It felt like the business end of the year had arrived for real car fans by the time July had been and gone. This was the month that brought our first drives in both the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG – a clash that would continue to simmer until our twin test in October – and judging by the sentiments of our testers, it seemed the Mercedes had the early lead.Our first news story of the month brought first photographs and details of the BMW 1-series coupe – specifically the highly promising 135i and fun-but-frugal 123d. Our last was the story of a bit of bad luck for three-times F1 world champion Nelson Piquet, whose driving licence had been revoked by the Brazilian authorities for a string of speeding and parking offences. Some poor South American official would consequently have to warn Piquet of the dangers of driving fast; a pointless endeavour if ever there was one.In between, you’ll have read about Peugeot’s promising 308 RCZ coupe and Manchester’s forthcoming congestion charge, saw first pictures of the Mini Clubman (and marvelled at the news that its extra door would be on the wrong side of the car for British driver), and read the first indication that BMW would build its Mini ‘SAV’ – the so-called Crossman – not in Britain but Austria.July was also the month when users of Autocar.co.uk voted on the prickly subject of the future of Ford’s Jaguar and Land Rover brands. Your decision was that Ford should keep the brands together and ‘fix them’ by finding a new financial partner. The ‘sell them’ option received only 24.3 per cent of votes. It seems Ford wasn’t listening.Our stand-out road test of the month was on Lotus’ excellent 2-Eleven circuit car, which received a glowing four-and-a-half star recommendation. Other road tests were on the likable Mitsubishi i city car, the impressive Fiat Bravo T-Jet and the convincing Audi A5 3.0 TDi: “if BMW isn’t worried about what this car means,” concluded our tester “it should be.”Finally, our video highlight of July was nine-and-a-half minutes of action and intrigue during which Chris Harris chatted to Ford World Rally Championship stars Malcolm Wilson and Mikko Hirvonen, and in an unforgettable coup, became the first journalist in the UK to drive the 2006 WRC Manufacturer’s title-winning Ford Focus WRC. Watch it by clicking the play button.