Despite the onslaught of downsizing robbing us of big naturally-aspirated engines, we at CT like to maintain that there’s probably never been a better time for performance cars. Manufacturers seem to actually care about making fast cars more than they ever have done, which means we’ve been behind the wheel of some incredible new cars this year. But we’ve also driven some amazing less new cars this year.
Since choosing a single favourite out of the hundreds of cars we’ve collectively piloted this year would be time consuming and probably result in a fist-fight, each of Car Throttle’s road-testing hacks - Matt Robinson, Alex Kersten and Matt Kimberley - have picked two motors as their favourite rides of 2016. Some debuted in 2016, some didn’t, but they were all stand-out cars of the year for us.
Here’s what we came up with:
The Honda NSX is here because it took me by surprise. You might argue that a six figure hybrid supercar damn well should be good, but by the time the European, Honda-badged versions of the car arrived, it was difficult to ignore some of the criticism the North American Acura edition had received.
Perhaps due to it being over-burdened by excessive hype, the successor to a car that’s achieved deity status in the motoring world and being massively delayed, reception to this car out in the ‘States didn’t hit the highs I’d been expecting. So fast forward to our first drive in the Honda NSX, and I really didn’t know what to expect. But in the end, it blew me away.
Yes, its blend of three electric motors and a surprisingly tuneful 3.5-litre V6 doesn’t make it any quicker than the competition, but that combination makes it feel unlike anything else I’ve ever driven. The urgent acceleration that starts way before you expect it to thanks to the torque-filling motor attached to the engine, the way the other two motors nudge the front end into line - it’s all a brilliant showcase of what modern technology can do.
And yet it’s still a very tactile, lively car to drive. There’s genuine feedback from the steering wheel. The rear end is surprisingly loose when you want it to be. They’ve even ‘engineered’ a thoroughly natural-feeling brake pedal, even though it’s a by-wire jobby with no physical connection.
This, ladies and gents, is the supercar old world colliding with the new in the most gloriously harmonious way.
We were a little late to the party driving the most hardcore version of the 991, but had I driven it the year it came out, it would have most certainly been my car of 2015. As in 2016, no other car made quite so much of an impression on me.
But why? Let’s start with the engine. It’s a 4.0-litre, naturally-aspirated flat-six, and it’s scarcely different from the lump you’ll find in certain 911 racing cars. Sounds damn near the same too, when you hammer it up to the near 9000rpm redline while being pinned back in the carbonfibre bucket seats.
The rear-end mechanical grip is absurd - whether you’re hoofing it off the line or being greedy with the throttle mid-corner, it will not unstick - and through engineering witchcraft this rear-engined car is blessed with the sort of balanced feeling few other cars can get close to.
The icing on this delicious cake? That’d be the steering, which redefines what you think you know about steering feel. It’s an extreme setup that sees a hell of a lot of kickback sent through the wheel, but it makes driving the RS feel like actual effort; like you’re actually involved in the process.
Old cars are the best cars. They have character, they’re easier to work on and nine times out of ten, they look cooler than any new car. And when something doesn’t break after hard driving, you just know it’s going to be a good day.
But sometimes, I drive a new car and think ‘damn, why do I put myself through the stress of older car ownership, when I can have something as awesome as this?’. Great looks? Check. Electrifying performance? Check. A button dedicated to going to sideways? Not usually, but in the case of the Focus RS, it’s another check. Which is why it’s my new car of 2016.
You see, apart from its incredible thirst for fuel, there’s nothing I don’t like about it. OK, it’s pretty heavy, but thanks to its AWD system and 2.3-litre Ecoboost inline-four with 345bhp, it feels light and agile.
The grip is phenomenal, it sounds great, it drifts at the touch of a button, and it costs just over £30,000 which is amazing value for money. What’s more, my girlfriend also loves it, although she’s used to me driving a lemon around, so her opinion is probably a little warped. But seriously, it’s the one car that nails all driving challenges with ease, so how can you not respect that?
Maybe it was the fact that I was blindfolded in the Nevada desert, or perhaps it was the aircraft machine gun strapped to the roof, but for me, my used car of 2016 (and also the most amazing car I have ever driven) was the brainchild of a no-damns-given BMW service centre in Las Vegas. What the guys did there was take two broken cars - a BMW E30 325ix and a BMW 2002 - and make them have nasty sex to create a one-off, go-anywhere Bimmer with a bad attitude.
It sits on big ‘Swamper’ tyres, it features a roll cage and a snorkel, and from any angle, it’s gnarly and ‘money’ (two new expressions I learnt while in Vegas). It also proved its worth in the desert, clawing its way noisily along tough terrain, and made me want my very own ‘X2’ here in London. But because I have a feeling that a car with a gun on its roof probably won’t go down too well here, so I’ll have to stick to my plan of buying a Jimny, making it badass and sticking a BMW badge on the front. No one will ever know!
When it comes to cars, excitement is relative. A Golf GTI is more exciting than a Hyundai i10, but there’s always something that delivers a purer thrill that part of you says you should have bought instead. For me, that never-ending chain hit the bump stops in January when I took the wheel of the Exige Sport 350. It was an astonishing melee of superlatives, and compared to the over-hard Sport 380, one of Lotus’ ever-lengthening string of derivatives, the 350 is better suited to the road. And much cheaper.
Unbelievable throttle response, tack-sharp steering, epic power and noise, that stunning tartan upholstery next to the exposed gear linkage… it isn’t a drive; it’s an event. Every mile of the mixed but generally greasy test roads near Silverstone is tattooed in carbon into my memory. From the short-travel but surprisingly supple ride to the addictive supercharger whine, the Sport 350 is an electrifyingly instant driving experience only matched, in my experience, by the Ferrari 458 Speciale. And praise doesn’t come higher than that.
This probably seems like a cliched choice, and the 86 is definitely a piece of ground we at CT have trodden many times, not to mention the CT communities containing huge volumes of your own collective thoughts, opinions and experiences. But every time I drive one I come back around to wanting one.
This is a fabulously talented and rewarding steer that just gets better the more time you spend in it. That goes especially for the bog-standard 16-inch-wheeled entry-level version, which for my money is the sweetest-driving and best in the range.
Let’s move past the interior materials quality straight away. If you’re worried about that then you probably need to revise your priorities. The GT86 is a car so fundamentally balanced and exploitable that if you love driving, you can’t fail to love it. If your gig is drag racing then you’ll clearly want more torque, but on any sort of twisty road the 86 is still more or less perfect. Scything through sequences of bends in the Welsh countryside this year reminded me that one day I have to own one.
What do you think of our choices? And what were your cars of the year? Get to the comments!