As December winds down and the Gentleman Journalist has a moment to reflect on the year of awesome automotiveness that was 2014, there are moments of glee, surprise and yes, horror, that snap within the cerebral cortex. It helps that the L.A. Auto Show gives a good overview on what’s to come while also giving a tactile, Proustian recap of what was; a remembrance of cars driven in the past.
There were many cars released in 2014 and, while I’ve driven almost everything, the Gentleman Journalist’s main beat is the upscale and luxury and, now that the economy is coming back and everything is fancy again, there is so much greatness on the dealer lots it’ll take two — count them two! — columns to get through my best of.
We start off this week with the sedan and sports car segments and, within the segment, there were quite a few cars I really, really liked this year and and a few I was actually surprised that I liked so much. Case in point, the Maserati Ghibli, the Trident’s new $66,900 mid-size sedan. I had a chance to spend some time with the upmarket Ghibli S Q4, equipped with all-wheel drive and a 404-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6 under the hood; the S Q4 is priced in the mid-80s. After spending a lot of time with the car, I was surprised at the Ghibli’s speed, handling prowess and overall design, especially in such a staid automotive segment filled with large German sedans with all the personality of a Braun coffee machine. The Ghibli looked damn good — all sexy, taut lines — and remain quite rare on the streets. Those a few reasons why I think the Ghibli one of 2014’s best cars, hands down.
“Southern California is one of the largest markets for luxury cars and the Ghibli represents a new price point that we’ve never tried before. It helps the Maserati brand become accessible for the first time.” Peter Grady, Maserati’s U.S. CEO recently told me. “The Ghibli is the opposite of ordinary, it’s a visceral experience and it’s all about the performance and about driving the automobile.”
Another car I too was surprised I liked so much too was the BMW 435i Gran Coupe, their neat 3-Series based four door coupe with an ever so cute hatchback. When I first saw the car, I thought why? Why another iteration on something so close to perfect as the 3-Series? But after spending a few days and driving the car for hundreds of miles, the 435i GranCoupe, started to make a lot of sense. It’s a lower, leaner, sexier version of the perennially amazing 3-Series, but with a lot more ease of use with the hatchback. Kids stuff, golf clubs, travel bags all get swallowed up by the trunk. It’s like a mini-me, half off version of the super-awesome and very expensive 650i GranCoupe and for that, BMW, we thank you. Also, that perfect engine; BMW’s 300-horsepower, 3.0 liter TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder with as near a perfect exhaust note as one can find in a entry-level luxury car. At a starting price of $45,800, head straight to the 4-Series GranCoupe if you’re in the market for neat little sedan that thinks it’s a coupe.
When it comes to sports cars, that’s a harder nut to crack, as the market is as vast and wide as front yard of a house in the Flats. A few cars really stuck out for 2014, namely, the BMW i8, the McLaren 650s and because we’re suckers for a hot hatch, the Volkswagen GTI. All are awesome in their own way. The i8 because it’s an evolutionary step forward for BMW with its oddball design and gas/electric powerplant. The McLaren because it’s just plain old crazy nuts and one of the fastest cars I’ve ever driven, and the VW GTI, because, for the price of the sales tax on the McLaren, you’ve got yourself something special and practical at the same time while, if you’re of a certain age, get to relive being a boy racer all over again.
That said, hands down, my favorite sports car of 2014 has to be the Porsche 911 GTS, it’s everything you want in a car, speed, style, design, all of it. It’s the 911 for those that don’t need the flash of a Turbo or the nuttiness of a GT3. It’s a perfect blend of tradition, style, speed, sound and, with a small backseat fitted with custom a Porsche babyseat, it’s a perfect everyday car too boot. What more could you really want?
Coming next, SUVs, super-luxe and a few cars for the rest of us.