O Opinions & Commentary

Seeing Red: Hottest Cars of 2013

During the making of PRN Ignition's 2014-15 Luxury & Performance New Car Buyers Guide, I found myself reflecting on some of the cooler cars I've been lucky to drive over the past 12 months, and some of the most popular questions I'm asked.

Besides "What car should I buy?" the two most common are probably: "What's the best car?" or "Most expensive car you've ever driven?" The first question is as loaded as they come, but the next two are easy to answer.

Most expensive all-time for me is the McLaren 12C Spider at $348,860. More amazing was getting to drive it fast on the Mosport GP track at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this past summer.

McLaren 12C CTMP 0 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

The aluminum-bodied bespoke Spyker C8 Spyder (below) was the previous high water mark at around $257,000 USD. I drove one in Las Vegas in 2006 back when local casino magnate Steve Wynn purportedly owned one of only a handful in the country. Few people have any clue what a Spyker is.

Spyker C8 Vegas JD resize

Many of my colleagues have both of these beat hand over fist as there was a Bugatti 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse press car kicking around the GTA last summer that we (PRN Ignition) didn't get an invite to drive, if you can believe that. No complaints from me though.

I did, however, get to sit inside a $2-million Pagani Huayra Carbon Edition last fall at the Ritz Carlton in Toronto thanks to Pfaff Automotive Partners. It is, by far, the most expensive car I've ever sat in, if only for a fleeting taste of the one-percenter lifestyle. And a few glasses of champagne.

Pagani Huayra SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

The most expensive car I've seen in person is the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S NART Spyder by Scaglietti that RM Auctions sold to Lawrence Stroll in Monterey last August for a cool $27.5 million USD.

Ferrari 275 GTB SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

Okay, so I went off on a bit of a tangent there. I was stalling while trying to decide what the best car I've ever driven is. It's such a loaded question too. Had I driven the Tesla Model S, it would surely top the list. But that isn't the case, so I'm forced to pick one from a long list of other really cool cars I have driven. As for the best, I'm pretty sure that I drove it earlier this year.

So, without further ado, here are my Top 15 test drives of 2013, complete with as-tested MSRPs. Why 15? Because 10 just didn't seem to be enough. But, can you guess which one is the best car I've ever driven?

1. Corvette Stingray w Z51 ($75,000)

C7 Stingray SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

2. McLaren 12C Spider ($349,000)

McLaren 12C CTMP 1 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

3. Audi R8 V10 Plus ($211,000)

Audi R8 V10 Plus SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

4. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT ($225,000)


Photo: Shaun Keenan

5. Jaguar F-Type V8 S ($114,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

6. Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG ($104,000)


Photo: Shaun Keenan

7. Audi RS 5 Cabriolet ($103,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

8. Roush Stage 3 Mustang ($56,000 = $36,000 + $20,000)

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Photo: Andrew Perry

9. Porsche Cayman ($64,000)

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Photo: Michelle Siu for AJAC

10. MINI JCW GP ($45,000)

Mini JCW SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

11. BMW M6 Coupe ($143,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

12. Subaru WRX STI ($42,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

13. BMW 735i ($122,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

14. Honda Civic Si ($26,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

15. Ford Focus ST ($35,000)

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

All that tallies up to a grand total of $1,650,000 plus taxes and delivery et al.

Yes, the Corvette is a performance bargain. And yes, the McLaren is a bonafide supercar for gosh sake. But, if you guessed the 2014 Audi R8 V10 plus, then you get 10 gold stars.

I've been hopelessly smitten with the R8 since the very first time I drove the original 420-hp V8-powered version (2008MY $158K as tested) on AJAC's airport runway test track at TestFest in fall 2007.

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

The following year, the 2009 R8 V10 coupe trumped that with 525 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque and its $204K as-tested sticker.

Audi R8 V10 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

Then, two years later, the 2011 V10 Spyder model struck me, and was/is arguably even better looking than its coupe counterpart thanks to its unique engine cover.

Audi R8 V10 Spyder SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

All versions boast the world-famous quattro AWD system, which gives the cars amazing road-holding capabilities and telepathic handling abilities.                    

Today, after a three-year wait, I'm finally back behind the wheel of the ultimate everyday supercar. In fact, the 2014 Audi R8 V10 plus Coupe now reigns supreme on my list of best cars I've driven.

Audi R8 V10 Plus 1 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

I didn't get to drive it on a track this time. Nor did I experience the enhanced V10's 25 extra horsepower and bump in torque (to 398 lb-ft) at full kilt this time. I didn't get to experience the 3.5-second 0-100 km/h bursts either, but I did enjoy the new seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission and paddle shifters.

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

I did a lot of highway driving and had the car during the same week as AJAC's annual TestFest event. Though it wasn't entered in this year's Canadian Car of the Year competition, the parking valets at the Niagara Falls Hilton were totally enamoured by it. And who can blame them? Of all the cars I drove that week, in fact, the R8 is still the one I'd buy if I were to win the lottery.

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Photo: Shaun Keenan

Though it is a two-seater, the R8 cabin does not feel cramped whatsoever. There is quite a bit of useable space behind the seats for coats, bags, groceries and even larger items such as a set of golf clubs perhaps. I didn't try that, but I did make use of the snap-in cargo netting that keeps items from flying around the cabin when the massive carbon ceramic brakes are called upon in an emergency.

Audi R8 V10 Plus 4 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

As for the trunk, it's up front beneath the hood, and takes at least one carry-on size bag (perhaps two) and several smaller bags or items. It's not entirely useless. Believe it or not, I have seen roof boxes installed on the R8 too, so skiing, biking and or other activities are not out of the question. There's certainly enough space for the essentials of a weeklong road or business trip. A colleague of mine even went camping with one a couple of years ago on a long weekend. The A8 L is by far a better choice for that, with its reclining, heated/cooled, massaging rear seats, of course.

Audi R8 V10 Plus 2 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

I consider the R8 an everyday supercar because it's a no fuss, no muss proposition. The R8 has gobs of traction and is as easy to operate as any other road-going current Audi from the basic A3 to the RS 7. There's no 12-step startup process, and the mid-mounted longitudinal V10 engine is clearly visible through the rear glass.

Audi R8 V10 Plus 5 SK resize

Photo: Shaun Keenan

The next generation Audi R8 is right around the corner likely due to break cover by the end of 2014. I, for one, am truly excited! I can only hope it doesn't take another three years to get into one. I want it now!

As for what car you should buy? How about one that fits into your budget, suits your lifestyle, and one that meets your daily needs. If you can afford the one of your dreams, consider yourself lucky because not everyone can have this luxury.

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