Declan Colley looks back over his choice motoring picks of the year. Yet again, some of his selections may come as a surprise.
It has not been accepted wisdom for Examiner Motors to follow the pack, but in this case, that is exactly what is happening as our top pick of the year has already been selected as European Car of the Year 2017 and got a similar gong from the Irish Motoring Writers.
We don’t have a vote in either of these but for the first time ever, we are in full agreement with both.
The 3008 is a beautiful looker and largely great to drive. What really stands out is how much better it is than anything Peugeot has done in the SUV sphere.
The previous one was more of a conventional hatchback in rural clothes, whereas this one is the real deal and I might go as far as to say the best thing Peugeot has done in many years.
The company’s unerring ability to make uninspiring cars in recent decades has become almost legendary. Their quest for greatness almost always ends in mediocrity.
The new 3008 stands so clearly above all that it is
almost shocking. From the excellence of the design and the eye-catching lines Peugeot has built into it, to the comfort and equipment levels of the interior, the 3008 is miles ahead of almost anything else the company has done in recent memory.
OK so it might only be as good as anything else in the SUV category to drive, but even that modest compliment represents a huge leap forward for the French marque and if it indicates a serious shift in the manner the company looks at its driving dynamics, then we are in for much more excellence in the years to come.
Peugeot has also reacted quickly to the popular shift away from diesel — despite the fact they make some of the best of them — and its new generation, small capacity petrol units will stand comparison with anything out there both in terms of power outputs and economy. That factor, mated to the general élan of the 3008, makes it a worthy and elegant addition to the roll of honour.
It is also worth noting that, given the general ambivalence in these columns to the whole SUV revolution, that the 3008 is now the third such vehicle to get the top gong in our awards, following on from the Volvo XC90 and the Skoda Kodiaq.
Given that the competition in this class is monumental — Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, etc — and that there has been several new and revived entries to the class, such as the excellent Nissan Micra and brilliant Suzuki Swift, it may come as something of a surprise that a car which has been much-laughed at and derided in the past, the SEAT Ibiza, comes out on top here.
The culture shift within VW, of which SEAT is part, has given both the Spanish subsidiary and its Czech colleagues over at Skoda a whole new lease of life.
The new Ibiza is a reflection of this autonomy being brought to life. While SEAT still has access to the VW parts bin for engines, drive-trains, and all that stuff, it has only previously been allowed to make bargain-basement stuff which, frankly, usually belonged in a basement.
Not so this time, where the SEAT engineers and designers have been allowed to express themselves as never before. That being so they have produced the best Ibiza ever, one that belongs in the Premier League.
Increases in overall size and comfort levels, an excellent design, and brilliant practicality have moved this car from being a poor relation to the newly found rich kid in the family. Pound for pound, too, this is a car that cannot be so easily dismissed as was previously the case.
SEAT is a company on the move and the new Ibiza clearly indicates that the only way the company’s fortunes are going is up. Bigly, as a certain powerful American might say.
Now some might cavil at the Octavia being called ‘small’ as it competes regularly with much bigger cars such as the Mondeo, Passat, and Insignia. Being based on the VW Golf platform, it is a small car which Skoda’s engineers have stretched to maximise its potential. We all know about the ‘more for less’ ethos of the company by now.
However, I have limited this award not to the entire Skoda Octavia range, but to just one of the engine variants available within in that range. And that engine is the 115bhp three-cylinder petrol engine, which can actually be found in many models across the VW Group’s companies.
However, in a car with the relative bulk of the Octavia, many — yours truly included — felt it would simply be a step too far for the unit.
Not the case, as it works hugely well in the Octavia and once again highlights the long-held theory in these quarters that small capacity petrol engines will be with us for far longer than anyone in the green movement — or even in the automotive world, for that matter — reasonably predicted. The one-litre Skoda is a huge thumbs-up for the ‘remainers’ — if you will — on the petrol side of the clean fuel argument.
I thought this thing was going to be pretty grim, to be honest. I anticipated a nailed on ‘yoof market’ machine that made great of its endearing looks, but would be terrible to drive. I was well wrong. Not only is it a great thing to look at in your driveway (despite, it must be said, some appalling colour options) it is also fantastic to drive.
Certainly not the most practical of SUVs simply because of its diminutive size, the Q2 is nevertheless aimed at people for whom practicality is not top of the wish list.
Rather this is aimed at a younger more design conscious audience and that is quite laudable. Except, for most companies getting the design right is the top priority and the driving dynamics are left to go to hell.
Not here. No siree. This car has excellent handling and is great to drive – much more so than anything else I can think of in the same league. It also embodies the sort of interior décor quality and the high-end infotainment that Audi routinely markets, albeit slightly higher up the food chain.
If you are convinced that a premium crossover is the thing you need in your driveway, then this is the one.
Doncha just love them? Well, no, actually. Most hybrids are as much fun as a trip for root canal treatment as their driving traits are about as invigorating as a bog snorkel.
Toyota, of course, is the king of the hybrid, but its efforts in this regard, while hugely popular, heretofore singularly failed to deliver an engaging car.
But then it came up with the funnily named C-HR — it actually stands for ‘coupe-high rider’, which could lead to a lot of merriment among silly people. But not only is this car a decent driver, but it is also sexy looking. And they’re selling by the shed-load.
It is aimed at the younger, snazzier crowd rather than the professorial types which bought various of the Prius models and it has hit a chord.
