This year’s Autocar Awards had a new look, a new venue and even more recognition for the automotive industry’s high achievers.
Held in the impressive Silverstone Wing on Tuesday evening, after the highly successful CDX Car Dealer Expo earlier in the day, our revamped event recognised the cars that have achieved our coveted five-star road test rating in the past 12 months, as well as five other stand-out vehicles that we regard as industry game-changers.
We also paid tribute to the engineers, designers and innovators who are blazing a trail at the forefront of the industry, both in the UK and around the world.
Autocar Awards video
The pinnacle of the evening was the presentation of our two key awards: the Issigonis Trophy, which honours the individual who has contributed the most to the health, excellence and competitiveness of the European motor industry, and the Sturmey Award, named after Autocar’s founder from 1895 and saluting innovation and achievement in the motor industry.
Read on to discover more about each of the winners and learn why they’ve impressed us so much during the past 12 months.
FIVE STAR CARS
Only half a dozen cars have been awarded a coveted maximum rating by Autocar’s road test team during the past 12 months.
We have honoured each of them with an award
PORSCHE 911 GT3 RS
Probably the most rewarding car Porsche makes, but also the only one with properly bared teeth. Tricky, demanding and tremendous – easily worth twice its list price already – and the only thing to make a GT3 look modest.
In 2014, McLaren garnered five stars for being outstanding in the most extravagant way possible with the P1. The 570S is a greater achievement: a volume sports car of supreme depth and ability, and confirmation of the firm’s dizzying ascent.
PORSCHE CAYMAN GT4
The Cayman has always been touched by brilliance. That the GT version, furnished with a 911 engine, measures up hardly came as a surprise. We saved that for how accessible, comprehensively lovely and affordable Porsche made it.
The day the Nomad turned up with a hydraulic handbrake, WRC-spec suspension and the look of an extra from Mad Max, we knew someone had finally put ‘fun’ front and centre. The supercharged version is even better.
FORD FOCUS RS
Ford has perfected a way of making a new RS’s arrival seem as momentous as any supercar’s. That wouldn’t work if the model didn’t measure up, but this one does – and how. As a gauntlet to its rivals, the RS impact is crater deep.
FERRARI 488 GTB
It seemed impossible that Ferrari could return to turbocharging without some weakening of the product. But the 488 GTB is as conspicuously close to perfection as its predecessor, mixing savage speed with mind-bending user-friendliness.
This may not seem like a natural place to look for innovation, but the new Audi SQ7 is packed with technology that will be significant in this industry over the next few years and beyond.
It features a beefier 48V electrical sub-system that drives active anti-roll bars (as with the Bentley Bentayga) and, more significant, an electrically driven compressor (effectively an electric turbo) that reduces lag to negligible levels and allows for a much broader spread of shove on a diesel engine. It needs the 48V system rather than just a traditional 12V one because it, and the anti-roll bars, require enough voltage oomph to act quickly and powerfully.
Beefier electrical systems will be increasingly needed to drive not just electric turbos but also mild hybrid systems, more chassis set-ups, everadvanced infotainment systems and semi-autonomous speed and steering controls. The SQ7 is there already with the tech, and for that we salute it.
Vehicle engineering manager, Ford Performance
The car industry can’t have enough straight-taking, enthusiastic, driven engineers like Tyrone Johnson. There is a glint in this man’s eye as he talks about the outstanding new mega-hatch that he and his Ford Performance engineering team have produced: the Mk3 Focus RS. He doesn’t gush; he knows he doesn’t need to.
There’s devilry in his smile as he lists the shortcomings of the Focus’s rivals (“overpriced, onedimensional, boring”). He has had, in short, exactly the same thoughts as you or I after a drive in a typical modern hot hatchback: “It’s fast, sure, but I wish it was more fun.” And then he had the commitment, the skill and the backing to turn that gap into a realised opportunity. If you were Tyrone Johnson, you’d be smiling, too.
