Only the most interesting cars make it onto the Autocar long-term test fleet. But which of our 2017 drives deserve some special recognition? We polled the office to dish out some (imaginary) trophies
The Escape to the Country Award: the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio will put a smile on your face
The Hashtag Spoiler Alert Award: the MX-5 RF surprised by proving a folding hard-top can add some refinement to the two-seater
￼The Inspect-a-Gadget Award: This is the gripping bottle-holder in the Skoda Kodiaq. We decided it was more innovative than a PHEV car with solar panels on the roof...
Throw in the Kitchen Sink Award: the Mercedes-Benz E220D estates is a classy wagon that’s not too proud to haul black sacks to the tip
The Hashtag Spoiler Alert Award runner-up: The Audi S5 surprised by not proving a cohesive unit
The Top Floor of the Waitrose Car Park Award: Sorry, Alfa and Audi, the Suzuki Ignis is our car-park champ
￼The Game of Thrones Audiobook Award: There is no car Matt Saunders would rather traverse the seven kingdoms in than the Volvo V90. Being Swedish, it would also prove quite capable in the sort of conditions you'd find beyond The Wall...
the 'Look at Me, Dammit' Award: The Aston Martin Vanquish S. Other wedding cars are available, but aren't nearly as impressive
The 'Look at Me, Dammit' Award: Matt Prior nominated the Aston Martin Vanquish S for every single award. We think he likes it...
The 'Pick your Own' Award: Jim Holder hailed the Dacia Sandero Stepway LPG for being the cheapest car we ran this year
The 'thank you for not messing it up' Award: Mark Tisshaw praised Alfa Romeo for doing a great job on the Giulia Quadrifoglio
The Hashtag Spoiler Alert Award: The Mazda MX-5 RF is still fun with the folding roof up
The Hashtag Spoiler Alert Award: The Mazda MX-5 RF is surprisingly refined
The 'Look at Me, Dammit' Award: Well, you try not to look at the Aston Martin Vanquish S
The Game of Thrones Audiobook Award: The Volvo V90: more relaxing seats than the Iron Throne
The Hashtag Spoiler Alert Award runner-up: The Audi S5 wasn't quite honed to perfection
The 'pick your own' Award: Matt Saunders highlighted the Renault Scenic for making snapper Luc Lacey crack a smile
The Top Floor of the Waitrose Car Park Award: The Suzuki Ignis - better than a Bentley Bentayga. At least when it comes to fitting it in a car park
When we're selecting cars to add to our long-term fleet, we're careful to only consider the finest or most interesting machines on the market. Spending an extended period of time in them can reveal hidden depths or faults. So which of the machines we've run on our long-term test fleet in 2017 impressed us the most? We asked around the office - and the results are in.
The Escape to the Country Award for the most fun car to drive
This developed into a straight battle between world-class British precision engineering and classical Italian charm and character, with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio sneaking victory from the McLaren 570GT by the narrowest of margins.
“I was beaming within 100 metres,” reckons editor Mark Tisshaw. “So well engineered, it’s more than the sum of its parts. A near-perfect ride and handling balance, an extraordinary Ferrari V6 engine... I could go on.”
Perhaps predictably, the Aston Martin Vanquish S claimed a dominant win in this category, which will please editor-at-large Matt Prior, since he nominated it for every single award. While many of those submissions required somewhat tortuous logic (he explained the Aston’s city car credentials by saying “you get let out at junctions”), few would quibble with the Vanquish’s victory here.
He said it “looks equally as good at the opera, a race track or on a Tinder date” – which probably says too much about how he spends his weekends...
Matt Saunders noted the Aston did not just stand out for its looks, adding: “It’s louder than the end of the world.”
Showing that its folding hard-top really has added some flair, the Mazda MX-5 RF emerged in a (distant) second place. Staff writer Jimi Beckwith, a man who knows his style (even if it is occasionally questionable), said: “I don’t know if my family are terrible at identifying cars, easily pleased or just humouring me, but the MX-5 RF got as much positive reaction as any of the supercars on our f leet would have.”
We’ll get to the winner in a minute. First, an explanation. This award is so named because Autocar Towers shares a ridiculously tight multi-storey car park with a Waitrose, and the ten-storey ascent to our top-floor parking area provides an excellent test of a car’s agility in tight spaces.
So, er, how did Bentley’s massive Bentayga SUV finish second in an award that should be all about small, nimble machines? People have some explaining to do... Let’s start with Dan Prosser: “Concrete walls, small building, other vehicles – all swept aside by the hefty Bentley as though they weren’t there.”
Andrew Frankel, can you do any better? “Because my man could just drive around the block until I was ready to come out. Or, better, I could give him the shopping list and drive around the block until he came out.”
