It goes without saying that 2020 has been quite the year. Amidst the chaos of a global pandemic, the automotive industry has managed to still bring new cars to the table.
Motorsport has also continued, but with plenty of changes from shortened seasons and new rules.
These are the cars and people ESM believes are worthy of an award, for what they achieved against the challenges of 2020.
EngageSportMode’s 2021 Car of the Year
Toyota GR Yaris
It feels as if almost as many words were written about the Toyota GR Yaris, as Coronavirus or Brexit in 2020. However, the tiny WRC tearaway is undoubtedly a ‘good thing’, and one that made people very happy in a challenging year.
Setting aside the driving experience of a 261 hp supermini with AWD, what makes the GR Yaris our top pick is the simple fact it exists. For years we have complained about the lack of true homologation-based road-going rally cars, and here one is. We would be hypocrites not to celebrate it.
The level of engineering is impressive, with Toyota creating a bespoke three-door body, complete with carbon fibre roof, and slotting a new AWD system underneath it. Toyota has also been smart enough to realise that owners are likely to use the GR Yaris on track days, promising to still honour the warranty.
It may not be the fastest hot hatch, and it will not appeal to all. The safe performance of a Volkswagen Golf R or Audi S3 on a lease deal will suffice for many, but the GR Yaris exists as a true motorsport enthusiast choice.
Think of it as a natural successor to the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and Toyota Celica GT-Four of the 1990s. Well done, Toyota.
2021 Guilty Pleasure Award
Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat
We have consistently praised Dodge for its policy of building the ridiculous Hellcat range of muscle cars. This year has seen a new Mopar performance addition, with the 6.2-litre supercharged V8 being wedged into a seven-seater SUV.
Does anyone actually need an SUV with three rows of seats that can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 3.5 seconds? No, of course they don’t. In the same way that nobody really requires a family vehicle capable of running a quarter-mile sprint in 11.5 seconds.
We salute Dodge for offering a 710 hp SUV in 2020, even though we know it probably doesn’t need to exist. A useful and practical guilty pleasure, at least.
The ‘Enjoy New V8 Cars Whilst You Can’ Award
Ford Mustang Mach 1
Although a decade is a long time in politics, petrol and diesel vehicles are set to banned from sale beyond 2030. This means we do not even have ten years left to enjoy new internal combustion engines, as we head towards an electric future.
It makes Ford’s decision to bring the Mustang Mach 1 to Europe a particularly timely one. Whilst we should be grateful Ford offers the regular Mustang in right-hand drive, we have been missing out on the hottest versions.
But now, buyers in the UK will have the option of a 480 hp version of the Mustang, wearing the famed Mach 1 logo. For the brave, the Mach 1 will be suitable for track use, with upgraded cooling and aerodynamics.
There might be only a decade of new V8 engines remaining, but at least they are going out on a high.
The ‘Future Might Actually Be OK’ Award
Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition
There is no escaping the fact that electric power is the future of motoring. However, the move to battery power does not necessarily mean that things will be boring after 2030.
Demonstrating this is the forthcoming Ford Mustang Mach-E, especially in GT Performance Edition trim. The 480 hp output matches the petrol-powered Mach 1 above, but the 634 lb-ft of torque is on another level. Such prodigious power, and all-wheel drive, means the Mach-E GT will accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 3.5 seconds.
Magnetically adjustable suspension, along with 19-inch Brembo brakes at the front, ensure it ticks all the usual performance boxes. We will admit to having also been slightly persuaded by the use of Cyber Orange on the Mach-E featured in the press photos.
The ‘Best Use of Orange Paint’ Trophy
2021 Acura RDX PMC Edition
As impressive as the Ford Mach-E GT might be in Cyber Orange, it actually missed out on this particular award. Instead, we honour Acura for painting the limited-production RDX PMC Edition in Thermal Orange.
A colour used on the Acura NSX supercar, it makes for a shockingly bright statement on the family SUV. Lots of contrasting black trim helps, with the theme continuing inside, too.
What makes the RDX PMC special is that each of the 360 examples is hand-assembled by master technicians at the Acura Performance Manufacturing Center. The same people who build the NSX itself.
Although it might not have supercar pace, 272 hp is enough to keep it interesting. Sadly, it’s an SUV offered only for North America, but we can at least revel in the colour.
The ‘It Needs More Woodgrain, Dammit!’ Prize
Jeep Grand Wagoneer
The first Jeep Wagoneer, launched in 1962, was the original luxury SUV before the Range Rover got in on the act. It delivered an upmarket experience with off-road usability, with later Grand Wagoneer versions featuring acres of woodgrain vinyl exterior trim.
