In a month packed full of supercars, our biggest story didn’t involve a powerful petrol engine at all. It was, as our cover proclaimed, that BMW’s latest 5-series had come second best to the Mercedes E-class. Although it was one of the closest contests of the entire year, Andrew Frankel concluded: “By a small but significant margin and for the first time in the memory of anyone on this magazine, a new E-class has gone up against a brand new 5-series and won. Not by much, just enough to make history.”
It was left to editor Chas Hallett to conduct a slightly plusher twin test: Rolls-Royce versus Rolls-Roycein sunny California. Chas found the new Ghost a noticeably more agile and more intimate-feeling Rolls, yet also one that didn’t tread on the toes of the bigger Phantom.
In our news coverage, we brought you the first proper look at the A1, Audi’s take on the premium supermini and its attempt to steal sales from Mini. Mercedes took the wraps off its F800 Style concept, which showed its intention to build a smaller four-door coupé as an underling to the CLS. Our story reported that the production version will arrive in the UK in 2013, will be built on the same new A/B-class platform, and will replace the CLC coupé.
We also revealed that future Jaguar and Land Rover models could share platforms – specifically, the XJ could underpin the next Range Rover. In an interview, Saab’s new owner, Victor Muller of Spyker, explained that he had rescued Saab not only because he’s a car lover, but also because it’s what he’s best at, having worked previously as an acquisition lawyer and financier.
As we all battled with the last of the winter weather, snow almost managed to derail the Autocar road test. With our usual test facilities at MIRA permanently under several inches, we had no option but to return to Millbrook proving ground for our test of the Kia Venga. No wet track was available, but thankfully the roads outside gave us plenty of opportunity to test the Venga in low-friction conditions.
We thought the weather was also going to scupper our first drive of Aston Martin’s new four-door Rapide, but with winter tyres and the temperature creeping up, Matt Prior got behind the wheel. His verdict was that although it is no limo, the Rapide is a rounded, appealing package, and every inch an Aston Martin. Two weeks later, it went one better and dispatched Porsche’s technically more competent but less soulful Panamera Turbo.
For many, the supercar highlight – and we had plenty in February – was Steve Sutcliffe’s drive of the outrageous Ferrari 599XX, a car that costs £1.2 million but you’re not allowed to take home. The price is not so much a reflection of the value of the car, but the exclusivity of becoming a Ferrari test driver, the 599XX being a testbed for future technology.
Then there was the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, a car that impressed on its launch and went on to do so throughout the year. And back at Autocar’s offices, we found ourselves in the lucky position of welcoming two supercars to our long-term fleet: a new Audi R8 V10 and a lightly used Ferrari F430.
In an attempt to bring a little balance to our coverage, Mike Duff retook his driving test to see if it’s any harder now than when he first sat it 17 years ago (it is, but he passed). And in two tales of hybrid power, Richard Bremner discovered how to make a Prius sound like a V12, and we took a Honda Insight rallying.