Sunday 4 December 2016

Ride on Sally, the Mustang wins

Iconic American muscle car (made in right-hand drive for first time) gallops off with our coveted Car Of The Year award

Campbell Spray Motoring Editor

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

It was the guy in Kilmainham's Insomnia that made up my mind for me. He's there nearly every Sunday morning reading the papers when we stop on our way out to the Wicklow Hills to test the latest occupant of the Spray Towers garage.

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He has style and substance, drives a pretty cool Merc and knows his cars. We usually exchange a few comments. The other week he leaned into the Mercedes-Benz GLC, which I was rather embarrassed about driving, and told me about the car he reckoned was the truly memorable one I had driven that year. He put it well and I couldn't but agree when deciding on the car of the year.

Other than that it had been a rather lacklustre year. Among the smaller cars, I did enjoy some MINIs but they are getting a bit expensive, and thought the Suzuki Baleno nearly made it, as did the Peugeot 2008 and Mazda3. The Hyundai i20 Active was my partner's favourite.

We had the best trip in the Volkswagen Tiguan and for a long time I thought it would be my car of the year, but the SEAT Ateca from the same group does the job better, cheaper and with more fun.

Of course the Hyundai Tucson is the people's car of the year. They have been voting with their wallets and it is a massive runaway success as the out-and-out top-selling car of the year. I was recently in the electric version of that marque's impressive new Ioniq. I'll bring a full review next week but don't think of buying another EV until you have seen this one.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is absolutely superb, but it should be. The most fun I had was over the October Bank Holiday in the Merc C-Class Cabriolet. The year started with the BMW X1 which I think is total class and would happily be welcomed into our family. The SsangYong Tivoli was classier than expected, while Kia is just getting better and better with cars like the Optima, Sportage and their hybrid offering, the Niro SUV. My eyes are increasingly drawn to Lexus and Toyota; I just wish they would increase their warranty period. The past couple of years have seen small cars like the Hyundai i10 and the Honda Jazz win our accolade, both would still easily be in the running this year.

But when all is said and done, nothing got as many heads turning or my heart pumping like the Ford Mustang. It gives you something to aspire to, smile with and totally enjoy. It has class and nostalgia.

It was a real delight and my Sunday morning acquaintance beamed as he talked of it. So for me the Ford Mustang is my car of the year and my colleagues - Geraldine, Martin and Philip - agree it should be the Sunday Independent's Car of the Year 2017 too.

n From a pure performance point of view 2016 has proven a spectacular year, writes Philip Hedderman

January kicked off a high-octane 12 months with the blistering Audi RS3 in Catalunya Red and packing 362bhp.

What followed was to be a career highlight with the delivery of the Audi R8 5.0 litre V10 Plus with a staggering 610bhp, a 0-100kph in 2.9 seconds and a top end of over 300kph.

Its devastating good looks matched only by its raw power. What made this super-car so memorable wasn't the rocket-like acceleration, unrivalled grip and handling (thanks to Quattro AWD) or the orgasmic orchestra of snorts and pops from the rear mounted power-plant, but its everyday usability.

Unfortunately it was overshadowed by the astronomical price tag and tipping the scales at an eye-watering €297,000, it remains the stuff of pure fantasy.

Also proving too costly were the slew of plug-in hybrids which left us less than impressed. From the Audi A3 to the Volvo XC90, range anxiety is still alive and well and only the Passat GTE returned even close to what was promised.

On the SUV/Crossover front we were blown away by the new Peugeot 3008 and the spectacular iCockpit (standard on all models) and the drive dynamic and build quality of the SEAT Ateca stand out for me.

But from a feel-good factor the top honour has to go to the iconic American muscle car.

Steeped in nostalgia, the first right hand drive model ever made, brings you back to your childhood (I can still hear the theme tune to Bullitt in my head) and it's very reasonably priced - just over €50k.

