A year In Review: My Best (And Worst) Drives Of 2016
I found myself behind the wheel of a lot of cars in 2016. Here's a look back at some of the most memorable; for better or for worse
As luck would somehow have it, I managed to snag quite a few cool driving experiences over the year. I had the opportunity to drive some cars for the first time, as well as become reacquainted with a couple of my favorites. I experienced both road and track, as well as drove in a place I never thought I'd see. While the total amount of unique driving experiences I've had over the year was considerably smaller than in years past, the quality of each experience 2016 had to offer was far superior to anything thus far. Here's what stood out the most.
Most Impressive: McLaren 675LT
Many of the cars that I drove for the very first time this year had a lot of hype leading up to them. Out of all of those cars, nothing had more hype surrounding it than the McLaren 675LT. Not only did this car justify the widespread praise and acclaim, it blew my expectations completely out of the water.
The difference and improvements of the McLaren 650S over the 12C were subtle and progressive. However, that is not the case when describing the evolution from the 650S to the 675LT. The LT doesn't feel like a successor to the 650S, but rather an entirely new car all together. The 650S was very fast and had the precision of a surgeon's scalpel, but the 675LT feels like it had a few shots, got into a bar fight and won by knockout. It is one of the most invigorating and explicit driving experiences available today. The McLaren 675LT's monumental performance feels just a lick below that of the P1, but casts a long shadow over nearly every other car on the road in terms of excitement and accessibility of power. Despite having over 600 horsepower and a very liberal traction control system, the 675LT is not intimidating. It's the superhero of today's supercars and the epitome of modern-day performance driving. My two-hour sprint through the windy roads of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the McLaren 675LT was one of the most blissful driving experiences I've ever had.
Most Disappointing: Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Despite having been on the market for several years, the Hyundai Veloster has managed to evade me during my never-ending search for fun, budget-friendly sportscars. Being an instant cult-classic, the Veloster's funky door configuration and claimed "sporty" driving persona was high on my "cars I'd like to drive before I die" list and, like the 675LT mentioned above, the Veloster had a bit of hype from owners and enthusiasts alike. Sadly enough, my driving experience in the Veloster (which did happen to be a Turbo) was pretty lack-luster.
I had a full 24 hours with the Veloster Turbo. It was my rental car that I picked up at San Francisco International Airport to drive back over the pass and into my hometown of Reno. Granted, I had just gotten off an 11-hour flight and had another three hours of highway driving left to go, I did my best to make a fair judgement of the car.
One of the most-noted praises I hear from owners is that the car has a lot of "pep." I can't say that I understand where they are coming from as the car I drove seemed to go from zero to sixty in a matter of minutes, rather than seconds. Aside from the gutless acceleration, the anesthetically-numb steering was one of the most artificial-feeling, power-assisted steering systems I've ever experienced. While I am well aware that this will not be comparable to the supercars on this list, I was completely surprised at how sterile and lifeless the Veloster felt; especially with the turbocharged engine. I'm sure a few small modifications could make this a very potent driving machine; but in its stock form, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Most Surprising: Ferrari FF
If there was ever a "wolf in sheep's clothing" in the form of the automobile, it would have to be none other than the Ferrari FF. I've always been a Ferrari guy, but that doesn't mean that I think everything that comes out of Maranello's pearly gates is heavenly. When the FF was first released, I thought Ferrari had lost their minds and threw in the towel. "A four-wheel-drive Ferrari!?!? Enzo surely had to be rolling in his grave," I thought to myself. I was left cold by the car's design, too.