A Ford lifer of more than 30 years’ experience, Johnson spent his early career working on Ford’s first ‘Special Vehicle Team’ Mustang, as well as on the landmark Mk1 Mondeo. Involvement at the highest levels of motorsport came with Stewart Ford and Jaguar Racing, as well as in the World Rally Championship with Ford’s M-Sport team, during the late 1990s and 2000s.
Coming back to Ford’s Team RS, which became part of Ford Performance in 2014, he’s had a guiding influence on the development and dynamic tuning of cars such as the current Focus ST, Fiesta ST and the new Mustang. And with those, plus the new RS, on his CV, he’s a man whose services will be in high demand for years to come.
LAURENS VAN DEN ACKER
Senior vice-president, corporate design, Renault
They’d never put it on the record, but the big bosses at practically every leading European car company would love to have Laurens van den Acker – Renault’s design boss for the past seven years – running their own creative departments, if only he were available.
There are several good reasons for their enthusiasm, but one stands out above the rest: sales success. Working with a close-knit team, Dutch-born van den Acker has created a design style of such warmth and universal appeal – and so recognisably different from others in the patch – that it appeals instantly to the laymen who comprise by far the biggest proportion of car buyers.
Demand for the eye-grabbing Captur, Renault’s B-segment crossover, shows in microcosm the effect that Renault’s design success is having on sales.
“Nowadays, we often hear from people who know they want a Captur, even though they’ve never considered a Renault before,” says one outer London Renault dealer. “They just love the way it looks. They’re happy to take the mechanical design and even the price on trust, as long as we have a positive story to tell about colours and delivery dates.”
Van den Acker’s most recent success has been adapting his design style to the recently launched Mégane, a car whose fortunes have fluctuated wildly as a result of oddball iterations in the past. With a stylish look at last, the Mégane has finally rejoined the family.
The van den Acker revolution began in 2009, when the designer was persuaded to join Renault from Mazda, where he had been chief designer. A year later, at the Paris motor show, he launched the DeZir electric coupé concept, which he said at the time would be very influential on future Renaults. Six years on, the car still looks very modern. Which, says van den Acker, is the whole point.
Le Mans winner with Porsche in 2015
Meet motorsport’s answer to Leicester City FC’s Jamie Vardy. The prolific striker honed his predatory goal-scoring instincts in non-league football before attaining scarcely believable heights in the Premier League. Tandy learned his racecraft in the frenetic world of grassroots short oval racing and now has a Le Mans 24 Hours winner’s trophy resting on his mantelpiece.
Tandy’s win at La Sarthe alongside Nico Hülkenberg and Earl Bamber in the Porsche 919 Hybrid was one of the feelgood stories of the 2015 racing season and the reason he has won our inaugural Motorsport Hero award.
He is an example of what can be achieved with hard graft and an iron will. After chasing the single-seater dream as far as F3, he switched to sportscar racing and mightily impressed Porsche in the Carrera Cup, earning works outings that culminated in that prototype drive – and the fairytale result – at the most famous endurance race of them all.
Cars that have set new standards or defied convention by turning the established order on its head.
Bentley’s giant SUV isn’t just a complete departure from a 97-year run of previous models; it will soon be the company’s best seller. Propelled by a worldwide boom in premium and SUV demand, it is hitting the big time less than a year after launch. Thankfully, it’s a great car, beautifully built and thoroughly developed.
Trust BMW to bring the purity of rear-wheel drive and the performance heritage of its M cars into a size and price arena inhabited by hot hatchbacks. The M2 is currently engaged in a battle royal against the best hot hatches, but for buyers who put a high value on engineering design for drivers, there will be no contest.
Jaguar has been waiting most of its life for this car, which is the first honest-to-God competitor for BMW’s 3 Series and Audi’s A4 that the British company has ever had. Carefully engineered and beautifully styled, it matches the best of the Germans while offering the bonus of lighter weight, courtesy of its all-aluminium construction.
