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Our road testers have tested an awful lot of cars over the last 12 months. To finish the year in style, each picked their favourite car of 2017 and gathered them all together in an attempt to pick an overall winner. Here’s what happened…
MATT SAUNDERS: Right, I’ll be ‘mother’. We’re here to talk about our favourite cars of the year, and probably to not agree on which is the best overall.
And then there’s yours, Prior. Presumably, being your habitually organised self, you found that all of the cars you really wanted to bring had been spoken for by the time you alighted on the Suzuki Ignis, right?
MATT PRIOR: Now, now, that’s not entirely true – but not entirely false, either. The Suzuki isn’t the best car I’ve driven this year but it is one of the cars I’ve liked the most. I think it’s really nicely engineered: it’s small, it’s short, it’s light, it’s clever, it’s four-wheel drive and it’s the only car here that’s really compact enough for these country roads. It’s quite nice to drive but, moreover, I’ve just got a lot of time for it –because it’s harder to make a car like this well than it is to make a carbonfibre supercar, isn’t it? It’s a nice piece of kit.
MS: When I drove it, I remember thinking: “If I was 23 again, I’d really fancy this.” It’s just so much more characterful and interesting than most small, cheap cars.
ANDREW FRANKEL: As someone who has a bit of an aversion to the modern trend towards crossover SUVs, I’d say you can get in the Ignis even after something ridiculous like a McLaren 720S – and it’s not unpleasant. You can appreciate the purpose it serves and imagine the person you’d recommend it to. And that’s what I struggle to do with all those crossovers.
It’s quite focused, its fun and it makes you feel happy. There you go, it’s the winner. Shall we eat?
RICHARD LANE: I like it too. It’s nicely buoyant on country roads, it doesn’t feel totally out of control at high speeds. But it’s a bit out of its depth on the motorway.
MP: Sure. And the ride in the back seats, above that live axle, isn’t great. Several people I’ve driven around in it have said as much, so it must be true.
Right, can we have five steak and chips, please? Go on, who’s next?
AF: My McLaren? Based on experiences I’ve had in this car other than here in Lambourn – because on narrow, wet lanes, it’s impossible to get the same picture of its incredible performance with the traction control light almost never off – I was amazed by two things. Obviously just the sheer speed of the thing and how easy it is to go really quickly in it.
But also I really like the fact that it does all that and yet it works on a completely practical basis. The visibility in it is amazing. If you’re old and fat, you can get in and out easily; the way they’ve carved out those door apertures is very clever indeed. It’s got good luggage space. And the driving environment is sublime. They’ve evidently thought long and hard about what really matters to blokes like me about cars like this.
And then they also remembered to make it so utterly, insanely rapid. For power and pace, it was on another level earlier this year. Not quite now, perhaps, thanks to the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, but when I drove it, it was a supercar that felt unquestionably quicker than a hypercar: quicker than a McLaren P1, no question.
MS: It’s also the only five-star road test car here, which should count for something. Back when we road tested it, of course, we had reservations about whether it was exciting enough in all the scenarios and situations that a supercar ought to be. But when you get an idea of just how fast it is, and how much faster than its immediate rivals it is, I don’t really see how you can be anything other than massively excited by it. AF And there’s a really distinguishing purity to it. Unlike almost everyone else in the niche, I think, McLaren has retained hydraulic power steering – and it’s simply better than electric.
DAN PROSSER: And more pleasurable. Because you can drive the 720S slowly, put it through a corner at 40mph and feel so much more connected to the car than you do in other supercars. You don’t need to drive it fast to enjoy it.
MS: Yup. For that reason and others, I’m convinced it’s a better road car than a Ferrari 488 GTB. Not sure you’ll all agree on that…
AF: I find the McLaren’s extremities easier to judge. The only thing for me is that I’d just like it to ride a bit more like a 570S. I know they deliberately moved the ride compromise a bit: made it closer to a 675LT than a 650S. And I do wish they had that Ferrari-style ‘bumpy road’ setting in which the dampers just relax a bit more. That’d be easy to do, wouldn’t it? I think it’s a trick they’re missing.
DP: Personally, I didn’t much like the flipping display on it – it just seems like a gimmick. When it’s rotated downwards, the graphics are small and hard to read, and it still doesn’t quite get out of your way so you’re not seeing more of the road. Actually, if they’d simply redesigned the LCD instruments for a less distracting display mode, they’d have achieved exactly the same result. It’s as though somebody said “we need a ‘delight’ feature in here” – and so they came up with one. And that’s very un-McLaren.
