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EngageSportMode Awards 2016 | Part One

In many respects – like politics or celebrity deaths – 2016 was a challenging year. But, in the automotive world, things were far better. With the infamous hypothetical ‘macaroni and glitter’ trophies at the ready, these are the things which stood out the most in the last twelve months.

esm-2016-awards-part-one

No, it doesn’t matter that it’s already 2017. We always like to make sure the previous year is well and truly finished before hammering down our judgements. Here, in part one, we cover the cars from 2016 which are most deserving of our collective glory.

Best Car Driven in 2016 – BMW M2BMW M2 ESM 2016 Awards

Trying to narrow down the best thing driven in a year to just one single car is often a tough challenge. However, for 2016, this was pretty easy. We waited all day to try it at the SMMT Test Day in May, but it was completely worth it to get a shot at driving the BMW M2.

With a punchy engine, perfectly balanced chassis, and dimensions suited perfectly to Millbrook’s twisty Alpine circuit it was hard not to be immediately seduced. Whilst 365hp might seem fairly timid in the current horsepower wars, it gives the opportunity to exploit everything the M2 has to offer without feeling the need to hold back.

Like any good performance car it was possible to feel immediately connected with the M2, yet there’s still sufficient depth to know that spending longer with it would never prove to be boring. The seven-speed DCT dual-clutch gearbox is brutally effective at changing cogs, especially in Sport mode, even if purists might argue that the manual ‘box is the one to buy.

Add to this a – relatively – affordable starting price of just over £44,000, vaguely sensible running costs, and a compact size, it makes the M2 easy to justify as the single best car driven in 2016. Testing the M240i also demonstrated just how good the basic package beneath the M2 is, but also just how much more it adds to the equation.

Congratulations, BMW. The M2 was, unquestionably, the best car driven by ESM in 2016.

Honourable mentions – Mercedes-AMG A45 4MATIC, Rolls-Royce Phantom, BMW M240i

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Photo Gallery – 2016 Newcastle NE1 Motor Show

Following the success of the first event in 2015, the NE1 Motor Show was back in Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the weekend. ESM went along to see what was new.2016 NE1 Motor Show Ford Mustang GT 001

New for this year was typical North East weather of grey skies and rain. Not perfect, but it did bring back memories of Goodwood from a fortnight previous at least. Seeing a Porsche 911 GT3 Rs and 718 Boxster S, both painted in Lava Orange, at the foot of Grey’s Monument did help brighten things up somewhat. Noticeable was the lack of representation from some marques seen at the 2015 event such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Nissan. As an event backed primarily by dealerships, recent restructuring in the North’s big dealer chains might be the reason why. But, regardless, there was still a decent selection of new metal on show:

Further down Grey Street was an array of modern and classic cars which, if we were being lazy, we could probably have just substituted our photos from last year for. Suffice to say lots seemed familiar, even down to the place and order in which they were parked. What did stand out this year was the love for the Ford Mustang. Both new and old, almost every shape of Blue Oval-wearing pony car appeared to be represented.

It’s worth remembering that the NE1 Motor Show is free, and designed to get people into the centre of Newcastle. Given the crowds present, despite the inclement weather on Saturday, it seems to have certainly succeeded again this year. We’ll look forward to 2017 – just surprise us by mixing the order up a little!

SMMT Test Day 2016 – Part Two

We’re continuing our twelve car odyssey through this year’s SMMT Test Day. Part one can be found here if you need to refresh yourself. Things get a little weird and a little crazy in part two. SMMT Test Day Header 02If our first selection of cars at SMMT were varied, although generally performance themed, the second sextet proved to be incredibly diverse. From the ridiculous to the sublime, and everything in between.

7. MG3 1.5 SportMG3 SportRemember the world before everything became turbocharged and you had to rev the nuts off a naturally-aspirated engine to make progress? Drive the MG3 and the 1.5-litre VTI petrol motor will take you back to those heady days. Let’s not kid ourselves here – the MG3 is undoubtedly a cheap car – but any real potential it has is hamstrung by an outdated engine. In a world of EcoBoosts and Boosterjets, having to pin the throttle to the floor constantly just to keep up with traffic becomes a chore.

A chore that damages fuel economy and C02 figures compared to rivals. It also makes for unrefined progress, matched by the slightly bouncy ride quality. Handling is, however, pretty neat and although the interior is built to a price it’s relatively well-equipped. There’s the potential for an acceptable bargain supermini in the MG3; it just desperately needs a modern small-capacity turbo engine.

ESM Rating: 5.5/10
Stats: £9,899, 1.5-litre I4, 105hp/101lb-ft, 0-60mph 10.4 seconds, 108mph top speed.