When Geely bought Volvo, it became the first Chinese company to take control of an ‘old’ Western marque. How would it cope with its first big task: the replacement for a much-loved European SUV stalwart? This new XC90 is the answer. Geely has subtly assisted Volvo’s specialists to build the car they wanted to build, and the result is terrific.
This excellent car is literally the reason General Motors still makes cars in large numbers in the UK. Workers and management at the company’s Ellesmere Port factory came together to fight, against long odds, to retain the place as the home of Astra – and were rewarded with the status of being the model’s lead plant.
BRITAIN'S BEST DRIVER'S CARS
We salute the champion of our best driver’s car shootout and our sub-£30k winner.
FERRARI 488 GTB
You need only to look at the cars the Ferrari beat – specifically, the Ariel Nomad and Porsche 911 GT3 RS – to get a grasp on its astonishing quality. Rapier-like on the track without being exclusionist, usable on the road without being remote, and spectacular to look at and listen to in between. A special car.
Almost no contest in the sub-£30k division. Mazda’s determination to return to the MX-5’s original values – lightness, agility, frugality and thrill – has resulted in an inexpensive open-top sports car worthy of its ‘world’s favourite’ boast. Pleasure at every speed.
USED CAR OF THE YEAR
We didn’t choose the Lexus as the Used Car of the Year. You did.
What we have seen and heard from owners, mechanics and the car trade convinced us that there is no other model so deserving of the title. The simple fact is that no one has a bad word to say about their Lexus IS.
Our used car expert, James Ruppert, watched one build up a 300,000 mileage over a handful of years without it missing a beat. Maybe the fact that it never cooled down was a factor, but what was more remarkable is what went wrong. Nothing. Apart from a pricey headlight bulb, tyres and wipers, all it did was work. Nothing ever fell off. More significant was that this is the IS 250 rule. There were no exceptions. How boring is that?
Actually, not at all dreary. Here is the original Far Eastern BMW 3 Series: spacious, well equipped and brilliantly built. If you were an executive going places, an IS 250 was perfect. Right now, used buyers can take over from where they left off at a fraction of the original cost. So well done, everyone. Great choice.
Now 20 years old, the Lotus Elise’s appeal shows no sign of waning. And that’s proven here, where the Elise is the runaway winner of the award decided by Autocar readers, who named their favourite from the shortlist of the 50 cars we rank as the best on sale in Britain today.
You, like us, clearly love the fact that the Elise remains ones of the sweetest, purest driving experiences you can have at any price and that it is perfectly tuned for UK roads.
Lotus updates the Elise each year, and the latest revisions have brought it back under £30,000 at one end of the range and created the fastest, most focused Elise yet at the other. Each version is lighter than before, too.
New boss Jean-Marc Gales clearly ‘gets’ Lotus, and this award is a doffed cap from the public to the appeal and progress the Elise continues to make.
Our pick of the stand-out achievers from the UK automotive industry.
Mitsubishi Motors UK, managing director
When Bradley announced he was going to sell the Outlander PHEV for the same price as the equivalent diesel model, he turned the UK’s electric car market on its head. Thanks to his vision – and bravery in backing it with action – the PHEV is now Britain’s best-selling electrified car by some margin, and the whole Mitsubishi range has seen an uplift.
Mercedes-Benz UK, CEO and managing director
Savage arrived at Mercedes with a reputation as an innovator with a track record for energising whichever company he led. True to form, Mercedes has been the UK’s fastest-growing premium car brand for some years now, and the way he has encouraged both his team and his dealers to follow his vision and to innovate in their approach to car sales is remarkable.
Hyundai UK, president and CEO
Whitehorn has the rare knack of expressing even the most complex task in simple terms and, in doing so, carrying his team along with his vision as he both grows sales and raises profits. He understands this business inside out and has also shown a willingness to gamble on innovations, most notably embracing internet and shopping centre dealerships before anyone else.