This crazy Year’s Key Motors and my Best Drives of 2020
If there’s one thing people came to realise again in this crazy year, it’s that cars are good. If you’re stuck in a pandemic and fear the public transport network is too risky to use, plus ubers are icky because eew – other people have been in there before you, coughing and breathing all over the upholstery – then guess what: it’s great to have your own car.
Whilst most industries suffered badly this year, supermarkets and used car dealers did okay, because you gotta eat even when you’re in a lockdown, and you need a car to get to the shops, innit?
Now whilst used car sales till the end of quarter three of this year were down by a million, Q3 period sales alone were actually up by nearly 5% compared to last year. Yeah – more were actually sold than last year.
In the first 9 months of 2020, 5m used cars were sold. That’s only about 17% down compared to 2019. By comparison new car sales were down by nearly 30% – although that’s still around 1.5 million cars sold.
In total over six and half million cars found new homes this year, and in a year like this, that’s something of result. Kerching!
And you know what, even as car makers had to close factories they still managed to reveal and release concepts and brand new cars, some of which will hit our showrooms in 2021.
So what stood out? Quite a lot actually. Here’s my rundown of the most significant new stuff and why.
- Award for car that does the best impression of another car – Ineos Grenadier
Many people say this is what Land Rover’s brand-new Defender should’ve been like – staying true to its classic looks and utilitarian body-on-frame construction. To an extent I found myself agreeing. Then I drove the new Defender and changed my mind (more about that below). Nonetheless, the new Landy does appear to have left a gap in the market. So in steps the Ineos Grenadier continuing the philosophy and ethos of the old Defender – but with a better drivetrain, tech and interior promised.
- Award for cutest EV that should be brilliant – Fiat 500
The Fiat 500 has always been adorable. The canvas top has always been a favourite of mine and the hard core Abarth is hilarious fun. For 2021, it’s going full electric. And there’s even going to be one with a tiny suicide rear door – oh can it get any cuter? Break out the stick-on giant eyelashes. If there’s one car that should work as a city-swinging EV it should be this. Can’t wait to try it.
- Award for car so ugly I fell off my chair – Aznom Palladium
The Ram is a great truck, the current edition the best in the lineage, with an astonishingly smart interior. You might then think that an Italian design house re-imagining it as a limousine would be utter brilliance. However the result looks like a Bentley Bentayga shagged Lady Penelope’s Rolls-Royce and the DNA didn’t quite take. The hideous devil spawn that resulted has a pull-out draw for a boot. Frankly just buy a Ram, and use it to ram this thing off the road.
- Award for the best one-off and most macho car – Aston Martin Victor
This came out of nowhere and stole all the headlines at the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court in London. A highly bespoke one-off modelled on the medallion man machismo of a 1970s Vantage, it was gob-smackingly handsome and desirable – this from a manufacturer that already makes some of the best-looking motors in the world. Nothing could be faulted on this car – except for one thing, there’s only going to be one. If Shaft was James Bond, he’d drive this. Damn.
- Award for concept car that thinks it’s a Porsche and has the most grandiose name – Hyundai Prophecy
This is what the Taycan should have looked like. A stretched futuristic 911 with a retro rear featuring an extraordinary Kammback grille, and the only thing missing from the front are round headlights. Inside it’s totally not like a 911 at all. In fact, there isn’t even a steering wheel. It imagines a future in which the car not only looks good but is aware that it looks good, because AI innit? Paranoid of you scratching of dinging its exquisite exterior, it’ll drive itself thank you very much. But if you really must have a go – how tedious – then you can have a couple of joysticks. Like a pilot. A future where a Korean car is sexier than anything from Germany, and where autonomous cars make us feel like we’re flying? No wonder they called it nothing less than the ‘Prophecy’.
- Award for suck-on-that-Bugatti high speed achievement – SSC Tuatara
On 10 October 2020, the SSC Tuatara reached over 330mph (331.15mph / 532.93kph) on a seven-mile stretch of closed road outside of Las Vegas, driven by a Brit, Oliver Webb. There’s some dispute as to the authenticity of this stated claim, and SSC has said they will run it again. But you know what, I believe them. Just standing still it looks like it’s doing a million miles per hour. 1750bhp for $1.6m from a small car maker that’s made the Bugatti Chiron look like a Nissan Micro in reverse gear. When it comes to the speed wars, this is awesome!
- Award for the most pretentiously unpretentious luxury car – Rolls-Royce Ghost
They called it post-opulence – a Rolls-Royce Ghost, whilst being more RR than ever thanks to being based on the same all-aluminium and all-bespoke chassis of the phantasmagorical Phantom (rather than a 7 Series that is, like it used to). And yet apparently it’s toned-down, focussing on engineering dynamism, rather than overt extravagance. Yeah, right. You say that Royce, and yet you put the cosmos into the dashboard, no, literally, sit in the front and you’ll have stars in your eyes! Gotta admit though, the new Ghost is utterly magnificent.
