With the clock running down on 2014, it’s time for EngageSportMode to bring you our annual awards. Who has performed well enough to earn a coveted macaroni and glitter trophy this year? Part one focuses on road cars, whilst part two will include motorsport and media. Let’s get down to business:
2014 seemed to be the year when the global car industry got back on its feet after several years of struggling with the economic meltdown. The result was many new cars which ticked a substantial number of boxes for ESM. But which ones were good enough to pick up an award?
Best Car Driven in 2014 – Audi S1
Sharing a badge with one of the greatest Group B rally cars to have turned a wheel meant the S1 would always have a lot to live up to. Fortunately, Audi has managed to endow it with enough DNA of its illustrious forbearer to live up to the name and prove itself to be a superb car in its own right.
When we reviewed the Sportback version of the S1 in September, we were blown away by the ferocious intensity with which it was able to cover ground at pace. A rorty, torque-laden, 2.0 litre turbocharged engine, mated to a decidedly old-skool six-speed manual gearbox and unstickable quattro drivetrain make for an effective combination. Real hot-hatch performance – 0-62 mph in 5.8 seconds – in a small package makes the S1 feel even more extreme than the figures would have you believe. The sound it makes in ‘Dynamic’ mode is also hugely addictive, and creates the impression of very un-Audi like fun being had.
Relatively subtle exterior modifications – quad exhaust tailpipes aside – give the potential for a fairly stealthy vehicle in the right colours. A high-quality interior also adds to the everyday usability of the S1, and goes some way to justifying the price tag. Since we tested it, Audi has revised its price list, with the S1 now starting at £25,380 (£26,100 for the Sportback) but with an increase in standard kit levels. It’s still not cheap, but the S1 stands in a class of just one: there are no other supermini-sized AWD hot-hatches out there to compare it against, so price is all relative.
We genuinely loved the S1, and would happily place one our drive. Having to hand back the keys was a genuinely sad experience, such was the moreish nature of it; few cars ever create that level of addiction. For the fact it ticked so many boxes, the Audi S1 was by far the best car we drove in 2014 and a deserved winner of our top prize.
Best Concept – Volkswagen XL Sport
No, we’ll admit we didn’t see a Ducati-powered version of the XL1 eco-car coming at the 2014 Paris motorshow. With a 197 bhp 1,198 cc V-twin revving to over 11,000 rpm, the XL Sport is quite far removed from the hybrid turbo-diesel engine found in the regular XL1. What isn’t lost is the XL1’s commitment to weight saving, allow the XL Sport to hit 62 mph in just 5.7 seconds from a standing start. Ultra-slippery aerodynamics also allow it to continue to a top speed of 167 mph.
Not only is the XL Sport a great representation of the benefits of low weight technology and engineering, it also demonstrates the advantages the Volkswagen Group has when it comes to sharing ideas across the plethora of brands it holds. That is happens to be rather stunning to look at it is a mere bonus in this respect. Fingers crossed VW decides to green light the XL Sport for at least limited production.
Honourable mention in this category goes to the Kia GT4 Stinger Concept; proof of how far the Kia brand has come, and another car with a shot at production.
Best Reality – BMW i8
Two years in a row, and a BMW ‘i’ product scoops the ESM prize for being the best real-world proposition. No, a supercar isn’t something for everyone, but the fact that BMW has managed to make an effective and desirable plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is a major milestone in our motoring future.
What it demonstrates is that – ignoring current cheap fuel prices – the future where we no longer depend on internal combustion engines needn’t be quite so intimidating for enthusiasts. 0-62 mph in 4.4 seconds, a 155 mph top speed and an official combined fuel economy of 134.5 mpg grab the headlines. That it’ll still return over 40 mpg if you’re using all the combined 357 bhp from both petrol and electric power plants is just as important. Our good friend The Tame Geek was blown away by the i8 when he drove it earlier in the year, and it seems to charm virtually anyone who tries it.
It does cost over £100,000, so don’t expect to see thousands of them appear overnight. However, there must be a real pleasure in receiving a £5,000 grant from the government to buy a supercar which will give a Porsche 911 a run for its money. That alone surely makes the i8 worthy of an award in its own right.
Best Ridiculously Powered V8 Muscle Car – Dodge Hellcat Twins
Something strange happened to Detroit in 2014. After years of the city’s motor industry being on its knees, a corner was turned and a light at the end of a tunnel appeared. Following that, everything went mental at Dodge, with the emergence of not one but two muscle cars packing 707 bhp.
We were bowled over by the ridiculous statistics of the Challenger SRT Hellcat when Dodge announced it in early July; neatly to coincide with Independence Day and the company’s 100th anniversary. Just after we had recovered from the prospect of a 707 bhp 6.2 litre supercharged HEMI V8 powering one thing, Dodge dropped the Charger SRT Hellcat on us in August. Yes, another car with 650 lb-ft of torque and one that happens to be even quicker than the Challenger coupé!
Reports suggest that the Charger Hellcat will hit 0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds (0.05 quicker than the Challenger) and go all the way to over 200 mph. Thrown into the mix prices from just $59,995 (equivalent to £38k), a marketing campaign featuring silly sideways-action videos with a Mötley Crüe soundtrack, and you’re left with the impression that everything isn’t quite so bad in the USA. It may be the yin to the above BMW i8’s yang, but it’s existence is still amazing news for anyone who loves silly overpowered cars.
Cadillac entered the competition late with the 640 bhp CTS-V, but 2014 was only ever going to be about the Hellcat badge and the combined 1,414 bhp it adorns.
Most Wanted 2015 – Honda Civic Type R
If there’s a theme to this year’s awards, it’s perhaps one of rediscovery and manufacturers emerging from the wilderness of the past few years. Honda is one of those, with a model lineup that has gone from featuring a number of special high-revving performance vehicles, to none. For a company so proud of its sporting history, the slip into mundanity was quite sad to watch.
However, all that is set to change next year, when the new Civic Type R finally becomes a reality. Throughout 2014, Honda has teased us with pictures and range of videos both innovative and weird in equal measure. Actual specific details of the new Type R have been hard to pin down, but we do at least know it’ll have around 280 bhp from a turbocharged VTEC engine, revving to 7,000 rpm. There’s also a six-speed manual gearbox: no dual-clutch affairs here. Styled to resemble something more like a WTCC racer than a road car, the finished version promises to retain the OTT wings and spoilers of the concept versions.
Set to be priced at around £30,000, and with deliveries to begin in Summer 2015, the Civic Type R enters an ultra competitive hot-hatch market. It goes to the top of our list for wanting to know if Honda has managed to find itself, and return to producing cars with soul. That it comes at the same time as Honda supplying F1 engines to McLaren is hopefully a premonition of the Japanese firms return to greatness. There’s also the small matter of a new NSX too.
That concludes our first set of awards; check back on New Year’s Day for part two.