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2017: It's been a good year...
Who came out on top in 2017's motoring landscape? We round up the winners
It was, at risk of stating the obvious, a good year for cars. For a start, the new Best Car in the World turned out to be exactly that. If your tastes and means are more modest, there’s always the Up GTI. Between the extremes, another whole bunch of stuff is rightly marked throughout our annual awards celebration.
If the Phantom was the Best, the Chiron was the Fastest. It looked untouchable, above all for the brief 42 seconds it occupied in getting from zero to 400kph (near as makes no difference 250mph) and back again. Then the Agera RS did it six seconds quicker, thus reinforcing Koenigsegg’s status as the official car of the internet.
Designer of the McLaren F1 – the world’s former fastest car – Gordon Murray, meanwhile turned his talents to something more accessible, the pure front-engined sports car. Les Edgar’s TVR revealed the Griffith in September. Good to get the thing out in the open. Now what everyone wants is to drive it.
As a company, McLaren Automotive had another fine year. The all-new 720S duly blew us away. The firm also took the roof off the 570S. And announced the three-seat BP23, a ‘hyper GT’, apparently. Whatever one of those is, we can’t wait to find out.
Porsche stayed busy too, getting two new 911 variants into our best-of list. The Panamera Sport Turismo at last fulfils the promise of a rakish five-door sports car that’s actually beautiful. There’s a new Cayenne too.
Porsche is part of the Volkswagen Group, which had a remarkably upbeat year. Despite swerving from properly explaining who knew what in the emissions scandal, it did at least agree to pay a $4.3bn (£3.2bn) fine in the US. (Europe is so far largely off the hook.) Meanwhile it’s forging ahead with new EV platforms and autonomous driving tech, and the individual brands are making heaps of money. That’s because previous years’ huge investments in the MQB platform have now tapered off, and the profits from the myriad cars that sit on it are rolling in. Oh, and the Volkswagen brand has quietly overtaken Vauxhall to become the number-two seller in the UK for this year so far.
Tobias Moers runs AMG. He’d been doing very nicely with his hotted-up regular Mercedes, then three years ago, moved up a gear with the GT. This year, he judged it right to properly mash the throttle, and quietly phoned up Andy Cowell, boss of power units at the all-conquering Formula One team. The resulting Project One packs a proper F1 hybrid mill, for 11,000rpm and more than 1,000bhp. Truly something unprecedented.
Think of Wilko Andreas Stark as the antidote to Moers. He runs the entirety of Mercedes CASE activities. That’s connected and autonomous and shared and electric. He’s holding together one of the longest job titles in the world, and is a calm and persuasive conversationalist. Merc’s upcoming EQ electric-car range is in his purview, as well as all the ecosystem of shared services that surround them, and the self-driving research in which Merc is somewhat in the industry, er, driving seat.
PSA’s CEO Carlos Tavares is also basking in success after turning the ailing French outfit around by launching better cars, knitting the global operations together and rationalising the sales process. But was it really wise to buy Vauxhall and Opel? The jury is very much in the ‘out’ position. Let’s revisit this in a year.
Happier takeover news at Lotus, a majority of which has gone to Geely. The Chinese giant has shown itself a good steward, buying car companies with character, investing and letting them thrive. See Volvo (big) and the London Taxi Company (small).
The electric car retained its place in any what’s-hot list, with the first few Tesla Model 3s being delivered, and Nissan launching the second-generation Leaf. Meanwhile, big-scale electric cars from the European makers keep appearing, which is good, but only as motor-show concepts, which isn’t. Volvo said all its new cars introduced after 2019 would be electrified, to which the know-nothing mainstream media vastly over-reacted by saying it was abandoning combustion. No, ‘electrified’ includes very mild hybrids. But anyway, Volvo will have full EVs too. The same media then under-reacted to Smart’s announcement it’ll be the first combustion-car brand to switch entirely to full EV, from 2019.
The next all-new European production EVs look like being 2018’s posh crossovers, Audi’s eTron and Jaguar’s I-Pace. At least compatible fast chargers will be ready and waiting. BMW, Ford, Mercedes and Audi have got together to ensure a network gets built across Europe. They stepped up because the oil companies, which like to style themselves as ‘energy companies’, turned out to be just oil companies.
In motorsport, you can’t argue with a fourth championship for Hamilton, or a fifth for Ogier. A good year for WRC and WRX, with big audiences, unpredictable results and heavy maker involvement. Same for Formula E, only without the audiences. FE is getting technologically more interesting, and the racing too. If the crowds follow, then its 2018 will be better again.