The smiley face was invented in 1963 by an American artist called Harvey Ball. No, we weren’t all miserable before then, unable to turn our frowns upside down, but Ball is credited with designing the international symbol of happiness.
As a tribute to Ball, World Smile Day is celebrated on the first Friday of October every year. It’s meant to be a day when we put politics, religion and geography to one side, and help spread a smile. We thought we’d attempt to do that by looking at some of the cars we’ve driven recently that put a smile on our face.
It’s not a very scientific list. They aren’t the best cars we’ve driven this year. Obviously, many of them are, but there’s a few in the list that are objectively hard to justify. They just make us smile.
Audi R8 Spyder
This one has just made it onto the list, as we’re actually out in Spain driving the Audi R8 Spyder today – on World Smile Day. Lucky us. Not only is it putting a smile on our face, having the sound of that 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10 barking away uninterrupted, but the locals are loving it, too.
Every village we pass through, children point and dads encourage us to blip the throttle. In a fast Audi. Imagine that in the UK.
BBR Mazda MX-5
It’s not just supercars that put a smile on our face. The Mazda MX-5 has been making people grin since 1989, and the latest fourth-generation model would be one of the first cars we’d pick for a British B-road drive.
As standard, it’s brilliant – but not quite as good as a modified version we drove earlier this year. Tweaked by MX-5 specialist BBR, the near-perfect soft-top had a revised cold-air intake system, a throatier exhaust and an ECU remap. Chuck in stiffened springs and upgraded brakes, and we’re in automotive nirvana territory. For less than £30,000.
Land Rover Defender
Yes, seeing the last ever Land Rover Defender roll off the production line in January did make us sad. But also happy it was allowed to continue for so long, and put a smile on so many people’s faces in the process. Driving a variety of Defenders on the Scottish island of Islay last year was a fitting tribute to the British icon.
Volkswagen Passat GTE
We like this car because it proves that the future doesn’t have to be dull. Drive around in a freshly-charged Passat GTE in electric mode, and you’re allowed to exchange smiles with Nissan Leaf drivers and feel warm inside. Press the ‘GTE’ button and it turns into the fastest Passat money can buy – it’s a lot of fun.
Porsche Cayman GT4
If ever there was a candidate for ‘all the sports car you’ll ever need’, this is it. The Porsche Cayman GT4 is a junior 911 that offers a purity of drive that is absent from many so-called supercars. Insert cliché about a track car built for the track but alive on the road.
The Volvo S90 is proof that you don’t need to be having fun to wear a big smile on your face. While Volvo’s take on premium luxury won’t leave you grinning like a Cheshire Cat, you will feel like the cat that got the cream.
Get yourself comfy in the S90’s delightfully appointed cabin and it’s like arriving home after a hard day at work, slipping on a pair of slippers, grabbing a glass of your favourite tipple, before settling down in front of a log fire to watch a boxset. Bliss.
Ford Fiesta ST200
Take one of the best hot hatches currently on sale (FACT) and give it a few tweaks to make it even better. A power upgrade, even better handling and a shorter final drive ratio make the Fiesta ST200: a car that will make even the grumpiest driver smile.
Mk1 Ford Fiesta
From one very fast and very recent Fiesta, to a very slow and very old Fiesta. We’re talking about one particular Fiesta here – SAV 188X, a 1981 Fiesta Popular in beige, which we drove on a special 40th anniversary Dagenham to Brighton run earlier this year.
Despite packing just 45hp from its 950cc engine, we smiled a lot driving this car around the M25 and down to Brighton.
Again, although the standard Toyota GT86 is brilliant, we’re talking about one particular example here. Because everyone loves retro racing decals, right? There’s a revamped GT86 on the way, and Toyota claims it’s even better the current model. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, nothing will.
There’s something immensely satisfying about a car that takes the fight to the supercar establishment, messes up their front lawns and drives away grinning from ear to ear. The Honda NSX is one such car and the all-new, tech-laden version has a lot to live up to.