We sum up the cars of the year that did one thing well: Making us happy.
What makes a good car? Space for people, groceries, pets, a comfortable drive and being reliable? The fastest on the track? Perhaps, but what we are looking for is the car that stirs our emotions like a food blender. Thankfully, 2011 has been a great year!
Audi RS3 - Launched late in the year, Audi's last hurrah for the A3 line-up is a celebration of the company's technological feats. A car that is both involving and clinically capable of having supercars for breakfast, the RS3 is a classic Q-car. Dressed in no more than some add-on kit, its potency far exceeds its appearance. Undoubtedly one of the fastest cars we've driven this year.
BMW 1-Series M Coupe - Small, light and FUN! BMW did piece together this car from bits through the parts box but the final product is amazing. When we thought cars were getting so easy (and boring) to drive, the new kid on the block showed us how driverkind can be saved. That electrifying sensation though the steering, coupled with the aural pleasure of that straight six and the eagerness to wag its tail. Oh and whatever you do, don't push that M... uh oh..
Citroen DS3 - We forgive you for the weird pedal feel, eyeball assault and slightly damp steering. Because as a package, you seem sooo good. Yeah, you're like a gooofy little heffalump through the corners, but we still like you because you're a little heffalump. Ok, on the realistic side: It has the space, the straight-line performance and most importantly, it's something that you can live with everyday.
Lexus IS-F - Have you ever seen a mad accountant? Perhaps, for all the numbers here fails to add up to the creation of Yaguchi-san and his team. Yes, it does look lumpy, swollen and puffed – but it still looks rather restrained. We just let our pride of hungry lions run free when we needed some attention and enjoy the slaughtering of unsuspecting drivers. Of course, it does handle like a lion... but hey, power can madden the mind.
MINI Cooper S Coupe - It's the first two-seater sports car in the brand's history and it just makes the drive even more involving. Though it will beat you up on a long trip, steer yourself to twisty road and be rewarded by the buckle-up-let's-go-for-a-ride driving experience. With a chassis that is stiffer than the hatch, it delivers an even more addictive buzz than before. That is what the MINI is all about and exactly why we like it so much. Need to get buzzed?
Peugeot RCZ - Are car manufacturers brave enough to bring a concept to life without drastically changing anything? Peugeot bravely made the concept a reality and we hold our stand that it's beautiful. We've even tested it twice, in easy Cappuccino auto and stronger Macchiato manual flavours. At the end of the day, while both of them delivered a frothy warm driving experience, they both grab eyes like no other car mentioned here.
Porsche Cayman R - When was the last time you heard of a brand making cars that compete against each other? Oh, you haven't? Here is an example. Don't for one second laugh at it's positioning in the picking order- not until you experience the power delivery that tickles the ear and gives you with a lesson in Porsche history. Sure, it's not as fun to drive as a tail-happy *cough* 1M , but if you are serious about lap-times and corners, this is the car to be in. You won't be grinning manically from ear to ear, but there is satisfaction to be had from that too.
Renault Megane R.S Monaco GP - In many cars, there is a option for “Sport”, some have “Sport Plus”, a handful have “Race”, but only one with “Extreme”. Okay, the interior may feel tacky-ish compared to some rivals but the drive is one of the most exciting we've had this year. Renault took a sensible big hatch garnished it with all the right super-hot ingredients. A punchy engine, an intoxicating grip in the corners and add a bit of lift-off oversteer if you want. You can't have more fun in a FWD car, period.
Volkswagen Golf GTI E35 2.0 TSI - The daddy of the hot hatches has nothing to prove. Not until Volkswagen decided to fit the older FSI engine that seems to address the one gripe of the Mk6 GTI. Not only does the E35 drive just as well, it reintroduced the sense of eagerness from the Mk5 GTI (simply put, it's the Mk5's engine in the Mk6). In short, the E35 strikes the right balance between practicality, performance and above all, fun.
Volvo S60 T6 R-Design - It was hard to convince our friends that this Volvo is great to drive. Just short of a perfect steering feel, the feeling of having endless torque at your disposal is addictive. No, it doesn't spit fire and snarl angrily, but delivers strangely calm rush of acceleration as the turbo spools up. A stiffer body, coupled with firmer bushings and a stiffer suspension setup, it's strange that Volvo denies this as a “sports saloon”. Weird.