The Best Cars of 2012
Every December, every news outlet compiles, argues, and publishes their “best x of y” list, and inevitably pisses readers off for not including THEIR favorite “x”. I love a good discussion as much as the next person, and I love cars even more, so here are my picks for this year’s hits, listed in no particular order. The most disappointing cars of this year will be included in another post, so stay tuned for that as well. Feel free to comment and add any autos I may have missed; the selections are limited to cars released this year, not 2012 model year cars, so some 2013 models are going to work their way onto the list. In no particular order, here they are:
Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
The biggest news of the year in the automotive world, by far, was the release of the sport coupe developed in a joint partnership by Toyota (Scion FR-S) and Subaru (BRZ). The 2+2 was significant for each company. For Toyota, it was the first affordable RWD sports car since the Celica switched to FWD in the mid ’80s. Toyota sells the FR-S as the Toyota GT 86 in other markets, a name clearly meant to invoke the Corolla AE86, the small, RWD coupe that has found a dedicated following among tuners and drifting fans alike. For Subaru, it was the first car not to have all-wheel drive since the ’70s, the single feature that Subaru has built an entire brand upon.
The 2.0L 4-cylinder boxer engine produces 200hp and 151 lb/ft of torque, and propels the 2,750lb FR-S from 0-60 in a hair over 6 seconds. With the Euro-spec Prius tires are standard equipment, the FR-S slips and slides around corners with the faintest tap of the accelerator. When fitted with grippier rubber, the FR-S has run circles around the Mazdaspeed 3 and Subaru WRX, as Road and Track found out.
The Scion starts at 24,995, and the Subaru (with more standard equipment) at $25,495. While fanboys scream for a turbo for more power, these perfectly balanced machines work well with what they’ve got. These twins, along with the Mazda MX-5, prove that no-frills, lightweight, inexpensive driver’s cars still exist, and they’re here to stay.
Ford Focus ST
The Focus ST was a surprising addition to this list, as most competitors in the hot hatch segment challenge but never best the perennial favorite Volkswagen GTI. On the GTI, $23,995 gets buyers a 6-speed manual mated to VW’s ubiquitous 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder, which puts 200hp down through the front wheels, all encased in a good-looking (if conservative) 3- or 5-door hatch. The Focus ST is the polar opposite of the GTI in almost every way. It has loud, boy-racer spoilers and intake ducts, intense leather Recaro bucket seats, a high-strung 252hp turbo-4, and is available in a ridiculous bright orange paint job. The resulting lack of torque steer (a common problem with FWD cars, where too much power through the front wheels causes the car to pull abruptly in one direction or the other) is surprising for a car with that much power.
More surprising still is how Ford has managed to produce a car that matches the 5-door GTI price-wise while holding a 25% power advantage over the hatch from Wolfsburg. And the cool, 100% leather Recaros are included in a $4,435 package, while only the VW Golf R gets that option, although it is a much pricier car. In fact, the Focus competes more with the AWD Golf R in terms of performance albeit at a much cheaper price point. So there you have it: Golf R performance at GTI money, with a bit of good, old-fashioned American flashiness. What more could you want?
Tesla Model S
This is the world’s first true alternative to gasoline automobiles. 100% electric vehicles tend to fall on opposite ends of the pricing spectrum. Small cars like the Mitsubishi i MiEV, and Nissan Leaf are too expensive even including government tax breaks and offer a laughably low range, while the Tesla Roadster is a $100,000 Lotus Elise conversion. The one thing all these cars have in common is they are not well-equipped enough to compete with other automobiles at their respective price points. That all changed this year with the release of the Tesla Model S, the first EV whose owners won’t be laughed at when they tell people how much they paid for it.
How good is this car? Before Automobile Magazine crowned the Model S “Automobile of the Year,” they found their top-of-the-line, $78,750 tester with 416hp beat a new, $110,000 BMW M5 in a drag race. To repeat, an electric car that was nearly vaporware produced by a Silicon Valley startup destroyed the newest edition of one of the greatest automotive performance brands ever created. The interior of the Model S is dominated by a seventeen-inch touchscreen that comprises the center console (think twice as large as in iPad). While not as natural as knobs for HVAC and radio controls, it apparently does a fine job at performing basic functions without diverting the driver’s eyes from the road.
Tesla is investing heavily on the success of the Model S, to the tune of creating “Supercharger” stations that can inject enough electricity into the battery in half an hour to add 150 miles to the range of a car. While obviously not as quick as a conventional fill up, Tesla’s commitment to reducing range anxiety, one of the highest barriers to entry into the EV market, shows they truly understand their customers’ wants and needs. The seeds of the burgeoning EV war have been sown, and the next few product cycles will be very interesting indeed to witness.