Showdown: BMW 320d vs Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI; Porsche family assessed; Vauxhall RAK-e

We had to wait until December for comparison tests on two of 2011’s most important new cars. Road test editor Matt Prior pronounced on the F30-generation BMW 3-series and Andrew Frankel pitched the 991-series Porsche 911 against four of its ancestors.

Having gone into the test convinced of the unimprovability of the BMW, Prior was stunned at the accomplishment of this £30k exec, which beat Mercedes’ C220 CDI into a distant second place.

“Sometimes a new car comes along that is better not just than you expected it would be, but than it could be,” he wrote. “The new 3-series is one of those cars.”

And what of the Porsche? Confronted by a 997 Carrera 4S, a 993 Carrera 4S, a 964 Carrera 4 and a G-series Carrera 3.2 Club Sport, the advancements of the new 991 – its fine interior, refined ride and excellent ergonomics – shone all the more brightly. Writer Frankel had to concede, still, that it’s perhaps not the greatest 911 of them all, giving that to the 993. “But the optimal solution,” he concluded, “would be to have the Carrera 3.2 and a 991”.

Richard Bremner had a taste of things to come with Opel’s RAK-e city EV – a car that GM is considering for production, and which, said Bremner, “would be a hoot to thread through traffic or speed along tight country lanes”. It makes a Renault Twizy look rather frumpy all of a sudden.

Audi gave us an early Christmas present by confirming that it will build a raucous quattro version of the A1. The 252bhp, four-wheel-drive Audi A1 quattro not only aims to land a knockout blow on the likes of the Renault Clio Cup and Ford Fiesta ST, but it will also eclipse hot hatches such as the Renault Mégane 250 and Ford Focus ST. It will even have the straight-line performance to match Audi’s own S3.

The year ended with some troubled times for car makers. Renault UK announced that it is slashing several cars from its range next year in a bid to return the company to full profitability. Among the cars that will not be sold in British showrooms will be the complete Laguna range, including the coupe, plus the Wind roadster, both variants of the Modus and Espace and the Kangoo and Trafic passenger versions.

After a long and tortured battle against financial ruin, Saab Automobile applied to Swedish courts for bankruptcy on December 19. Although there is talk that Chinese company Youngman is trying to resurrect some parts of the business, in particular the Phoenix platform that Saab was developing to underpin its future models, for the time being the bankruptcy filing brought a much-loved car brand's story to a sad conclusion.

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