The 2.3 litre EcoBoost with 313bhp is savage and sounds fab but opt for the full fat 5.0l V8 with 414bhp and you're in motoring Nirvana.

n Exciting times in the motor industry with sales soaring, PCP payments making high-end models more readily available and above all safety and driving aids coming as standard on many new models writes Martin Brennan

The technical advances and safety features, combined with luxury and style, are the main reasons why the new Mercedes Benz E-Class is my choice of Car of the Year 2017. And the icing on the cake for would-be purchasers is that MDL, the Mercedes importer, has just decided to knock 10pc off the price of all models in the new car model range with immediate effect - more than €5,000 in the case of the E-Class.

Ciaran Allen and his sales team at Mercedes Benz will be thanking their lucky stars that their new large executive model which entered the market with a €52,850 price tag in Avantgarde trim gets such a price reduction as January sales peak time looms.

The E-Class now comes with some very soothing statistics on the money front and the big seller will be the 220d automatic which, considering it is loaded with driver aids and high-tech equipment which already had a very competitive selling price.

Another reason for my choice is economy. The two-litre diesel puts out only 112g/kg of C02 which attracts a low €200 in road tax and Mercedes Benz claim that the fuel consumption figures can be as frugal as 3.9L/100km (72mpg) when combined with the 9-speed G-Tronic automatic transmission. During a test in August the real world test drive figures this turned out to be 60mpg, which included some enthusiastic driving.

But the engine has not been tuned down to get these figures. It produces 194bhp with 400Nm of torque on tap and the 0-100km sprint takes just over seven seconds.

The slippery lines, and a cut in weight of 100kg over the previous model, give record-breaking aerodynamics which along with the good performance figures means that the interior is clam and hushed even at high speeds.

It is longer and lower than the previous model, and narrower too, although it does not appear so inside, and there is more cabin and luggage space. Comfortable seats make driving a pleasure. Standard items include Parking Pilot, reversing camera, sat/nav, keyless start, full leather upholstery, Adaptive Brake Assist, heated seats, Mercedes Me Connect (remote online) and LED high performance headlights..

A comfortable executive model built for driving in comfort - and a car that will have excellent residual values.

n Muscle cars to electric cars - 2016 was a bumper year so choosing the stand-out models is not an easy task and several great cars have been omitted writes Geraldine Herbert

High on my list is the new Mercedes E-Class. It oozes style, sophistication and luxury and is crammed with new technology. While the look has changed very little it has finally emerged from the shadows of its talented siblings and delivers the very best that the German car-maker has to offer.

There is little, however, that separates it from Volvo's S90, a car that takes its place among premium competitors as one of the finest large executive cars and is the best saloon Volvo has made. Keen drivers may favour rivals but it's still a very tempting combination of luxury, comfort and technology with stunning good looks and is probably only second to ABBA in terms of Swedish accomplishments.

2016 was the year a right-hand drive Ford Mustang finally arrived and it was the worth the wait. It sounds fantastic and it drives really well, but it is thirsty and it feels a little cheap on the inside. So, yes, there are more sensible ways you could spend €65,000 but none would be nearly as cool. It may have taken more than 50 years to find out, but it seems Mustangers really do have more fun and it is worthy winner of our car of the year title.

At the other end of the spectrum, both in terms of price and economy, is Toyota's Prius, a name that is synonymous with Toyota and hybrid technology. Despite the increased competition, it is still the car to beat in the green car market and will continue to be the benchmark against which rivals are measured.

In the competitive hatchback market, the new Megane proved an impressive offering from Renault. According to Laurens Van Den Acker, head of Renault design, the Megane is proof that "Renault can produce cars with a Latin skin and a German heart" and he may just be right.

A hatchback with a Drift mode? Yes the legendary Ford RS brand returned with a cracker in the form of the highly anticipated third-generation Ford Focus RS that proved to be the hottest of the hot hatches.

But true joy of the year came from BMW's M2 that blends scintillating driving dynamics and incredible power with a comfortable ride. At €77,520 it's not cheap but for what you are getting its staggeringly good value.

At a time when recent offerings from the M division have been too concerned with fuel economy and efficiency, the M2 is a return to what BMW do best.

It is the best road warrior that BMW currently offers and my favourite car of 2016.

Sunday Independent

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