The special 188-page Autocar double issue goes on sale this Wednesday, mixing celebrations of the year gone by with the year’s biggest collection of news, features and new and used-car buying advice.

The centrepiece is a 20-page retrospective on the best cars our road test department has driven all year, followed by the results of our readers’ poll for their car of the year.

James Ruppert also makes a special appearance in our 14-page Used Cars for Christmas buying guide. Donning a slightly shabby Santa suit, James steers buyers towards the most fun cars money can buy for every budget from £500 upwards.

We also host the Hot Hatch World Cup, with Andrew Frankel as referee. The competition pits the best hot hatches of all time in one competition, and the best of the current breed together in another, with the two finalists then going head-to-head in a winner-takes-all showdown. Star cars include the Peugeot 205 GTI, Volkswagen Golk GTI Mk1, Lancia Delta Integrale, Ford Focus RS Mk1, Renaultsport Clio, BMW M135i, Ford Focus ST and Mini Cooper S.

The traditional Christmas road test takes on a series note this year, as we travel to Japan for a world exclusive test drive in the Mitsubishi i-Miev Pikes Peak Hillclimb racer. As well as being stunningly fast, this electric racer gives clues to the technology lined up for the all-new and radically different next generation Mitsubishi Evo.

As ever, Colin Goodwin is on hand to raise smiles as he ponders more than a century of automotive advances by twin testing a Nissan Leaf with a horse and carriage. Bag of carrots at the ready, he’s shocked to find that the speediest horses could get him from London to Brighton faster than the electric car, once charging (or feeding) times are taken inechto account.

Goodwin has also been gallivanting around the world in search of a man who describes himself as “one of the slowest F1 drivers ever”. Over a few pints in a Monaco bar, 1990s racer Taki Inoue reveals to Goodwin how he made it in to the upper echelon of motorsport, and how he managed to wheel and deal to stay there.

Our annual long-term test fleet review also sheds invaluable light on the best cars we’ve driven during the course of the year, with Autocar staff picking the best for a variety of categories including best for a B-road thrash, best for a long-distance drive and best for use in the city.

Other highlights among the jam-packed issue include our favourite photography of the year, a light-hearted look at what won’t happen in 2013 in our Almanac, highlights and behind-the-scene stories from the year’s magazines and website stories, an investigation into why trolley buses could be the answer to inner city pollution problems, a visit to Britan’s newest motorway service station, a kart showdown between road test editor Matt Prior and a 16-year-old rising star of the sport, Steve Cropley’s top ten heroes of the year, and a profile of the would-be heroes of 2013, the Mission Motorsport team of injured servicemen taking on the Dakar Rally.

We also have all the latest first drive reviews, including the new Ford Kuga, the Skoda Octavia, a Vauxhall Adam with a revised, UK-specific steering arrangement and the Dacia Sandero Stepway. News highlights include first details on the upcoming BMW 5-series rival being planned by Porsche, full details on the BMW M6 GranCoupé and the latest information on the new Range Rover Sport.

As ever, the magazine is available from all good newsagents, or available for download from Zinio or the Apple iTunes store.