Currently reading: Road test yearbook 2021: October to December
All-new Range Rover revealed, C8 Corvette hits Europe, Britain's best drivers car crowned and more

The days might have started getting shorter, but there was no shortage of new metal in the final few months of the year. Here's what went down:

October

Autocar’s tagline is ‘First for news and reviews’, so naturally we cover any and every vaguely significant new car. However, not all car reveals are equal, some getting a mere mention in a sidebar, while others, like the all-new Range Rover, get a whopping six pages. News editor Felix Page was overheard saying he just couldn’t stop writing about it, so much was there to say. The new one is moving even more upmarket in the hopes of bringing profit and new customers to the JLR fold.

On the other hand, finding more sales was not a priority for any manufacturer in the latter half of the year, since the chip crisis has meant they just haven’t been able to keep up with demand. With a few exceptions, makers are selling every car they can build, and for certain models there’s a yearlong waiting list. The upshot, as we reported in our 16 October issue, was that the SMMT recorded the lowest September new car registrations since 1999.

That didn’t stop the steady flow of launches, though. Significant electric cars just kept on coming, headlined by the Tesla Model Y. It’s been on sale in the US for what feels like forever and the competition hasn’t stood still. Nevertheless, it still impressed us with its range, space and clever tech, but its lacklustre dynamics failed to push our buttons – or touchscreens, for that matter. The same was true of the Volkswagen ID 4 GTX, which is billed as a GTI for the electric age, but while our road test proved it was a good electric car, it’s not an exciting one.

The Kia EV6 has less sporting bravura yet managed to surprise us with its driving engagement on a first drive – while being significantly cheaper. The Ford Mustang Mach-E GT had a creditable stab at being a performance EV, too, but also lacked the finer details to make it a truly engaging driver’s car despite devastating speed and a willingness to oversteer. 

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We’ve still got some way to go when it comes to sporting EVs, then, but a few traditional heavy hitters balanced the picture. We finally drove the C8 Corvette in European spec and found this prime slice of Americana, complete with naturally aspirated V8, to have retained its intoxicating character but added some handling finesse. Old-school vibes of a different nature came from the new Audi RS3, which keeps its glorious five-cylinder. From first impressions, it brings some handling appeal to its usual safe-and-steady Audiness.

As a further contrast to the forward-looking EV content, we had a few glances at the past. A retrospective on the Kia Elan, a badge-engineered Lotus, and a farewell drive of the Evora highlighted the brilliance of Lotus but also what it needs to get right as it embarks on its next chapter with the Emira.

Illya Verpraet

Moment to remember

Matt Saunders: Bentley fully committed to the press launch of the Continental GT Speed, which was held in Sicily. The setting was every bit as spectacular as the car (although I’m still waiting for the PR man to supply Bentley’s competition history at the Targa Florio; I suspect it’s rather short).

The highlight was a visit to what was once a Nato airbase at Comiso, where a gymkhana-style drift course had been laid out. Letting journalists loose in such a setting in a 2.2-tonne Bentley with plenty of trees, big kerbs and street furniture to hit must have taken bravery. Perhaps not quite the same bravery that the WW2 pilots leaving the runway once needed – but, given my name was on the guest list, no small amount all the same.

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Moment to forget

Felix Page: The rationale behind expanding London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone to the North and South Circular is sound, and the effect no doubt transformative, but we can still be slightly gutted about the glut of interesting older cars it will take off the road. Our capital has always been a goldmine for the keen car spotter, but a hefty daily charge for non-compliant engines has proved too much for many owners, and there are already fewer gems to gawp at on my morning jog. 

And I’m sure even the most ardent classic car enthusiasts will be slightly perplexed at Transport for London’s decision to exempt ‘historic’ vehicles from the charges. My 1972 Volkswagen Beetle is far less efficient and far more pollutive than a 2013 Audi A4 3.0 TDI, but guess which one would cost £12.50 to lap round Trafalgar Square?

Quote of the month

“It’s very authentic for BMW to do bold statements. You can’t just design to keep your icons alive. You have to create new ones.” - Domagaj Dukec, BMW’s head of design, on why he’s standing his ground on the company’s bold styling direction.

Road tests

6 October, ​​Mercedes-Benz E300 Cabriolet, three and a half stars: “Relaxing four-seat cruiser still entices but is a little spec-sensitive.” Price as tested £54,775 Power 255bhp Torque 273lb ft 0-60mph 7.0sec 30-70mph 6.4sec Economy 33.4mpg

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13 October, Renault Arkana E-Tech Hybrid 145, three and a half stars: “Showy styling clothes an eminently sensible but unspectacular car.” Price as tested £29,800 Power 141bhp Torque na 0-60mph 11.0sec 30-70mph 10.1sec Economy 50.8mpg

20 October, BMW 545e M Sport, four stars: “A polished car with some sporting appeal, but it’s no landmark.” Price as tested £72,595 Power 389bhp Torque 443lb ft 0-60mph 4.5sec 30-70mph 4.0sec Economy 48.9mpg

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27 October, Volkswagen ID 4 GTX Max, three and a half stars: “GTX adds flavour to the ID 4 but doesn’t reimagine ‘GTI’ for the EV age.” Price as tested £55,735 Power 295bhp Torque 348lb ft 0-60mph 6.2sec 30-70mph 5.6sec Economy 2.6mpkWh

November

You could argue the cover star of our last issue in November had been a long time coming: the electric Rolls-Royce Spectre. Rolls-Royce had unveiled its first electric concept (the 102EX) a decade ago, but back then EVs just weren’t in the public consciousness. However, in 2021, the world’s axis has shifted and Rolls is understandably keen to not only react to that but also lead. The Spectre, due for release in 2023, should make that possible.

