Another year of great cars and great drives, but in the end there is just a little bit of history repeating.
This year went so fast I barely noticed it. Especially when I was at the wheel of the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S ... but more of that later. In a heartbeat, it’s time for the most anticipated awards of the motoring year and you can count on us here at the Resident Towers to bring to you the cars we think are the best you can buy right now.
There were a lot of great cars in our parking garage in the past 12 months. Some of them came off as a big surprise, some were brilliant confirmations and a handful a slight disappointment, but because these are the Oscars and not the Razzies, those will be left unmentioned.
The Skoda Superb is a great buy, for example. The design works spectacularly well on such a big car and the fact it is really – I mean really – big makes it one of the best family cars out there. Go for the station wagon and you won’t regret your choice for one minute, I promise.
Whereas the Superb was one of the ‘confirmation cars’, the Peugeot 308 GTI was a surprise. I had already written here that the regular 308 was a fine choice in the C-segment of the market, but I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did in the GTI. Not only that, those gigantic exhaust tips made me smile every time I looked at the Pug after parking it.
Fun was also something in abundance when I drove the new Mini John Cooper Works Cabrio for four days at the end of spring. The Mini is all grown up these days, but the Cooper Works still has that ‘enfant terrible’ kind of personality to it that made every journey an event. It’s quite expensive for a car that is compromised in some ways, but if you have another car in the garage, then it is perfect and life will certainly be better with it around.
Kia was also high on my list of 2016. The new Sportage and Optima are good cars in absolute terms, but when you factor in pricing against the competition and value for money, they are pretty much unbeatable. The Koreans promise even better handling in the years to come, so I guess things are bound to get even better. Watch out Europeans!
I cannot wrap up the honourable mentions without including the BMW 340i Touring I tested earlier in the year. The 3 Series underwent an aesthetic facelift but the new six-cylinder engine in the 340i was the biggest news for me. It’s so creamy, so smooth, so damn good, it made a 3 Series wagon feel like a million euros. If I could afford it, that would be my everyday car.
Let’s move on to the winners then. Last year, the Porsche Cayman GT4 took the gold medal, the BMW 7 Series the silver and the Mazda MX-5 the bronze. I have to say 2016 was not as exciting in terms of unforgettable drives as 2015, but the three top contenders were definitely a cut above the rest.
In third place this year I am placing the Volvo XC90. An SUV for all that is holy! Oh well, I am not to blame if constructors keep making this type of cars better and better with each passing year and I am not one to refuse to admit when I like a car I thought I wouldn’t. The XC90 is greatness on wheels. Big, beautiful and beautifully built, it is probably the best Volvo in history.
Although there are no big engines and no outstanding performance numbers, the XC90 manages to divert the driver’s – and potential client’s – attention to other elements: quality, refinement and, most of all, wellbeing. If your car is your second home, the XC90 is the perfect place to be.
The runner-up of the year would be a well deserved gold-medal winner and I spent several days deciding what car should come first and what car should come second and why. In the end, the Merc just lost it but that doesn’t mean for one second that it is a loser. Quite the contrary actually. The guys at AMG really went to town with this car and these two pages would not be enough to detail all the modifications they made to the standard E-Class to get to the magnificent AMG E63 S 4Matic+.
Anyway, what matters is there’s a big twin-turbo V8 up front, a nine-speed gearbox and such an advanced four-wheel drive system it gave me the confidence to drive faster than I had ever driven before in a downpour. Despite its 1875kg of weight, the AMG E-Class made mince meat of twisty mountain roads above Faro and Loulé. Then, it excelled at the Portimão racetrack, where Bernd Schneider, five-time DTM champion, couldn’t get away from me in an AMG GT.
Okay, I am lying, three corners into the lap and he had to wait, but that was all my fault, not the car’s. I loved the E63. It made me wish I had the means to rob a bank.
I take it from the pictures you already know what car I believe is the best of 2016. I really didn’t want to give the win to another Porsche after the Cayman GT4 had stolen the show last year, but the 911 Carrera 4S is just too good for that. It’s obviously not comparable to the Mercedes or the Volvo in many ways – it would even be logical to own both the Porsche and one of the other two – but here, where all categories and types of cars fall into one, it beats them both to take the highest step on the podium.
The C4S is not even a GT car, like the Cayman, it is a normal 911, developed to be used as frequently as possible and as reliable as a diesel Cayenne. Maybe more. It is comfortable, extremely well built, beautiful and the new turbo engine has so much torque that you can use it like a daily runabout, no problem.
However, leave the house at the break of dawn and head to an empty road, one you know like the palm of your hand and I doubt there is a faster car on sale today. I never drove one, that is for sure. By lunchtime I had stopped by the side of the road just to take in what had happened. This car had made me a better driver than any other car I had ever driven. It’s so indulging, so easy, you won’t be able to stop driving it, I guarantee you. It is mesmerizingly good.
The 911 has gotten to a point where you have to ask what else is possible? I mean, this car is pretty much perfect in every way, a complete engineering triumph and a machine that proves that this model, after more than 50 years, remains the best sports car in the world. I have no doubt about that.
So this is it. Another motoring year that comes to an end. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed writing on these pages. Here’s hoping we meet again in 2017.
By Guilherme Marques