MOTOR’s Best and Worst of 2014

Dylan Campbell – Editor  

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ferrari 458 Speciale – My god. If someone dangled the keys to a Speciale before me and said, you can have this, but you shan’t sample another performance car ever again, I would take it – it’s that good. Its naturally-aspirated V8 will cause inappropriate tingling at 9000rpm. Meanwhile the brakes, throttle, steering and gearbox react to your inputs as if spliced into your nervous system. And lord is it fast. What a car.
  • Rolls-Royce Wraith – On a tight road it feels fairly nautical so it’s not the driver’s pick, but if you’re after a luxury missile, look no further. The ride is so sublime; it has springs of marshmallows and shocks filled with caramel. It wafts over bumps like the suspension travel is two metres. Who cares, you might say. But then give it the berries and that twin-turbo V12 rockets you, almost silently, to 100km/h in 4.6sec. Plus, it turns heads like it’s feathered.
  • Porsche 911 Turbo – There are many cars than have 383kW and can do 0-100km/h in 3.0sec but if they turn you white with fear, it’s a bit pointless. The 911 Turbo wields this power, and is that fast, yet any nincompoop could stomp the throttle in the middle of the corner, on a racetrack, and nurse the 911 Turbo into oversteer. It’s so fast it demands mental recalibration (and makes a Fiesta ST feel like a hire go kart) but yet it’s somehow friendly at the same time.
  • Jaguar F-Type Coupe R – Cars of 2013? The F-Type convertible might make my biggest disappointment list. Sure, it’s fast – silly, silly fast – but it doesn’t quite have the cornering talent to back up the oomph (and looks). I feared the Coupe would be the same. I was wrong, thankfully. The Coupe is a monster with a mighty throttle but will dance playfully at the flex of your right foot. But knucklehead antics aren’t its only trick. Drive cleanly and it’s rewarding, too; it’s a rugby player that knows ballerina. Oh, and the noise. Its exhaust note’s since ruined every other V8 for me.
  • BMW i8 – So I only drove it through the ’burbs but I felt like George Jetson, hovering silently in what feels like a four-wheeled spacecraft. I knocked the i8 into angry mode and gave it some stick and was relieved to find an exhaust note that isn’t terrible (even if there’s a bit of artificial aural sweetening). A massive relief – hybrids can be good. Very good.

Very Honourable Mentions: Caterham CSR175 (it’s a motorbike for those who value living); Peugeot RCZ-R (caused me to laugh out loud and there are cars twice as fast that can’t do that).

LOWLIGHTS

  • BMW M4 – Last year I drove the E46 M3 CSL – the actual car on the cover of MOTOR’s Performance Car of the Year 2004 issue. It worked voodoo on my little driving soul – fast but friendly, loud and full of character. The E92 is similarly beguiling with its leather-jacket V8. But the M4, though extremely fast, feels like BMW went through a checklist – power, brakes, suspension – but missed the one that says “soul”. And any car that’s more intimidating than exhilarating when driven fast isn’t for me.
  • Mini Cooper S – Mini Cooper Ss haven’t traditionally made the greatest performance cars. But you always forgave them because, by god, if a devilish titter didn’t erupt from your gob during a fast blast up your favourite road, you needed emotional defibrillating. But the new Mini Cooper S, while no doubt a better car than its predecessor, feels heavy, mired in too many electronics and just less fun.
  • HSV GTS Maloo – I love, love, love the HSV GTS sedan. For $92K it is a supremely capable bargain bullet – good power, great brakes, impressive handling and suspension. I hoped the ute would carry over the sedan’s magic but something got lost in translation; the GTS Maloo doesn’t feel its 430kW and the steering struggles making it a more frustrating than fun drive. 

Scott Newman – Associate Editor

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ferrari 458 Speciale – The best car I’ve ever driven by some margin. As a driving experience, it is simply incredible – I actually feel a deep, harrowing sadness that I may never drive one of these again. If only Ferrari would let us compare it to something, anything…
  • Jaguar F-Type Coupe R – Not as polished as a 911, but much more character. With an unlimited fuel and tyre budget, one of these would be parked in the Newman garage.
  • BMW i8 – Turns out the future isn’t so scary after all. Brilliantly polished sports car that just happens to be able to operate in silence using no fuel. Looks amazing, too.
  • Bentley Continental V8 S – Big British bruiser full of character and drives better than anything weighing 2.4 tonnes has any right to. Feels special and makes a mega noise.
  • Porsche 911 Turbo – A warm January day; Porsche’s new 911 Turbo lines up for its first performance run and nails 3.07sec 0-100km/h and 10.98sec 0-400m. And would do it all day. Incredible car.