8. Subaru Forester 2.0i XT LineartronicSubaru Forester XTThe Subaru Forester is a product which appeals to a certain niche population in the car market. Typically farming folk who want something reliable and usable. This particular car, being the performance turbo petrol XT version, manages to be even more specialist in its appeal. Rural people who want to get to the market in a hurry. It’s the quickest horse in the Forester stable, although we only tried it off-road, so can’t really comment if 238hp turns this into a high-riding performance SUV like the RS Q3. The boxer engine was noticeably quiet – no iconic flat-four burbling here – and overall refinement was strong for something many might label as mildly agricultural.

Hitting the dirt tracks of Millbrook’s ‘brown route’ showed off the genuine ability the Forester has in the rough. It was more than capable with steep inclines, juggling torque to the wheel with most grip quickly and efficiently. The hill-descent control system was brilliantly easy to use, with a simple tap of the brakes to set the speed you want, and the Forester handling the rest on the way down. It’s intuitive, doesn’t require messing about with extra buttons, and is very effective. Overall the Forester has a lot of charm and, whilst it might make more sense in diesel specification, you can’t doubt the capabilities of this XT version.

ESM Rating: 8/10 (off-road only)
Stats: £30,995, 2.0-litre flat-four turbo, 0-62mph 7.5 seconds, 137mph top speed

9. 1988 Nissan Micra 1.0 Automatic ‘K10’

Nissan Micra K10

Bluebird was off-limits, sadly.

Nissan was keen to celebrate three decades of production at the NMMUK Sunderland factory, so wheeled out three heritage models. Which includes this original Mk1 Micra – resplendent with three-speed automatic gearbox and unassisted steering. If anything, it serves as a reminder to just how far automotive technology has come in the past 30 years, and how we should be grateful for that progress! (more…)

Friday Photo – Detroit 2016 Gallery

Red, white and – well, more red actually. Not the colours of the American flag, but the colours of pretty much everything on show at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. Perhaps rouge is this colour of choice for motor show cars?

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Detroit Auto Show 2016 – Hefty Trends

As the first big event of the year, the North American International Auto Show offers the chance to spot trends we might see for the rest of the year. It also has the potential to prove if the US market is still obsessed with making the biggest stuff possible. 

2016 Detroit Auto Show

Pickup trucks are getting more outrageous
If there’s one vehicle that sums up the US automotive market in one fell swoop then it’s the pickup truck. But 2016 seems to be the year that manufacturers have truly gone XXL with their offerings.

Ford’s latest version of the F-150 Raptor was launched at the Detroit show a year ago but, twelve months later, it’s already been tweaked. Now there’s a SuperCrew version of the 3.5-litre EcoBoost powered machine so you can fit even more people or stuff inside. Although persuading people to get in the back as you make use of the new Terrain Management system in mud, rock or even baja mode might be a challenge!

Not to be outdone, Nissan premiered the Warrior concept version of its Titan X.D truck, again just one year after showing off the regular production version. With a 5.0-litre Turbo Diesel V8 engine, race-derived suspension parts, and a smattering of carbon fibre body panels it’s a formidable sounding proposition. Whether it becomes a reality remains to be seen.

Not quite as dramatically-styled as the Ford or Nissan, Honda is concentrating on practicality with the all-new Ridgeline. With a design that focuses on things which really matter to pickup buyers, like hauling sheets of plywood or drywall flat in the loadspace, or a 540 watt sound system mounted in the truck bed to improve your tailgating experience. Could it just be a little too sensible for its own good?

The big saloon isn’t dead!
2016 Volvo S90

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Friday Photo – NE1 Newcastle Motor Show Gallery

In something that seems to be worryingly turning into a trend, the North East saw yet another automotive event take place here at the weekend. Naturally, ESM headed along to check things out.

2015 NE1 Motor Show Mercedes SLS AMG Black

Gull-winged SLS AMG stole the show

The NE1 Motor Show, chiefly backed by the Benfield dealership empire, aimed to bring both new and classic cars right to the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. Occupying the area around Grey’s Monument, and then the entire length of picturesque Grey Street, the NE1 show certainly hit the mark in pulling people in. Being free will, of course, have helped but it was still great to see so many people taking an interest in the event.

With our BTCC Correspondent and Uncle Steve, we made short work of covering the 100 or so cars which made up the NE1 display. Ok, so it wasn’t quite Geneva or Goodwood, but this is progress. We can now tell Katie Glass that ‘the North’ is so modern we even have motor shows these days. Who knows, we might have indoor toilets and colour television by next year… But, we digress. We’ve already written about the NE1 show for the good people at Motoring Research, so here are our collective photographic efforts for you, ESM readers. Enjoy.

