By Amos Kwon
on 1.6.14

It’s a unique thrill to drive incredible cars on fast tracks and scenic open roads throughout the year. After all, Octane is about driving. But it’s not all gasoline glamor — some vehicles make us drool for more when we get on the throttle, and others cause us anguish just plodding a few miles to the grocery store. We try to approach each vehicle with a modicum of objectivity, but it’s largely an ad hoc exercise — gunning through tunnels tends to give us tunnel vision. Now we take a step back. With the draw of roaring engines, horsepower and plush cowhides taken out of the immediate picture and hindsight pupils readjusted for perspective, what can we say about our most and least scintillating driving experiences of the past year? What would we have done differently and where might we have flubbed?

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When we tested the Ferrari FF over the summer, we knew well beforehand that it would be one of the most impressive cars of the year. Of course, it ended up being true to our dreams, but due to the short period of time we had the car we weren’t able to exploit its impressive performance credentials. (In fact, the Ferrari representative who delivered the car said that the FF was nearly as quick around a track as the 458 Italia.) Our lack of planning skills made the piece suffer a bit. Instead of taking a full day to travel to the track at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI, where you can hit 200 mph on the front straightaway, we wound through some Wisconsin backroads where the speeds and curves made the FF seem like a caged tiger, begging to run but being kept at bay by the immutable bars of the law. At least parking the FF at a restaurant in Milwaukee for brunch attracted more than its fair share of gawkers.

Our Behind The Wheel man Bradley Hasemeyer gave up his car for a week in LA, but to many readers’ chagrin, it wasn’t a gas-free challenge. Though we wouldn’t dare let him loose on just his own two feet to get around town, we probably would’ve presented a stronger challenge and a more impactful story if we’d restricted Bradley to traveling without any form of petrol. No car, no gas-powered motorcycle, no public buses. Just to give you perspective, though, the Octane team really prefers to insert a Ducati in just about every story we do. The story should’ve been titled, “No Gas in LA”. We’ll go all the way next time.

Way back in January of last year, we said we’d take a Hyundai Azera sedan over a Toyota Avalon. Granted, neither one of these cars would be our preferred mode of transportation if we had our druthers (three pedals forever!), but we recently drove a new Avalon, and it’s the greater car of the two overall. It drives better, looks more opulent and has more space. We were biased against the Avalon, having considered previous versions “retiree specials”. We definitely spoke too soon.

Nothing like getting out of a Toyota Prius taxi in motorcycling gear to meet the rest of your group, who all made it without incident.

We enthusiastically chose the Porsche Cayman S as our car of the year in November, which proved to be a serious point of contention. Of course, debate is what we thrive on and what drives us to grow. Admittedly, having driven the Chevrolet Corvette at the end of the year, we came to question the “best” a bit, too. In the context of its competitors, the Cayman S is certainly less shiny than it was as a standalone: the ‘Vette provides the best bargain supercar thrills; the Mazda6 is far more practical, while remaining a great driver’s car; the Jaguar F-Type is quicker and has far more panache; and the Cadillac CTS V-Sport is the American sports sedan the world has been waiting for. It was a tough choice, but one we were passionate about. We won’t say we’re wrong. We’ll just say things got a little tighter in the field than we had expected. Cayman by a nose.

After writing certain opinion pieces I sometimes wonder if I’ve erred. As a highly opinionated writer, this doesn’t happen that often, but the article “How the Maxima Lost Its Way” was decidedly a bit off. After writing it, I noticed the current Nissan Maxima on several occasions in the streets of Chicago. Although you’ll never get me to say that I love the car, and I’m even less likely to buy one myself, it’s definitely the best looking Maxima since the first-generation car. I’d built up so much negative sentiment toward the past few generations that I’d grown myopic. It was as if Nissan could never do right, which isn’t entirely fair. I stand corrected. It is not hideous.

Last but not least, a bit of fun for jealous readers. Sometimes press trips go horribly wrong. On our trip to London to ride the new Royal Enfield Continental GT café racer, I stalled the bike just before a roundabout. The rest of the pack took off ahead of me, and by the time I got the bike started the rest of the journalists had disappeared. I gambled and lost by choosing the wrong turnoff, then realized I hadn’t brought the event’s itinerary with me. I pulled over and shut off the bike to figure things out. I tried calling the PR crew and couldn’t reach anyone, and then…the bike wouldn’t start. I ended up parking the bike at friendly Porsche dealership and got a cab ride to the first waypoint. Nothing like getting out of a Toyota Prius taxi in motorcycling gear to meet the rest of your group, who all made it without incident. Oh, the everlasting shame. See why we leave these little details out of the stories?

Just like my wife says about me, we like to think we know what we’re doing. Looking back, it’s clear that we didn’t do everything right, nor did we always make the best decisions. As 2014 starts, the Octane team looks for more challenges and exciting drives we can put under our belt. There’s so much that we want to cover and only so much time and gas (or no gas — right, Bradley?). We’re committed to an even better year, and we’re certain that in another twelve months, we’ll shake our collective heads and wonder how we got to do it all. Until then, thanks for reading.

CHEERS, JEERS? We’d love to hear from you. Email the author at akwon [at] gearpatrol.com and let him know what you think. Just remember, you’re what makes us rev. Thanks for reading.

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