Cars are getting better and better each year, even though the industry itself is struggling. It’s easy to take this for granted, but even in such a competitive field, these cars and car makers have stood out from the pack and deserve their highly-sought-after Best Cars Of The Year status from The Car Expert.
Surprisingly good – Toyota GT86
When you think of companies that make great sports cars, the name Toyota doesn’t readily spring to mind. But the GT86 is a genuinely great sports car.
In fairness, Toyota had a lot of help – the majority of the work was done by Subaru, who sell their own version of the car called the BRX. They are both excellent, but the majority of UK road testers have preferred the Toyota version’s ride and handling set-up to its Subaru twin.
Most Improved Carmaker – Kia
Even just a couple of years ago, the Kia model range was pretty mediocre, with virtually nothing to recommend it compared to its rivals.
Yet the last 18 months has seen almost a complete overhaul of the range, with several new models being launched which genuinely challenge the big names and look good to boot. The Kia Optima is a case in point; it could teach BMW a few lessons in how to make a saloon look good.
Best supercar – Ferrari F12
The Ferrari 599 was, by any objective standards, a great car and one of the best GTs in Ferrari’s glorious history. Yet its replacement, the brand-new F12, is a massive leap forward. All who have driven it have been seriously impressed by how high Ferrari has raised the bar with its new flagship GT.
Ferrari has well and truly left the old days behind. No longer do people desire a Ferrari despite the many flaws and compromises; these days, Ferrari is setting the standards for the supercar industry, and making most of its rivals look like dinosaurs (*cough* Aston Martin *cough*).
Best-looking Estate – Jaguar XF Sportbrake
Other than its daft ‘Sportbrake’ name, there’s really not a lot to dislike about Jaguar’s new XF estate.
The XF was originally designed as a saloon only, with an estate version never envisaged, so it took a fair amount of design dexterity to conjure up a car which is both functional and pretty. Although the jury is still out on the blacked-out rear pillars, so maybe you should just buy one in black so they’re not as noticeable.
Best-looking SUV/Crossover/4×4 – Mazda CX-5
The traditional concept of a 4×4 has been turned on its head in recent years, as more and more car makers rush to build cars which look like tough off-roaders but are really not designed to cope with anything more challenging than a gravel driveway or mildly large speed humps.
And some of the design decisions for this new wave of soft-roaders have been quite bizarre (BMW X1, new Honda CR-V, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, anything by SsangYong). Against this lot, the new Mazda CX-5 is a refreshing application of good design and a very competent car to go with it.
Mazda’s ‘SkyActiv’ approach to efficient engines and lightweight construction is laudable too, in a world of cars which are getting forever bigger and heavier.
Best facelift – Ford Fiesta and Focus
They may have blatantly stolen Aston Martin’s famous grille design, but Ford’s designers have managed to make it work very well on the updated Fiesta and Focus models, which now have a more sophisticated appearance than their original versions.
Best concept car – Infiniti Emerg-e
It’s a range-extender-electric vehicle, with two motors powering the rear wheels to amazing speeds while still beating London’s Congestion Charge. Even though you’ve said you won’t, please, please, Infiniti, build this car.
Best racing car – BMW M3 DTM
But for 2012, the other big German premium brand stepped up to challenge. Far from being a steady introduction to the series, BMW promptly won the championship at their first attempt with the M3 DTM.
Despite the ‘M3’ bit in the name, the car shares approximately nothing with the road-going BMW M3 coupé, and is based around a purpose-built racing chassis. Still looks amazing, though, and certainly shocked the teams from Mercedes and Audi.
Top of the Christmas list – Pagani Huayra
It may not be as sophisticated and easy to handle as Ferrari’s new F12, but the Pagani Huayra (pronounced why-ra) is the ultimate hypercar poster car for 2012.
Stunning looks, gullwing doors, fantastic and brutal performance, and a rarity that Ferrari left behind decades ago – the Pagani is a true dream car.