A Year of Cars, My 5 Favorite of 2013: VW, Mazda, Audi, Aston Martin

By Matthew Askari | December 29, 2013
In a year full of cars, it's easy to think they would all start to blend together, but without a doubt, there were a few that stood out. From automakers such as Volkswagen and Mazda, to Audi and Aston Martin, there are a few I remember above all, and for very different reasons. Every year we drive so many cars I lose count, and 2013 was no exception. It seemed we were in overdrive. After getting behind the wheel of perhaps 100 different vehicles, and reviewing dozens, these were my five favorite cars of 2013:

Volkswagen Scirocco R

Maybe it's the "forbidden fruit" factor, but just one glance at the Volkswagen Scirocco R tells you there's more to the story. The VW enthusiast's delight is perhaps the Wolfsburg automaker's best looking car, and while we don't have it in America, V-Dub was kind enough to let us spend a few days driving one. With a gratifying 265 hp from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine sent to the front wheels, and a beautiful, sonorous exhaust, it's easy to see—in addition to the alluring styling— why the Scirocco has such appeal. While it doesn't make financial sense for Volkswagen to sell the Scirocco in the U.S. right now, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the next-gen Scirocco arrive in America, possibly in 2018 or so, with a debut at the Detroit auto show.

2014 Mazda3

There are few cars you can get these days for under $25,000 that will actually leave you with a grin on your face. The 2014 Mazda3 isn't necessarily quick, but engineers have harnessed the most from Mazda's fuel-efficient Skyactiv engines. As far as style, the 2014 Mazda3 turns up the dial, and the hatchback—my personal favorite—has a lot of European charm, while the driving dynamics are pure Mazda. The six-speed manual transmission might be my favorite all around, and makes driving sporty, and spirited. Regardless of which body style, engine, or transmission you opt for, the 2014 Mazda3 delivers a beautifully styled, fun, fuel-efficient ride. As far as value goes, the Mazda3 is hard to top.

2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S

Sometimes, automakers decide to be a little bit silly, and we're thankful for it. Like with the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, where the British automaker crams its largest engine into its smallest car. The result? 565 screaming ponies, and the fastest Aston Martin this side of the One-77 Hypercar. The V12 Vantage S hits 60 mph from rest in just 3.7 seconds, and boasts a top speed of 205 mph, putting most supercars to shame. The elegant and sporty Aston boasts no shortage of presence, and once the engine is fired up, the ripping growl and roar of the engine won't soon be forgotten. Aston Martin invited us to a track to push the 2015 V12 Vantage S to the limit, and the car didn't disappoint. The supercar fun can be yours as well, starting at $184,995.

Volkswagen XL1

There are 50 in the world, and the sensation that you are witnessing something that will transcend this experience and this generation comes fluttering fast and hard. The most aerodynamic production car ever built, the Volkswagen XL1 is also the world's most fuel-efficient hybrid. Powered by a 0.8-liter diesel-hybrid engine and electric motor, the XL1 returns more than 200 mpg. Yes, that figure is correct. What’s more, it's a real car, one we got to drive on the autobahn, and one that between 200-250 people will be driving in Germany and Austria. At angles it looks like an R8, other times like a futuristic EV, and with its butterfly doors and lack of side mirrors—it uses digital e-mirrors with cameras that project images onto door mounted screens—the XL1 is stunning in its own right. Without a doubt, driving the VW XL1 around Wolfsburg was one of the most unique experiences of 2013.

2014 Audi R8

Perched atop the famed Malibu bluffs at a villa overlooking the California idyll, I was handed the keys to a 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus to kick the morning off. That car—Audi's most powerful R8 supercar—was one of six R8 models I got to drive over the course of a couple days earlier this year. To get some perspective of how exciting that is, I've had—and still to this day do—a picture of an Audi R8 as my screensaver and background, one I uploaded in the summer of 2011, one of the first images that greets me in the morning in the office, and one of the last I see as I leave in the evening. So yeah, I was excited. And with the Audi R8, it doesn't matter if it was the V-8, V-10, or V-10 Plus engine; I love the six-speed manual transmission with that glorious shift gate, but I also love the dual-clutch transmission with lightning-quick blips on the paddle-shifters. I love the R8 Coupe and Spyder models, and the sonorous exhaust, and excellent grip and traction that give you the confidence to drive such an alluring supercar. In a year full of cars, from the modest to pure fantasy, the R8 is still my favorite of 2013.