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.


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


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…)

EngageSportMode Awards 2015 – Part One

You know the drill. At the end of each year EngageSportMode likes to dish out hypothetical trophies made from macaroni and glitter. This year is no exception, other than 2015 featured a lot more new metal to be driven. 

2015 Awards p1

Does it matter that we’re already into 2016? No, of course not. Sticking with our tried and tested formula, part one picks out which cars were most deserving of an ESM award over the last twelve months.

Best overall car driven in 2015 – SEAT Leon Cupra ST
2015 SEAT Leon ST Cupra 280 001

This was tough. Seriously mind-bendingly tough. Having sampled so many great cars during 2015, trying to narrow it down to one was incredibly difficult. So why does the Leon Cupra ST win? For the simple reason that out of everything driven in the past year, it was the one which could fill the “all the car you’ll ever need” cliché with ease. That was our verdict after experiencing it at the SMMT Test Day earlier in the year.

For starters, it’s an estate with a huge boot capable of holding some 587 litres with the seats up, swelling to 1,470 litres with them down. That’s a lot of room for all the lifestyle paraphernalia you might need to carry around with you. But, in the same breath, it’ll also hit 62 mph from a standing start in 6.1 seconds and power all the way to a 155 mph top speed. That’s kind of a big deal.

There are a host of options to fiddle around with through the Driver Profile settings – include a sport mode, of course – and the 276 bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine makes a great noise when fully wound up. When you add 258 lb-ft of torque available from low down the rev range, sharp brakes, and accurate steering into the mix the Cupra ST becomes a convincing all-round package. Not to mention the fact it’s the fastest production estate car around the Nurburgring-Nordschleife, and can come in an ESM-pleasing black/orange colour combination.

That you get all the above for under £30k just cements the Cupra ST as the best thing we drove all year. Well done SEAT for proving that 2015 wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Volkswagen Group.

Honourable mentions – Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Megané Renaultsport 275 Trophy

Best concept – Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo
2015 Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo

Concept cars are meant to be crazy. They’re meant to give glimpses of the future, whilst also letting the minds of designers run wild. It’s safe to say Bugatti easily fulfilled that brief with this creation at the Frankfurt Motor Show. With influences from a variety of the French marque’s greatest hits, and a substantial amount of carbon fibre and wings, the Vision Gran Turismo looked rather amazing. (more…)

Top 7 New Cars of 2015 with Ned Jasper

The end of 2015 is fast approaching so when our newest, and youngest, contributor suggested a rundown of the top new cars of 2015 we said yes! Ned has put together a list of the hottest metal from the past twelve months, so read on to see which one takes the glory.

ESM Top 7 New Cars 2015 Logo

Well, 2015, nobody can deny that it was a big year for ESM. Not only has it recruited its youngest ever member (myself), but also Mr ESM has tied the knot with Mrs ESM. Now as much as I would like to dwell on personal successes, I’m afraid I’ve been beaten to it. So go and have a read of John’s article first.

2015 has been a golden year in automotive terms. Over the past 12 months we’ve seen offerings from across the globe. Some pretty, some fast, some neither of those things, but they’re still exciting none the less. 
What you have before you are ESM’s favourites; the top 5 new cars of the year. Well, actually it’s not; there are seven. After whittling a list of 30+ cars down to just six. Torn between which one to drop I just included them all. Then I remembered about the M4 GTS. So seven it is.

7. Ford Focus RS
2015 Ford Focus RS 001

The Ford Focus RS; infinitely cool, ever practical thanks to its five-door hatch layout, and shockingly fast. This humble hatchback comes complete with 345bhp, a sub 5 second 0-62mph time (that’s 4.7 in case you were wondering) and looks to kill. In a market now mainly dominated by the Germans, this turbo tear-away has allowed the competition to take a step back and reconsider who is boss. This latest incarnation of the RS now features a comprehensive AWD system – just like the RS Cossies of old – the difference, this time, being that it can send up to 70% of torque to the rear tyres. This not only gives new levels of grip and performance but, as you would expect, makes it a lot more fun too. Let’s face it; anyone with even an ounce of petrol running in their veins wants one of these on their driveway. And… here comes the better news, they can, with a price of £30,000, it really is an every man’s car. We’ll take ours in Nitrous Blue, thanks.

