speed dual clutch transmission should equate to one seriously quick Japanese supercar that’s worthy of the NSX name. Whether or not we’ll actually be able to helm it in 2014 remains to be seen. Oh, the pain of waiting. We’re ready to shove anyone who cuts in front of us.
15. Porsche 911 Turbo S
We’ve helmed the 911 Carrera, and what a joy it is. Add two more wheels to the propulsion and a frightening 560 hp and 516 lb-ft from the 3.8-liter twin-turbo boxer six that rockets it to 60 in under 3 seconds, and you have a recipe for land speed records. Some presence to go with that power? How about fat rear haunches, a big spoiler and characteristic big fender vents. Just so we don’t stain the seats when we drive it, we’ll stay off the large burritos for a day or so beforehand.
16. McLaren P1
We’ve driven the spectacular MP4-12C, and if the P1 ($1,150,000) is any better than that (of course it is), the British supercar maker will have to pry our fingers off the steering wheel and carry us out. The P1 amounts to the most ferocious McLaren car to date and one best supercars on planet earth (it supposedly just cooked the Nürburgring Nordschleife in under seven minutes, something only a few cars have managed). The P1’s 903 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque come from the 3.8-liter V8 and the accompanying electric motor. The aerodynamics and fully adaptive downforce elements make it fast and sticky, sure, but they also make it look like the most futuristic supercar we’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s not as iconic as the F1, but it’s still ridiculously mashable.
17. Audi S3
The Audi S performance line always gets our attention, regardless of size. The smaller Audi A3 sedan should make its way to the states in 2014, as will the upgraded S3 sports sedan, and thanks to the trickle-down design and engineering that has made the Audi lineup great, the S3 should be a true looker and performer. The 2.0-liter turbo four should be good for nearly 300 hp driven to all four wheels via Quattro all-wheel-drive. The S3 should weigh nearly 600 pounds less than an S4, providing a major boon to its handling and equating to a 0-60 time of under 5.5 seconds, perhaps even less.
18. Lamborghini Huracán
The long-awaited replacement for the super-successful Gallardo takes the form of a mini-Aventador with the kind of performance we expect from Lambo. Of course it’ll be a looker, and with a 5.2-liter V10 good for over 600 horsepower, it’ll be almost as quick as its big brother. The Huracán will also have Lambo’s all-wheel-drive system and a new dual clutch tranny. It’s got some big shoes to fill, but that should be no problem. We expect it to be even more composed than the Gallardo and far better looking. What more could we ask for? A drive at triple-digit speed in it down a scenic road, that’s what.
19. Ford Mustang
The famous muscle car from Ford is brand new in its 50th anniversary year, though it still looks back to the original with some traditional Mustang styling cues. But it’s still very much a modern interpretation of the pony car, and, thankfully, the skittish live rear axle has gone the way of the dodo, replaced by a multi-link rear setup. Three engines will show up in the new ‘Stang, including a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost, a 3.7-liter V6 and the top-end 5.0-liter V8 that should exceed the old car’s 420 hp output. Everything about the new Mustang should be better than the previous car, and with the tighter looks and improved handling and ride, it might just be the muscle car the rest of the world has been waiting for.
20. BMW i8
The plug-in supercar future is here, and it’s found in the i8 ($135,925). Everything about it looks Tron-esque, and that’s a good thing. The i8’s far sleeker styling elements look radically different than the dumpy i3’s, and the combined 360 hp and 420 lb-ft from the turbocharged 1.5-liter gas engine and the synchronous electric motor will launch the i8 to 60 in a very quick 4.3 seconds. Nearly as important as the performance is the fuel economy: roughly 40+ mpg. Not bad for an environmentally conscious supercar, eh? On pure electric, the i8 should get a 22-mile range at speeds up to 75 mph. But you might just be too busy enjoying one of the most futuristic cabins in the automotive industry to notice you’ve whipped past the gas station.