Driven: Best and Worst of 2014

This year has been a good year for cars.  It has also been a really, really bad year for cars.  I’ve joked on many occasions about calling 2014 the “year of the recall”.  Sadly no company was safe from the recalls, from General Motors ignition fiasco to the explosive shrapnel of airbags in a half dozen companies.  In fact, total recalls had climbed over the 41 million vehicle mark way back in October, with many more added since.  On that note, I realize now my mistake Googleing “total recalls 2014” for this article.  Perhaps we should simply call this year “Total Recall 2014: No Car is Safe”.  Or not, probably a good reason why I’m not in the movie naming business.

2014 was also a great year for vehicle reviews, both online and from me personally.  I’ve had the chance to formally test four vehicles throughout the year as part of my Twitter Test Drive program, and another two additional through personal driving.  As is the tradition among the fancy published automotive journalist types, it’s fun to take a look back at the vehicles tested.  Picking the best and worst from a list of six cars isn’t all that fascinating so, in the interest of being interesting, I’ll pick from both cars I’ve driven and cars out there I’ve yet to drive.

CARS I’VE DRIVEN

Best – 2014 Ford F-150

Covered in snow.  Canada looks good on the F-150

Covered in snow. Canada looks good on the F-150

Okay yes, I know, the vastly superior and redesigned version of the F-150 exists.  This was the first test of the 2014 season and easily set the tone for the rest of the year.  Ford’s staple wasn’t the only truck I tested this year, but it edged out the competition.  While lacking slightly in many of the tech toys against its competition, the ride and performance were what sold it.  For all those purists out there, both trucks I tested were good old fashioned V8 engines.  I really had hoped to test Ford’s EcoBoost engine, there was a brief drive in one at the end of my test, but it was nice to compare V8s.  Their 5.0L V8 still provided good fuel mileage and excellent performance, smooth acceleration and a wonderful exhaust note.  Despite being a few trim levels lower than the Sierra we compared it to, the build quality felt durable.  Ride was exceptionally stable with very little bed and body sway on rough roads and in active steering.

By simply being a truck the F-150 edged out the other vehicles on my list.  You can check out the original F-150 review over here.

Honorable Mention:

2015 Ford Transit Connect.  Anyone who followed the tweets or read the review knows how much our family loved this test.  If I didn’t love trucks so much it may have been number one.

Worst – 2014 Chrysler Town & Country

Luxury at great (used) value, but you get what you pay for.

Luxury at great (used) value, but you get what you pay for.

While the original review for Chrysler’s luxury minivan was back in 2013, we had another test of one in early 2014.  Our family vacation to Orlando, which featured a return drive to Buffalo, gave us a better real-life look at how the van performed.  Given the price of entry, roughly $40,000, the build and ride of this van did not stack up when compared to its Japanese competition.  Couple this with astonishing depreciation, I take back what I said about this van.  Since this tester was the American version it featured the leather seating and one less DVD screen than my 2013 version  Even so, the leather felt cheap and almost faux.  While trip mileage was excellent, the powertrain shifts through the Virginia/West Virginia mountains were a bit rough.  Yes, this was a rental but it came with less than 500 miles on the clock.  Despite being brand new, we still experienced an electric failure with one of the sliding doors which cost us a 2 hour side trip to a rental location for a replacement van (we wound up not needing it, the problem “fixed itself”).  In the end we were happy to return to our 2005 Ford Freestar which, despite its aged and failing-ness, still rides better.

You can check out the original Chrysler Town & Country review over here.

Editor’s note: This trip to Orlando would make a great testing opportunity for family haulers.  Hint hint.

Honourable Mention:

None.  Nobody wants to be second to the worst.

CARS OF THE WORLD (ONES I HAVEN’T DRIVEN)

Best – 2015 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

normalIt’s no secret how much I love Porsche.  Perhaps with all the gabbing I do about trucks it is, but Porsche is my first automotive love.  Their signature SUV made an appearance on my 2nd Annual Ultimate Wish List this year and it may stay.  As previously mentioned, I love what this SUV represents.  Porsche has managed to combine the track abilities of a Carrera S with off-road prowess of a Range Rover.  Originally the Cayenne was known for two things: being ugly and sucking gas.  In years since Porsche has remedied both of those issues.  The 2015 Porsche Cayenne Diesel features a wonderful design and renewed diesel highway mileage.  On a full tank you can get over 1400kms of highway travel.  Now your whole family can enjoy the best of automotive technology and luxury without the premium cost of premium gas.  Our annual Orlando trip would have been much less painful if we’d only had a tricked out version of this.

Honourable Mention:

2015-ford-f-150-king-ranch-opt2015 Ford F-150.  There’s no understating how much I love this truck.  Only thing keeping this from getting top awards is the missing mid-duty diesel.  I know that’s on the way, but it’s not here yet.  A 2015 King Ranch F-150 comes brimming with updated technology, design and a great new engine.  Adding adaptive cruise control is a segment first, as is the 360 degree camera.  Oh, have you heard about the aluminum?  It’s all about the aluminum.

Worst – 2015 Chevrolet Cruize

chev_cruz_efficiency_01This isn’t about the recalls.  Okay, this is not completely about the recalls.  Chevrolet’s Cruze was introduced in 2013 to much fanfare but meager response from consumers.  Sales have slowly picked up since but this car continues to showcase, in my opinion, what’s wrong with current GM methodology: tell the consumers what they want.  I’ve driven this car on more than one occasion and found it to be moderate at best.  There are so many other more stylish, more efficient and better built options out there.  GM’s small cars and their trucks used to be their strengths but it seems they haven’t been able to get it right since 2008.  And if MotorTrend is to be believed, even their trucks are falling behind.  I still hold the GMC Sierra in high esteem, however.

Honourable Mention:

2015 Toyota Prius.  I’ve never understood the draw to this car.  Around town mileage and the performance of a slug.  Most compacts beat it out and it’s even slower on the highway.  I’m shocked there are five different flavours of this now.  All that aside, the manufacturing process of the NiCad batteries in Priuses, and hybrids like them, are incredibly environmentally hazardous and come from countries/economies where labourers are paid extremely low wages.  Now that medium range all-electric cars are here I can’t wait to see this car fade from the landscapes.  Honestly, even the Chevrolet Volt (with diesel) is a better “environmental” choice.

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