Consequently, its inclusion in the top five was never queried for a moment. In the court of public opinion, the Golf R remains Exhibit A in the case for both having your cake and eating it, and it would take only a slightly weightier onus on value for money for the car to stand triumphantly at the top of this short list every year.
3. Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
The most astounding thing about the Giulia Quadrifoglio is that it results from what could be called a standing start. Before the Giulia, Alfa Romeo hadn’t built a rear-drive saloon for decades. It hadn’t dabbled seriously in V8 engines, either – and its recent attempts at sportiness away from the 4C were limited to mostly awful, second-rate versions of the Mito and Giulietta. Its initial attempt at rivalling the mighty BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 ought by rights to have been an admirable failure at most, but it isn’t. It’s as far from that as you could hope to get. It is overachievement. It threatens to be a proper Alfa: fabulous, flawed and emotionally irresistible.
That it manages to be any of these things is rooted in the Giulia’s interminable development. Those repeated returns to the drawing board; the top-down refusal to compromise on key elements; the heavy-duty involvement of Ferrari engineers, each of them presumably immersed in Maranello’s bleedingedge approach to all things fast and feelsome. As palpably as a Porsche has passed through Weissach or a Renault through Dieppe or a Mercedes Affalterbach, so the Quadrifoglio feels a product of their input. The car’s steering, as ethereal as angel wings, is righteously incisive. Its weightless positivity is the counterpoint to the scrupulously severe German heft, and the Giulia’s lithe chassis has been primed to respond like a tuning fork, its direction changes resonating with the same immediate and emancipated vitality.
On Exmoor, limited to halfwaysane road speeds in spectacular weather, the Quadrifoglio doesn’t feel encumbered by the overt brawn of its back axle, either. In a single moment, it feels balanced, assured and animated all at once. Of course, in the same moment, it also seems insensitive to brake inputs, extremely thirsty, disappointing to the touch and very optimistically priced. Some of that is as familiar as it is unwelcome, but the Giulia’s extraordinary and unexpected talent is not.
2. McLaren 570S
It doesn’t usually pay to work with adventurous car photographers, but this was one of the rare occasions when it did. Snapper Luc Lacey had picked a wiggle of tarmac he liked the look of for our road test shoot on the brand-new McLaren 570S. It was somewhere none of us had been before.
Typically, it was a road cut into the side of a Welsh mountain and, on the morning we were there, it was being buffeted by some awful conditions. I remember watching the clouds and rain blowing and swirling up the valley towards us and wondering at what point Halle Berry would appear in her X-Men get-up. I also remember thinking: “This isn’t exactly supercar weather.” Well, it depends on the supercar.
We explored the roads nearby before cracking on with the photos and discovered a narrow, rutted, potholed, partly unmarked B-road, bits of it mid-repair. It was the kind of road you might imagine would be every bit as incompatible with the enjoyment of a modern mid-engined McLaren as the weather was.