A year in super-cool cars

gallery pagani huayra

It usually stinks to have to go to work on your birthday, but last year I didn't mind at all because work meant driving a nearly $2 million Pagani Huayra on a racetrack outside New York City.

The Huayra, a gorgeous and ultra-rare Italian supercar, was one of two huge highlights in a year that was filled with cars that would have been tough to top in any ordinary year.

The other highpoint took me back in time, to shortly before the actual day I was born. The jet-powered 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car was unveiled at New York World's Fair. Of the 55 that were originally built, only three remain running. Getting to drive this car, even at parking lot speeds, was incredible.

The Turbine Car was, in its day, forward thinking technology that would, despite decades of research and development, ultimately yield absolutely zero in terms of a car customers could buy.

Many of the cars I drove in 2014 are very rare and very expensive. And they, too, show the way to the future.

chrysler turbine back
Chrysler Turbine Car

The $845,000 Porsche 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid, for instance, might be more than you or I can afford but its technology is already making its way into more affordable models, relatively speaking, like the Porsche Panamera plug-in.

gallery porsche 918

And the beautiful BMW i8 plug-in hybrid, with its three-cylinder engine, is a relative bargain at $136,000. Plus, it's seriously a blast to drive, as a BMW should be.

bmw i8 electric car review_00000121
BMW i8

For those with an eye for the classics, but still wanting to jump on the electric car wave, let me tell you about the Zelectric Bug. A small shop near San Diego takes the noisy gasoline engines out of classic Volkswagen Beetles and replaces them with electric motors. In the process, they hugely improve the little car's performance.

zelectric bug
Zelectric Bug

Toyota let me take a spin in its Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car. It'll be available for sale or lease soon in a handful of states.

toyota mirai hydrogen fuel cell
Toyota Mirai

Not everyone is looking to save on gas, of course. The economy's improving and gas prices are low so Ferrari is doing quite well selling cars like the Ferrari 458 Speciale, a performance monster that ranks as of the most fun cars I drove last year.

gallery ferrari 458 speciale side 2
Lamborghini Especiale

Lamborghini, meanwhile, is hitting sales records thanks, in large part, to the new Lamborghini Huracán. I called it the best Lamborghini I'd ever driven and apparently a lot of people agree.

gallery lamborghini huracan
Lamborghini Huracan

Britain's Aston Martin, meanwhile, is still creating new versions of its cars. Last year I drove two versions of the Aston Martin Vantage. First there was the top-dollar V12 Vantage S, Aston Martin's high-powered answer to the muscle car craze. Then there was the bargain-priced -- well, relatively speaking -- Aston Martin GT with a V8 engine, a manual transmission and a price tag starting ever so slightly under $100,000. I ended up thinking that the original Aston Martin V8 Vantage still had the best balance of beauty, luxury and performance.

2014 aston martin vantage gt
Aston Martin Vantage GT

From McLaren, another British carmaker that's maybe less familiar than Aston Martin, came the replacement for what had been one of my favorite sports cars. The McLacen 650S is, essentially, a significantly updated version of the McLaren 12C. The 650S felt quicker, more natural and even more pleasant to drive at any speed.

2015 mclaren 650s monticello
McLaren 650S

I also spent some in time in a couple of Bentley's newest models, both featuring the luxury brand's new turbocharged V8. The Bentley Continental V8 S offered only slightly better performance than the non-turbo V8 but, in the Flying Spur sedan -- which is otherwise only available with a V12 -- it made the car feel more spirited, nimble and surprisingly fun.

bentley flying spur

Jaguar brought itself back to the sports car world with the F-type. I used to think this car, with its $65,000 base price, was just too expensive. That was before I actually drove it. Between the V6 and V8 versions, I liked the V8 better. Loads of power and, otherwise, just crazy fun to drive. Plus, whatever's under the hood, it is flat out gorgeous.

2014 jaguar ftype coupe
Jaguar F-type

For the more practical-minded, may I show you something in a station wagon? Check out the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG with its 577 horsepower turbocharged V8. I thought it was the perfect mix of outrageousness and cargo space.

mercedes e63 amg
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

For the less practical minded, there was also the Alfa Romeo 4C. I couldn't really decide whether I loved it or hated it. On smooth curvy roads it was magnificent. With no power steering, hard suspension and a noisy four-cylinder engine, it felt wonderfully connected and "real." But, let's face it... All those things are also a recipe for a really killer headache when you're not out on a perfect country road.

alfa romeo 4c
Alfa Romeo 4C

For those on really tight budgets, Elio Motors is promising a price of just $6,800 for a three-wheeled two-seater that, they say, will get 84 miles per gallon. Like the Alfa Rome 4C, the Elio prototype I drove was noisy and had a brutal ride. But this was just a prototype. Elio promises the production car will be considerably more pleasant.

elio social cut

We'll see when they actually start building it, something that's supposed to happen later this year.

CNNMoney Sponsors