- Award for probably being the best new hot hatches around – Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport & Golf R
My last favourite Golf was the previous GTI Clubsport – note, not the GTI (I found that a little too tame) but the Clubsport – it had a wildness that’s sometimes filtered out of the GTI. To me hot hatches need to be a little bit nuts. And yet utterly justifiable as daily drivers. You can be Mr Sensible dropping the kids to school one minute, and Fast & Furious ‘Smoke Him’… ‘I reckon I could take that Ferrari’ street-racing hooligan the next. That’s why I rate the Honda Civic Type R as the current king of the genre. But if anything can usurp it, it’s this pair from VW. Looking forward to seeing if that’s true next year.
- Award for best daily driver supercar that people think is a Ferrari – Chevrolet Corvette C8
Someone replaced the badges on their brand new Chevrolet Corvette C8 with Ferrari badges. Most non-car people would have accepted it as a legitimate exquisiteness from the land of the Prancing Horse, rather than Detroit beefcake from the land of the muscle car. Chevy knows how to make a modern Corvette handle – I know this because I’ve driven virtually most generations of modern Vettes. And it knows performance. This thing looks the part at a quarter of the price. Love it.
- Award for most bonkers EV – GMC Hummer EV
Honestly I was never really a huge Hummer fan – apart from my respect for the awesome original military Humvee that spawned the road-going versions – hey if it was good enough for the Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was bound to be back! Okay, I wasn’t initially wildly ecstatic about the revival of the brand either. Even less so when I heard it would be an electric vehicle. Then I saw it. It is uber cool. And then I read the stats: 1000bhp and 11,500lb ft, 0-60mph in three seconds and a 350mile range. If ever the Earth stopped rotating, one of these would probably have enough torque to restart it. Damn, could I be lusting after an EV after all? Oh, and you just know it’s perfect for the former Governator.
- Award for best new car that everyone thinks is an old car – Morgan Plus Four
I always thought I was a Caterham Seven guy. There isn’t a purer, less distilled driving experience available for the road. Then I drove a Morgan a few years ago. With a Caterham you’re in racing driving mode the whole time, it’s almost like you need to be wearing driving Pumas and a Helmet. They you stall it, and everyone points an laughs AT you. Stall a Morgan, jovially shrug and everyone laughs WITH you. Far from being a flat-cap brigade special, the Morgan is oozing charisma, is glamourous and both challenging and invigorating to drive. Best thing of all it’s like having a classic car you can trash the crap out of. For the race track take the Seven, but for the road you need a Morgan. And now there’s a new one. All new, all modern drivetrain, all classic cool to behold. But you can’t even tell it’s new. I’d have one.
- Award for the best hypercar that will still have a manual transmission – Gordon Murray Automotive T.50
I interviewed the legend that is Professor Gordon Murray about his new true successor to the iconic McLaren F1 supercar – the forthcoming T.50. This hypercar features a bespoke V12 that revs to heaven, a short-shift manual that thumbs its nose at every other supercar, butterfly doors and a huge signature fan on the back that defies the laws of aerodynamics. It is genius. It will be a standout chapter in automotive history for sure. And it could be the last pure hypercar. When I think that I’ll probably never get to drive it – I actually weep.
- Award for best new retro-cool car – Ford Bronco
The FJ Cruiser is dead, and the Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol have become too plush and posh to bounce along off-road. The Land Rover Defender has been reinvented, and while it’s still as supreme off-road, it’s now far too precious to sully in the dirt. So you’re left with the Jeep Wrangler then if you want a real hard-core off-roader at accessible money. But Ford has a response. The rebirth of the Ford Bronco is everything it should be – instantly desirable retro-styling, thoroughly modern tech, and proven Ranger pickup drivetrain. What’s not to like? The fact it’s not coming to Europe anytime soon. That reminds me – I have to start that petition…
- Award for being as sexy as Sophia Loren – Ferrari Roma
Sultry come-hither gaze, voluptuous curves and sumptuous hips, I’m not talking a cinema sex siren but the Sophia Loren of Supercars – the Ferrari Roma. With this latest supercar the Italian marque proved it still knew how to do knuckle-bitingly seductive. While the F8 and SF90 chase lap times, the Roma seeks carnal conquests. Just look at it. You would if you could, right? And who cares how it drives? Which it probably does very well being based on an enhanced version of the current Portofino – itself a big return to form after the too-soft original. Is the Roma the current prettiest car in the world? Yeah.
- Award for most surprising new car that I badly want to drive more than I’d ever have expected – Toyota Yaris GR
The Yaris has always been a great car, but no one noticed it. Looks like Toyota got a bit fed up with that, so they took its latest version of the super-selling supermini and pumped it full of automotive steroids. It’s longer, wider, lower, lighter, with a heavily modified chassis, no rear doors, a 257bhp turbo three-cylinder, with an intelligent torque four-wheel drive system, mated to a six-speed manual only (joy of joys!). Prices start at under £30,000. Remember what I said about those VWs being the best new hot hatches? I just changed my mind.
