Friday 13 December 2019

My top 12 cars of the year - the dozen that made a lasting impression

Eddie Cunningham takes a look in the rear-view mirror and savours his memories of some of the cars that helped make 2014 a good year behind the wheel.

Ferrari California
Ferrari California
Irish Independent Motoring Editor Eddie Cunningham at the wheel
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

HERE are the 12 cars I found most enjoyable/memorable in my drives at home and abroad this year.

It doesn't mean they are necessarily the best, or that I will be voting that way when I come to do so as Ireland's representative on the World Car of the Year jury.

They just appealed to me on a number of fronts and for differtent reasons: breaking new ground with technology, build, chassis, engines, looks, driving fun etc.

There may be some technically better and more alluring models out there. Indeed I'm sure there are. But these are the ones that stick in the mind.

In some cases the practicality of a package won the day.

And in some the non-practicality swayed me. That is what cars and driving are really all about - how they make you feel.

And just to be super fair I'll line them up in alphabetical - not preferential - order.

Audi A7

It's not even new, merely revised, but I'm a huge fan of the A7 so I only need a tiny excuse to drive it.

They had given it a revamp and I took it for a test - it is such a genuinely nice car. It is smooth, fast, taut and engaging.

For some reason it appealed to me from my first drive way back and the recent improvements have done nothing to dim my enthusiasm. I'm sure it's too pricey and I'm sure if I wanted to dissect it I could find many a fault. But that doesn't change my view. Loved my drive.

BMW 2-series

This lets me cheat a little because I can get the 2-series Active Tourer front-wheel drive people carrier and the sizzling 235i Coupe in under this banner.

The Tourer is the brand's first front-wheel-drive and the first to have a transversely mounted engine.

It is surprisingly roomy and the cabin is well finished.

Using the same architecture as the MINI, it won't (to repeat myself) turn heads but will change a few minds.

The 235i Coupe will do both. I remember driving this the first time and saying: what are we doing on the road with this?

My point was the track would really give it a chance to shine. It is a snorter; can't wait to get going.

But it is the balance and the feedback through steering and chassis that made it one of the most memorable drives of the year.

Citroen Cactus

I didn't like it that much when I first drove it in Amsterdam. I was more impressed on Irish roads but still have some reservations.

But you've got to see this for what it is though: a bold move to be different.

That may mean not being great on the suspension (it's not and lets you know) and it may mean not being enamoured with some of its interior.

So you either buy into the idea of a semi-cavalier (but carefully choreographed) approach or you don't.

With further acquaintance and the lower-than-expected price I've warmed to it. This is fresh and enjoyable, mostly, but still well capable of being the car that takes the family on its everyday business.

It's got good engines, plenty of room, quirky bits and pieces and those pads on the sides etc are designed to keep you from minor-shunt repair bills. Fun, in its own inimitable fashion.

Ford Mondeo

It barely scrapes onto the list; space and driving ability nudged it. I also have to allow for the fact that waiting for it for so long has blunted the appetite and perception of what is still a good driving car.

They've just about kept the chassis agility, handling and ride ahead of the closing opposition. That is important because the Mondeo has been noted for its edge. This still is sharp, but not as markedly as before. Yet I reckon it shades best overall handler in its class.

It impressed me most with its cabin room - outstanding - and level of equipment.

However, they missed a trick by not having the rear-seat inflatable seat belts as standard. Don't think there are many kudos in charging €200 for them. Excellent diesels, of course, but also impressive is the 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol and later on next year the 1-litre EcoBoost.

Ferrari California

The Ferrari California was a bit of a dream drive. Sure, it's not exactly brand new and it was a short stint. But any day you drive a Ferrari is a good one. Everybody should get to drive a car like his once in their lives.

Hyundai i10

This heavily revised city car took me by surprise. I drove it a lot around town and not once did I feel less than impressed with it. Such a vast improvement on the old one. It is no wonder this is the leader in the city-car segment. Just goes to show what can be done in a makeover.

Jaguar F-TYPE

I don't think I've had a bigger buzz this year than driving the Jaguar F-TYPE Coupe. Indeed I know I haven't.

It's got loads of poke in the 3-litre supercharged engine. And the suspension, while not to everyone's taste, suited me down to the ground.

But the overarching memories are of the exhaust note as I floored it during a great drive in Spain.

Yes, it's extravagant - even at €8,000 or so less expensive than the soft-top. But for once I dispensed with money concerns. Lotto bucket-list stuff.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

This is the plug-in hybrid I found to be the best combination of theory and practice. Fascinating really.

It is set up to always want to go back to electric mode - which is where you save on the fuel.

That's because it is built primarily from an electric-car perspective. It is possible to use only electric power on average commutes. Emissions are just 44g/km (road tax of €170).

It's a permanent four-wheel-drive SUV driven by electric motors (front and rear wheels) with a petrol engine on board to act as a generator.

The engine provides most of the power and is assisted by the electric motors only at consistently high speeds.

Takes plug-ins on another step.

Nissan Qashqai

Mightily impressed with this too. It has improved in virtually every area: cabin (especially), chassis, engine (1.2-litre petrol is excellent), luggage room, kit, driving position, seats.

The old one is still a great motor - as I discovered when I drove it before the new one just to compare - but this has moved way ahead.

It's also good on price and will have high trade-in values, I feel.

Now that you can't get a seven-seat Qashqai, the new X-Trail is your sole preserve. Enjoyed it too.

Toyota Aygo

This is going to get me into all sorts of hot water.

You see the Aygo, Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 are all built on the same platform and share lots of stuff.

The Aygo leapt in price - which is a drawback. The other two beat it on that score.

But in terms of the overall package, my drive in the Aygo (before the other two, so it had an unfair advantage, perhaps) edged ahead. It just looked so much better, I felt.

SEAT Leon Cupra

Lashing around Mondello in this brought a (rare) smile to this old face. It's not as subtle as the Volkswagen GTi - and yet that's why I liked it.

The Cupra got me involved, made me work, and got me feeling the energy of its power. I'd drive it around that circuit all day and not weary of it.

Volkswagen Passat

They've gone for it in the only way Volkswagen know how - relentlessly meticulous. They say they want to move the Passat upmarket to corner some BMW 3-series and Audi A4 buyers.

They've made an impressive start.

The cabin is way better; the suspension set-up gives it a sharpness it didn't have previously and it just works at a higher level.

There's a feel to it now that makes it a more enjoyable drive. Really impressed with this.

Irish Independent

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