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Power, acceleration, speed - and sheer enjoyment

Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Here's a list of the 10 most impressive vehicles test-driven in 2013

Last year was a splendid yet exhausting one for the auto industry as consumers continued on a car-buying spree despite the First Car Buyer scheme hitting the end of the road and the political turmoil intensifying as the curtain came down on 2013.

Indeed, I had a whale of a time test-driving new models in all segments from a host of automakers and was impressed with many of them. These included an American pickup truck that was not only powerful but also offered a passenger car-like interior and equipment level, a diesel/electric hybrid from a German luxury carmaker that performed like a sports saloon, and even a highly entertaining sports car from a Japanese company usually known for making affordable and reliable cars rather than anything that gives you driving enjoyment.

So here's a list of the ten most impressive automobiles I whipped into gear in 2013. It's a collection of models ranging from affordable sub-compacts to high-end super cars.

Ford Ranger Wild Trak 3.2

Do not purchase a 4x4 pickup without first trying out the Ford Ranger. The truck, priced a tad more than Bt1 million, offers everything you'd expect from a capable off-roader pickup that comes with passenger-car features. The 200-horsepower engine with 470Nm of torque is mated to a 6-speed auto with manual shift mode, offering stellar performance at every engine speed, while the steering and suspension is best in its class.

The interior makes you think you're in a passenger car, thanks to the high-quality materials and stylish design. You’ll also find a large number of high-tech features including voice control, a small video screen on the rearview mirror so you don't have to turn around while backing up, Bluetooth connectivity, auto headlights and windshield wipers, plus there's a 12-volt socket on the bedliner for recreational use.

Ford Fiesta Ecoboost 1.0

The new Fiesta subcompact comes with a 1.0-litre engine, but don't let this fool you. The award-winning direct-injection engine is turbocharged and pumps out 125 horsepower with 170Nm of torque (200Nm with overboost), making it the fastest in its class. It accelerates from 0-100km/h in slightly over 11 seconds and has a claimed top speed of 190km/h, while offering average fuel economy of 18.9km/litre and CO2 emissions of 121g/km.

The steering/suspension combo is also best-in-class, offering loads of fun, while the six-speed gearbox now comes with manual-shift mode. The cabin isn't roomy, but there are features that draw attention, such as the all-important voice control and Bluetooth courtesy of the FordSync system.

Ford Focus 2.0

Another Ford model in the Top 10 list? Too bad the Japanese don't offer cars that are as fun to drive. Although everybody's excited about the car that parks itself, I hail the Focus for its outstanding performance and driving pleasure. It has yet to get the Ecoboost engine, but the 2.0-litre Duratec motor already features direct injection and pumps out a healthy 170hp and 202Nm.

Once again, Ford's steering/suspension is ahead of the competition with high-precision steering and superb roadholding, a combination that makes driving this car so enjoyable. There's a host of high-tech features, led by the Active Park Assist that locates a parking space and takes over the steering during parallel parking situations. You get this in the top version along with other exciting features, but not powered front seats.

Toyota 86

Having said that the Japanese don't make exciting cars, I have to swallow my words when I think of the Toyota 86, even if this speedster costs as much as Bt2.7 million. The 86 is the most talked about Toyota in history and is probably the one that is the best to drive.

Co-developed with Subaru, the 86 features a boxer (horizontally opposed) 4-cylinder engine developing 200hp and 205Nm mated to a 6-speed auto gearbox. The car’s driving dynamics are excellent, with outstanding weight distribution and steering control that drift-lovers would climb a mountain for, although I must add that many who've driven it would love more power and torque from this high-potential Toyota sports car. Nevertheless, performance figures are commendable for a car in this class, with 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 233km/h.

Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid

Okay, I'm not a hybrid fan for several reasons, but Mercedes-Benz has given me good reason to think otherwise. The E300 BlueTEC Hybrid not only has a reputable diesel engine with 204hp and 500Nm that's usually enough to produce sterling performance, but when the electric motor kicks in another 27hp and 280Nm, what you get is extremely good performance.

This car's acceleration from 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 242km/h are proof that hybrids do not have to be boring. The benefits include fuel economy of 24 km/litre both in town and on the highway, and 144g/km of CO2 emissions. But the biggest benefit of all is that it enjoys a promotional hybrid tax, with the Executive version retailing for just Bt3.69 million.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

With the Veloster, Hyundai has become another desirable Korean brand - just like Samsung with its smartphones. The vehicle's design is strikingly dramatic, although the fully imported Veloster Turbo's Bt1.78-million price tag may be a little too close to the entry-level Benz A-Class.

Nevertheless, the performance from this Veloster's direct injection 1.6-litre turbo engine is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, with 186hp and 265Nm giving it quick acceleration (0-100km/h in 8.6 seconds) and a top speed of 214km/h. Plus, the Veloster Turbo's nice interior with bucket seats, glass roof and Bluetooth will keep you entertained.

Chevrolet Trailblazer 2.8

A new engine and added features make the Chevrolet Trailblazer a leading choice in the PPV segment. The Trailblazer's Duramax engine now offers 200hp and 500Nm, and is the most powerful in its class, giving it a 0-100km/h acceleration of 10.6 seconds. Along with its performance comes macho driving characteristics, including a stiff suspension and 4-wheel disc brakes.

Like the Ford Ranger, the Trailblazer has a host of trendy features such as the MyLink infotainment system that not only connects to smartphones but also plays pictures, music and videos. There's also an "eco-index" page that helps you drive more efficiently. But what's a welcome surprise is that the range-topping model, with all its improvements, lures customers with a Bt24,000 price decrease. Not an easy deal to find at all.

Mazda CX-5 Diesel

No Top 10 car list can be complete without the noteworthy Mazda CX-5, and for my list it has to be the diesel version. The Japan Car of the Year winner comes with full SkyActiv technology boasting numerous radical engineering marvels. This is a crossover offering "pure driving fun", and although you won't get head-banging acceleration from the 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D twin-turbo diesel engine, the 175hp and 420Nm is more than enough to squeeze out best-in-class performance. This diesel's driving dynamics are also enhanced by its crisp steering and no-nonsense suspension, giving it a car-like character.

The interior is somewhat spartan, but offers good space and practicality that you will need in daily life as well as during upcountry trips.

BMW M6 Gran Coupe

The last time I got behind the wheel of a BMW "M" car was ages ago, but one thing is for sure - they always rock. Apart from gorgeous looks both outside and inside, the top M model combines super-car performance with luxury-car goodies, giving owners the best of both worlds.

The 4.4-litre direct injection V8 is turbocharged and pumps out 560hp and a whopping 680Nm of torque right from the start. Floor the gas and you get to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds. And although the top speed is limited to 250km/h, an optional M Driver's Package will let you thunder down any speed circuit at 305km/h.

I accelerated the M6 Gran Coupe around the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia and let fly all the driving modes, but flick them off and the car instantly turns into a drift master.

Aston Martin V12 Vantage

I might upset Aston Martin devotees by saying the Aston Martin may not be the best super car around, but, then, I don't get to drive these cars often. So any super car is a good super car to me. The V12 Vantage combines old-school British craftsmanship - plus several reworked components - and the latest developments in the digital world, and you'll have to be a real fan to appreciate all that.

The thrill starts once you start the V12: what you get is a hair-raising roar that becomes even louder, like a large jungle cat on meth, when you select the "sport" mode. All of the 573hp and 620Nm can be felt through the exhaust notes - this is a car you'll have difficulty driving slowly. Once you gear in the right speed, it handles wonderfully, holding on to the corners with awesome traction while the steering offers excellent feel and precision.




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