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The Top Gear magazine Car of the Year

  1. While driving through America recently, James May and I happened upon a car of such unparalleled awfulness that we slowed down to get a closer look. It was called a Nissan Versa, and I simply can’t imagine what the design team was thinking of when they were styling it. The Austin A35, probably.

    Both of us agreed it was the worst car we had ever seen and that, in all of our lives, we’d never encounter a machine that we’d like the look of less. But then, round the very next corner, we stumbled upon a Chevrolet something or other which was even more terrible. Part Chrysler PT Cruiser and part Morris Traveller, it was a disjointed mishmash of nothing that anyone likes.

    And then later, while hanging around in a San Diego car park, we noticed another car. We had no idea what it was. It had four wheels, four doors and was made from metal. There were windows and doors, and neither of us could come up with a single reason why someone should have bought such a thing.

    It wasn’t as stupid as the Nissan and Chevy we’d seen earlier. In fact, it wasn’t stupid at all. Nor was it ugly. It was nothing. It was just a car-shaped hole in the view. Later, we learned it was a Hyundai. We even found out which model. But we can’t remember now.

    Words: Jeremy Clarkson

    Photos: Rowan Horncastle

    This article originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of Top Gear magazine 


  2. I’ll be honest. I struggle to put a name to most of the cars I see on the road today. Gone are the days when you could spot a MkI Cortina even though you had only caught a glimpse of its rear tail-lights. Now, many cars are just tools, as individual as washing machines. They come. They get reviewed in What Car? They go.

    Of course, there are still a great many expensive cars to keep the world’s car designers and enthusiasts happy. But ordinary cars, cars that cost less than £150 million? Cars that people other than Sir Elton John can buy? No. Mostly, they are front-wheel-drive two-litre diesels with cruise control to help out after you nod off.

    That’s why I like the GT86 so much. Because it’s come barrelling into the bottom end of the marketplace with a big, dirty smile on its face and a suggestion in the way it stands that it would like to have fun with your middle parts. It’s a car designed for one thing only: fun.

    First and foremost, it has rear-wheel drive. This is very important. Of course, you can propel a car by the front wheels in the same way that you can make a sauce using cornflour. But if you want to do it properly, you need a roux. And that means turning the engine around and fitting a propshaft.

  3. Yes, it’s more of a faff, and you end up with a smaller boot and less space in the cabin, but these things should not trouble the genuine petrolhead. Because when you have rear drive, you have balance. You have a division of labour. The front wheels to the steering. The ones at the back to the propulsion.

    Also, when you have rear-wheel drive, you can do better skids. And to make sure you can do those skids at low speeds - so it’s nice and safe if (when) something goes wrong - the GT86 is not fitted with fat, grippy tyres. Instead, it sits on the same rubber Toyota uses on the Prius.

    Of course, there’s no point going to all the trouble of fitting rear drive if you then put the engine from an electric screwdriver under the bonnet. See the original MX-5 for details on this. And, at first, I thought Toyota had fallen into the same trap.

    Two litres in a modern heavy car doesn’t seem like enough. But it is. Just. And ‘just’ is enough. Because it means you can get the car into a slide and hold it there. Well, you can’t, obviously, because you are on a road. But you could, if you weren’t.

  4. The GT86 is a lovely car to drive. The steering is without fault, the ride is sporty without being stupid, the handling is epic, the grip is poor, by which I mean excellent, and there is enough oomph to ensure you aren’t last away from the lights.

    Inside, you get all the toys you need and none that will only ever be used once, by the salesperson in the showroom, and then never used again. Apart from cruise control.

    Likewise, Toyota hasn’t bothered with much in the way of hand-stitched leather or carbon-fibre cupholdery. Because if it had, the car would have been £35,000. And that would have put it up against a BMW M135i in a battle it couldn’t win and shouldn’t be fighting in the first place.

    Normally, I would argue that there is no such thing as cheap and cheerful. There is cheap and disgusting or expensive and cheerful. But here is an exception. It is cheaper than a BMW M135i. And it is more cheerful. It’s not especially good-looking, and it doesn’t make an especially intoxicating noise. And it only seems to be available in quite the most revolting red I’ve ever seen. But none of this matters once you push the starter button, put some tunes on the stereo, snick it into first and set off.

  5. In traffic, you’ll be in a car, same as everyone else. You’re no better off than Simon Cowell in his Roller or that foolish idiot in the Nissan Versa. It’s the same story on the motorway. But there will come a moment when the traffic thins, the police aren’t looking and there’s a nice bit of road ahead. At a time like this, a GT86 will make you happy.

    You will be revelling in the sort of thrills normally only on offer to the super-rich, but your thrill is better, because it’s not scary. To make a Ferrari misbehave, you need to be doing Mach 2. To make a GT86 squirrel about, you only need be doing 20.

    And even then, it’s so composed that you know exactly what you should do next. Brake is my suggestion. And then get in the back. Because this car is so well sorted, it’d probably make a better fist of rescuing the situation than you would.

    It’s not a great car. But it is a very good car at a great price. Which makes it a pleasant oddity. And that’s why it’s my choice for Car of the Year. It is also the reason - after a long argument involving lots of people shouting about Range Rovers - that the GT86 scoops the big prize. This is the Top Gear magazine Car of the Year. And a worthy, cheap, and terribly amusing winner it is.

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