By Jonathan Welsh

Jonathan Welsh
Ural sidecar motorcycle, ready for its next mission.

Sure, I get a little tired of all the best-car awards that come out this time of year. But I also can’t resist naming my own favorite test vehicle of 2012.

I usually try to pick a new model that broke the mold, changed the game or moved the ball forward. But I can’t think of any that lived up to even those exhausted cliches. I loved Toyota’s Prius plug-in, which travels 12 to 15 miles on electric power alone before the gasoline engine kicks in.  The Fisker Karma was a sexier (maybe) version of the same concept.

But carrying two power systems – electric and gas — in one car still seems ridiculous to me no matter how exotic, expensive and fun the vehicle may be.

I haven’t yet driven the pure-electric Tesla Model S, though I’m sure it’s a cool car. Indeed I hope my next new ride is an electric. But for the most part, the Tesla is picking up where the General Motors EV1 left off a decade ago. It’s an evolution, not a breakthrough.

A flying car would be great, potentially putting all the earthbound stuff to shame. But the Terrafugia Transition didn’t meet its earlier goal of arriving in customers’ garages — or hangars — this year. The Massachusetts-made vehicle with four wheels and folding wings is still going through the Federal Aviation Administration’s certification process. So, maybe next year.

That leaves me with the one vehicle I tried out in the last 12 months and did not want to return: the Ural sidecar motorcycle.

This Russian-built throwback to World War II is anything but technologically advanced. It still has carburetors and a kick-starter, for Heaven’s sake. But riding the slow, loud, sometimes clunky beast left me with a case of incurable cheeriness. And it spread to my wife and children. Tehy wanted to go everywhere with me on that thing.

More than any Ferrari, Porsche or Chevy Corvette, the Ural three-wheeler turned heads and generated envy among other parents dropping their kids off at summer camp in luxury SUVs, crossovers and minivans. It was also the most engaging and fun test-ride to grace our garage.

Starting at $10,000, the Ural isn’t cheap among motorcycles. But if you consider it a four-passenger family vehicle it suddenly starts making sense. The rumble of its two-cylinder engine, wind in the face, exhaust in the nostrils and chirps of joy from your passengers might be enough to close the deal.

By Jonathan Welsh