With so many new car launches each year, picking a favourite is a tricky decision. So which cars impressed the Autocar team the most in 2018?
Having thought long and hard, and using whatever criteria we fancied in order to make our choices, here are our top picks from the year.
It isn’t just that I think the Alpine A110 is a very good car; I reckon it’s an important car, too. By re-purposing many of the old sports car fundamentals that seem to have been put to one side by some other sports car makers in recent years – think compact size, lightweight construction, double wishbone suspension, relatively modest power and grip – Alpine has built both a supremely enjoyable sports car and one that’s perfectly suited to our increasingly congested roads.
The A110’s creators understood that it isn’t sheer power or outright performance that makes a car rewarding, but performance that you can actually use. The Alpine is near enough the perfect sports car for 2019 and beyond.
Dan Prosser - contributing writer
The best new car launch of the year? I highly doubt it. But it is certainly one of the most significant.
We know that any mainstream brand worth its salt is championing a range of SUVs to compete in the fastest growing new car sector. But almost nobody (bar the premium brands) has been bold enough to release a performance SUV. Seat is the first to emerge from under the parapet, focusing the impact of its new Cupra sub-brand by creating a 296bhp Ateca.
With almost no rivals to speak of, this car is the acid test to see if buyers and enthusiasts really will leave their hot hatches behind for a high-riding alternative. And with several more in the pipeline for 2019 and beyond, other manufacturers will be watching the Cupra very closely to see if it's a recipe for success.
Lawrence Allan - news editor
Just write about your favourite car of the year, they said. It’ll be easy, they said. I’m not sure I can decide. McLaren will rightly feel aggrieved if I don’t go for either the Senna or the 600LT, both of which were absolutely stellar. Out of those two, I think the Senna is the car I will remember for longer (stupendous pace and sense of occasion, stopping power like you’ve never felt, and yet so drivable). But neither are among the cars I’m agonising over.
Driving the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera – and discovering what a supreme champion and evangelist it is for everything I happen to look for in an Aston Martin – was one of the best days of the year. It was a day when videographer Mitch and I went one way but every other hack on the junket went the other, and we had an apocalyptically empty mountain pass and a world-class super GT entirely to ourselves as a consequence.
And yet driving the awesome Bowler Bulldog, and being totally smitten with it, was equally unexpected – and somehow felt like an even more special occasion, albeit in a much more niche sort of machine. The Bulldog’s less of a car and more of a brilliant delivery mechanism for a motorsport hobby you’d never considered. Stage rallying, trialling, rally raiding, off-road racing – call it what you will, the Bulldog could do the lot. I was staggered at how quickly it could belt down a very rocky track, at how much punishment its chassis could take, and how compelling it could still be as a driver’s car on the road in precisely the same rolling specification.
Have I really got to pick one? Bowler it is, then. I’m not sure I’ve driven anything quite like it.
Matt Saunders - road test editor
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
You’d have to be a fairly heartless soul to not fall head over heels for Aston Martin’s latest flagship, wouldn’t you? I mean, even looking at it conjures up James Bond-esque images of ritzy towns on the French Riviera, glamourous women and judo-chopping bad guys. Well, it does for me, anyway.
Fantasies aside, though, the DBS Superleggera is a remarkable achievement for one of Britain’s best-loved marques. It’s everything you’d expect a super GT to be: staggeringly quick, but not intimidating; sharp and agile through the bends, yet still a comfortable and refined grand tourer; and suitably aggressive to behold – but not to the extent where its beauty is compromised.
That a brace of turbochargers hasn’t muddied the snarling, mellifluous soundtrack of its V12 is the icing on the cake. I love it.
Simon Davis - road tester
What else can it be, but the I-Pace? This is not a simple case of home-grown bias, but instead a fair reward for a car that’s not only 2018’s most significant and influential new car, but also one of its very best to drive.
No other established car maker has got a big-range premium car to market ahead of Jaguar. No other car maker has such established conventions and an image at odds with such a car as Jaguar. And no car provides a blueprint to the future of the British car industry as the I-Pace. In its modernity, relevance, and quality of execution, the I-Pace is as significant a car as Jaguar has ever made.
Mark Tisshaw - editor
I wouldn’t buy a Suzuki Jimny. Really, I wouldn’t. I’m not stupid: I live within the M25, and most of my motoring is on tight urban roads or motorways, where the Jimny’s wobbly ride, abject lack of steering feel and general lack of refinement would quickly drive me crazy. And yet there was no car this year that I was as excited to drive, or which gave me quite such a thrill as the Jimny did. The amazing retro styling helps, of course, but what I really love about the Jimny is that it’s designed and engineered with a wonderful singularity of purpose: to be a truly capable mini off-roader. And it delivers everything it was designed to do.
