As a freelance contributor to Automobile, Robb Report, BBC Autos, and JeanKnowsCars.com, I jumped in and out, and on an off, a lot of automobiles and motorcycles in 2014.
Here are some favorites:
Where: Marbella and the Ascari racing circuit, Spain; Gingerman Raceway, Michigan
When: May, October
Summary: Breathtakingly good looking, comfortable to sit in (once you collapse butt-first over the sill), great interior layout with trim that can be as tasteful or garish as you please. The car drives like a peach around town but unleashes real fury on the track.
Better than: Skydiving, a threesome in Vegas, and maybe any other Lamborghini
Where: Palms to Pines Highway (twice)
Summary: The established motorcycle press seems to think the new Monster 1200 S is too big and unwieldy, but Ducati says owners had asked for more room for a passenger. Those overindulged journalistic geniuses are splitting hairs awfully thin. This bike fascinated me. There is so little chassis, for one thing. (Someone labeled the overall design “cyborg insect.”) And the 1.2-liter V-twin has immense soul.
What Molly says: “It doesn’t smell as good as a those biscuits you get me at Trader Joe’s, but I still wish I could go for a ride.”
Where: Borrego Springs, California
Summary: The last variant of a great design. Its age admittedly shows. For example, the oval headlamp openings. Yet it’s bewitching. It makes me drool. And the very idea of such a short wheelbase and a 6.0-liter V-12 is purely outrageous. When you’re happy and you know it, close the top.
Better than: Kim Kardashian’s assets, six Mustang convertibles together
Where: Isle of Man
Summary: Honda U.K. let me borrow it for a little tour of the Isle of Man and a trip over the Mountain Course. I returned it with almost no gas in the tank. Sorry, Honda, but thanks for the great time on a bike with a brilliant V-four powerplant and a dual-clutch automatic transmission that was always in the right gear.
Better than: Italian beer being on tap in public houses, the Isle’s “financial services” industry, perhaps most other motorcycles in the class
Where: Big Island, Hawaii
Summary: Toyota put a big effort into revising its popular midsize sedan. The new face has attitude. There are additional features inside. Nothing changes under the hood. Still, it’s such a value, and I enjoyed driving the XSE way more than expected. It’s about as good as a front-wheel-drive car can be.
Better than: Madeleine Albright twerking, whatever they post on Jalopnik
Where: San Bernardino, California
Summary: A most pleasant surprise. The turbocharged 1.4-liter engine performs great in all situations. And the cabin is quiet!
Better than: Sitting down low and being unable to see ahead
Where: North Palm Springs, California
Summary: The 847cc three-cylinder engine kicks ass. And the bike’s price of $8190 is hardly believable. Yamaha’s pushing the right buttons.
Better than: Either Yamaha I bought new.
Summary: Multi-mode electric driving without the geek factor of a Leaf or Prius. And built on the same line and in sequence with other Golf models, it’s a manufacturing triumph, as well.
Better than: a-b-c-d Golfs
Where: Downtown Los Angeles
Summary: Think they’re sitting on some engineering talent at the Motor Company? Project LiveWire presents us with a highly refined electric motorcycle. Hey, this is only a prototype. Not only is the electric powertrain well integrated, but the design is nicely conceived (although the rearview mirrors weren’t too effective).
What I found myself saying when leaning slightly forward streetfighter-style over the straight bars and riding away from the L.A. Convention Center: “This is a Harley?”
Better than: Being locked inside a limo with Miley Cyrus
Where: Henley-on-Thames, England
Summary: What Jeep did with a four-door Wrangler, Mini Cooper is doing with its new 4 Door. It makes perfect sense to offer rear doors—a first for Mini—and add functionality for those who want to nevertheless express their individuality. It still drives great. And I like the way looks. Nice job, Mini!
Better than: A lot of Maxi cars
Where: Long Beach, California
Summary: It almost makes me a believer in 800-pound motorcycles. The bike is stable in a crosswind, and the ride over choppy pavement is equanimous. Coming home from Long Beach at night, I had the sense that other vehicles were aware of my presence because of the bike’s size and ample lighting. It cruised ever-so-relaxed at 80 mph and 3000 rpm. All the custom flourishes charmed me, even when I was just seeing it in my garage.
Better than: Motorcycles without whitewall tires
Where: South Haven, Michigan
Summary: A turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine teaming with an electric motor to power a supersports ultraluxury car with swan-wing doors is just what the world needed, and BMW gives it to us–a rare, fine thing for $136,650.
Better than: Every car that lacks a sound symposer
Where: Palms to Pines Highway
Summary: As the Monster increases in size, capability, and price, Ducati seeks a new generation of buyers with the Scrambler. The Scrambler Icon, seen here, is $8495. Another $1500 gives the choice among Classic, Full Throttle, and Urban Enduro models. The gas tank’s accent panel can be individualized (red and green checks, anyone?) and a panoply of saddlebags and apparel make this bike a means of personal expression.
Better than: A whole album of fuzzed out guitar riffs, a maxi scooter, your next tattoo
Where: In my driveway now
Why: To haul bags of mortar mix, a load of fill sand, and maybe a motorcycle
Summary: This is the fourth General Motors pickup I’ve driven this year. Whether GMC or Chevy, heavy- or light duty, they’re so useful (and more efficient than you might think). Even though they’re a handful in the supermarket’s parking lot (backup cams are definitely a help, though) I desperately want one. What’s cool about the Silverado: LED lamp for the cargo box, integrated bumper step, EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate that drops gradually.
Better than: Listening to a hoarse whisperer, a weekend in Woonsocket, a midsize pickup
What I’m eager to get my hands on in 2015:
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe
Ducati Multistrada 1200 S
Early contender for 2015 Automobile of the Year: