In a year when we’ve driven old cars, new cars, cheap and exorbitantly expensive cars, how exactly are we supposed to pick a favourite?
Here at Car Throttle, we have a simple solution affectionately known in the office as Not Car of the Year. Instead of choosing a single victor, a few of us select two cars each, ideally a 2018 debut and something that isn’t - although we have fudged the rules a bit this year for one vehicle. #Sorrynotsorry.
This gives us a list of amazing cars we’ve been fortunate enough to drive in 2018, while avoiding a massive argument and the possibility of awkward fisticuffs outside CT towers.
This year we have contributions from CT editor Matt Robinson, video chief Alex Kersten, columnist Dan Trent and a special guest in the form of Tyrereviews.co.uk founder Jonathan Benson, who assists on the vast majority of our shoots.
Here’s what we came up with:
It had to be the Fiesta ST, didn’t it? Yes, I know I’m being predictable by sticking it in here, this being a car which has topped numerous car of the year lists from multiple publications around the world, but there’s a good reason for that.
It’s not down to the fact it’s faster and even more engaging than the old one. Nor is it anything to do with the brilliantly lively rear-end, which is always either wanting to rotate forward and/or cock one of its wheels in the air. No - it’s because the Fiesta ST does all of this while costing under £20,000, even when you add the limited-slip differential option via the Performance Pack.
In bang-for-buck terms, this the new inline-three-powered ST is game-changing.
Like in 2017, my second choice is a late entry that I snuck in the road-test calendar just before the Christmas break. And that late entry is this extremely silly Lamborghini.
Specifically, it’s an Aventador S, and it’s here because I initially hated it. Confused? I don’t blame you. But stick with me.
The controls were all over the place, I couldn’t see out of it properly, the ride was obscene, and the gearbox was unbelievably clunky. When I finally got the chance to drive it fast, it was… still quite tricky, actually. It’s a bit like having a fight. But that’s why I grew to love it: it’s a proper, uncompromising, old-school supercar that just isn’t interested in making your life easy, whether you’re pootling or hooning.
It looks suitably absurd, and its V12 is one of the greatest engines ever made. The more extreme SVJ may have emerged this year, but the S is all the bonkers supercar you could ever ask for.
Most of the cars I drive these days are old, rusty, and in need of work. I like it that way. Sometimes, though, I’ll get an invite to drive a car I can’t ignore, and the Ferrari 812 Superfast was one of them.
Let’s recap the specs: 800hp, naturally-aspirated V12 and 211mph. Pretty cool, huh? So here are three reasons why the 812 is my top new car of 2018.
Driving the 812 is like riding a roller coaster blindfolded because you’re never ready for what’s about to hit you. Even after a day driving this for our video, my eyes would swim and my stomach would churn, just like unexpected free fall on a flight. The 812, then, is the ultimate car for thrills, and its £250,000 price tag makes every full-bore acceleration feel just as naughty as doing the dirty with your best friend’s sister.
There are two engine and exhaust notes that stand out to me most. And those belong to the Lamborghini Huracan Performante (yes, the one that made me cry…FML), and the 812. I can’t choose between them (I’ll leave that up to you), but the 812’s is a noise I can bring to the front of my mind and play back over and over. It never gets old.
The main reason why the 812 makes it to the top of my 2018 list is simple: it makes everyone who sees it happy. In fact, during my time with the 812, around 30 different people sat in the car and instantly loved life, evidence of which you’ll see in the video above. So please, if you own anything as special or cool as the 812, share your passion with others!
Show me a car with well over 400,000 miles that’s still running as sweetly as this Skoda and pretend like it’s not the best thing in the world. That’s exactly why Miles the High-Mileage Hero has topped my shortlist of awesome cars I’ve driven in 2018.
Not only is this Octavia a freak of nature for the fact that it’s still chugging along happily, it also continues to deliver over 70mpg on the motorway. It’s also comfortable (ish) to drive long distances, and is a car that encourages smooth driving (unlike the 330d project car or recently rebuilt RX-8).
