2014 autoevolution Reviews: From Spinning a Ferrari 458 Speciale to Parking a Smart by Hand

We’ll be entirely honest with you here - since it’s the end of the year, we're supposed to put together some sort of complex report on our activity throughout 2014. Well... screw this administrative task, we're here for you, the readers, not for some people who send us tasks by email. Sure, they might have something to do with our paychecks, but if you're happy, they're happy, so let's sit down, we want to talk about how autoevolution's year has been in cars.
2014 autoevolution reviews 16 photos
Photo: Catalin Garmacea
2014 SRT Viper acceleratingBMW 2 Series Active TourerBMW 4 Series Gran Coupe profileBMW M4 burnout in the wetFerrari 458 Speciale spinJeep Grand Cherokee SRT on canyon roadLamborghini Huracan drivingMercedes-Benz S63 AMG 4Matic drivingMercedes-Benz V-Class outdoor activities2014 Mini Cooper S2015 Porsche 911 Targa at duskRolls-Royce Ghost Series IIRolls-Royce Wraith drivingTesla Model S monster burnout2014 autoevolution reviews
By the time we open the champagne bottle and do all the silly stuff adults do to celebrate New Year, our review basket will have gathered 60 vehicles. We drove some of them early, as it was the case with the Ferrari 458 Speciale or the Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II, while we got behind the wheel of others rather late, with this part of the list including models such as the 2014 SRT Viper or the Tesla Model S.

Regardless, we went through quite a lot of ups and downs together and we'll start with the cars that managed to put a smile, or sometimes an evil grin, on our faces.

In the alphabetical order of their brands, the BMW 4-Series is the first. Our memories are not related to the standard model though. Instead, we took great pleasure in reviewing the M4 and the 4 Series Grand Coupe.

The M4 is one hell of a sportscar and the way it handled under heavy rain with us assaulting the throttle on a mischievous Austrian mountain road won us over. It's almost hard to believe this is a pumped-up 4 and not a sportscar built from the gound up. And yes, it's also brilliant for the douchebag performance driving maneuvers (read: drifting).

As for the 4 Series Gran Coupe, this takes the assets of what is a well-balanced chassis and amplifies them, turning the car into a lavish manifestation of BMW's niche obsession. We recall postponing dinner just because we wanted to enjoy the refined experience a little more. Too bad the rear seats aren't as friendly as those up front.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT comes next. Spoiler alert: we enjoy SUVs that trick you into believing they're not SUVs, meaning they manage to establish a connection with their driver, while they deliver the expected practicality.

With those 6.4 liters of Hemi under the hood and a well-implemented overall tune, the spicy Grand Cherokee managed to do all that and more. How can you not be thrilled after winning a no-launch-control drag race against an Audi RS5 and then using the same vehicle for some serious cross-state hauling? Fret not, Chrysler may have confined the SRT moniker to the Dodge marque, but whether it will be called SRT or Trackhawk, this Jeep will continue to have its go-fast way.

The Lamborghini Huracan comes to deliver a package many have though impossible. Imagine doing your morning commute wile riding a bull, a Raging Bull of course. If you make certain compromises, you can drive the Huracan everyday and that's something unprecedented in the history of Sant'Agata Bolognese. Don't take it to the track like we did though, it will fall behind your supercar expectations.

Sitting at considerable distance from anything else we drove in 2014 in terms of labeling, we have the Mercedes-Benz V-Class. Sporting the same drag coefficient as a Lexus LFA, the V has a sitting position that places you above most other people around you, even those in Range Rovers.

Despite this, the driving experience is anything but utilitarian, while the refinement level has to be experienced in order to be believed. The V-Class is not perfect though, as Mercedes didn't want to compromise its all-luxurious way in order to offer 100 percent family vehicle usability. To put it another way, our kids enjoyed it, but our wives did have one or two complains to make.

No complains for the Porsche 911 Targa though. If you're not a track junkie who needs a GT3 or a gotta-have-it-all Turbo kind of guy, the Targa is definitely the 911 for you. It just has a flair that takes the wonderful understated aroma of a Neunelfer to a whole new level, including a bit of extroversion. You'll love it and wait until those rumors about a larger Targa range become reality...

We haven't built golden statues (they would only affect the power-to-weight ratio), but our performance car of the year has to be the Viper. Despite the young age of the model (we're including the entire family tree here), this thing should be loaded with medals as a veteran on parade day. It's visceral and yet doesn't want to kill you like its predecessors did. It's a bastion of both natural aspiration and the manual gearbox and while we wouldn't mind an optional automatic, we salute that.

