A Year of Forbidden Fruit: My Five Favorite Cars Driven in 2013

By Jacob Brown | December 30, 2013
The year 2013 brought us more than its fair share of truly fantastic vehicles, and apologetically so. Figure it takes three to five years to develop a new car from scratch, and there was quite a financial crunch that occurred during 2008 and 2009, and it makes sense that money that was invested then is finally starting to pay off now. In 2014, you can bet that it's only going to get better as consumers build more confidence and automakers feel more assured about sinking billion-dollar budgets into their next-generation vehicles. Having driven hundreds of cars in 2013--I drove about 30 at the three-day Nissan 360 event this past summer alone--I've thought about the vehicles I drove that made me smile. And come to think of it, they still make me smile. While three of the vehicles on this list aren't even sold in the U.S., I highly recommend everyone kick, scratch, and claw their ways into finding out how to drive them. They're just that good. On the other hand, I recommend that be done with the cars sold here as well. Here are my five favorites of 2013:

2013 Ford Focus ST

I still remember talking with my dad through the 2013 Focus ST's Bluetooth audio system, with him asking me what nuisance of a car I was driving. It wasn't a brutish sports car; it was a $28,000 hatchback. The 2013 Ford Focus ST was the answer to the question we've been asking for nearly a decade: When would Ford's forbidden-fruit fast Focus be coming Stateside again? Powered by a 252-horsepower, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, this car has its engine note piped in through the firewall, allowing it a guttural snarl at wide-open throttle. It was a consolation car I asked for when so many members of our staff had gone to the New York Auto Show, leaving me in California with this Tangerine Scream-colored hot hatch. You know what? I think I got the better end of the deal.

2014 Jaguar F-Type

Speaking of loud cars, the 2014 Jaguar F-Type has a $220 option that, with the press of a button, can open baffles in its exhaust system to let the world hear the song of its people. For a $97,000 car, you'd think this would be a no-brainer. But after navigation this, supercharged V-8 that, and thousands of dollars lobbed on top of our tester, the exhaust baffles are the only options I'd have to have. What's more, the car oozes sex appeal. It's comically fun to drive. It's stately, gentlemanly. But it can also bust a move the likes few true supercars can match. No matter how many CTSs, Mercedes-Benz S-Classes, or Corvettes may enter the picture, the 2014 Jaguar F-Type is my personal car of the year.

Nissan Juke-R

Nissan Juke R 01
Let's not forget that I had the opportunity to drive some truly amazing vehicles that aren't sold on this side of the pond. Take, for example, the Nissan Juke-R. This Franken-Car is what happens when some bored race car engineers get a hold of the running gear from a 545-horsepower Nissan GT-R and a Nissan Juke. Only sold in a scant few countries to a scant few customers who can afford its $600,000 price of admission, the Juke-R is an amazingly quick feat of engineering. And while it doesn't quite do anything as well as the Nissan GT-R on which it's based, who cares? It's a Nissan Juke that defies physics, logic, and any argument ever made against it. Thank you, Nissan, for making it.

Nissan Civilian City Bus

Perhaps this speaks to my eccentricities, but after the Nissan 360 global event in Irvine, California, I couldn't figure out if I liked the Nissan Juke-R or a city bus more for a while. I've never driven a city bus before; the Civilian provided that outlet. With a punchy diesel engine, a five-speed manual transmission on the floor, and seating for 24, the Nissan Civilian is one of the go-to options in the crowded cityscape of Hong Kong. After having piloted it through an urban obstacle course, I found myself enamored with it. I don't know if that glow would wear off after driving it more than a few laps, but frankly, I don't care. It was one of the highlights of my trip that included dozens of vehicles that may never be sold in the U.S.

2013 Toyota Crown Royal Hybrid Saloon

I once heard Japan's car market described as Charles Darwin's Galapagos Islands, as it only exists in and of itself. There are cars there that wouldn't sell at all if ever they were to leave their home market. That doesn't mean some of them aren't simply fantastic, however. Take the 2013 Toyota Crown Royal Saloon, which is built from Lexus IS and GS parts and truly fits in between them in size. You'd think, fitted with a hybrid system that's paired with a 3.5-liter V-6, this 340-horsepower luxury car would be a true wolf in sheep's clothing. It's not. It's the quietest, most plush vehicle this side of an old Lincoln Town Car. In fact, it's incredibly reminiscent of that bygone luxo barge. It rides atop marshmallows and is truly designed to provide the utmost in comfort and refinement without the ostentatious badge of a Lexus. Consider this the luxury car of the older, more sophisticated gentleman. After Toyota's Hybrid World Tour in which it brought some 20 hybrid models from around the world to Ypsilanti, Michigan, I once again rode in one in Japan when I drove a prototype of Toyota's hydrogen car. And I remembered why I liked it so much.