Goodness, is that the time? The last we looked, we were busy making and breaking New Year’s resolutions, but when school’s out for the summer, it’s a sure sign that we’re beyond the mid-point of 2018.
With this in mind, we thought it was time to look back at some of our favourite new cars of the year – we’ve driven some absolute crackers. To qualify for the shortlist, we must have driven the car in 2018 and reviewed it on our website.
Ford Fiesta ST
We’ll admit to being a little worried when Ford announced that the new Fiesta ST would be powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine. But the fact is, the new ST is better than the old one. The best affordable hot hatch just got better.
Our verdict: “You can perhaps by now tell we think the Fiesta ST is a class act. It sounds a bit like a Porsche 911 and drives even more like one, exuding immense depth and connoisseur’s breeding. The faster you drive, the better you drive, the more it gives back – while doing all the regular Ford Fiesta stuff like being compact in town, easy to handle and comfortable to drive daily.”
Jaguar has caught the Germans napping with the launch of the I-Pace: a fully-electric premium car to take on Tesla. The figures are compelling: 400hp, 256lb ft of torque, 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds and a WLTP range of 298 miles. Right now, the I-Pace is the high bar for others to battle over.
Our verdict: “The Jaguar I-Pace is a landmark car. It’s a fully-formed all-electric vehicle that’s thoroughly convincing to drive, pretty to look at, pleasing to sit in, and sure to be exciting to own. It will turn heads; it will be a talking point and give you kudos in a similar way Teslas do. Perhaps even more so.”
It’s rather fitting that the Volvo name stems from the Latin for “I roll”, because the Swedish brand is on a roll. First, the XC90, then the XC60 and now the XC40 – Volvo designs and builds the most attractive and beautifully-appointed SUVs in the sector.
Our verdict: “It looks the absolute business, in our opinion, and the interior is brilliantly Swedish. Volvo’s radically-changing image is one that will appeal to some customers more than, say, BMW and Audi, too. The days of dull estates are long gone.”
Hyundai i30 N
With the former head of BMW’s M division leading the project, we had a hunch that the Hyundai i30 N would be good, but we were wrong – it’s great. The i30 N goes straight to the top table of the world’s best hot hatches, especially in Performance guise, with its electronic diff, active exhaust, uprated brakes, Pirelli P Zero tyres and additional 25hp over the standard N.
Our verdict: “The i30 N will live long in the memory. Driving back from Zig-Zag Hill, I had one of those drives when the road opens up, the traffic clears, and the planets align. Like the time I drove a Fiesta ST along the entire length of the A470, or a VX220 Turbo on an empty Klausen Pass, or a Racing Puma on the A429 through the Cotswolds – just as the sun was setting. My journey on the A30 in the i30 N gets a chapter in my imaginary book of great drives.
Volkswagen Up GTI
Such is the demand for this little pocket rocket, Volkswagen has been forced to temporarily close the order books while it works on sourcing more cars for the UK. Hardly surprising, when you can order the spiritual successor to the Mk1 Golf GTI – and Lupo GTI – for £139 a month.
Our verdict: “Why are we feeling ever-so-slightly flat about the Up GTI? Not because it’s a bad car. It’s very good, and lots of fun, and we really like it. We’re almost tempted to part with our own money for one… if only it had a little more flair. Maybe we’re spoilt in the age of 300hp hot hatches – and there’s no denying the Up GTI looks like excellent value – but it’s hard to get over the fact that this seems little more than a high-spec Up with some nice trinkets and a bit of extra power.”
The McLaren Senna is another car in demand, but the entire production run of 500 is already spoken for, each one costing upwards of £750,000. Once again, the figures are astounding: 800hp, 800Nm (519lb ft) and 800kg of downforce at 155mph. It’s a wonder McLaren didn’t charge £800,000 for the privilege of owning its lightest road car since the F1.