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SMMT Test Day 2015 – One day, Twelve cars [Part 1/3]

The annual SMMT Test Day is often described as being like Christmas for motoring writers, with a huge range of cars available to drive on the demanding Millbrook test track. So, is it really the automotive journalism nirvana it’s meant to be? You bet. SMMT-2015-108 With this being our first time at the SMMT Test Day, ESM didn’t quite know what to expect. Driving onto the famed mile straight at Millbrook – including some banked corner action – certainly got the adrenaline racing, ever so slightly. That was raised more, as the minibus pulled into the steering pad, covered with over 170 cars from almost 40 manufacturers. The deal at the SMMT Test Day is quite simple; which makes it even more special. Approach a friendly PR/media representative from a marque, ask if a car is available, and then be handed the keys after a quick check of your name badge. Be it 1.0-litre Suzuki Celerio or Rolls-Royce Phantom, the process is the same. That is what makes it an amazing experience.

As such, ESM made sure to try as many cars as we reasonably could in the time we were there. We managed twelve in the course of the day, with the option to drive direct rivals back-to-back hugely valuable. Time with each car is, relatively, limited if you want to make the most of what’s on offer, so the below are more initial impressions, rather than a full detailed road test. With the number of cars driven, we’ve broken this down into three parts:

Lexus RC F 2015 Lexus RC F Coupe 001What car to learn the formidable Millbrook Hill Route in? A 5.0-litre V8 coupe, with 470 bhp and rear-wheel drive of course. Fortunately, despite the power on offer, the RC F wasn’t too intimidating on the tight twists and turns. (C) SMMT 2015 Lexus RC F 006It’s certainly quick, has an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, and sounds superb. However, you’re also reminded of the 1,800kg kerb weight under braking, and there’s a little bit of confusion as to whether it’s more muscle car than pure sports car.

Inside there are obvious hints of the revered Lexus LFA in the shape of the centre console, and it’s as high-quality as you would expect. We’d question the choice of red-leather seats in a blue car, and Solar Flare orange would be our obvious pick of paintwork colour. The RC F is a curious car, and one we would love to spend more time in to figure out fully. There’s obvious talent beneath that coupé body, and one that seems to offer an interesting alternative to the BMW M4.

ESM Rating 8.5/10
Stats: £59,995, 5.0-litre V8, 470bhp/390lb-ft torque, 0-62mph 4.5 secs, 168mph top speed (more…)

What did we learn from the 2015 Detroit Auto Show?

As the first major event on the global automotive calendar, the North American International Auto Show sets the scene for the rest of the year to come. Yes, there’s a definite US-centric bias to a lot of the offerings on show, but many of the new cars will also be available globally. Check out the key trends below:

Blue is definitely the colour for promotional cars
Last year at Geneva we noted that blue had replaced brown as the paint colour of choice for cars on display at motor shows. At Detroit, things got turned up a level, with virtually everything painted bleu this year. Ford even went to the extreme measure of painting its new performance models all in the same shade of Liquid Blue for their Detroit show stand. From Fiesta ST to F-150 Raptor and, obviously, the new GT everything was the same hue. It’s worth noting that Liquid Blue isn’t a production paint colour so, despite being teased by it, you can’t pester your local dealer to deliver you a Focus ST wearing that shade. Notable exceptions to the blue-ness were the new Acura NSX in red, and Cadillac who painted their ‘V’ series performance models white.

The V6 is the new V8
Again, this trend is primarily represented by Ford’s offerings, but it’s quite a significant one. The new GT supercar packs a twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6, where once lived a supercharged V8. The F-150 Raptor has also ditched the 5.4 and 6.2 litre V8s from the previous generation, again favouring a boosted 3.5 litre V6. Only the Shelby GT350R Mustang seems to have emerged from Detroit with all eight cylinders still intact. The EcoBoost unit has, of course, already arrived in the regular Mustang model. (more…)

Detroit 2015 – Friday Photo Gallery

The 2015 Detroit North American International Auto Show has been a pretty good one, to say the least. We’ve seen two brand new supercars, and a host of other special new models rolled out. It might seem like we’re repeating ourselves, but it really is good to see the US car industry returning to form. Here are our photo highlights from this week:

Ford’s new GT took centre stage at Detroit 2015. Our car of the show.

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Friday Photo – 2014 Geneva Motor Show Gallery

It’s been a busy week at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show with a number of launches and debuts. We’ve covered a lot of it here on EngageSportMode already, but here’s some our photo highlights:

V8 Vantage N430 special edition

Aston Martin V8 Vantage N430 special edition

A big week for the Audi, with the Audi S1 Sportback, RS4 Nogaro Blue special edition, new TT and TT quattro sport concept all on show. (more…)