RL: I do like the McLaren, enormously. But I also love the Huracán, and you’d be astonished by how co-operative it’s been throughout the 700-odd miles I’ve put under its wheels this week.
You really can live with it and, for a car that looks as good and goes as absurdly well as this one does, that has been the real surprise. And, of course, there simply isn’t another supercar in the world with such a feral engine – with its valves open, the exhaust’s shriek is not only deafening but also expressive, unlike another supercar here…
Just as you found in the McLaren, Andrew, the Performante is less than ideal around here, but the chassis gives you such confidence that on only very slightly wider roads you can get up near the redline on a regular basis. And, okay, the steering isn’t perfect – it’s a bit light and remote – but it’s now good enough to let you push hard even through off-camber corners and big undulations. You essentially get the massively intimidating persona you want in a car like this and yet it’s not nearly as intimidating as you’d think it would be to drive; it’s just capable and pin-sharp. It allows you to grab it by the horns and get a bit carried away, and that’s what a Lambo ought to do.
But what’s really blown me away is that it feels well-sorted and liveable on all sorts of UK roads, and in filthy weather – and this is an Italian supercar developed for track days at the Nürburgring we’re taking about. They’ve finally hit the brief, and that was always going to bring about something pretty damn special.
DP: I know the car you’ve brought with you today, the UK demonstrator, doesn’t have the ‘LDS’ active steering set-up on it, and I guess because of the tyre and other suspension changes, it’s easily the best-steering Huracán I’ve driven. That passive steering rack makes such a difference.
RL: Agreed. Like the 720S, it could do with an extra driving mode, because you want to be able to combine ‘strada’-mode damping with ‘corsa’ settings for everything else.
DP: And that’s the old Lamborghini frustration, because you can’t quite configure it exactly how you want it.
AF: I have to say, though, I loathe all the Audi cabin content in it. To me, it just spoils the illusion: it makes it feel less special than it ought to.
Ferrari stopped making the same mistake in the early 1990s. If you look at the inside of a Testarossa or a 512TR, it’s just full of Fiat bits, but from the 355 and 456 onwards, all those bits were different. Sometimes the parts used were still rubbish, and we all know the sat-nav on their cars has been pretty poor over the years. But the McLaren is exactly the same. I hate their ‘IRIS’ infotainment set-up – but at least it’s theirs.
Everything in that car feels special, whereas the switchgear in the Huracán is all sourced direct from Audi. And it’s not even Audi’s latest stuff: it’s the kind you’ll find in a 10-year-old A4.
MP: Hear, hear. It’s a £200,000 car. For that price, you shouldn’t have to put up with parts-bin components.
RL: Okay, fair enough. The interior is disappointing. The interfaces are a bit crap. The seats aren’t great, either. But those things haven’t bothered me too much these last few days – and I don’t think they would if I owned it.
I could put up with all of it. Nobody around this table can tell me they’d take the McLaren’s V8 instead of that V10. And I think it’s the best-looking car here by some way.
MP: You’re doing the Suzuki a considerable disservice there, Ricky…
MS: I agree with Ricky. And I don’t care that the Lamborghini’s cabin ergonomics are compromised – that there’s no room in it and the driving position isn’t perfect – because every time I feel like complaining about either, I’m reminded how sensational it looks from the outside.
I want a Lamborghini to be designed like that: from the outside in, in order to look utterly incredible and more outrageous than any competitor. That’s job one for a Lambo. Whereas the McLaren is the Lamborghini’s opposite: they’ve plainly started with the driver and worked their way outwards, with form following function. They’ve ended up with a design that isn’t nearly as arresting – and not by chance. But McLaren’s approach is right for them.
AF: I couldn’t disagree with you more, Matt. I see no reason why a Lamborghini couldn’t do both. To me, putting a good, comfortable seat and a good driving position in a car like this is so basic. And if every time you get in it you think “I’m going to be in pain by the time I get out”, that’s a massively limiting factor for how much you’ll use it.
Having said all that, I still think the Performante is probably the best Lamborghini I’ve ever driven. It’s a Lamborghini for those who aren’t just into the image – it’s a proper driver’s car. But I fear that I just wouldn’t have the stomach to use it anything like you have done this week, Ricky.