Honorable mentions: Lexus LFA, BMW M3 CSL (it was a good year…)

LOWLIGHTS

  • Nissan Pulsar SSS – There are few bad cars around these days, but this deserves the title. I have fond teenage memories of both the N13 and N14 Pulsar SSS models; the latest one discredits the badge.
  • BMW M3/M4 – Both are amazingly capable and incredible pieces of engineering, but I’ve been lucky enough to drive both E46 and E92 M3 this year and would prefer to drive either over the new one – it’s not meant to be like that.
  • Lotus Elise – Perhaps this is unfair, as a short drive in the rain does not constitute a proper drive, but came away thinking it was like a poor imitation of a Toyota 86 at more than twice the price. Need to revisit for a proper drive, as have heard amazing thing about Hethel’s sportster.

Louis Cordony – Staff Journalist

HIGHLIGHTS

  • BMW i8 – BMW did a fantastic job in taming the complexity of its hybrid drivetrain in to a remarkably refined driving experience. A geek’s wet dream.
  • Fiesta ST – So much fun to be had for relative peanuts: Oodles of torque, knife-sharp steering and a satisfying gearshift that slots with telepathic accuracy.
  • Nissan GT-R – Nothing I’ve yet driven has parted traffic like the R35 GT-R. The effortless speed from its twin-turbo V6, especially above 100km/h, is astonishing. Could own one, but I’d want to have the talent to tame it first.
  • HSV R8 – This particular example had the finest six-speed manual I’ve ever sampled of the General’s which made access to that 340kW LS3 infinitely sweeter. And the sound on lift-off in sport mode: like a gurgling volcano.
  • VW Golf R – The cherry sweet electric steering rack from Mk VII Golf GTI, cosseting adjustable dampers and an explosive 206kW all-claw drivetrain mean the Golf R crosses country better than light aircraft.

Honorable mentions: Peugeot RCZ-R, Abarth 695 Assetto Corse

LOWLIGHTS

  • Abarth 595C Competizione – Rorty soundtrack fails to compensate for the severe lack of logic: slow steering match to the turning circle of a planet in a light city car? Need to be a serious fan of the brand to stump up such cash.
  • Peugeot 208 GTi – Not a terrible car. Mentioned because it’s a shame it didn’t woo me like I wish it would have. Strong engine, classy package, but just doesn’t try hard enough to win your heart. 
  • Mini Cooper S – A great platform in dire need of aesthetic and handling venom. Proper tyres and soon to be released JCW package couldn’t come sooner.

Curt Dupriez – Road Test Editor

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Porsche 911 Turbo – Point-to-point, the quickest, most startling yet friendliest car I’ve driven this year, wrapping in a want-for-nothing package of all-round excellence.
  • Ford Mustang GT Performance Pack – over-delivers performance against muscle car traditions, proper feel-good vibe and a genuine bright light on the horizon for Aussie lovers of V8s in an otherwise dim outlook
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Even in basic C200 spec the everyman Merc raised the bar in one of the world’s toughest segments in so many areas that all other comers (Audi, BMW, Lexus, et al) are now forced to lift their games.
  • Ferrari F12 Berlinetta – Ah yes, that multi-day punt in the ultimate Italian super GT ranks as one of my most enjoyable drives of all time.
  • Porsche Macan Diesel – Hands-down best small SUV, in fast, fun and affordable yet highly frugal oiler form, brings so much holistic goodness to a segment in desperate need of Macan’s fun factor and all-round quality.

LOWLIGHTS

  • Maserati Quattroporte – Smart styling can’t save the limo that robs Chrysler’s parts bin so obviously, lacks modern features, rides/steers poorly, is overpriced and so obviously aimed at young, cashed-up and clueless poseurs.
  • HSV Maloo GTS – Despite good buzz factor the driving experience is far less than the sum of its heroics specifications and under-delivers both as a performance prospect or as a workhorse.
  • Ford Ranger ute – Not MOTOR fodder, but I’m a big fan of progressive new-school diesel tech and the agricultural Ranger (as sampled in manual 4x4 form) does nothing to dispel the widespread stigma of oiler’s rattly old-school traditions.

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