Our verdict: “How good is it? Full of all things Senna, my mind wandered. Remember Senna at Donington in 1993, when he tore through the field on the first lap, then ran rings around them for the rest of the race? I was there. I went to school the next day with a similar feeling. Senna’s dominance that day was like my experience of the Senna. Does it live up to the name? Without doubt. This McLaren is Senna. I now have a hesitation-free answer when people ask me what’s the best car I’ve ever driven.”
Aston Martin Vantage
It might source its switchgear and its 510hp V8 engine from Mercedes-Benz, but the new Vantage feels 100% Aston Martin. It takes the fight to the Audi R8 and McLaren 540C with a 195mph top speed and 0-62mph time of 3.6 seconds. We reckon it’s a game-changer for the brand.
Our verdict: “Even after the endorphins have faded and I’m back home in non-sunny Surrey, I’m still unfeasibly excited about the new Vantage. I’m no Aston apologist – I found the outgoing Vantage flawed and the DB11 underwhelming – but this car feels like a game-changer for Gaydon. Impressively, it’s a better car than the Mercedes-AMG GT it shares many parts with, and feels more bespoke and downright special than anything in its class – save perhaps the McLaren 540C. It’s a supercar in all senses of the word. Bring on the V12 version.”
Britain is the biggest market for the A-Class, so the launch of a new version is a big deal for Mercedes-Benz. Even with an entry-level price of £25,800, you can expect the tech-laden A-Class to make regular appearances in the top 10 sales charts.
Our verdict: “The new A-Class is a good-looking car with a class-leading interior; we can see many people choosing it simply because of its brilliant infotainment system. Even if the rest of it were mediocre, the cabin would stand out. It’s better than that, though. Particularly the diesel. Choose it on mid-spec 17-inch wheels and you won’t have an exciting car to drive, but you will have a reassuring one, a car that feels authentically Mercedes-Benz.”
Porsche 911 GT3
Remember when it rained in Britain? Long before the summer heatwave, we had a play with a Porsche 911 GT3 on some drenched roads, before concluding that the 500hp plaything is one of the cars of 2018.
Our verdict: “Whether you choose the Touring or standard GT3, if you’re in a position to spend £111,802 on one of the most desirable 911s ever, I envy you. It’s a much more thrilling drive than any 911 I’ve driven before, but manages this without being intimidating or too hardcore for winter days in Britain. And, at nearly £30,000 less than rivals such as the Audi R8, it’s also a bit of a bargain.”
Audi RS4 Avant
For all the appeal of a supercar, there’s something immensely satisfying about a superfast wagon. In ‘standard’ guise, the 450hp twin-turbocharged RS4 Avant will hit 155mph, but spend an additional £1,450 and Audi will remove the limiter, enabling the rapid dog-carrier to carry on to 174mph.
Our verdict: “R8 supercar excepted, the new RS4 is the pick of the 18-strong Audi Sport (formerly Quattro GmbH) range. It’s a consummate all-rounder: comfortable and classy, fast and fun. As a means of swiftly shifting your golf clubs/suitcases/labradors (delete as applicable), it’s almost without equal. And way cooler than any hotted-up SUV.”
Twenty years on, it’s hard to believe that the original Focus replaced the lacklustre Ford Escort, such was the quantum leap forward. The new Focus carries on where the previous model left off, with a hugely improved interior and best-in-class driving dynamics. It’s just a shame it looks so ordinary.
Our verdict: “The latest Focus doesn’t rewrite the rulebook as its great-grandfather did, but it puts Ford squarely back in contention. A consummate all-rounder, it’s a car that can – and doubtless will – fit effortlessly into the lives of millions. There aren’t many 1.0-litre hatchbacks in which you’d deliberately take the scenic route. For our money, it topples the Mazda 3 as the new dynamic benchmark. Helmut’s secret sauce has worked a treat.”
BMW M3 CS
Recent BMW M3s have left us feeling a little underwhelmed, so we weren’t sure what to expect from the £86,425 M3 CS. Yes, it really does cost that much. We needn’t have worried, because after a day spent on road and track, we declared that’s it almost perfect.
