The Best Cars of 2014

From the outrageous Alfa to the understated Volvo, Maxim’s critics choose the cars that make us happiest.
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From the outrageous Alfa to the understated Volvo, Maxim’s critics choose the cars that make us happiest.
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At Maxim, we drive a lot of exquisite cars. In fact, we drive hundreds of them every year, not because we want to, but because it’s our job. We do it for you. So this year, having piloted everything from the practical Honda Fit to the ridiculous Ferrari 458 Speciale, we’ve gathered our circle of esteemed auto critics to sound off on the cars that appealed to them most.

Not every new car—or even every great new car—sticks with us. But some do. These cars are generally a blast to drive, but they also always have that other thing—a pheromone, a neural pathway facilitator—that give us that special feeling.



Photo: BMW

Lawrence Ulrich(@lawrenceulrich)

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BMW i8

Unplug the cord, duck below scissor doors into the carbon-fiber passenger capsule, and strap in for a blast to the future: The hybrid i8 proves, in crowd-dazzling fashion, that fuel savings and 4-seconds-to-60-mph fun can coexist in a modern sports car. [Base price: $135,900]

Mercedes S-Class Coupe

High rollers who don’t want to drop Bentley bucks can make a smart, sumptuous play in the two-door S-Class. This technological tour-de-force – from Swarovski crystal headlamps and a perfume-wafting cabin to semi-autonomous driving functions – sets a new bar for this species of executive coupe. [Base price: $120,825]

Lamborghini Huracán LP-610

A tasteful 202-mph wedge of Italian design, the Huracán is not simply the best-looking Lamborghini in years; it combines 610 horses of V10, AWD ferocity with the kind of accessible, livable personality that you’d never imagine Lamborghini could pull off. [Base price: $242,000]



Photo: Alfa Romeo

Brett Berk(@StickShift_VF)

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Alfa Romeo 4C

The 4C is deeply flawed. It’s loud, it’s jittery, it’s not available with a manual transmission, and it lacks creature comforts—like a glove box—that came standard in 1908. But you cannot see it, touch it, drive it, or hear it pass without your limbic system succumbing to its evocative sensorial charms. (It’s also affordable.) It is the very car we have been begging someone to build for years. And now that they have, it is our job to shut the fuck up and revel in it. [Base price: $53,900]

Cadillac Escalade ESV 4WD

The new Escalade is everything a seven-passenger, luxury SUV should be: potent, domineering, capable, and capacious. It’s also a few things it seems improbable it can be: handsome, elegant, technologically advanced, and quiet. It can also carry everything you throw at it—inert, human, mechanical, or animal—all at once. NOTE: If you plan to drive an Escalade, regularly, without passengers or cargo, you have flawed selection criteria. [Base price: $79,465]

Mercedes C-Class Sedan

The S-Class can drive itself. The G-Class can drive through the Mosul Dam spillway. The E-Class can drive in the taxi lane. But the C-Class can drive like a real Mercedes, and it costs just $40,000. This formal, insulated, solid, and stolid sedan—none of that BMW-chasing sportif here—is exactly what it should be: an over-engineered luxury four-door, with perfect proportions, an ideal interior, and a three-pointed star on its proud prow. [Base price: $40,400]

VW GTI

The Ferrari 458 may be the best car on the market right now, and it is certainly the best exotic sports car we drove this year. But it costs $240,000, which we do not have. (Neither do you.) Car math is rarely linear, but GTI may be the most disruptive variable in the contemporary vehicular equation. Though priced at 1/10 of the Ferrari, it provides 8/10 of the fun in a package designed to be used 10/10 of the time at 10/10 of its capabilities. If you can find better numbers than that, take the bet. [Base price: $24,395]



Photo: Jaguar

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Mike Guy(@mrmikeguy)

Jaguar F-Type R Coupe

The thrust of its hood, the perfectly broad rear haunches, the dynamic roar of the V8—The F-Type R Coupe raised the hairs on the back of my neck from the moment I lit up its 5.0-liter, direct-injection V8. This sexy coupe isn’t cheap, but then why should it be? It’s a time machine back to that era (which doesn’t really exist) when risk was always rewarded. [Base price: $105,000]

