What a year for the car.
The past 12 months have produced a right-hand-drive Ford Mustang, a new, turbocharged generation of Porsche 911, the scandalously pretty Aston Martin DB11 and even an electrified –and electrifying – follow-up to the Honda NSX. What better way to celebrate 2016 than by simply picking our personal favourites and going for a two-day spin? We even found a Christmassy hook to hang it on, locating a Nasareth and Bethlehem, tiny villages both, at each end of Wales for the road test triumvirate to drive between.
In a year that variously featured the Ferrari 488 GTB, the Porsche 911 R, the quickest Tesla yet, the most powerful Caterham we’ve seen and the very first Bentley SUV, the contenders for such a pilgrimage were less than clear-cut. Naturally, we ignored all of the above, and thus we find ourselves in a car park on the foggy slopes of Snowdon with a Volkswagen Golf GTI minus its back seats, the spongier version of the McLaren 570S and probably the least popular variant of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate.
Wise? Well, possibly not so much. But we’ll make up for it with pluck – which is a good thing, considering that our arrival in north Wales has coincided with Storm Angus, a torrential weather front so brutally in its swing that we’ve started shooting photos on Snowdonia’s Pen-y-Pass in rain that is firing horizontal. I remain unconcerned, because I alone had the good sense to bring a car with a driven axle at the front – and one made by Volkswagen to boot, the firm second only to Land Rover at placing you in an apparently impenetrable bubble of dependability.
But to evoke that same sensation in a left-hand-drive Golf GTI with 306bhp on tap is no mean feat, and just one of the many reasons why the limited-edition Clubsport S was my personal favourite of 2016. The steering wheel’s cock-eyed placement is temporary, of course; it’s just that the first of 150 right-hand-drive examples bound for the UK were still to arrive when Nasareth beckoned.
Consequently, VW once again dispatched car 000 of 400 – the very machine we road tested back in August. Only the tyres have changed, Volkswagen wisely deducing that track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber is probably the last thing you need at the fag end of the year in Wales. Consequently, our Golf now wears Pirelli P Zeros, and remarkably decent they are too – even when confronted by the 20mm of water that would be standing if it weren’t being whipped away from a peak long since lost to low cloud.