Our other big news in November was the launch of the digital

Elsewhere, it was a month of driving. Our annual Britain’s Best Driver’s Car shootout was a smorgasbord of 11 top cars, all tested over road and track with the mix of subjectivity and objectivity that Autocar has made famous. The winner was, by a unanimous verdict, the Porsche 911 GT3.

The car that finished third in that test had earlier in the month redefined some of our longest-held road test records. The Ferrari SF90, a technological force of nature, smashed both the outright acceleration and MIRA lap records in a day that will be brutally etched into the testers’ memories for years to come.

In Qualify mode and with the tyres suitably warmed, the SF90 hit 60mph in just 2.5sec, 100mph in 4.8sec and the standing quarter in 9.9sec. The previous quickest had been the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, which recorded 2.6sec, 5.0sec and 10.1sec. Nothing since that 2011 Bugatti test had got close until the Ferrari, and that includes cars like the McLaren P1 and Ariel Atom V8. As for the lap time, it completed MIRA’s Dunlop circuit 0.2sec quicker than the McLaren Senna. Who’d have thought that we’d be approaching winter and seeing those records being broken.

Piers Ward

Moment to remember

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Mark Tisshaw: It was great to catch up with Autocar readers at the launch of our digital archive at the RAC Club. The digitising of the archive, and the ability at last for people to access it, is a huge moment for us, and – humbly – for the history of the car itself, given Autocar’s age and historical significance. Being able to share that with some of you in person made it all the more special.

Moment to forget

Richard Lane: Admittedly, aiming to cross the Stelvio Pass in November is risky, but when the pass remains open later than usual into the year, and then they close it on the day you’re due to cross, and you only find out at the foot of the mountain, this causes problems. Those problems are exacerbated when it is already late in the day, and your destination for the night is in northern Italy, just miles beyond the pass itself. Your exacerbated problem is then exacerbated further because you need to double back and loop through Switzerland, the only country in western Europe in which the car you’re driving currently has a £35,000 tax liability. Fun times. Full story in January.

Quote of the month

“The Mission R goes from near standstill to very, very fast without leaving time for you to ponder any of the speeds in between. Yet it’s easy because the throttle response is so linear. It’s not like there’s a torque curve to understand: it’s just all there all the time.” - Andrew Frankel on the one-off Porsche Mission R electric racer.

Road tests

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3 November, Ferrari SF90 Stradale, four stars: “Our new performance benchmark but not a track-handling great.” Price as tested £523,460 Power 987bhp Torque na 0-60mph 2.5sec 30-70mph 1.8sec Economy na

10 November, Genesis G70 2.2 CRDi Luxury Line, three and a half stars: “Likeable left-field choice struggles to threaten the establishment.” Price as tested £46,490 Power 197bhp Torque 325lb ft 0-60mph 7.2sec 30-70mph 6.7sec Economy 43.7mpg

17 November, Mercedes-Benz EQA 250, three stars: “Competent but entirely average. For the money, we expect better.” Price as tested £54,085 Power 188bhp Torque 277lb ft 0-60mph 8.4sec 30-70mph 7.6sec Economy 3.0mpkWh

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24 November, Honda HR-V e:HEV Advance Style, three and a half stars: “Fine ergonomics and big on superficial charm but leaves us cold.” Price as tested £31,660 Power 129bhp Torque 187lb ft 0-60mph 9.2sec 30-70mph 9.3sec Economy 44.5mpg

December

Ah, 1 December. As with an advent calendar, your letterbox beckons with the month’s first treat – a copy of Autocar. Only instead of a little flap opening up to reveal a tiny chocolate elf, a large flap opens up to reveal the BMW Concept XM on the magazine’s cover. Crikey.

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How do you like that, then? The XM (not to be confused with the quirky old executive Citroën of the same name) is BMW’s idea of a concept to celebrate its M performance division’s 50th anniversary. It will become a bespoke M model next year and is, according to M boss Frank van Meel, “more than 90%” of the way to being the production model.

The only other bespoke M car in the division’s history is, you might remember, the M1. So absolutely not a plug-in hybrid SUV. But here we are. Welcome to the new world. Meanwhile, Richard Lane is driving the next big thing from Maserati, the famous Italian sports car maker. It’s an SUV based on the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Oh.

To whom can we turn to free us from this SUV-athon? How about Pininfarina, the famous Italian design house creating a new niche as a car manufacturer in its own right? I drove its first car, the Battista, an 1876bhp battery-electric ‘hyper GT’. And I will admit that it fairly blew me away. Not just because of the performance, which was expected, but also the way it handled and placed its power around, which wasn’t at all. 

Sure, it’s £2 million and pointless and there will be only 150, but it introduces us to Pininfarina as a car maker. Thankfully, Pininfarina’s next model will be… oh, hang on, it says here that it’s an SUV.

Matt Prior

Quote of the month

“In this part of the market, people want to have something completely different to what their friends or rivals own.” - John Hennessey on his six-wheeled hypercar project.

Road tests

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1 December, Jaguar F-Pace P400e R-Dynamic HSE, four stars: “Facelifted F-Pace hits the mark, with its electrification a mixed but creditable success.” Price as tested £73,975 Power 398bhp Torque 472lb ft 0-60mph 5.1sec 30-70mph 4.6sec Economy 46.2mpg

8 December, RAF Chinook HC.Mk6A, five stars: “A century of service is mapped out for it, with no better option in sight.” Power 8336shp Never exceed speed 207mph Cruising speed 138mph Economy 1200kg/hr

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