Sure, it is outdone by most other conventional SUV/crossovers, but as a stand-alone hybrid, it stands alone in terms of how interesting it really is as there is nothing else quite like it and it leaves such efforts as those from the South Koreans (Hyundai and Kia) looking very tepid by comparison.
You could quibble with aspects of the car like the rear passenger space and head-room, but this is a landmark hybrid and gives us some hope that a future full of these things might not be as dull as we anticipated.
The BMW ‘M’ brand is all about iconography — very fast iconography — and the likes of M3 and M5 are imbued in the regular lexicon of petrolheads who like their chillies very hot indeed.
The M2 adds to the ‘M’ legend. Butch, muscular, and very hairy-chested, it relies on largely mechanical elements and not electrical trickery to keep its 365bhp on the road and is thus very much a driver’s car.
Now you will probably have to avail of track days to see how sideways you can get it — and for how long — unless, of course, you live in Northern Turkmenistan where you can utilise the vast emptiness of the Karakum Desert to explore your driving chops without attracting the attention of the thin blue line.
But what a drive it is. Wild, unabashed, and far from modest, the M2 is like an excitable puppy which is constantly at you to let it off the leash. With unabashed ‘take-me-on’ looks to go with its exceptional natural abilities, the Beemer has an OTT presence to go along with its shattering performance.
It is certainly not cheap — what with a price tag in or around the 80-grand mark — but it is bloody good and the sort of performance machine which will put you front and centre of any crowd that knows anything about performance motoring.
OK so you’re always going to get people who will feign a coronary when you tell them you’ve bought an Alfa, but in the case of the Giulia it is worth taking all that faux concern about your sanity on the chin.
This is a car the Italians had to make sure to get right — primarily because the word came from the top that if they didn’t, it was curtains for the brand — and they did get it right.
Aside altogether from the astonishing 510bhp Quadrifoglio version with its’ 100k-plus price tag, the more normal Giulias display breath-taking beauty along with the sort of mechanical longevity necessary to put the Alfa name back on the map.
Alfisti will need no encouragement to buy the Giulia, but for those who have been smothered by the German domination of this market, the car represents a genuine alternative to the norm. Sure there are irritating traits that will annoy you, but once you get the seat-of-the-pants feel this car exudes in such volume, you will be consumed by your love for it.
Certainly Alfa has demonstrated down the years that it has the same sort of self-destructive DNA of an elderly gunslinger who can no longer get his gun from his holster and keeps shooting himself in the foot, but the evidence of this one car suggests that it has the potential to undo all the damage perpetrated upon it by years of relentlessly misguided management.
Although only face-lifted in advance of a completely new one arriving in a few years time, the S-Class revamp has underlined just how much effort Mercedes puts into its claim that this is the best luxury motor in the world.
It may be that Rolls Royce and Bentley and a few others might dispute the Stuttgart giant’s claim, but the fact of the matter is that the S-Class is still king of the executive luxury hill. The new model incorporates much of the excellent technological stuff that made last year’s new E-Class such a wow — and then it takes the whole deal a couple of strides further down the road.
Although the Irish tax regime means that diesel is still going to be the primary power source here for the S-Class, these straight six engines are a joy to live with and drive and the amount of technology that is on offer is quite mind-boggling.
This is, officially, the lap of luxury and while it will not arrive in your driveway without having first mugged your bank account, it is still the one to have if you have to have prestige, luxury and one-upmanship large in your life. Nobody does it better.
Lexus has made a few sports cars down the years, but the majority have either been horribly styled or poorly conceived.
They’ve knocked all those mistakes on the head with the LC500. At over one hundred grand here, it is far from cheap, but it is exceptionally accomplished. There are two versions available, one a hairy hybrid — the 300h — and the other a lairy, licentious, and libidinous five-litre V8 petrol.
I did a grand tour of Switzerland back in August in these things and quite how we were not arrested by the various forces of law in that mountainous land is still a mystery.
The sheer joy of the V8 is quite addictive, but that was only to be expected. What surprised was the sheer joy of the hybrid, which, while having a muted soundtrack — ie, none — at low running speeds, actually drums up quite a blood-curdling soundtrack when you get it stoked up.
It is also a thing of beauty — something Toyota and its derivative are not generally known for — and it is packed to the gills with amazing gadgetry and technology. Either of the cars will provide explosive performance and a great driving experience. On this evidence, I think it is safe to say that Lexus has kicked down another door.
Several cars which did not make it to the top table are worthy of honourable mention and these include (in ascending order of size) the excellent new Fiesta which Ford has kept at the sharp end of the Supermini grade.
Renault surprised with the quality and sturdiness of the Clio and Megane, which both seemed to indicate that the ‘Regie’ is getting its mojo back.
In SUV-land the new Mini Countryman is very big and very good, too, and the SEAT Ateca is a huge leap forward for the Spanish concern, while the Volvo XC60 will accelerate the Sino/Swedish concern back to the top of the executive table.
Speaking of which, the new BMW 5 Series certainly narrowed the gap to the E-Class and the Touring version was a definite wow. And, at the sporty end of things the VW Golf R showed the others how to get it done.
On the other side of the coin, it is true to say that there are very few bad cars made these days, but we still drove a few this year. Top of the list was the awful Kia Nero hybrid which is an object lesson in how not to dive into the deep end of the pool if you can’t swim.
The new Land Rover Discovery is an excellent car, but an object lesson in making sure all elements of the design mesh. In this case, it has the rear-end of a water buffalo.
Similarly, whoever at Ford came up with the exclusive ‘Vignale’ idea needs to be sent back to the drawing board.
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