Currently reading: 2018's best cars: the Autocar road testers' Christmas dinner
Autocar’s merry band of road testers has once again convened to discuss the merits of their favourite cars of the year. Can they all agree on a winner?

Choosing one car from hundreds driven over the course of 12 months? It's not an easy task, but after liberal lashings of turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings, Autocar's road test team are ready to talk their way to a winner...

Matt Prior: Right then lads, we’re here to discuss our personal favourite cars of the year. I’ve frozen my toes off in an Ariel Atom 4 on the way here, there’s an Alpine A110, a Ford Fiesta ST, some Lotus Exige derivative and whatever that thing that looks like a Defender is outside, Saunders. But first, Stephen, the Jaguar I-Pace. Why is it your favourite? 

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Steve Cropley: A number of things. I think it’s the future. I think it’s brave of them and I do like driving electric cars. I’ve had this electric motorbike for a few years and I just like the whole experience, the precision of the powertrain. And I think the Jag’s interior is special. And I know it’s daft, but on a day like today, bringing it here, which admittedly took a while, reminds me of my other hobby, which is flying. You have to make a lot of preparations, and I quite like the management of that. 

Andrew Frankel: For me, it’s a big step forward. Of the EVs I’ve driven, both in terms of what it’ll do and the way it does it, it feels like a car you’d have for reasons other than it being electric. You’d have it because it’s a nice place to be. 

Matt Saunders: It doesn’t come with a massive compromise in it, which most EVs have. It feels like it’s been made to handle as well as it can. It feels like a proper car.

SC: It’s also spectacularly well packaged. 

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Dan Prosser: What do you reckon the range is, really?

SC: Real life range is, I think, 210 to 220 miles.

AF: And is that on a winter’s day, heaters on, lights on? 

SC: Then I think it’d be under 200. I think the range is barely enough for me. I’d have preferred 250. I think you could probably get that, but it makes the experience a bit boring, because I love the way it accelerates. 

Ricky Lane: For me, it has a level of detail like no electric car yet in the control calibration: the way the regen comes in, and the roll characteristics and everything. 

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MP: Is it the best electric car in the world? 

AF: I’d say so. I did that twin test with the Tesla Model S and you can see where the game has moved on. Jaguar deserves credit for getting there before Mercedes-Benz and Audi and others. 

SC: The last time Jaguar did anything as bold as this was the E-Type. They really surprised the market. 

MS: And so to the Ford Fiesta. Dan? 

DP: The big deal is that the Fiesta is the only car here that’s really affordable. That’s not a detail: that’s a fundamental thing. And there are certain things about it, such as the cohesion of the dynamics, that you’d expect of a much more expensive car, so in some ways, you don’t feel you’re driving a bargain motor. It feels like a much more expensive experience. 

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AF: There are plenty of cars you could pay twice as much for that don’t go down the road as well as the Fiesta. I also think it’s so much better than any alternative at the moment. 

SC: You’re buying fast Ford heritage, too. They’ve been able to give these little cars a special persona and they’re still doing it after 40 or 50 years. The other thing I think is important, and which you don’t have to pay for, is its compactness. You can stick it down these roads without banging it on a fence or worrying the people coming the other way. 

AF: In terms of deployable performance, it’s far and away the best value of the cars here. 

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DP: And it has been engineered by a team of people who are dedicated to doing it. You get the sense they’re not simply knocking it out because they think they should have a car in that sector. 

MP: Is it a similar thing that makes you nominate the Alpine A110, Andrew? 

AF: For me, it’s two things. Obviously, it’s a good car, but the reason I brought it is because it’s an important car. I’ve been waiting all my working life for a car to do what the A110 does, which is what the Porsche 911 did in 1964. It provides something that is really good fun to drive, and rewarding and everything else, but it does it in a package you can use day in and day out. It’s light, it’s compact, you get in it and even before you’re down the end of the road it feels right. It reconnects us with all of the stuff that made sports cars, or the concepts of them, so great. 

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DP: And it does it without inventing anything new. It’s all time-honoured, proven stuff. The stuff that makes it good – it’s light, aluminium, compact, with double wishbones – is all very standard stuff but brought together with lots of care. 

AF: And if you look at the cars that have done the same recently, such as the Alfa 4C and the Lotus Exige, they’re flawed cars which no one would use every day. But if somebody said to me: the Alpine is your car to use every day… 

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DP: …It’d be absolutely fine. 

AF: And the fact that it is so enjoyable to drive, and yet you could use it every day, that’s genius to me. There’s nothing in the A110 that hasn’t been done a thousand times before, but it just does it better. 

SC: What amazes me is that it started in such an unpromising way. It was asking to be screwed up. The Caterham joint venture thing went wrong, and you wondered if the economics would go wrong, or whether they’d skimp on things, and they absolutely haven’t. 

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DP: They’ve made it for people who love cars and they took a lot of difficult decisions in order to make it better to drive. That’s clearly the objective about the whole thing. 

MP: This isn’t my view, but will enough people buy it? I’ve had people say: “Is it worth the money?” But it’s a bespoke aluminium car. Sure, you can have a Volkswagen Golf R, but that’s just a Golf with a bigger engine. There’s a moral goodness to buying one of these. 

AF: I do think people who buy cars for the reason we like cars will buy into it and create a big spike of demand, but whether there are enough people like that? Audi TTs outsell Porsche Caymans. It’s my big fear for it. Anyway, Saunders, what have you brought? I forget. Did you make it yourself? 

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MS: It’s a Bowler Bulldog, and it’s brilliant. You know what it’s like in this job: you’re up against your own expectations. This car just comes out of nowhere and it’s the last thing you expect. It’s great fun. You can do so many different things with it. It’s a proper motorsport car and has so much more credibility than any tuned-up Defender, so it deserves more recognition than it has had. It’s only indicative of the potential of what its platform can do, too, so it’s only a part of the story. 

