I'm writing this as the last column of 2012, but you're reading it as the first one of the new year. Allow me to revisit some of my back pages, cars I enjoyed recently, beginning with the most recent one.
The 2013 Ford Focus ST was a rousing way to end 2012. I love this kind of high-revving sport hatch. It's a concept more often attached to Japanese or German cars than American ones, so it's nice to spend time with a domestic contender. The ST's turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 252 horsepower, which is a lot in such a small package. It's easy to spin the tires while you're playing cat-and-mouse with the 6,500-rpm redline.
I loved the short-throw six-speed gearbox, which would be just the thing to teach my 16-year-old daughter to drive stick (if she didn't think it was a waste of time). One thing the car isn't is noisy, so don't expect any fast and furious noises while cornering.
I found the sport seats a bit confining, though very supportive in fast cornering. The interior is otherwise very nicely done. It's also a useful grocery getter with adequate rear legroom. At a price of $24,495 it's not an outstanding bargain. If you want that, wait for the upcoming ST version of the Fiesta, which is expected to put out 200 horsepower.
I was also interested in spending some seat time in the 2013 Volvo S60, since I'm a Volvo man from way back and was curious about the impact of Chinese ownership. My test car showed no signs of cost-cutting or loss of Scandinavian identity. It's fresh-from-the-fjords interior styling is, in fact, one of the best things about it.
There was plenty of power from the five-cylinder turbo powerplant, and that refreshing Volvo sense of solidity. With no Saabs to kick around anymore, cars like this are the last word in ultra-safe and stylish European transport. The price of $31,900 may give you pause, though, and the entertainment system is tricky to use for novices.
The 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 carries water for V-6 engine, whose dominance is rapidly fading in favor of four-bangers. That's a transition that wins my hearty approval, so I approached this holdover warily. Performance-crazed reviewers often ignore fuel economy, and the 3.5's 22 mpg in town is indeed enough to give you pause. Sure, it's 31 on the highway but you can do better.
I also drove a bunch of electric cars this year, and the Tesla Model S stands out in a big way — but I could never afford it. Fairfield's Scap Mitsubishi lent me an i-MiEV battery car that's a real nice around-town car, and available for less than $20,000 with the federal income tax credit. Worth investigating.