BMW M4

Never bet against the Boys in Munich. They have a knack for building cars that hit my pleasure center. As the replacement for the sacred M3 Coupe, the M4 was destined for mockery. And yet despite its smaller engine (a twin-scroll turbo inline-6 supplants the old big-boy V8), the M4 is smarter and faster than the old M3 Coupe, and just as perfectly balanced on a race track. [Base price: $65,250]

Dodge Challenger Hellcat

So what if it’s not the best-handling car on the road? So what if it’s not the first pony car (that’s the Mustang) or even the best-selling. This demonic 707-horsepower two-door can stick the quarter-mile in 12 seconds (or so) and smokes tires like Funny Car. Bold, beautiful, bilious and unapologetically outrageous: just how we like it. [Base price; $26,995]

Mazda6

When people ask me what car they should buy on a budget, this is my new go-to. The Mazda6 is the sleeper of the year. With an Italian design aesthetic and a SkyActiv, direct-inject 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine linked to a lovely 6-speed manual transmission, the Mazda6 I tested was the one car this year that stealthily stole my heart. Mazda says its “Kodo” design language – an expression referring to the athleticism of a pouncing animal—is the magic that casts a spell. That works for me. [Base price: $22,000]



Photo: Porsche

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Ben Keeshin(@lequiche)

Porsche 911 GTS

My grandma always says at restaurants: “Order what they’re good at.” If you’re dining at Porsche, that means the 911 GTS. For two generations, the GTS has been the 911: House Tune. It’s not to be built for the track like the superb GT3; instead the GTS tuned as a road/race car, with sports suspension and exhaust, a Power Pack (+30 horsepower), and a Turbo-style wide-body and center-lock wheels. All that is wrapped in the 911’s lean body, and glazed with smokey-gray trim. The 911 has never been about extremes (looking at you, Turbo S), but about execution. [Base price: $115,195]

VW Golf TDI

Sure, it’s quiet, tidy and efficient, but this tiny wunderwagen has a whiff of magic about it. For the price of a base Toyota Camry, it is a 5-passenger, 45+ mpg car that was just named a Top Safety Pick. The interior is the equal of Audi’s A3, but unlike that car, the TDI is available with a six-speed, and the kicker is that, unlike some efficiency-minded autos, the TDI drives fun and fast (for context, it gets to 60 mph as quickly as the Ferrari 308 GTSi). Every so often, you get way, way more than you pay for. [Base price: $22,815]

Volvo XC90

Against the pomp and circumstance of the Range Rover, the XC90 might appear no more than a stilted Scandinavian minivan. But look closer: it’s a dashing Swede. LEDs in the headlights are shaped like Thor’s hammer; the slicing, sculptural taillights are pulled from Volvo’s stunning Concept Estate; in-between is our favorite interior of the year, a serene, Saarinen-esque environment of grainy, low-gloss wood. Volvo says it is the safest SUV on the road, with an iron structure. We just love the understatement. [Base price: $48,900]



Photo: Porsche

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Matthew De Paula(@matthewdepaula)

Porsche 918 Spyder

This is hands down the most thrilling car I’ve driven, not only this year, but possibly ever. It really is — literally — like a race car in the way it handles and accelerates, yet it can also cruise along at 80 miles per hour in electric mode. [Base price: $850,000]

Ford Mustang

With its new suspension, more sophisticated design and higher build quality, the new Mustang—Ford’s burly muscle car—has finally evolved into a world-class performance coupe. The ‘Stang has one of the highest fun-per-dollar ratios of any car on the road today. I did not want to stop driving it. Can’t wait to drive the new GT350 version. [Base price: $25,100]

Volkswagen GTI

This car has the ideal blend of performance, style, efficiency and utility. Paying more than its modest price won't necessarily get you a better driving experience or more refinement. Thus, it makes cars with more power and higher levels of luxury almost seem superfluous. [Base price: $24,200]