I reckon Suzuki could remove the four-wheel-drive gubbins, stick in one of its ultra-efficient petrol engines, upgrade the interior with some swisher materials and, on looks alone, sell millions of Jimny to city-slicking types such as myself. But, brilliantly, it won’t do so, because that’s not the point of the Jimny. So no, I wouldn’t buy a Suzuki Jimny - and that’s exactly why I love it so much.
James Attwood - deputy editor
Hyundai Kona Electric
Best car is a term that needs definition in this context, because none of the facets about cars that Autocar hacks have got used to lauding over the first 120 years or so of our existence really apply to the Kona Electric, which in many respects, especially dynamically, falls short of what might be considered to be decent in a conventional car today. But where the Kona Electric redefines the rulebook is in terms of range for the money – the area, I’d hazard, that stands head and shoulders above all others as a priority for the majority of electric car buyers in this nascent market.
By adding 100 miles of real range over its nearest challengers to the equation, the Kona not only knocks all rivals (bar the upcoming and related Kia e-Niro) into a corner but it also substantially and significantly widens the pool of buyers for whom an all-electric car can be an option.
Jim Holder - editorial director
BMW M2 Competition
There wasn’t that much wrong with the BMW M2 already, but you know what BMW’s M-division is like: an M car at the end of its product cycle rarely feels like quite the same car it was at the start of it.
Adopting a detuned version of the M3/M4 biturbo engine (rather than the M2’s single-turbo one) makes life easier for BMW because now it only has two engines (this and the V8) to get through emissions regulation.
But that’s not what brings the change in character. The change comes from a mild tweak to springs and dampers, a brace bar in the engine bay, and the rose jointing of some rear suspension components, which make the whole thing sharper, keener, the front more responsive and the rear follow the front more faithfully. A bit less hot rod, a bit more sports car.
But really the reason it’s the ‘best’ car is because, among all this, unlike so many sports cars it’s habitable, usable, and practical.
Matt Prior - editor-at-large
The Hyundai Nexo isn’t going to win the hearts of driving enthusiasts, but that’s not the point. Hyundai is ploughing ahead with hydrogen-fuelled cars as an alternative to electric cars, grasping that both technologies could have their time. While the Kona EV shows Hyundai is serious about electric, the Nexo demonstrates the car maker’s commitment to other alternatives for the future.
Hyundai is trailblazing here, creating a genuinely innovative vehicle to progress future power technologies at the expense of a profitable car. Now, we just need hydrogen-fuelled vehicle prices to go down and infrastructure to increase…
Rachel Burgess - deputy editor (digital)
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
OK, it might lack the V8 muscle that powers some of its sports SUV rivals, but to me, nothing else in the class this year came close to delivering the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's engaging and dynamic performance. A snarling Ferrari-derived engine, rear-biased four-wheel-drive system and on-point handling combine to deliver truly eye-widening levels of performance over just about any road.
Along with the red-blooded Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon, the Stelvio is evidence that Alfa Romeo is finally back to doing what it does best: building true performance cars that are guaranteed to entertain in almost any environment.
Tom Morgan - deputy digital editor
Alpine A110, Jaguar I-Pace, Hyundai Kona Electric
There was a trio of cars that excited me, but I suspect anyone who knows Autocar’s launch diary will have no trouble working them out: the Alpine A110, Jaguar I-Pace and Hyundai Kona Electric. No wild cards, you may think, and you’re right. Yet each of these appealed for different reasons than I thought it was going to.
Have to say I was dead scared the A110 would turn out to be a bit of a clunker, what with the failed start-up with Caterham behind it, lots of component sharing with cooking Renault models, and the knowledge that it’d have to echo the original A110’s look without having the petite original dimensions to show them off. Yet it has worked perfectly. There’s plenty of performance, the car looks great (and accommodates real people) and has as much performance as anyone needs in real life.
I thought, when I saw the concept, that the I-Pace might be a bit token, what with the huge cabin and short bonnet (in contrast to every other Jaguar in history) yet it turned out to be a true driver’s car. And luxury car.
The Kona? It put the biggest battery range into the smallest car, which wins it a range advantage over practically everything else on the market apart from Teslas that start twice as expensive and go upwards from there. Together, what a surprising trio!