DP: And how much more would you use a Porsche 911 GTS, Andrew? Both of us ended up on the press launch of this car, back in January. Remember that? We both thought it was fantastic to drive. You get a level of usability you don’t even get with a GT3, thanks to the second-row seats. You don’t get the GT3’s engine, sadly. But even so, the GTS’s motor is great by turbocharged standards.
The car is more road-biased than the GT3, which is also great. It’s got comfy chairs, steel brakes and adaptive dampers, but you can have what you like on it: carbon-ceramic brakes, bucket seats, you can get it just the way you want it.
And you could actually use it every day. You wouldn’t be worried about piling on the miles.
AF: You can leave it anywhere too. You’d have to really think hard about where you parked the McLaren and the Lamborghini, but you wouldn’t think twice about parking a 911 on the street. If I’d parked a 720S on a residential street, I’d just be worried about it all the time. I wouldn’t worry about a 911. They have just enough ubiquity to make them a bit inconspicuous.
DP: You’re dead right. I had an Audi R8 long-term test car for a while. It was my only car, so I had to use it as such. So I had to park it on the street now and again. And, sure enough, somebody smashed a windowand broke into it. Would that have happened to a 911? Perhaps – but I reckon it’d be much less likely.
MS: So that’s genuinely your most-liked car, in a year when you’ve also driven something called a Zenvo?
DP: The Zenvo was unavailable, sadly. But seriously, the answer is yes. For me, it’s really not far off being as great to drive as a GT3, and then there’s all that usability. It’s hard to argue with.
MP: And if you told me, right now, that I had to drive any of the cars in the car park – but I had to drive it everywhere I needed to go for the rest of the day – I’d take the 911. It’s compact, you can see out of it, there’s room in it, it stops, it goes, it’s quick but not ballistic and it doesn’t make you look like a total tosser.
MS: But does it still feel special after you’ve done 15,000 miles in it over a couple of years? Does it become ordinary because you just use it too much?
AF: Quite the opposite. I’ve done 10,000 miles in a 911 Carrera S long-termer, and it has become more special if anything. I got out of a BMW i8, after which the 911 almost felt like being downgraded. But with miles and use, I’ve really begun to appreciate how great the Porsche is to drive. The more I drive it, the deeper is my esteem for it. And oddly, I don’t miss Porsche’s old atmospheric flat six, either. I’d just rather have the turbocharged torque.
Now come on, Saunders. What about your Aston Martin?
MS: Well, what do you blokes think of the DB11? How many of us have driven the initial V12 version and thought it was the right DB11 when we drove it?
AF: Yeah, I did.
MP: Me too, I think. But I’m willing to have my opinion revised by this new one.
MS: Well, that’s good. Because, for me, the DB11 V12 didn’t quite feel like an Aston Martin – or perhaps not quite Aston enough.
AF: Because there was too much Mercedes content inside it? Or the engine?
MS: It wasn’t the engine so much as the way it steered; that it didn’t stand up as a driver’s car in the ways I was looking for.
But when I drove the DB11 V8 a couple of months ago, I realised we only got half the picture last year. The V8 and V12 are two halves of the same image – and the V8 is the half intended to appeal to blokes like us, I think. In some ways, it does seem a bit odd that they needed to get an AMG engine in order to make a DB11 that feels like an authentic Aston Martin. But it speaks volumes to me that Aston is planning to take most of the V8’s suspension and steering settings and roll them onto the V12 for the 2019 model year.
I suppose the reason I like it so much is because it almost feels like a car built to my specification, to address all the things I didn’t like about the V12. And the car also feels important. There’s more riding on the DB11 than on any other car here, I reckon, and it matters that it fulfils its potential as a sports car and a true Aston Martin. The V8 does that, for me. It’s not the greatest driver’s car in the world, sure, but now it feels like it’s about as good as it can be.
AF: Do you think anyone will have a problem with the fact that you can buy a Mercedes estate with the same engine and another 100bhp? Should an Aston not have the ultimate version of any engine it uses?
MP: No, I don’t mind that. I’ve got a bigger problem with the Mercedes column stalks, just like the Audi ones in the Huracán. At £150,000, you could do me a proper stalk, really. It’s not that much to ask, is it?
AF: Well, it probably is, actually. But it certainly doesn’t appear that way.
MP: What do you think of the engine note, Stormy? I haven’t driven it far, but it doesn’t seem quite as loud as an AMG’s.
