Most Memorable Drive: In June, Porsche took me to Austria to drive the Cayenne GTS. We started at a hotel on Lake Wörther and wound our way northwest along twisty two-lane roads, up a dramatic mountain pass, and through countless quaint rural villages. The drive was an exercise in contrasts. We alternated between bright sunshine and dry roads, and near-darkness and biblical rain. We blasted along almost totally deserted rural roads through gorgeous farms and countryside before being forced down to 40 km/h speed limits through tiny towns. But the best part of all was the Nockalm Road, a spaghetti-like ribbon of tarmac that climbs a mountain and drops down the next. Despite the heavy rain, it was an absolutely incredible driving experience with tight hairpins, sweeping elevation changes, and incredible views of the Austrian countryside.
Favorite Production Car: I got the keys to the 2013 Porsche Boxster S on a sunny Friday afternoon, and spent almost the entire weekend driving with the top down. Not only is the new Boxster a beautiful, sexy machine, it’s an incredible sports car. The addictive snarls and wails from the exhaust only encouraged me to drive farther. The transmission and pedals are a delight to use, reminding once again why we must resist the onslaught of Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch transmission. Then a few days later I got to drive the Boxster on the track. I felt so comfortable and at ease in the car that on my second lap around Gingerman I slightly overcooked turn two and felt the rear end step out, but disaster was averted when the car quickly wiggled back in line. Once again, I found I didn’t want to get out of the car. I could have lapped Gingerman indefinitely in that Porsche.
Best (And Easiest) Interview: At the New York auto show I joined a roundtable of journalists speaking with Jaguar design director Ian Callum and global brand director Adrian Hallmark. Callum is something of a design icon in this industry, and had just finished a presentation confirming the much-anticipated F-Type roadster, so I was a bit nervous going into the roundtable. Yet Callum was relaxed, casual, and friendly with the assembled journalists. He and Hallmark answered our questions easily and candidly, as if we were all friends sitting at a bar rather than writers and well-known auto executives meeting in a makeshift conference room. Though we only had a brief time with Callum and Hallmark, they were open enough that I learned far more about the F-Type than I expected them to admit.
Best Trip: Honda hosted a group of journalists in Tokyo to show off future technologies, including new hybrid powertrains and some safety technology. Yet it wasn’t all dry tech briefings and two-minute test drives. Honda let us behind the wheel of several cars not sold in the U.S., including the Japanese kei car N-One, and the Indian-market Honda Brio. Neither will come to the U.S., which made it all the more interesting to drive the small, cheap, and practical hatchbacks. We also had a brief tour of Honda’s crash test facility; the world’s first such multi-angle indoor setup. Eight lanes at 15-degree intervals allow for testing almost any crash scenario; Honda performs about 900 smashes there annually. Then we visited the Honda Collection Hall, a small museum on the grounds of the Twin Ring Motegi race track. It houses everything from Honda’s earliest and primitive motorcycles, to NSX Le Mans racers, to oddities like the N360, Beat, and more. A great trip all round.
Biggest Disappointment: 2012 BMW 3 Series. I was very unimpressed by our Four Seasons BMW 328i, but was hopeful driving a 335i sedan at Automobile of the Year would endear me to the new 3 Series. Nope. Both the cars feel dull and uninteresting. After driving the 335i, I scribbled down in my notebook, “How does a car this fast feel so boring to drive? No steering feel, rubbery and disconnected shifter. Suspension is very insulated and there is no road feel — yet it’s wallowy and bounces around a lot.” Those comments apply equally to our Four Seasons 328i. Considering how much we expect from BMW sports cars, this generation of 3 Series is a huge disappointment to me.