I suffer from the not-uncommon tendency to fixate on what’s new and what’s next. In the realm of cars, the steady drip of ever-better machines induces the proclivity to gaze longingly at renderings of the next best things while sometimes glossing over the oddball machines and entertaining details that are here right now. Let us then take a short break from daydreaming of turbo BMW M4s and sort-of-affordable Alfa Romeos to revisit some of 2013’s more esoteric encounters.
For instance, a couple of months ago I drove a Toyota Tacoma called the X-Runner. The X-Runner, which has nothing to do with drug smuggling, is a very cool rear-wheel-drive Tacoma with performance tires, a V-6, a manual transmission, and — oops, never mind. They just canceled it. But now, in the space in your brain reserved for stats on LaFerrari, the McLaren P1, and the Porsche 918 Spyder, you might also remember that there was such a thing as an X-Runner.
Moving deeper into the year’s accumulated trivia, did you know that the Acura RLX’s two dash screens can disagree with each other, like the Two-Headed Monster on Sesame Street who argues with himself? Now you do. One day when I was driving the RLX, the upper and lower dash screens began forming different opinions as to which radio station was playing. This sort of delighted me, because I enjoy anthropomorphizing cars. And really, you’re not going to anthropomorphize an RLX unless it does something silly. Isn’t that right, Tommy? (Tommy is the X-Runner.)
On the electric-car front, I didn’t drive any Teslas this year. But I did drive Toyota’s electric Pikes Peak car, a tiny little Radical racer that happens to have more torque than a Cummins Ram. My expert feedback on the car surely helped them get it dialed in for the driver who actually competed at Pikes Peak, an up-and-coming amateur named Rod Millen. I offered to drive it next year if Rod Millen, or any of the other million Millens, can’t make it to Colorado. Personally, I’d want a little more wing on the front, but we’ve got plenty of time to talk about that.
Pikes Peak is now paved to the top, but last summer I ventured far from the pavement in both a Range Rover and a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, two of the more stupendously capable SUVs you can buy. I managed to get both of them stuck, because I’m stupendously dumb. I also took a 2014 Chevy Silverado 4×4 out on a beach, where it did not get stuck. When I asked the guy at the entry gate whether I needed to air down the tires, he simply gestured to the nearest buried pickup and drawled, “Naw. Brains.” Well, sir, I have some of those, occasionally.
I also got my hands on a Mercedes-Benz G550, but I didn’t officially take it off-road. I say “officially” because I did use it to live the SUV dream and escape a traffic jam by driving through the woods. To the motorist who got cut off by a G-wagen climbing up out of the drainage ditch like some sort of primordial swamp creature: I’m not sorry. That was the coolest thing you saw all week, and you know it.
Trucks like the G550 and the Wrangler tend to include sun visors emblazoned with warnings about center of gravity and handling. The dash on the Porsche Cayenne Diesel, though, included a different kind of disclaimer. Next to the ignition, a bright red sticker warned me to keep it under 150 mph on account of the tires. The Cayenne Diesel’s top speed is 135 mph, so if you get it up to 150 you probably have bigger concerns than the tires. Like, how did I fall out of this cargo plane in my Cayenne Diesel?
It turns out this was the year that I finally bought a radio-controlled truck. It’s a Team Associated SC10 4×4, and it has caused me to become the kind of adult who yells, “This isn’t a toy!” while pointing at my toy truck. Usually I’m saying this to my niece and nephew as we intermittently leap in the air to avoid being maimed by a 30-mph hunk of shin-shattering kinetic energy helmed by an inattentive seven-year-old.
The dangerously quick SC10 would probably beat a lot of full-size cars off the line. The Audi S8, though, isn’t one of them. That was the quickest car I took to the drag strip this year, clocking a quarter-mile time of 11.7 seconds. That’s Corvette Z06 acceleration from a hulking four-door luxury car. That trip to the strip marked the first time I’ve ever felt bad for the owner of a BMW M5, which lost to the Bridgestone Blizzak — shod Audi four or five times before calling it quits. It’s amazing what that S8 can do with the 520 hp they claim it has (or the 600-plus I believe is closer to the truth).
Although the year’s not quite done, I think I’m safe proclaiming that 2013’s toughest-sounding paint color goes to the Ram 1500 Longhorn. You and I might say that the truck I drove was blue. But Ram calls it Maximum Steel — as if there’s any other kind. Max Steel sounds like someone who shakes your hand too hard and flew sightseeing helicopters in the ’80s until some stuff happened that he can’t get into.
Finally, I’m going to violate a rule imposed by one of my former editors, who declared, “Stories about your kids and dogs are only interesting to you.” My three-year-old generally loves all cars — he actually hugged the X-Runner the first time he saw it — but he freaked out every time he got near the Infiniti QX70, a.k.a. the Infiniti FX, a.k.a. the Bionic Cheetah. Finally, I strapped his car seat in back and told him to get over it while he wailed, “I don’t want to ride Infiniti!” Once inside, I asked him what his problem was. Through his meltdown, he sobbed, “It’s too scary!”
That’s right, the Infiniti QX70 scares children. In other words, the Bionic Cheetah’s still got it.