Jeep’s renaissance for the Grand Wagoneer as a new fancy SUV is rational, given how important the premium market is. It’s just that the new version seems to be lacking in imitation timber stuck to the outside. No cladding leaves the new Grand Wagoneer just appearing a little… generic.
A vinyl wrap could probably resolve it, but we’d like to see a full woodgrain option for the retro look. Reclaimed timber would certainly draw in those hipster buyers, too.
Social Media Meltdown of the Year Award
This has certainly been a trying year for car companies, with their plans ruined as Coronavirus circled the globe. Some have handled 2020 better than others, particularly when it comes to social media and interactions with potential customers. You know, the people who might buy their products.
BMW has, by all accounts, had an absolute shocker in the latter half of the year. Attempting to defend the humongous grille on the new M3 and M4 was the start, with BMW claiming it was needed for cooling the engine.
Attacking those who criticised the iX electric SUV was next-level brand destruction, however. Calling those who questioned the company’s direction ‘Boomers’ on Twitter, had the feel of a marketing department genuinely losing the plot.
Topping it off was the deeply questionable use of interactive billboards to target those with BMWs outside the manufacturer warranty period.
#vRSClub Skoda of the Year
2020 Skoda Octavia vRS
Brought to you by the EngageSportMode #vRSClub, naturally the new performance Octavia would scope this prize. That new nose is still a little questionable, and we miss the raised spoiler from the boot lid, but the latest vRS has done much to win us over.
We also salute Skoda for continuing to offer the 2.0-litre diesel engine, and even adding a plug-in hybrid option alongside the petrol model. Hopefully 2021 will deliver the chance to spend proper time with the new hot Czech.
Honourable mention: 2020 Skoda Octavia Scout
Yeah, we like the new Octavia Scout, too.
The option of the same 190 hp 2.0-litre diesel as the vRS, but in a high-riding station wagon body, is hard to ignore. We’ll take one of each, thanks.
Motorsport Heroes of 2020
Mercedes-Benz F1 Medical Car crew and marshalls
The sight of Mercedes cars at the front of the F1 field has been common throughout 2020. But, arguably, the most important Merc was the one running in last place at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Romain Grosjean’s horrific first-lap crash, and subsequent fireball, is easily one of the most dramatic F1 moments in recent memory. The sight of F1 doctor Ian Roberts, Medical Car driver Alan van der Merwe, and numerous marshalls helping the Swiss driver from the flames is unforgettable.
How Grosjean even survived a 53 g impact that tore his Haas car in two, let alone the subsequent fire, is almost miraculous. Almost miraculous, because it also comes down to the continuous drive for safety the sport has made, thanks to people like Sid Watkins, Gary Hartstein, and Charlie Whiting.
The Mercedes-AMG C63 S F1 Medical Car is the visual representation of that progress in safety.
BTCC Driver of the Year
Ash Sutton – As chosen by ESM’s BTCC Correspondent
For a single event in 2020, you would have to say Colin Turkington at Snetterton was the best performance. After the disaster of Croft, to come back and score 60 out of 67 points, and retake the championship lead was simply immense.
Rob Austin deserves a mention, too. He turned up at Thruxton after two years out of the loop, in a car he hasn’t raced, and banged in 3 top 12 performances on the fastest track in the UK. Outstanding stuff. He scored 13 points, and finished ahead of drivers who completed a full season. By far the best Astra pilot of the last season.
But, in terms of overall driver of the season, there are four who stood out for me. In ascending order:
4. Rory Butcher – Another really, really good season. Finished 5th for a second consecutive year. Three wins, looked pacy all year. Just lacked that final je ne sais quoi for a full title tilt.
3. Tom Oliphant – Saw great progression from him in 2020. Finished 6th, won his maiden BTCC win and looked like he deserved to be there. Scored 50 more points in three races less too.
2. Jake Hill – Driving an old shape Civic and finished 7th in the championship beating many of the newer versions. Like Oliphant, great season of progression. Over 80 points more this season and that was after having two stinking opening rounds, too. No wins, but six podiums. Great development.
1. Ash Sutton – It’s hard to look beyond Sutton as driver of the season. Took a car that was a dog and with the help of his team, turned it into a championship winning car. At times, he still is rash and needs to be more sensible, but to watch it’s so entertaining. His drives through the field were something else. For comparison of his achievement, his teammate, in exactly the same car finished 15th and 245 points behind him. Let that sink in. Wow.
So, driver of the season, has to be the 2020 champion – Ash Sutton