Making exciting cars is becoming increasingly difficult. Big engines are getting legislated out of existence, and major manufacturers are increasingly turning their attention to electric stuff. But don’t go thinking that means the days of soul-stirring cars involving a little suck, squeeze, bang and blow are done.
The evidence? Five brilliant, brand spanking new motors launched in 2021 that stood out from an impressive field of vehicles Car Throttle has tested this year. There can only be one winner, though, so without further ado:
The Hyundai i20 N is a car that took on the Ford Fiesta ST and…lost. But that’s more a reflection on just how good the Blue Oval’s compact hot hatch is - the i20 N runs it close, and that’s enough of a feat to warrant its inclusion here.
It hasn’t quite shaken up the class like the bigger i30 N did a few years back, but it’s still one of the most exciting hot hatches around right now. The i20 N features a surprisingly brawny 1.6-litre inline-four turbo engine, a mechanical limited-slip differential and various driver modes to play with. All of this comes together to make something very fast and very capable.
The passive dampers can be a touch firm on rougher ground, but for the most part, it’s a properly sorted little performance car. The influence from former BMW M man Albert Biermann, now Hyundai’s head of R&D, is abundantly clear whenever you drive this thing.
Yes, we know, it’s an SUV, and yes, fast Nurburgring laps and circa-three-second 0-62mph times for cars like this ceased to be impressive some time ago. And yet, Porsche has done the unthinkable with the Turbo GT and broken our fast SUV malaise.
Various changes including increased front negative camber, a big drop in ride height and reprofiled air suspension all add up to a fundamentally different driving experience to the already thrilling Turbo. The GT even has Pirelli P Zero Corsas, for Pete’s sake.
It’s amazingly lairy for a 2.2-tonne, all-wheel drive SUV, and it’s so competent, it could pass for a super saloon if it wasn’t for that lofty view out of the windscreen. The downside? It costs a whopping £143,910 before options.
Despite the way it looks, this is indeed an all-new car. Based in rural North West Wales, MST has been making spares to help Mk1 and Mk2 Escort rally cars going for years, new shells included. So, the team figured - why not chuck all that together and make complete vehicles? Each finished car is put through the DVLA’s Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) process, et voila - you have what is for all intents and purposes a brand new ‘Ford Escort’ Mk1 or Mk2. The only thing missing is a Ford badge to avoid angry emails from lawyers.
First came the Mk2, available with myriad suspension and engine options plus wide and narrow-body shells, more recently followed up by a Mk1. We tried a widebody Mk2 with a 2.5-litre, 200bhp Duratec inline-four, which belts out a muscular individual throttle body racket that sounds like it’s straight from a WRC stage in the 1970s.
With a starting price of £75,000, buying one of these certainly isn’t a cheap business (the Mk1 is even more at £85k), but for a raw, engaging experience similarly priced modern sports cars could only dream of emulating, perhaps that’s not so bad.
In the year a new 911 GT3 comes out, its appearance in various car of the year lists is all but guaranteed. While this might seem tiringly predictable, there’s a good reason why - few modern cars are as satisfying to drive.
The GT3 truly succeeds because it ignores modern £100k+ performance car trends. Here we have a car with a (comparatively) modest 493bhp output derived from a naturally-aspirated flat-six. No turbos here, and if you want, you can still have a six-speed manual gearbox.
That’s not to say the new 992 version hasn’t advanced. Thanks in no small part to a new double-wishbone front suspension setup, the GT3 is more engaging than ever before and has largely dialled out that typical 911 understeer.
For all its advances, the 911 GT3 isn’t particularly unique in Porsche’s history. It’s merely the latest in a long line of track-focused 911s, and even with the way the regulations are going, don’t bet against there being another one in a few years’ time.
The Giulia GTA and GTAm, on the other hand, are one-offs. Alfa Romeo has never made anything like this before, nor will it do so in the future. This is a special but fleeting moment in the company’s history.
The two-seater GTAm, the more focused of the pair, feels far more precise and serious than the already very good Giulia Quadrfigolio used as a starting point. It’s a thrilling, visceral kind of car, and with a £154,000 price tag, unbelievably expensive. Not that this stopped people - all 500 units of the GTA/GTAm are now sold out. We can see why.