Even though it seems like it should be impossible, almost every year the car industry brings forth new and impressive feats of engineering, packaging, and value. Faster, more efficient, more feature-filled, and better-looking--just as it appears the end is in sight (cf. the "horsepower wars"), one brand or another turns a corner and the industry follows suit.
This year has been no different. If anything, it has been extraordinary, with familiar favorites getting brand-new faces and equipment, or all-new models reviving once-forgotten niches. If you're in the market for a new performance or luxury car, you have a bounty to choose from, at almost every price point.
Our top picks of the year thus far, based on our experience driving the cars, our tastes for speed, handling, and refinement, and our own back-of-the-envelope math highlight some of the brightest spots in the industry for 2013. You can't really go wrong with any of these choices--it just depends on what you're after.
2013 Subaru BRZ, 2013 Subaru FR-S
First up, the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S. At just over 2,700 pounds and 200 horsepower, this pair is nearly identical save for the badging and a few aero bits, though you'll get different standard and optional equipment in each. If you're after sporting value, the 2013 FR-S is hard to beat; if you want a little more gear with your lightweight, rear-drive sports car, the BRZ is the better bet. Both are brilliant behind the wheel, as we've said before.
Hatchbacks often get little love in the U.S. due to a public that supposedly doesn't want them. Nevertheless, Ford has seen fit to grace us with the 2013 Focus ST, and boy, are we glad. Rated at 252 horsepower sent to the front wheels, and seating five, this turbo hatch is more than just fun. Applying power far more controllably than you'd expect, handling like a well-tuned personal street/track toy, and equipped with one of the nicest interiors you'll find in the sub-$30,000 range, the Focus ST is, nearly, the complete package. And that's before you get to the cargo and passenger space it offers.
If small, light, or hatchy doesn't stir your soul, perhaps you're after big, brutally powerful, and neo-classic: the 2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. With 662 horsepower from its aluminum-block 5.8-liter supercharged V-8, 200-mph gearing, and a set of launch and traction control parameters aimed at making a drag star out of any average Joe, it's hard to argue with this brawny pony car. In fact, we don't recommend arguing with it at all. Just smile and nod politely.
Swinging to the opposite end of the drinking-distilled-dinosaurs spectrum, we have the Tesla Model S. Sold initially in Signature Performance guise, this isn't your bearded hippie neighbor's electric car. Capable of getting to 60 mph in as little as 4.4 seconds, yet carrying on for up to 300 miles on its 85-kWh battery pack, the Model S is, in our estimation, the first real electric car. If you want the best the EV world has to offer right now, forget about parking a short-range toy in your garage. This is the car you want.