Fast forward to Spring of this year when I met a gentleman, named Bruce, at a Ferrari event in Northern California. We had met by chatting over a Ferrari Sergio Pininfarina (an ultra-rare model based on the 458 Spider) that had just pulled into the parking area. We talked for all of seven minutes when he handed me the key to his FF and said, "Take it for a spin! I'd like to know what you think of it." Obviously, I obliged and hopped in. Having driven a 612 Scaglietti, the FF's predescessor, I had high (but not hopeful) expectations for the FF. The FF quickly reminded me that it was still, undoubtedly, a Ferrari as it's V12 barked to life much louder than I had expected. With a ride quality as supple as a Bentley, yet sporty enough to make no mistake of this car's identity, the Ferrari FF is a jack-of-all-trades. It feels much smaller than it looks and has enough torque to rip your spine out through your seat. The feedback through the wheel was surprisingly good and the weight of the wheel was sublime. The FF would be high on my list of choices for a road trip or even a spirited drive through the canyons. Maybe Santa will finally pull through this year...
Most Well-Rounded: Porsche 991.2 911 Carrera
The Porsche 911 has been hailed as one of the best driving machines for decades. But, if I'm honest, I've never really been sold on the mystique of driving a rear-engine car. So when I had the chance to drive the new 991.2 911 Carrera on track this past Summer, I didn't quite know what to expect. After about the first three corners, I completely fell in love with the balance of this car. The throttle response of the Carrera was instantaneous and the PDK transmission was unfathomably quick.
As a daily driver, the 991.2 Carrera would be a breeze; foregoing the kids, of course. The seats offer wonderful support and the driving position is fantastic. The transmission is seamless during casual driving and the suspension settings easily let you control the suppleness of your ride.
The 991.2 Carrera proves, yet again, why the Porsche 911 really is the perfect car. Able to conquer any situation with seemingly no effort, the Porsche 991.2 Carrera is the ultimate expression of the 911's versatility. I don't see how life would be boring when you have one of these.
Porsche 991.2 911 Carrera
Most Exciting: Ferrari F40
Whenever someone asks me, "What's your favorite car that you've ever driven?" I respond whole-heatedly, "Ferrari F40." I have driven the F40 on a few different occasions over the past several years. I had my longest drive in it earlier this year; on Valentine's Day, to be exact. How fitting to drive the car I love the most on a day meant for romanticizing.
I won't blabber on about why I love the F40 (I've done that in earlier articles) but my most recent drive only reassured and amplified the lust I have for this car. While I've driven several cars that are faster than the Ferrari F40, it's hard for me to think of a car that FEELS as fast as the F40. When you stomp on the gas and the turbos spool up right before sending you into another dimension, there is no other rush like it. This was, however, the first time I got to drive the F40 on some fairly twisty roads. The F40's go-kart-like handling is hilariously fun and direct, and the power delivery is explosive.
While there will always be newer, faster and more technologically-advanced cars out there, I don't foresee a car that will ever cast a shadow on the F40 in terms of a raw, pure and exhilarating driving machine.
Most Memorable: Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG at Hockenheimring
Not all drives are made memorable because of the car you're driving. Sometimes it's the scenery. Sometimes it's the music you're listening to. My most memorable drive of 2016 was when I got the chance to drive on the Formula One circuit in Germany, Hockenheimring Raceway, in a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG at two-o'clock in the morning.
I was asked to photograph an assignment for Mercedes-Benz at Hockenheimring Raceway back in June 2016. Having never been to Germany before, I was elated with excitement. Our shoot took place at night on an empty Hockenheimring Raceway. I was shuttled around the track numerous times during the course of the shoot, but I was always a passenger, not a driver. Well into our shoot, nearing completion with one car left to shoot, one of the production managers hands me the keys to the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and says, "Take this around the track and shoot it really quick. You can drive it, just don't go over 40 miles per hour." I threw my gear in the car and set off on a dark and wet track. Despite not attempting to make a new lap record or drift around any corners, my casual cruise around Hockenheimring in the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG was simply breathtaking. Being alone on such a historic and legendary racetrack, thinking of all who have driven this exact course, in a car who calls this track its home - Mercedes-Benz. The only two phrases I could mumble to myself were, "This isn't happening," and "This is considered work??"
It was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences I've ever had. And all it was, was just a drive.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG