Honda NSX; Peugeot 208 GTI; Bentley's SUV plans; new BMW 3-series; Britain's best handling car
24 December 2011

Exciting news of a radical Range Rover meant that October hit the ground running. Styling cues from the Evoque, a new pressed aluminium monocoque chassis and increased interior space were some of the highlights forecast for the all-new 2012 Range Rover.

Another automotive icon made autumn news headlines in the shape of the Honda NSX. The successor to the Japanese maker’s most focused performance road car was predicted to keep to the mid-mounted V6, two-seat, rear-drive layout of the original. It was also tipped to have a new 400bhp hybrid motor, lightweight aluminium body and possibly even a 2012 on-sale date.

Peugeot had its own historic icon to wrestle with when it was revealed that the company’s next generation hot hatch, the 208 GTI, would be launched next year. Expected to use a 1.6-litre motor tuned for 154bhp in standard guise or 204bhp in hardcore form, it was impossible not to look forward to the hot 208 without looking back at the 205 GTI and wondering if this new Peugeot hatch could finally come close to matching it for entertainment.

Meanwhile, Bentley confirmed that it would put a 12-cylinder petrol motor in its forthcoming luxury SUV because, according to CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer, it would “make clear whose car is the boss”.

The brand that really soaked up the limelight in October was BMW. Official details and images of the new, sixth-generation 3-series were released, showing the compact exec’s all-new corporate BMW identity as well as revealing that it would be faster, roomier, more frugal and available with hybrid and four-wheel drive options.

Further down the launch process, the new 552bhp, twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 BMW M5 was facing its rivals for the first time. Having set the benchmark in the performance saloon class for its long history, it came as a shock that the M5 lost out to the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. Why? Because, although the BMW was “faster, more comfortable and fractionally more luxurious, the E63 is that much more exciting to drive on the right road”.

And keeping the performance car theme, our annual competition to find Britain’s best-handling car came round again. Some updated but familiar contenders were there in the form of the Renault Mégane 265 Trophy, Caterham Seven Supersport, Aston Martin V8 Vantage S, Lotus Evora S, Porsche Cayman R and Porsche 911 GT3 RS, while the McLaren MP4-12C, Mercedes CLS63 AMG and Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nürburgring had maiden appearances.

After deliberation on and off Rockingham’s tight national circuit, the podium places went, in descending order, to the Cayman R, Caterham and Aston Martin. All three delighted in every situation for very different reasons, but Porsche’s hot mid-engined coupé proved the most rewarding all round.

To add a little variety in a month full of the most desirable and exciting sports cars available, Colin Goodwin took to some mud paths in a Lada Niva – a 20-year-old Russian 4x4 being newly imported to the UK. For all of its cold war austerity, the Lada’s lack of rivals, the charmingly awful handling and the prospect of an official snow-plough option won us over.

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