The year’s shortest month included first test impressions on several crucial new cars. The fleet-favoured Audi A6 saloon was among them, and our conclusion was that it had raised its game successfully.
But the verdict we’d all been waiting for was delivered by editor-at-large Steve Sutcliffe in the 16 February issue: “It’s impossibly fast but easy to drive, in a way that’s unprecedented at this level of motoring. A car that Brits should feel proud of.” What else could he have been referring to but the ‘macnificent’ McLaren MP4-12C supercar? Little did Steve know, writing those words, that the new £170k Macca wouldn’t receive higher praise all year.
A sign of the times didn’t come much clearer than this: we gave over 26 pages this month to cars powered partly, or completely, by electricity. We looked at the Smart Forspeed roadster and Tesla Model S in the news section. There were early test drives of Renault’s pretty Zoe supermini EV and Fisker’s daring range-extended electric GT, the Karma. Hilton Holloway’s stint in VW’s incredible 313mpg XL1 prototype left him struggling for superlatives, while Vicky Parrott’s experience comparing Porsche’s Cayenne S Hybrid with Volkswagen’s Touareg Hybrid, erm, didn’t. We don’t often publish twin tests with no winner, but so poor did these two petrol-electric SUVs seem next to their diesel-powered equivalents that an exasperated Parrott couldn’t recommend either of them.
We didn’t even need to drive Range Rover’s all-new baby SUV, the Evoque, to get a flavour of the car’s dynamic stature. “I get a sense of what this car will be like to drive,” wrote road test editor Matt Prior in our 23 February issue. “Relaxed and comfortable, yet more engaging than you’d credit. Like a tall four-pot Jaguar rather than a low Freelander.”
Good news for fans of another British car brand came with the return of Aston Martin’s Virage monicker, which had been dormant for more than a decade. The word was that the new Virage wasn’t to be a replacement for the firm’s DB9 but instead a slightly more special and expensive car spun off the same old VH platform underpinnings. Expectations at Autocar HQ were low – until we drove it.
In the build-up to the Geneva motor show, held in early March, news of various debutants flooded in: pictures of Jaguar’s 186mph XKR-S, rumours of a new mid-engined Alfa Romeo and full details on Mercedes’ CLK-supplanting C-class coupé. And among Autocar’s exclusives, we provided the lowdown on Mercedes’ new baby SUV, the B-class-derived GLC, and on Jaguar’s brave new compact saloon, ready – in 2014 – to banish the memory of the unloved X-type.
Elsewhere, Hilton Holloway’s close-up look at the Mini Rocketman city car concept was a memorable highlight. Parked nose to nose with the 1959 original, it looked like BMW’s first effort that Alec Issigonis might have approved of.
And former news editor John McIlroy’s preview of the 2011 World Rally Championship – with its new rules, new challenges and new cars from Mini, Citroën and Ford – really whet the appetite. Shame that the season proper didn’t turn out to be quite so absorbing.