It’s been a big year for new cars and motoring news. In between stories about how Brexit is going to drag the British motor industry into the dark ages, new cars, new challenges and new ideas have permeated our online pages. Here’s a snapshot of 2019 on Motoring Research.
Ferrari to the borders
We started 2019 in the best way you possibly could: in a Ferrari, on a road trip. The car in question was a Portofino, with nearly 600hp. A sub-zero foray into the Lake District and up to the Scottish border was obviously the sensible thing to do for a first-time Ferrari driver. We had an absolute ball.
“The Portofino isn’t the most spine-tingling of sports cars,” I concluded. “It will put a smile on your face if you take the scenic route and let that muzzled 488 lump off its lead. The rest of the time, it really is a car for all seasons: a well-judged entrance into Ferrari ownership and a supremely accomplished GT. The smallest horse in the stable is still a prize steed, by my reckoning, a worthy introduction to this most prestigious of automotive marques.”
2019 Toyota Supra
The Supra was the first of several icons to be overhauled in 2019. It joins the Land Rover Defender and the Chevrolet Corvette – the former in terms of being revived and reinvented, and both in causing an uproar about how it was carried out.
MR’s Tim Pitt was impressed by the tightened sports car the new Supra has become, saying “It feels malleable and confidence-inspiring, rewarding commitment yet forgiving mistakes. You can do your best Tokyo Drift impression (and I did), but side-on isn’t its preferred angle of attack. It’s too tenacious for that”. And the BMW thing? It’s your bone to pick. Although quite BMW-ey, Tim reckons “It feels closer to a well-sorted M car than a Z4 – and that alone shows the depth of Toyota’s input”. Would you really rather the Supra never came back at all?
Brexit, Brexit, Brexit…
Like it or not (who does at this point?) but Brexit was the buzzword of 2019 in the motor industry and, of course, far beyond. It was hardly a chirpy way to open the year, but on January 15 we reported on SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes warning of the “catastrophic consequences” of leaving without a deal in March. That didn’t come to pass, with Brexit at the time being delayed until autumn. And we all know how that went… You can find all of our Brexit coverage here.
Aston Martin on a roll
Happily, Aston Martin was at the Geneva Motor Show in March to show the world Britain still has an ambitious streak. As well as showing off the first running Valkyrie hypercar, it introduced what we now know is the Valhalla hypercar, as the AM-RB 003. Most surprisingly, though, it showed a concept for the forthcoming mid-engined Vanquish. Its Lagonda brand also revealed a concept for a lovely all-electric luxury SUV. MR’s Richard Aucock summed up Aston’s supercar assault at Geneva: “Stay tuned, because what we’re watching unfold is the remarkable expansion of Bond’s favourite GT brand into a bona fide supercar and hypercar maker.”
The ULEZ comes to London
In April, the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) happened in London. It’s the beginning of a revolution on the road, as we are encouraged to ditch our dirty gas-guzzlers and move into ultra-low emission cars. The long and the short of it? If your car isn’t new and clean enough, and you drive into central London, you pay a charge, And that’s on top of the Congestion Charge, 24/7 and 365 days of the year. Find out more about the ULEZ here, and whether you have to pay.
Electric Peugeot 208
The perfect car for the ULEZ, or indeed the Congestion Charge zone? The new Peugeot 208 is available as a full EV, with more than 200 miles of range. The car was the first of a number of ‘attainable’ EVs to debut in 2019. When Tim Pitt drove it, he said “If you have a charger at home or work, the e-208 offers few compromises and several notable benefits – not least the environmental kudos of driving an EV”. It didn’t quite win him over though, given he concluded the more affordable petrol was his 208 of choice.
Electric Vauxhall Corsa
Hot on the 208’s heels was the new Vauxhall Corsa, which shares the same platform. So that means there’s also an all-electric Corsa. You can pick it up next year for £270 a month, albeit with a deposit of more than £5,000. The Corsa is a bit pricier than the Pug, starting from around £1,500 more.
