2013 has been a great year in our motoring lives. We’ve hit the tarmac and the dirt track, tossed around Ferraris and Lambos , captured the ultimate camera car and two-wheeled it through the streets of London and Los Angeles. Hell, we've even tried our best to avoid cars. Every wheeled experience is relished richly. That's a hell of a lot of burnt rubber -- and we relished every moment.
We loved 'em all, sure, but it's high time we selected Gear Patrol's Best New Car of of the year, a tough task amid the fierce competition of some of the best vehicles we've seen in a long time. That field is packed full of cars from diverse manufacturers, each deserving of vehicular accolades of the highest order. But there can be only one winner -- and to us, that winner is clear. The best car of the year is the 2014 Porsche Cayman S.
But just how exactly did we decide? In the judging process, we took just about everything into account. Design, styling, performance, handling, build quality, segment impact, price and historical significance all came into play. And then there was the X-Factor. It's about how the car makes you feel, beyond just transportation and beyond numbers and statistics. It's what the car delivers in the way of a true automotive experience.
The Cayman S shines in all of these categories. Beautiful to behold and far more than just a baby 911, it carves out its own niche with that blends style and sports car functionality. No other $60K sports car can deliver the same kind of thrills and driving purity. Though the Cayman S is only three generations deep, its place as one of the best driver's cars ever built, along with an illustrious and distinctly flavored spot in the already impressive Porsche lineup, is unquestionable.
When you drive it, the Cayman S takes whatever doldrums or morass you've found yourself in and hastily and mellifluously fires them out the twin-center tailpipes like they were yesterday's trash. Behind the wheel of the Cayman S is one of the best places you can put yourself on Planet Car, and you'll be utterly grateful for the experience. Truth is, we're only scratching the surface of the reasons we've chose the 2014 Porsche Cayman S as the best car of the year. But before we wax poetic (and we surely will), there are plenty of counterarguments to be made and bridesmaids to applaud.
The field of runners-up is a perfect example of this year's impressive competition. A bold new family car, a powerful American sports sedan and a long-awaited British roadster all deserved a shot at the title. (That's not to mention a clear standout in the entry-level luxury car segment, the Mercedes-Benz CLA Class, which our own Bradley Hasemeyer chose as his own Car of the Year pick.) Each illustrious candidate made us take a mighty long pause before we pulled the trigger on the Cayman. Here's why they almost won -- and why the Cayman just barely beat them out.
Jaguar's biggest statement of the year may have come from its smallest cat, but the F-Type ($69,000) is far from diminutive in presence and power. The long-awaited beauty steals the heart and the breath as only a potent, sophisticated roadster can. The F-type seduced is across the board, from its compact yet beautiful proportions, to its wicked exhaust note (from all three engines), to its pulse-quickening driving experience.
A lot was on the line for Jaguar's first sports car in decades, and they delivered beyond expectations, particularly with the supercar-fast 495 hp V8 that launches the F-Type quickly enough to make you worry about both your hat and your dental work. Then there's the cabin, which lends itself to both comfortable, focused driving and bragging rights.
But as fantastic as the F-Type is to both look at and to drive, it lacks the driver connectedness and steering precision that we'd hoped for. Sure, you can toss it around corners and nail apexes well, but there's something missing from the equation in the way of driving experience that put the F-Type a tad further back from the leader of the pack.
CADILLAC CTS VSPORT
The CTS Vsport ($59,995) is the best American sports sedan in existence, a true threat to the Germans in just about every way, especially in performance and looks. To drive the CTS Vsport is to comprehend how far we've come stateside in the four-door performance market -- and the V version hasn't even come out yet. Our chests swelled with American pride when we got behind the wheel.
The fresh new styling of the CTS is just about as handsome as a sports sedan can get. Most importantly, at the stop light, the 420 hp twin turbo V6 will vault you to stardom (and possibly to a courtroom if you're not careful) with an incredible 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds, all while hauling some extremely frightened friends. Chassis composure and tight, precise steering are aided by a slick 8-speed automatic transmission and sport-tuned suspension bits. The CTS Vsport's 3,966 pound curb weight seriously undercuts some of its German competitors and makes the fast Caddy even more manageable. Were it not for the consistently frustrating CUE interface and the overuse of shiny plastic in the cabin, the CTS might have taken the podium. Still, the truth that it's an impressive achievement for GM remains untainted.