What’s more, I love what this car stands for, which is proof that a good service history results in vehicular longevity. It’s also testament to the fact that great cars can be bought for very little money, especially in the UK.
For those of you wondering, we still have Miles, and continue to pile on the hours behind the wheel. 500,000 miles, here we come!
Styling so cute you want to give it a cuddle? Revvy, naturally-aspirated engine? A lovely, short-shift manual gearbox? That uniquely Japanese combination of solid engineering and crappy interior plastics? Yes, the Suzuki Jimny is basically the MX-5 of the 4x4 world and none the worse for it.
OK, try and corner it like an MX-5 and you’ll be through the next hedge, the good news being that, so long as you haven’t tipped it over, you can engage low-range and continue your journey cross-country like you meant to do it all along.
Like many, I was first turned onto the Jimny by its styling, which was old-school without being overly retro. Eventually, I got to drive it and wasn’t disappointed one bit. OK, by any rational measure it’s a bit rubbish – the engine has zero torque, it’s slow, the steering is light and vague, there’s no space inside and to describe the interior as a bit cheap is being generous.
None of this matters. In a synthesised age this is pure analogue joy. A machine built with utter lack of pretension to do a no-nonsense job while simultaneously having more charisma than pretty much any other modern car at any price.
Is there really anything left to say about the R35 Nissan GT-R? You might not think so. And yet, 10 years after driving one for the first time, the chance to try a new variation on the theme always gives me a thrill. Especially if it’s had the once-over from Litchfield.
I’ll spare you the full geek-out but the LM20 Track Edition is basically the GT-R of the same name with the stiffer NISMO-spec shell, garnished with choice Litchfield upgrades to engine, suspension and beyond. Which gives you more of everything – more steering feel, more performance, more body control…just more. Amazing to think a car once considered the embodiment of computer-enhanced trickery is now a bastion of old-school feel, everything from its hydraulic steering to the turbo lag and clunky transmission now adding to the charm. And no less thrilling.
Nissan famously baited Porsche when it launched the GT-R; that there have been multiple generations of 911 Turbo since it arrived and I’d have this car over any of them is the best accolade you could wish for.
The R8 RWS is a car Audi probably shouldn’t have made. In cold, damp conditions, it wants to kill you. Constantly. The balance of the RWS isn’t quite as natural as the AMG GT R or BMW M3 CS (the limited run BMW being another car that impressed me this year), and the damping can start to struggle on the bumpiest of UK B-roads. But as a driver’s car, it’s everything you could hope for. It’s even a comparative bargain at £112,450, considering the next step up the food chain is the much more expensive Lamborghini Huracán LP580-2.
The best way to summarise how exciting the Audi can be to drive is this: before spending time with the RWS, I always thought Audi should have made it with the 602bhp ‘Plus’ variant of the 5.2 V10. After driving it I’m glad it didn’t.
We’re all aware the combination of rear-wheel drive, a mid-mounted engine and no turbo is quickly coming to an end, so let’s celebrate what Audi has done with the RWS.
On paper, the AMG GTR isn’t a car I would usually covet - in an ideal world I would choose a mid-mounted, normally-aspirated drivetrain. But there was something so resolved about the GTR’s chassis that I couldn’t help but spend the days following the drive wondering which one of my organs I could part with to own one.
AMG has pushed the engine far enough behind the front axle to give the car a wonderfully predictable mid-front balance, the damping is pretty much as well sorted as any 911 I’ve driven, and it’s one of the best turbocharged engines I’ve experienced (by which I mean very little lag), with the car feeling a lot stronger than the quoted 577bhp figure would suggest.
Things I’d change? Well, the stereo is a little flat, and the infotainment/sat-nav system is dated now (an updated GT range launches next year), but that’s not the reason you buy the GTR, so all can be forgiven. It could also go on a little diet, but the weight is well hidden, in part thanks to the bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyre pairing.
Remarkable work by AMG. Does anyone want a low mileage kidney? A bargain at £143,365.