It’s not just PSA getting in on the electric small car action either. The original miniature marque – Mini – launched its Mini Electric, complete with a 144-mile range and a £24,400 start price (including government grants). Yours for £229 a month, and deliveries begin in March 2020.
This is the last of 2019’s small electric cars, we promise. But this year really has been the year of the EV. With a 134-mile range and a £30,000+ price, the Honda is a tough sell. But just look at it! It drives well, too, according to MR’s Richard Aucock. “An early taster of the Honda e Prototype suggests it will be as appealing to drive as it is to look at and sit in. It looks characterful, and its on-road performance is distinctive, particularly the comfort, the quietness and the turning circle.”
Can an electric car really save you money?
At the end of the day, when considering spending £25,000 on an electric hatchback, you have to ask yourself: ‘Can an electric car really save you money?’. Clearly people want to know, because this was one of our biggest stories of the year. To buy, they’re quite expensive, but you’ll save on ‘filling up’ – at least for now. Electric cars will get cheaper, too. As I summed up in the piece: “The jumping-off point is coming, sooner or later, for most car buyers. It just needs the numbers to add up – even if they don’t yet.”
Keyless car theft – the scourge of 2019?
One of 2019’s biggest topics in the car world is keyless theft. Owners of recent and current models with keyless go have faced hackers ‘hijacking’ the signal from their cars. This lets them open, start and drive away, even with your keys hung up indoors. We have a rolling piece on the best ways to stay safe from keyless car theft, but we also reported on numerous keyless theft stories. Will the industry nip this nasty spike in 2020? It’s become such a problem that MR’s Gav wrote an opinion piece comparing the Volkswagen Golf R to the classic Ford Sierra Cosworth in terms of thievability…
Volkswagen Golf R – the new Sierra Cosworth?
Gav noted a tweet from Harry Metcalfe, which highlighted the fact that a third of cars stolen in his area were Golf Rs. Like the Sierra and other fast Fords back in the day, the Golf R is hot property for car thieves. Could it become ‘uninsurable’ as the Ford was?
“It’s easy to draw comparisons between the Cossies of the past and the Golf R of the present. Scary times if you’re an owner,” Gav said. “Would you consider selling yours to buy something less likely to be stolen?”
Back to some of the year’s most important car reveals. Probably the most dramatic overhaul of an icon in 2019 is the new Corvette, which is going mid-engined for the first time (in production form, at least). The latest Corvette also brings dual clutch-only shifting, improved cabin quality, much higher potential performance and even the possibility of right-hand drive. What the Corvette retains is its iconic pushrod V8 and, amazingly, a low entry price, which actually renders it unprofitable at first. You can pick up a base ’Vette, now a near-500hp pseudo-supercar, for less than the price of a Porsche Cayman in America.
Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+
This year, a road-going car passed the 300mph barrier. Of course, the champion of speed for the new millennium, Bugatti, was the one to do it, with a specially-prepared Super Sport version of the Chiron hitting 304mph. A production variant was later announced, called the Chiron Super Sport 300+. There was a great deal of debate, both about whether the record was legitimate, with the car being a pre-production prototype, and whether top speed is still relevant. In my opinion piece, I argued aggressively in favour.
Green number plates
It wouldn’t be a year of motoring stories without a weird idea from the government. Green number plates, anyone? They were touted as a ‘very visible way of distinguishing [ultra-low emission] vehicles and raising their profile’. There’s also the possibility of giving these clean cars extra privileges on the road, including access to bus lanes and zero-emission zones. MR’s Gavin Braithwaite-Smith wondered if green number plates were the answer to a question nobody asked. The public seems to think so, with only one in five drivers liking the idea.
Joining the Porsche Taycan at the Volkswagen Group’s Frankfurt EV showdown was the long-awaited Volkswagen ID.3. ‘ID’ is the marque’s new electric sub-brand, while ‘3’ refers to the third chapter of the ‘people’s car’, following the Golf and Beetle.