There's nothing more ho-hum than your run-of-the-mill family sedan. Driving one is like piloting a wheeled lozenge that simultaneously strips you of manhood and sends your adrenaline into hibernation levels. The 2014 Mazda6 ($20,990) is the antithesis of all that in both its driving experience and looks. The "Soul of Motion" design makes the 6 look ready to move even when it's parked in the driveway. In fact, it's one of the best-looking cars on the roads today.
With great steering, responsive handling and a wonderful driving experience that doesn't expose its target market until you load its roomy cabin and trunk with people and goods, you'd never guess the 6 was front wheel drive. Though the 184 hp direct-inject 2.5-liter SKYACIV 4-cylinder engine isn't capable of ripping rubber, it is smooth, silky and just powerful enough to get you into trouble, especially with the six-speed manual tranny. A few more horses in the form of a 6-cylinder engine would've made for a more blood-pumping driving experience, but we love the Mazda6 nonetheless. The family sedan game has officially been upped by a sizable margin.
THE RUNNER UP, BUT HARDLY SECOND PLACE
The 2014 Mercedes Benz CLA impresses on just about every level, from design to performance to overall driving experience. Beautiful and aggressive in looks -- taking some of the best styling cues from the sexy CLS -- and quite fun to drive, this entry level offering from Mercedes is the type of car that begs to be driven each time the garage door opened.
The CLA drives with the youthful fervor of a brand new model, but it's not all hormones and keg stands. There is an air of sophistication and subtlety throughout the design; there is also a mindfulness in its performance. With manufacturers leaning toward smaller turbo-charged engines to save mpgs and adhere to strict emissions standards, the 2.0 turbo inline four cylinder feels perfectly placed. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission borrows software from the SLS (not bad) and ekes every ounce of power from the engine, and, combined with the rich exhaust note, makes the 6.9 seconds to 60 mph feel much quicker. Never has 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque felt like so much more, especially while netting 24/33 mpg. In the handling department, the chassis and suspension are strong enough to confidently handle curves without beating you up on pitted streets and freeways -- and that's without any software tweaks or drive mode adjustments.
The standard start/stop technology, which turns the engine off when idling in traffic, is seamless, efficient and aids in the car's great mileage. Optional safety like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and lane-keeping assist are all appropriate; you don't need an around-view camera system on a car this size. Through the new mbrace2 a smartphone app locks and unlocks the car or geotags where you parked. While in the car, your phone works as a data connection for the in-car apps for Facebook, Google, Yelp and some other conveniences like even making a payment on your car. There will also be Siri integration, so no more frustrations at the voice command that thought you said "Call Mom" instead of "play artist Ke$ha" will be no more.
Though the CLA starts under $30,000, after you tick the options boxes it's closer to $36,000 -- which, admittedly, is higher than bigger cars with more options. But what the CLA carries in spades is a level of style and panache that's hard to find for under forty grand. If you're worried about it being too good of a deal -- if you dread having to use that geotagging smartphone app to find it in a parking lot full of its brothers and sisters -- well, you'll just have to upgrade to the AMG to set yourself apart. - Bradley Hasemeyer
AND NOW MAY WE INTRODUCE...
Introduced in the spring of 2013 as a 2014 model, the Cayman S came into its own in a huge way. This is a true driver's car, distinguishing itself from its big brother 911 Carrera with distinct, jaw-dropping looks and the kind of performance, handling and feel that qualify it as a bargain, even with a base price north of 60 grand. Free of everything you don’t need and full of everything you desire, it’s a car that begs to be driven. With a near-perfect six-speed manual transmission, the Cayman is utterly flickable; it has a shifting feel both precise and meaty at the same time. Plant yourself in the well-bolstered seat, start the ignition and just freakin’ drive. Other cars are about to get a lot more boring.
