If it has wheels and an engine, PLAYBOY’s team of automotive specialists hammered its throttle – on roads and racetracks across the globe. Here are our picks for 2013.

Mercedes-Benz SL550
Since the SL’s debut in 1956, not every generation has won our hearts. But the latest SL550 is a trim bolide with an all-aluminium body, tons of power and tire-melting torque. The car constantly reminds you how fast and smart it is. Corner at speed and your seat curls to cup you against the G-force. The headrests Airscarf feature keeps your neck warm, and the “magic sky” hardtop roof changes from clear to dark tint with the touch of a button. And the speed! Hold on to your driver’s license. When you purchase an SL, you constantly inherit more than 100 years of Mercedes-Benz development. If you have endless millions, go for the 45th anniversary SL65 AMG version – 639 horsepower!

STATS
Engine: 4.6-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 429
0-100: 4.1 seconds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ
Hotter than the Olsen twins! More agile than the Barber brothers! Subaru and Toyota have teamed up to offer a pair of virtually identical sports coupes saving each company a bundle on development and giving enthusiasts a pair of affordable stylish rear-wheel-drive Japanese GTs. It’s like the Bulls and the Stormers sharing a place-kicker. Weird, right? Both cars feature a Subaru four-cylinder, front-mounted amidships for near perfect weight distribution. Differences in suspension tuning and trim are noticeable. So is the sticker. The Subaru is a tad more expensive because its nav system, Bluetooth and upmarket interior are standard. Either way, these are pure fun, like Japanese sports coupes of yore. Flick off stability control and you’re in drift heaven. We dig them both, but the 86 is the one available in South Africa.

STATS
Engine: 2-litre flat four
Horsepower: 200
0-100 : 6.2 seconds

 

 

 

 

 

 

BMW M5
The car you see here is highly anticipated, this thing better be good. The M5 is the standard-bearer for asphalt-devouring, full-size sport sedans, a machine that can chariot you to the office in a style worthy of your Yurman watch and then outclass just about anything on the track on Sunday. The all-new M5 fulfills. So much thought went into this automobile, from its uniquely crafted twin-turbo V8 (which looks like some wildly imagined atom splitter) to its highly intuitive navigation system (a child could figure it out). Of course the M in M5 stands for BMW’s legendary motorsport division. You have 560 horsepower, crisp steering, killer braking power, a standard seven-speed paddle shifter and – for a car that weighs over two tonnes – remarkable agility. The autorati quibbled about how the engine noise gets piped through the stereo speakers. Who the hell cares? The mighty M5 strikes again.

STATS
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
Horespower: 560
0-100: 3.7 seconds

 

 

 

 

McLaren MP4-12C
McLaren has taken its decades of Formula One-winning experience to build a racer for the street that’s truly the easiest car to drive scary-fast we’ve ever experienced. It’s close to docile in traffic but transforms into an animal on the racetrack. Time to geek out: A strong carbon-fibre tub forms a stiff foundation to support a semiactive hydraulic suspension system, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and a low-mid-mounted V8 that performs almost like an electric motor in its smooth power delivery. Bonus: electronic launch control. The car feels like an extension of your mind. You will it to perform, and it responds faster than you thought possible.

STATS
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8
Horespower: 616
0-100: 3.1 seconds

 

 

 

 

 

Shelby Mustang GT500
Ford’s most powerful Mustang carries the badge of Carroll Shelby, who died in 2012. Check these numbers: 662 horsepower, 325 km/h top speed. As one reviewer put it, it is “absolutely insane that Ford is setting this car loose on the public.” It turns out, however, that this Shelby is drivable, refined even, on city streets. Compared to its arch-rival the Camaro, the Shelby feels like more of a hard charger – blistering speed matched with precision cornering. You can break most highway speed limits in first gear. For us, this Mustang comes out top trumps. No doubt Mr Shelby is looking down and smiling.

STATS
Engine: 5.8-litre supercharged V8
Horsepower: 662
0-100: 3.5 seconds

 

 

 

 

PLAYBOY’S PICK: THE ALL-NEW SEVENTH GENERATION PORSCHE 911
Imagine a girlfriend who will be whatever you want, whenever you want – sexy, chill, an Olympian who can outpace Usain Bolt – and always exquisite. That’s the new 911. Porsche engineers have continued to improve this car since its debut in 1963. The latest has an impossibly sexy figure (two inches longer, two inches wider, a perfectly balanced roofline). But the real key is its remarkable electronic voodoo. In comfort mode, the ride is buttery smooth, the mileage impressive, the leather ultraluxe. All that’s missing is a dozen oysters on a bed of ice. Switch drive mode to sport plus, stiffen the suspension, lift the spoiler and open the exhaust (all in seconds with a few buttons), and you have a 288 km/h racing car that will take all you can give it. The 911’s lightning-quick PDK transmission crackles like an F1 car, the tight steering railroads you through corners, and your feet stay planted. Could any other car be more elegant, so racy – and be decently priced? Considering its entire oeuvre, the Porsche 911 is the greatest sports car of all time, and its new iteration is PLAYBOY’s 2013 Car of the Year.

STATS
Engine: 3.4-litre flat six
Horsepower: 350
0-100: 4.6 seconds

 

 

 

 

 

Land Rover Range Rover
The best just got better. The fourth-gen Range Rover is completely revamped, with an SUV-first all-aluminium body that saves 320 kg, its panes bonded (not bolted or welded) like on an aircraft. Sand? Mountain roads? Commute? The Rover’s computer automatically selects the optimum all-wheel-drive setup so you can put more horsepower to the ground. More refinement, a larger interior, an eight-speed automatic. We’re out of room: It’s the ultimate SUV.

STATS
Engine: 5-litre V8
Horsepower: 375
0-100: 6.5 seconds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by AJ Baime, Ken Gross and the Editors of PLAYBOY US

Published in Playboy South Africa March 2013