The Car Guide: Best Of 2013

2013 has been a great year to be a gearhead.  It seemed like every couple of weeks one automaker or another was announcing an exciting new vehicle or releasing a special edition of a well-loved favourite.  There were also some important things going on behind the scenes, too, that revitalized the lifeblood that keeps the industry moving forward.  It's safe to say that, whatever doldrums might still be faced in Europe, the North American auto business has fully recovered from its tailspin of a few short years ago, and it's now full steam ahead for Canadian drivers.

I've put together a list of five of the most important cars, people, and events that occurred in 2013.  It's just one man's opinion - but this is what caught my eye over the last 12 months.  Without further ado, here's the 'Best of 2013,' for The Car Guide.

01.  Porsche Upstages The 911's 50th Anniversary With The 2014 Porsche Cayman

Porsche's iconic 911 sports car turned 50 this year, and there was much rejoicing as the company made the most of the anniversary to celebrate the history of its flagship model.  Performance fans, however, had another reason to be excited about Porsche in 2013: the release of the next-generation version of the Porsche Cayman.  The 2014 Porsche Cayman coupe was the most rewarding automobile I drove over the course of the past 12 months, delivering effortless handling and acceleration on the track, on the street, and even in the snow thanks to its mid-engine layout and perfect balance.  The Cayman S is by far the more entertaining member of the Porsche line-up, and despite its entry-level position is my pick over the 911 when seeking out the purest, and most visceral sports car experience currently available.

02.  Mary Barra Takes Over At General Motors

There are two reasons to celebrate Mary Barra's appointment as CEO of General Motors.  The first is the most obvious: Barra becomes the only woman to ever hold the Chief Executive title at a major automaker, which is an appalling fact considering how many women play key roles in design, engineering, and marketing at almost every car company around the world.  That GM is leading the charge to catch the automotive industry up with the rest of the business community is laudable.

The second notable aspect of Barra's leadership role is her long history with the company.  Barra has been with General Motors for 33 years, starting out as a co-op engineering student at Pontiac and gradually working her way up through a variety of positions before heading GM's global product development.  A car-person leading a car company?  I hope the bean counters are ready.

03.  Jaguar Blows Everyone Away With the 2014 Jaguar F-Type

Most car fans under 40 can't remember a time when Jaguar was a force on the race track as well in the luxury segment.  It's been a long time coming, but the British brand returned to its sports car roots this year with the release of the 2014 Jaguar F-Type, a model intended to follow in the foot steps of the automaker's last true performance vehicle, the vaunted E-Type.  The F-Type, which is available as both a coupe and a convertible, plays in that twilight world between the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911, but its breathtaking looks, outstanding performance, and badass image have landed Jaguar major style points at a time when the venerable marque is retooling its identity to help expand its market share.

04.  The Tesla Model S Takes It To Big Oil - And The Big Three

The Tesla Model S is a fast, beautiful, practical, and comfortable sedan that just happens to be all-electric.  Overshadowed by the fact that the Tesla makes use of batteries instead of dinosaur bones to blow past its premium competitors is the other important story surrounding the Model S: namely, that this outstanding luxury vehicle was produced by an independent automaker headquartered in the United States.  When was the last time America could genuinely claim to be home to an upstart automobile brand, let alone one started by an outsider billionaire who applied tech-biz know-how to the car game and came out ahead of everyone?  Brash personality aside, Elon Musk's take on the automotive industry has proven to be a winning one, and demonstrates that small businesses are still nimble enough to shake up the status quo and deliver innovation in stagnant areas of the market.

05.  2015 Subaru WRX Pushes Into The Big Time

OK, so it doesn't go one sale until the summer of 2014, and yes, it technically hails from the 2015 model year, but the next-generation Subaru WRX made a big impression on me when I had the chance to drive a pre-production version just a few short weeks ago.  My early go at the Subaru WRX revealed that the rally-inspired sedan has taken a big step forward in terms of chassis design and comfort, while shedding none of the explosive power and all-wheel drive grip that has made it such a popular choice amongst Canadian performance car fans.

The WRX has matured to the point where it now feels like a viable threat to other sporty rides that may have previously enjoyed an advantage in the refinement category, but now find themselves on more even ground with the turbocharged Japanese rocket.  Overall, it's an excellent effort from Subaru that is going to turn many, many heads in the coming months.

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