Land Rover Defender
We’d been waiting an age. And unlike Toyota with the Supra, Land Rover kept the new Defender tightly under wraps. Its return at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show was probably the reveal of the year. The Defender is all-new, but retains much of the original’s rugged looks. It will be, by far, Land Rover’s best off-roader, with short overhangs for impressive approach and departure angles, plus a massive 900mm wading depth. Unlike the original, it should also be a good road car, with independent suspension, a new monocoque chassis and up-to-date infotainment. Available in three- (90) and five-door (110) guises, it won’t be cheap. The 90 starts at £40,000, while the 110 opens at £45,000. We can’t help but love it, but for now we can only afford the Lego version.
Brexit, Brexit, Brexit…
We asked whether keyless theft was the scourge of 2019 for motorists. For the motor industry, however, it was Brexit. We’ve covered it, but because leaving the EU was put off again in the autumn – and now until January – we’re reminding you that all of our Brexit coverage can be found here.
Bristol diesel ban
It’s official: the war on diesel is hotting up. Bristol is the first city in the UK ban diesel cars from certain areas. Yes, that means certain smoggy petrol cars from when emissions regulations were a pipe-dream still have access, while the very latest, cleanest diesels don’t. And there’s no ULEZ-style charge you can pay. The SMMT criticised the move, with chief exec Mike Hawes saying “we need a clear and consistent national approach to clean air zones that incentivises uptake of the latest, low emission vehicles, including new Euro 6 diesels”.
Morris J van
If the vendetta against diesel concerns you, don’t worry: the reborn Morris has got it covered. Of course, it might not, given its new J-type JE electric van will cost more than £60,000. MR’s Gav, often a classic evangelist, didn’t put on his rose-tinted spectacles. He has some strong opinions on the JE. “What’s the obsession with reimagining stuff from our past?” he asks. “What next, a reimagining of other distinctive elements of 1950s Britain, such as polio, pea-soupers and women tied to the twin-tub washing machine?”
Aston Martin DBX
Another year, and another sports car manufacturer has gone to the dark side. We live in a world where Porsche, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Lamborghini, and now, Aston Martin, make SUVs. Happily, the DBX is, for an SUV, quite a tidy looking thing. MR’s Richard Aucock called it “striking, stylish and suitably sporty. The DBX is a standout SUV that eschews boxy blockiness for a more elegant and exotic profile. Can SUVs be beautiful? This lays a greater claim to it than most.”
The cabin is gorgeous – by far Aston’s best of late – and it borrows Mercedes’ very talented twin-turbo V8, in 550hp guise. It’s a pricey thing, mind, starting from £158,000, but the super-SUV marketplace is surprisingly crowded. Leave the Urus, forget the Cullinan ever existed and swap out the Bentayga: if it drives as good as it looks, the DBX is the new king of the high-riders.
Next to this, the DBX is a veritable pin-up. Where to begin with Elon Musk’s latest ‘market disruptor’? We’ve covered the Star Wars prop department reject that is the Tesla Cybertruck extensively, from the reveal, to Elon’s accepting of Ford’s challenge for another rematch. More than 200,000 people have paid $100 for a reservation. How many will follow through? Will Tesla actually be able to deliver? Will you eventually be able to hit its ‘Armor Glass’ with a sledgehammer and not smash it? All burning questions, about one of 2019’s most polarising cars. The 2022 launch can’t come soon enough.
Uber loses its licence
Uber has been the subject of many a harsh headline over the past couple of years, but it all came to a head in late 2019. It has officially lost its licence to operate in London, one of its busiest marketplaces. We covered that licence loss, which was due to poor security, as well as the taxi alternatives.
FCA and PSA become one
Our final big story of 2019? It’s the combination of FCA and PSA, bringing 13 brands under one roof, ranging from Peugeot and Citroen, to Jeep and Dodge, through to Maserati, Alfa Romeo, and Vauxhall. It’s hard to imagine. On the plus side, it does slightly increase the chances of a new Maserati-engined Citroen SM. We can but dream.