Hmmm. Guess there’s a logic there, of sorts. Still, ultimately – and in one of the unlikeliest paragraphs you’ll have read in Autocar in some time – the Bentley Bentayga was swept aside by the new Suzuki Ignis.
Describing the Ignis as a “top- drawer small car”, Jim Holder said: “Yes, it looks a little dorky, with its high-ride height and short length, but that makes it perfect for urban living.”
Holder added a prediction: “Another car maker will take the formula, make it more stylish, double the price and be hailed for inventing a new type of car.”
Throw in the Kitchen Sink Award for the car more suited to load-lugging
“You have an E-class Estate on this list and still have to ask?” exclaimed Andrew Frankel. Well, yes, we did, actually – while the Mercedes did emerge as our leading load-lugger, it was pushed hard by both the Skoda Kodiaq and Volvo V90.
Executive editor Matt Burt is the custodian of the E220d estate. As the person tasked with keeping our copy clean and precise, his nomination for the Merc displayed laudable brevity: “Obvious, really.”
Picture editor Ben Summerell-Youde championed the Kodiaq, noting: “It’s massive, and I love the ‘Simply Clever’ gubbins throughout.”
Mark Tisshaw was a fan of the V90, explaining: “I went to Ikea purely for the meatballs and some coat hangers. The coat hangers slid so far into the boot, I had to climb inside to retrieve them.”
And, yes, Matt Prior did nominate the Vanquish in this category, too, “because the boot will hold two sets of golf clubs and the rear seats a 5ft 10in child”.
There was plenty of diversity in the voting for this award, with the Mazda MX-5 RF claiming a narrow victory for proving that a folding hard-top can add surprising levels of refinement to a fun two-seater.
“I expected big things, but I didn’t expect it to be of such high quality,” said Sam Sheehan. “The feel of the gearshift, the seating position, the placement of the vents directly onto your hands and that lovely coupé roof line. I’m a big fan.”
Digital editor James Attwood ran the MX-5 RF as his long-termer, and said: “The first time I sat in it, with the roof up, it felt incredibly claustrophobic – and I reached straight for the drop-top button. Five months later, I realised I’d spent more time driving it with the roof up – it just felt more refined.”
The Suzuki Ignis’s SUV reinvention meant it nearly snatched this award too, with Matt Saunders pondering: “How you can get so much space into such a small car is beyond me.”
But not everyone was a fan: Jimi Beckwith nominated the Ignis because it fell short when it came to fuel economy, and didn’t leave him “with the warm and fuzzies”.
The Audi S5 finished third in the voting, although not for entirely positive reasons. While it could be an engaging drive, the soft-top’s disjointed nature annoyed many. Mark Tisshaw noted: “It surprised me how little the various departments in engineering talked to each other in its development...”
Game of Thrones Audiobook Award for the best car for very long journeys
WINNER: Volvo V90 - Highly commended: Mercedes E220D Estate, Bentley Bentayga, Aston Martin Vanquish S
This was another close scrap between the Mercedes and Volvo estates, with strong campaigns from both the Aston Martin Vanquish S and Bentley Bentayga. But, by a narrow margin, the honours in this category went to Sweden.
“Rides gently, loads of space, awesome seats, practically drives itself, does 45mpg and has a fantastic nav system,” reckoned V90 custodian Matt Saunders. “I will entertain no arguments.”
For the sake of argument, though, Sam Sheehan stuck up for the E220d, describing it as “comfortable, luxurious and quick”. “I can’t think of many cars I’d rather cover great distances in,” he added.
James Attwood championed the Bentley Bentayga, after a 90-minute motorway jaunt. “I had to negotiate the M25 at rush hour yet still emerged from the Bentayga feeling more rested than when I got in it,” he said.
The Inspect-a-Gadget Award for the best/most innovative/useful bit of in-car technology
WINNER: Skoda Kodiaq gripping bottle holder - Highly commended: Toyota Prius plug-in solar roof, Ford Mustang line lock mode
This award attracted the widest range of submissions, risking a multi-way tie. So we decided to hand out the prize based on the quality of submission, and the winning entry came from Jim Holder.
He nominated the Skoda Kodiaq’s drinks bottle holder, saying: “Maybe I’ve lived a sheltered life, but I’ve never encountered drinks bottle holders that grip your bottle for you while you unscrew the cap. It’s a pathetically low-tech solution but very effective, and a small but significant step towards safer driving.”
The Kodiaq just edged out the Toyota Prius Plug-in’s solar roof panels. Mark Tisshaw said: “When this thing called the sun comes out, it charges the battery for you.”
What possibly kept the Prius from winning this award was the rubbish British weather, rendering the system somewhat ineffective – and Tisshaw’s admission that the Prius looked “about as attractive as a 1930s semi with solar panels slapped on”.
Not every bit of tech worthy of praise was there to make life easier – such as Andrew Frankel’s nomination of the Ford Mustang’s tyre-shredding line lock mode.