Best cars I’ve driven in 2020
- Award for being the best in mud or motorways – Land Rover Defender 90
Confession time – I was ready to hate this car. Overblown, fakester that’s evolved too far from the original Defender’s remit, abandoning the traditional looks for plastic-fantastic futurism, plus too big and too expensive. Then I finally drove one. On road and off it: in deep muddy bogs that would swallow Smart cars whole; rallying on a dirt track; pushing a Bond movie Defender to the limits; cruising motorways in utter refinement and chucking it around back roads. It’s brilliant. Though I still think it’s more a true successor to the original Land Rover Discovery than the previous Defender.
- Award for being best compact family SUV – Ford Puma
Based on the Ford Fiesta, this compact SUV is just as sharp to drive, retains a thread of sporting DNA from the Puma of old, and offers cuddly good looks, city-slicking style, agility, family-friendly practicality and great value. Few small cars can marry good looks, usability and enjoyable dynamism, along with SUV-level driving height, as well as this little offering from Ford. Plus it’s a mild hybrid – so it’s relatively thrifty and clean – with a sweet manual gearbox. It’s so good, being a London dweller, it’s a possible shortlister for the Sheikh family car in future.
- Award for being the futuristic car with an aquarium in the dashboard – Honda E
Unlike the Land Rover above, I started out wanting to love this baby electric Honda, as I’ve adored it’s first-gen Civic-inspired styling since it was revealed in concept guise. It’s the first all-electric car that had me salivating in expectation. Finally meeting the car and driving it, thankfully did not disappoint – for the most part. It’s fun to drive, usable enough around town, packed with giddy gadgets, turns more heads than a McLaren will, and generally just makes you deliriously happy. Questions remain over its driving range and high price, but what a thing.
- Award for being the most fun compact SUV that’s perfect for the urban jungle – Suzuki Jimny
The first time I had a brief run in a Suzuki Jimny was on a fast B-road run. And like most body-on-frame 4WD cars properly set-up for off-roading it proved a little wayward. Gratefully I was able to do a full review this year over several days and promptly fell in love. Yep, another one for the Sheikh shortlist – well it would be if they introduced a slightly longer wheelbase four-door – and if it was still on sale. Unfortunately, it’s not due to draconian emissions regulations. Which is tragic. But it is charismatic, cool, competent and fun. Wonderful.
- Award for sportiest car with a price, practicality and poise you can easily justify – Ford Fiesta ST
Talking of fun – last year my favourite hot-hatch drive was the Honda Civic Type R and this year it was the Ford Fiesta ST at nearly 10 grand less. There is just nothing to touch it for dynamic ability, driver satisfaction, affordability and practicality. It even puts its bigger brother, the Focus ST, in the shade. I would totally have one. And the actual car I tested recently went on sale for under 20k. Oh… tempting!
- Award for being the best hatchback with a supercar style dashboard – Peugeot 208
The next-gen digital dash alone makes this car a champ – I mean a 3d holographic display is the stuff of Star Trek – and I’m a huge Trekkie. Then you have that extraordinarily styled and trimmed dashboard that honestly looks like it belongs in a Lamborghini not a supermini. You feel special in this car. Plus it looks sweet, is fun-to-peddle and remarkably capacious. The top-selling Vauxhall Corsa is based on this car. Top tip – buy the Peugeot. It’s fancier.
- Award for best electric car that has soul – Kia Soul
Yes it’s electric, but has it got soul is the question we asked when we reviewed the new Kia Soul? Yes it does, we concluded. Surprisingly quick and entertaining to drive; quirky but smooth with stand-out styling; great space and accommodation; and of course a terrific stereo to help keep things funky. It’s probably the first electric car that I drove which got me thinking – maybe EVs aren’t so bad after all. And for that alone it deserves some kudos.
- Award for being the coolest car of all and the car I didn’t want to give back, ever – Ford Mustang Bullitt Edition
I want one. Need I say more. I proclaimed this the coolest car on the planet that you can currently buy brand new, and I stand by that. It drips charisma, it oozes magnetism, and encapsulates cool. It is lit, it is dope, it is sick – just choose and insert your slang word of choice. It turns heads, it grabs attention, it makes friends – honestly more people commented on this car than any other I’ve had this year apart from maybe the Honda E. Unlike the Honda E, this one wakes up the neighbours when you start it in the morning. You feel like Steve McQueen or just about any action hero behind the wheel. All the performance you’ll ever really need is on-tap; it handles way better than everyone imagines (don’t listen to them); the wheels, colour and blanked grille are sublimely alluring; and you wanna drive around in a roll neck constantly checking your mirror for black Dodge Chargers. Plus all this movie-star magnetism for around £45,000. Cheap for how this makes you feel. I really, really, really didn’t want to give the keys back.
Now share your favourite cars/driving experiences of 2020 in the comments!
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