AF: Is it a new platform? 

MS: Completely new. It’s called the Cross Sector Platform. Very flexible. They make it themselves. They can basically make up to 3.5 to four tonnes of special utility vehicle, built to order. 

MP: So it’s not just a race car? 

MS: No, they’re hoping their business will be more than 50% utility cars to big NGOs in the next five to 10 years.

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SC: I love that interior, with those extreme seats and everything, it’s just so mechanical. 

MS: That’s it. It’s a bit mad, isn’t it? It’s nothing like a Porsche Cayenne – and neither should it be. But it appeals to me because I’d love to be able to have one and do proper rallying in it. 

AF: What I liked about it was that this has got a bit of the Ariel about it. Despite its mad looks and the silly noise and everything, it’s actually a properly engineered car. And I just love the idea that dotted around the country are these little companies that aren’t just bonkers but are also making things to a high quality. 

MP: Okay, you’re Sir Broderick Crispin-Sprongwell and you’ve got 100 rooms and 40,000 acres. How many other cars do you buy before you make the phone call to Bowler? 

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MS: I could see it being in the first five. It’s a pretty niche thing and you’d have one mostly for genuinely rallying it and competing in it. 

RL: What are your other options? A Mercedes G63 is nothing like as entertaining, a Lamborghini Urus is £160k but so unimaginative. It’s like having a McLaren Senna on a larger scale: you just wouldn’t use it on the road. I love how theatrical it is. 

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MP: And the Lotus Exige? 

RL: The Sport 410 was a bit of a gamble. On the 220-mile drive here, there was every possibility I could end up hating it. But for something so ridiculously focused, credit to it, I’m not dreading the drive back. They’ve positioned that really cleverly. I think it’s better on the road than it is on the circuit. 

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This really is meant to be the last Exige, and that is one of the reasons I brought it along. I think we’re in danger of taking it for granted, just because it’s been around for so long, and forgetting what an incredible bit of engineering it is. Compared with the A110, it’s hopelessly unsuitable for daily driving, but I think it delivers a purity, a hit. 

SC: How much is it? 

RL: This one is about £80,000. But nothing I’ve driven this year has got my heart beating so fast on the road. Part of the compromise is that you don’t know when you’re going to get a bit of bump-steer, but on a smooth road, it’ll just carve through bends at speed like you wouldn’t believe. 

MS: It is incredible to think you get that for 80 grand. You have to put a lot in, but still. 

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AF: But the Ariel is half the price, and there’s no question for me which is more exciting. 

RL: True, but for me, the Lotus really stokes the imagination. There’s this incredibly low scuttle, a dead-flat dash, you can see the throttle actuator through the glass at the back, and that engine… 

MP: It is a wildly exciting engine, isn’t it? When it came out, I don’t remember thinking it was one of the best engines in production, but now, it’s one of the most exciting there is. 

AF: They have done a fantastic job on it, particularly with the noise. 

MP: Have other engines got worse in the meantime, or is this just much better than it was? 

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RL: I think there’s a bit of both. It has probably the best engine here, and then when you’re on it, it has the most communicative steering, there’s a manual ’box… 

AF: I think it has survived for a long time as a credible product, but cars like the Ariel and the Alpine, particularly for the money, have moved the game on so far. 

MP: Yeah, I brought the Atom not because it’s a bit better than the old one but because it’s so much better. It feels like they’ve moved a generation and a half. It still has all of the engagement but none of the bad bits. So in a Lotus sort of way, it filters the kicks and only gives you the messages you want. 

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SC: I like how it’s true to the original concept. 

MS: Exactly. It looks better but doesn’t weigh a great deal more, and it feels in its dynamic make-up a bit like a lighter Ferrari 488, because of the way it supports itself in corners. It just feels incredibly well sorted for a car from such a small company. 

AF: And it’s £40,000. What can you buy for that money which feels more special, extraordinary and different? The thing to consider for all cars is fitness for purpose: how well do they do the job they were designed to do? The Atom on that road is basically meant to be the most exciting thing, and I don’t think I want to be any more excited than that.

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SC: It’d be bad for the old strawberry. 

MP: It’s as beautifully built as anything, too. 

RL: It indulges you in every way. The pedals are beautifully set up, the brake modulation is spot-on, the engine, okay, it’s turbocharged, but it’s incredible because it’s hissing in your ear the whole time. 

SC: The fact that it exists at all is great because they could have gone on for a long time, selling the Atom 3.5 in that market. A lot of people would have. When they sell 100 cars a year, they could have gone another three or four years. 

DP: I know nothing about motorbikes, and this isn’t about the driving experience, but I just like looking at them and the exposed components. You can pore over them. With the Atom, you can do exactly the same. 

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AF: Can I ask one question? Is there any car anybody has seen today and thought; ‘I wish I’d brought that’? 

More of us than is strictly professional look at each other: the Alpine. 

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HiPo 289 25 December 2018

iPace range no doubt longer with a ‘normal’ driver

Journo’s are notoriously lead-footed. And they like the heater up really high, as we’ve previously established with the ‘What Car?’ EV tests. This also affects EV range in winter.

So I’d like to see what mileage an everyday mortal would get. I suspect it’s more than achievable by Autocar.

Same probably applies to Mustang/911/etc!


jason_recliner 25 December 2018

This article is a Chrstmas day treat!

I'll have the Alpine, Lotus, Ariel and Ford please Santa x

si73 24 December 2018

The alpine would be my choice

The alpine would be my choice of those taken. Lovely looking and almost  if not actually, affordable.