Moreover, according to the latest races, the Viper can walk a 2015 Corvette Z06 and will run neck and neck with a Huracan. Supercharging rumors? Of course. Now that the Hellcat madness has settled, 2015 is expected to be the year of the Viper.

We're not sure whether it's all Adam or Eve's fault, but we don't seem to be living in heaven anymore, which means we have to move on to those cars that disappointed us in one way or another.

Once again, the list begins with a BMW, namely the 2 Series Active Tourer. Perhaps you expected us to bash the car because it relies on its front wheels and thus is not a proper BMW anymore. You were right about the bashing part, but it's all due to completely different reasons. That's because the Bavarians don't know how to make a good people mover and this shows.

As for the driving experience, we have to admit the torque steer on the 225i kept us engaged in a way we haven't been since the good old days of the E30. It may sound fun, but it's not something you want when your family is relying on you for peace and quiet.

At the opposite end of the performance scale, we find the Ferrari 458 Speciale. "Life is strange" - this is how Luca di Montezemolo explained his departure after 23 years at the helm of the Prancing Horse. From now on, Sergio Marchionne will lead the brand, planing a future that seems dominated by profitability more than anything else. The Speciale is the last Montezemolo Fezza, but unfortunately we can't praise it all that much.

Yes, its 605 hp 4.5-liter V8 is a wonder of natural aspiration. Such engines shouldn't be allowed on the street, as they make many other performance powerplants seem weak. The rest of the tech tweaks are also sweet, but the Speciale is ultimately flawed by its limited use, track-only nature. Sure, the supercar is street legal, but the slim windows and the bucket seats make it unpleasant on the road. And if we are to talk track time only, there are faster cars sold for much less money.

It seems the feeling was mutual, as despite the hardware and software upgrade goodies designed to prevent this, we spun in the Speciale. We've always found the 458 a bit too tail-happy for its own good and it seems the track-focused model only partially solves this problem.

The new MINI? It's a bit of a paradox. We expect this to sell in greater numbers than before and yet we didn't get too many kicks out of driving it. We played with the Cooper S, but in ther quest for appealing to a larger audience, that swift character of the original has been lost. Just like in the case of the below-expectations track performance of the Huracan though, most people care little about this. Oh well, at least you get to choose between three and five doors now.

It's ironic how we found the V-Class brilliant and yet we weren't exactly swept off our feet by the car that inspired its design, as well as the styling of the entire Mercedes line-up, the S-Class. Actually, we're talking about the S63 AMG 4Matic here. Remember Affalterbach's one-man-one-engine scheme? It's all a lie. These people work with magicians, not engineers, who manage to turn almost any model they touch into a brutishly elegant vehicle.

Alas, the uptight nature of the S-Class simply means the standard models make more sense than the AMG. The combination between the heavier steering and the firmer seat bolsters almost made our ribs hurt after a spirited drive.

Another lavish model that was supposed to be a star but ended up in the dark corner of our stage is the Rolls-Royce Wraith. While we enjoyed ourselves in complex ways while revisiting the sedan (the Ghost Series II), the coupe just seemed to follow the S63 AMG down the Not Enough Sense avenue. For one thing, the ample body roll is perfectly understandable for a luxury saloon, but not acceptable in a coupe that Rolls-Royce explains fells at home while being driven through the Alps. We'd rather choose a less challenging route.

We'll end the... hostilities with what has easily been the most controversial review we published in 2014 (the comments section speaks for itself), the Tesla Model S. The Silicone Valley automaker certainly has plenty of potential, but, at least for the P85 model we tested, their engineering and overall package simply aren't refined enough. Range anxiety mixed with an inefficient full-throttle behavior (performance-wise), so, at the end of the drive, we didn't feel the need to spent one extra second with this electric bad boy. Oh well, at least it can pull apocalyptic burnouts.

Oh and there was this one time when we parked a 2015 Smart Forfour by hand. No, really, we did and you don't even have to take our word for it, you can watch us having fun in the clip below.

New Year's resolution? Better stay tuned to the Reviews section in 2015 to find out what ours is all about. Meanwhile, you can check out some spicy pics of all the cars we talked about in the adjacent gallery.

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About the author: Andrei Tutu
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In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
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