The year started with the return of a legend. Michael Schumacher announced he was returning to Formula 1 to drive for the new Mercedes team, and Alan Henry’s column title captured the one question on everyone’s lips: “Can Schuey still hack it?”
BMW also looked set to bring back a legend when it confirmed its new M1 – a hot version of the 1-series coupé that was tipped to get a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-litre six-pot motor producing as much as 350bhp. There was uncertainty over whether the baby M-car would get the iconic M1 name but, whatever the badge, it was good news for all enthusiasts.
The good news continued at the Detroit motor show. The limelight was shared between the promising new Ford Focus and a new Audi e-tron concept – a rear-wheel-drive electric sports car that pointed towards a TT-sized production car for 2013. Other highlights included the final production version of Tesla’s seven-seat Model S, the new VW Jetta in hybrid form, and the Peugeot SR1 – a three-seat roadster concept that hinted at a bright future for Peugeot design.
The week after Detroit, the revelations were no less dramatic as Mini released full details of its Countryman crossover – the first five-door Mini. With a coupé and roadster also confirmed, it was clear that 2010 would be a landmark year for the brand.
While Mini was announcing ever more quirky new models, Volkswagen was sticking to what it does best with hot hatches. We pitted the 267bhp Golf R against the Ford Focus RS and Renaultsport Mégane 250 Cup. Victory went to the Renault, which we called “the supreme being among mega-hatches when it comes to pure driving thrills”. The brawny Focus RS came a very close second ahead of the Golf R, which offered impressive stability but an “oddly bland driving experience”.
Meanwhile, the SUV sector was getting a shake-up. We rode in the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which promised to be a big improvement over the model that we tested against the new BMW X6 M, Range Rover Sport and Infiniti FX50i. On track, the BMW reigned supreme, comprehensively beating everything else in a simple drag race. But on the road, the Infiniti, athough the slowest on the track, felt the most entertaining and took overall victory.
On a rather more eco-sensitive note, we got behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Volt and found it to be a perfectly decent way of getting around. Breakthrough engineering it may be, but it was welcome news to discover that it was also a nice place to be and drove like a proper car.
Rather closer to the showrooms was the VW Polo, which narrowly defeated the benchmark Ford Fiesta because of Ford’s multiple price hikes. Even without the price advantage, though, the Polo’s grown-up interior, pleasant dynamics and all-round ability impressed.
To add a touch of extravagance to the January pages of Autocar, we put the Bugatti Veyron up against a Bugatti EB110. The findings showed that although they were wearing the same badge, entirely different gene pools had produced very different cars. The Veyron made the EB110 look like “a curious kind of bargain”, so if you could live without the title of fastest car in the world, it might be worth looking to Bugatti’s past rather than its present.