As great as the previous Cayman S was, something was missing -- it lacked the presence flouted by the 911 and the Panamera. The third generation does just about everything better, gaining a confident look through a longer wheelbase, a wider track and a filled out, stretched body. The side air ducts and bulging rear quarter panels make for a back half that is far more provocative and cohesive. The rear taillights and integrated spoiler are an automotive work of art that deserve their own wing at the Porsche Museum, and the overall effect is a muscular sports car exterior that looks ready to eat up any road thrown at it. Thanks to these new design efforts, the Cayman stands well apart from the 911; anyone who mistakes it for its pricier big brother should have his eyes checked.
The punchy 3.4-liter flat-six boxer engine found in the Cayman S delivers 325 hp and sounds like lean, growling prizefighter ready to shred. You'll shut off the radio and not-so-gently tell your passenger to shut his pie hole just so you can hear it sing. What's more, the engine moves a body that's 44 percent aluminum and weighs a mere 3,100 pounds -- a veritable automotive Kate Moss. The S tops out at 175 mph, and 60 arrives in 4.7 seconds, though it feels even faster thanks to the kind of connectedness Angelina and Billy Bob could've only wished for.
But you don't have to get to those speeds and drag times to experience the nirvana. Every gear shift, every blip of the throttle, every turn of the magnificent wheel makes the car feel faster, better and more tractable than anything else at this price. Sure, a Camaro SS is faster, but that would be like saying a triple-decker turkey club with a pound of fries is more satisfying than a perfectly sliced and seared Waygu steak. It just isn't so.
Take the Cayman S fast into a turn and you can point it where you want it with surgical precision. What's more, it'll obey your commands and follow through with virtually zero body roll and near-perfect weight balance. The secret sauce is a bolstered chassis stiffer than the 911's -- which is quite an achievement. Cue the now-standard Sport mode and the stability control takes a light coffee break, while the throttle tip-in becomes more aggressive; torque vectoring further enhances the Cayman's abilities by braking the inside wheel in sharp turns, turning you into a bonafide street razor.
All of these descriptors and tech don't quite capture the sum of the Cayman's parts. It's about as sublime of a driving experience as you can find, and never before has the term "neutrality" sounded like the strongest option in the room. On the street, the Cayman S isn't just a car. It's an achievement.
The Cayman S's interior is utterly about driving: no fussy buttons on the steering wheel; no overly ornate dashboard to pull your eyes away from the big central tach. The steering wheel is appropriately chunky, and the three spokes around the round center hub look like they were modeled from German control arms. As always, Porsche knows how to do seats, whether in standard or optional sport configuration. The driving position is superb, as is pedal placement for great heel-toe action and gearshift knob for flawless tranny changes. For an impassioned driver, it's a cabin fit for focus in the fast lane, on the track and on the best Monday morning commute you've ever had.
THE FINAL WORD
We dare you to find another $60K car that delivers these kinds of thrills. Sure, there are faster cars out there, and more luxurious, too. But an automotive purist wouldn't give up his little sister for those. Go for more luxury and you'll likely give up the scintillating driving experience you get with the Cayman S. Damn the cooled and heated cupholders, damn the ambient blue lighting your friend's car has. Who needs 'em when you have the automotive scalpel that is the Cayman S?
Some cars require a spec list quantification to prove their worth. The Cayman S, though as well appointed as just about any car at its price point, requires nothing of the kind. Its position as Gear Patrol's Best New Car of 2014 is cemented by its other-worldly pleasure principle. No other car this year has given us as many boyish but haughty smiles as the Cayman. They were brought about by the sexy sheet metal. They shone for the masterful way it drives. The Cayman is positively spectacular, and we wish the world made more cars like it. But there's a reason the S stands out. Creating something this wonderful is no easy task.
We need no other arguments than these to justify the Cayman S's place as the best car of the year: It's a vehicle that makes you want to be a better driver and one that will have you making every excuse to get out and shift to your heart's content. It makes driving gods of mere mortals and turns an average day into some of the best moments of your life. It's a car that not only exceeds expectations, but redefines what a sports car can be.