Our verdict: “You sense BMW had a point to prove with the M3 CS. If this really is the end of the line for the M3, it didn’t want it to depart with a reputation as an almost-but-not-quite car. Cue the CS, one of the best M3s in decades. It’s exceptionally exciting, a top-notch sports car that’s been developed by experts. Their signatures are all over it.”
Aston Martin DB11 AMR
In response to the cheaper and only slightly less quicker DB11 V8, Aston Martin launched the DB11 AMR, a reworked version of the V12 that replaces the standard car outright. It needed to be good, not least because Aston Martin is asking £30,000 more than the V8. It’s not perfect – the steering and gearbox disappoint – but its 639hp 5.2-litre V12 is a great leveller.
Our verdict: “The DB11 AM has flaws, certainly, but also deep reserves of raw talent and winsome charm. It has also given the DB11 V12 renewed reason to exist, which is something to be thankful for. I’d choose one over a Continental GT in a heartbeat.”
Of all the cars we’ve driven this year, the Nissan Leaf is arguably the most important. After all, if electric is the future we can all look forward to, cars like the Leaf need to appeal to our hearts as well as our heads. This is the world’s first second-generation EV, which just happens to be the best-selling electric car on the planet.
Our verdict: “The 2018 Nissan Leaf is exactly the car it needed to be. It’s better all round, and crucially, more normal too. A stylish, contemporary car that just happens to be electric. The EV aspect is exceptional, from the brilliant refinement, to the punchy and classy performance, to the extended range. It rides and handles with more European polish, and it’s even pretty good fun.”
Toyota Yaris GRMN
We’ve stood by and watched as people emerged from a quick drive in the Toyota Yaris GRMN. In all cases, they were grinning from ear to ear, while lauding it as a true great. The one reservation: the £26,295 price tag. Our response: all are already sold. If a manufacturer builds a special car, people will buy it.
Our verdict: “Has Toyota toppled the Fiesta ST? For my money, not quite. While the Yaris GRMN offers plenty of smiles per mile, it doesn’t quite possess the effervescent joie de vivre of the Ford. Take the Fiesta out of the equation, though – as we should rightly do until the new ST arrives – and the waters are muddier. The Audi S1 is markedly more upmarket and scarcely more expensive, while the Peugeot Sport 208 GTI equals the Yaris for driving thrills and undercuts it on price. The Yaris, meanwhile, counters with rarity and competition kudos.”
Like the A8, the new A7 takes its inspiration from the 2014 Prologue concept car and it might, at first glance, look a tad generic. But scratch beneath the surface and the A7 oozes class and sophistication, with one of the best interiors in the segment and impressive dynamics.
Our verdict: “We can tell that Audi’s had a bit of fun developing the new A7 (and A8), however. Fun in a very German sense, at least. There are lots of clever features, and the design takes it to the next level compared to its predecessor. The driving experience is extremely refined, and the two V6 engines we’ve tried can’t be faulted. Would we like a little more flair? Yes, but that’s never where Audi has excelled. If that’s what you’re after, you might want to spend a little more on the Porsche Panamera or Bentley Continental GT…”
Suzuki Swift Sport
We hesitated before including the Suzuki Swift Sport, because it hasn’t managed to hit the high notes of its predecessors. It’s also too expensive, especially in light of the magnificent Fiesta ST. But we’re prepared to cut it some slack, because we have a hunch that extended time behind the wheel might win us over.
Our verdict: “If you’re a normal person looking for a likeable, Japanese supermini with a bit of poke, the Swift Sport’s absolutely fine. But traditional Swift Sport buyers aren’t normal people. They’re part of unique breed of petrolheads who favour lightweight cars that provide fun at sensible speeds. The Swift Sport has always catered well for them, and this new model just doesn’t excel in any of the areas buyers will want it to.”
- Why is the 2018 Ford Fiesta ST such a star car?
- White goods to white knuckles: Kia Stinger GT-S vs Hyundai i30 N
- 2018 Porsche 911 GT3 review: the best supercar on sale