6. Audi R8
2015 Geneva Audi R8 V10 plus

When creating this latest generation, Audi took what is one of the best sports cars on the market and turned it into a supercar. Gone is the 4.2 V8 of old, in its place is the beating heart of the Lamborghini-derived V10. 
There’s talk of an entry-level turbo V6 at some stage but, for now, were left with that cataclysmic V10 and the supreme V10 Plus. Which are both equally awe worthy. The ‘Plus’ boasts a 602bhp headline figure, a minuscule 3.2 seconds 0-62mph time and what is a rather fetching fixed rear spoiler. The ‘base’ V10 isn’t far off that either, although it sadly lacks the wing. The bigger power, sharpened looks and new tech really set this car off. It should make the perfect gift for millionaire playboys alike.

2015 BMW M4 GTS

The M4 was a bit of a last-minute choice really. The car itself isn’t a huge leap above the standard M4 in terms of performance. Stood beside the supercar royalty of this list it looks a little tame. But there was one factor that clinched it in the end. The looks. This car has served as my laptop wallpaper for the last few months now, and there hasn’t been a moment when I couldn’t stop ogling at it. That combination of dark grey and orange – much like ESM – is something that is so dazzling, so magnificent that it makes this car a true object of desire. The fact that it has 493bhp and can get to 62mph from rest in just 3.7 seconds is simply a bonus. Santa, if you’re reading this, above all else, this one please.

4. Porsche Cayman GT4
2015 Porsche Cayman GT4 001

If you’re looking for the blueprint of a driver’s car then this is it. When creating the GT4, Porsche have basically shoehorned all the best bits from the range into one complete package. Manual gearbox? Tick. Rear drive mid-engined layout? Tick. Tactile steering and exceptional levels of grip? Tick. The GT4 really has everything a keen driver could want. With the main focus of the GT4 set on the twisties, you would expect the car to lack slightly in the outright speed department. That’s where you’re wrong; the GT4 utilises the same flat-six borrowed from the Carrera S. However, mated with the lighter chassis, it allows the hardcore ‘baby’ Porka to spring from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds, and keep on accelerating to 183mph. I think it’s safe to say we all want one. (more…)

Guest Post | Ned Jasper | BMW M2

He’s becoming so much of a regular we’re going to have to think about upgrading him to a regular contributor! Ned Jasper is back, with all the details on BMW’s new compact performance coupé.

2015 BMW M2 001If you’re in the market for a small, shockingly fast, RWD fun coupè then look no further. This is the BMW M2, and it’s been on the cards for a while. Now though, the wait is finally over, and it’s time to see if the specs live up to the long-lived hype. Although the M2 is a first for BM, – it’s about time that the M department got their hands on the F22 platform – The M2 certainly has sporting pedigree. BMW’s cocktail of short chassis, RWD layout, and straight six upfront will never grow old.

2015 BMW M2From first impressions, the M2 undoubtedly lives up to the rumours. The way it’s muscles bulge out of the wheel arches, and the way it manages to interweave the perfect amount of sharp creases and flowing curves signal that this car is something special. You’ve got to admire the designers at M, the way they manage to give the car a violent muscular stance, whilst maintaining the charming and elegant styling of the 2 Series. Not swayed yet? Let me get to the specs.

2015 BMW M2The new M2 utilises the same N55 engine block found in the old, yet utterly fabulous, 1 Series M coupè. The difference being that this time the engine steals the pistons, crankshaft bearing shells, and most of the exhaust system, from its bigger brother the S55 – found in the M3/4.

2015 BMW M2The biggest difference between the M2 and its higher-powered siblings is the turbo, or should I say turbos. Whereas the entire M range consists of a twin charged system, the M2 makes do with only a single blower. It is, at least, twin scroll though. All in all, the baby M has a 60bhp deficit to the M3, but when you consider that it weighs just 1495kg, I think you’ll find that they come out fairly even. (more…)