MS: No – it isn’t. AMG uses a lot of speaker trickery these days to produce that bassy exhaust noise, and the first thing Aston did was to dispense with that. To me, it’s a bit more breathy and delicate than, say, an AMG GT; just different enough to feel like Aston’s own. It feels like it belongs, no question. But I remember driving six-cylinder DB7s…
MP: Ah – I see the food’s here. That’ll do us, then. Straw poll: if we couldn’t go home in the car we brought with us, how many of us would take the Aston? No one? What about the Suzuki? Another no score. The Porsche? That’s three. And what about the Lamborghini? Two, then. No one for the McLaren? Now that’s interesting…
MS: Well, I’m turning the voice recorder off. And if this is like that radio show and I’m the one talking when the music stops, that means the Aston wins. Either way, could someone ask photographer Stanley to stop scowling at me and eat his fish and chips?
VAUXHALL GRANDLAND X – Such an important car to Vauxhall and they muffed it. To an already underachieving class, it brought modest ability and no real talent, then charged too much for it. If this is where PSA’s Vauxhall/Opel is heading, it must turn back now. AF
SMART FORFOUR ELECTRIC DRIVE – It costs more than a Renault Zoe, is much less practical and neither rides nor handles well in the city. You’re lucky to get a 70-mile range and rapid charging is barely possible. With all the EVs to choose from, don’t let this put you off. MS
LAMBORGHINI AVENTADOR S – Too heavy and with a dim-witted ’box, the Aventador S feels like a bit of a dinosaur. Some of its revisions make a useful difference and in some ways the Aventador is still wonderfully exciting, but it just isn’t involving enough to drive. DP
PORSCHE 718 CAYMAN – Yeah, I know it’s become deeply unfashionable to bash the efficacious flat four, but I feel robbed. The Cayman always felt like a baby supercar; now it sounds as though there’s a Harley lurking in your blind spot. RL
JAGUAR E-PACE – A colleague said it was ‘the worst Jag he’d ever driven’ (but he never went in an X-Type). The E-Pace tries to copy the XE’s dynamics but is shorter, wider, taller, transverse-engined and predominantly front-wheel drive. Physics wins. MP
ON MY LIST FOR 2018:
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA T – If Gordon Murray decides not to give us his IGM supercar, I’ll take the 911 Carrera T. Few Porsches don’t benefit from the ‘less is more’ approach, and the T tweaks seem just the ticket to optimise what is already one of my favourites. AF
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT – What can Porsche’s new Panamera platform do for the all-new Conti? Crewe has made a more opulent luxury GT than almost everyone for years; if it can challenge the best for driver appeal, too, it could blow its rivals into the weeds. MS
ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE – There are certain versions of the departing Vantage that rank in my top 20 favourite cars of all time, notably the original V12 Vantage and the N430. I’m nervous the new turbocharged engine will alter its tightly wound character, but I’m looking forward to finding out. DP
DALLARA STRADALE – It’s tempting to pick the new RS Mégane, which Renault knows has to be better than ever. But no, I’ll take the Dallara Stradale: 400bhp, 800kg and a chassis developed by people who know their onions. I’ll be amazed if it isn’t brilliant. RL
MERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS – I don’t know why. I’m not a self-employed tradesman and I don’t have an ‘active’ lifestyle by any particularly athletic or adventurous standards. But I like the idea of a pick-up that’s a bit more fancy than the usual kind. MP
￼￼AUDI TT S – The RS5 came close to being my undercooked turkey, so what hope for the TT S, a car not even made by Audi Sport? I knew it would be fast and gorgeous, but beautifully balanced, poised and aurally great? Didn’t see that coming. AF
HYUNDAI i30 N – Hyundai’s first real go at a hot hatch has the kind of ride and handling you’d expect of a firm with decades of experience and plenty of performance pedigree, so for a company such as this to get that so right deserves recognition. Take a bow, Albert Biermann. MS
KIA STINGER GT – Are we shocked that Kia, with its near infinite budget, engineering know-how traceable to one of the finest sports coupés of all and a sister brand in the WRC can create such a compelling saloon? Maybe not, but this is still a triumph. RL
FORD SHELBY MUSTANG GT350R – Who knew there was a lithe and responsive track car buried within the lazy Mustang? The GT350R has a screaming V8, thanks to a flat-plane crank and brilliant steering. With its aero kit, it also looks perfectly aggressive. DP
CITROEN C3 AIRCROSS – Citroëns of late have suspension that’s very soft at the top of its travel. The tall C3 Aircross counters its propensity to lean with stiffer roll control, but that ties it down rather nicely, giving it a good ride/handling balance. MP