PH 2020 | Favourite Car of the Year
We drove every car that mattered in 2020 – these were the three we liked most
By PH Staff / Thursday, December 24, 2020
We could have done this the scientific way. Spreadsheets might have been created, Zoom calls scheduled, arguments had, scores totted – and at the end of it all a certified PH Car of the Year would've popped out. But while they promise a degree of objectivity, such arrangements are almost always a fudge. People bring all their prejudices and personal preferences to the party, and from long experience, when push comes to shove, they always pick their favourite.
So we've cut to the chase. In the gloomiest of years, we sat down and had a chat about the cars that raised a smile in the past 12 months. They did not have to be perfect – because no car ever is – and they did not even have to be the 'best'. They just needed to be the one that left a mark. The one you remembered.
From there the plan was simple: it is the same plan everyone would hatch in the circumstances. We'd drive them to a scenic, sparsely populated part of the country, and spend two days proving to ourselves that these were indeed our favourite cars of 2020. With a large curry in between. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did putting it together – Happy Christmas!
Toyota GR Yaris (Circuit Pack)
The list of things I like about the GR Yaris is remarkably long. I like how, in the final part of its briefing, Toyota UK told the assembled journalists how to turn off the lane-keep assist. Manufacturers don't typically explain how to switch out a new car's safety features as a matter of course, certainly not one as conservative as Toyota. It didn't even go to the trouble of explaining why – we all knew, or at least suspected we did. Lane-keep assist is annoying. Especially if you're straying close to the white line intentionally.
This you will do frequently in the GR Yaris. Not because it is large, of course – it is wonderfully small – but because you tend to adopt something like a racing line everywhere. I like that, too. The Yaris is not blessed with the most talkative steering, it's true, but it has been made rugged and direct enough that you hustle it from place to place with a rowdy sort of abandon. On the way from Exmoor to the Cheddar Gorge in cheery convoy, it threatened to drop the chasing pack; not because the Yaris is quicker, obviously, but because its driver is liable to kick off an Ogier impression at the drop of a hat.
And who doesn't like that about hot hatches? The Yaris has that accessible, excitable, unputdownable thing down to a tee. Tellingly, it gives great second and third gear; particularly if you've descended into them expectantly, like a child leaping headfirst into a water slide. That is all to do with the unbridled fizz of the engine, which offers up multiple clues as to just how trick the Yaris really is. Most modern hot hatches are powered by breathed-on iterations of otherwise fairly modest petrol engines. Toyota's 261hp three-pot is the opposite of modest. It is remarkable really that it has managed to qualify for an unremarkable 34.3mpg average. Anywhere north of 3,000rpm, it revs with open-throated impunity. No rival sets aside economy quite so flagrantly.
That this moreishness is twinned with an AWD system teased into existence with the lively assistance of a world rally team is of course the icing on the like-cake. Inclement weather on Exmoor simply confirmed what we already knew: the Yaris is built to cover low-grip ground exceptionally quickly, especially in 50/50 'Track' mode. I think I still prefer the nose-led 'normal' setting, but would have happily spent far longer than we had north of Simonsbath finding out for sure. I really didn't want to get out of it in Somerset the next day either. And when the car you're swapping into is a BMW M2 CS, that speaks volumes.
And sure, it isn't all roses. The clutch can be a bit irksome at low speeds, and it's possible to miss a gear. You're definitely made to sit too high. And the interior isn't going to help you win friends and influence people. But, honestly, this is a volume model from a mainstream manufacturer that disengages the rear driveshafts when you pull the handbrake up. It is hard to think of a car so intent on indulging your enthusiasm in a way that has nothing to do with a superabundance of speed or ostentation or look-at-me status.
Perhaps most of all, I like how attainable (comparatively speaking) the Yaris is. At close of play on the final day, a young lad emerged from his van to talk cars. This is not unusual. Except he didn't make a beeline for the aquamarine Lamborghini or the gold-wheeled M2, he bounded straight to the Toyota's driver's window. His mate had just ordered one, he said, but this was the first time he'd seen one in the flesh. He liked the arches, too. I confirmed it was all brilliant. He told me that it was so cheap to lease, his other mates were wondering if they shouldn't all get one. They absolutely should, I said. And so should you. NC
Our trip provided me with the first opportunity to try a GR Yaris with the Circuit Pack fitted, and it absolutely did not disappoint. Perhaps in sunnier climes I would have thought it a little to mechanically safe – because it felt comparatively bland when I switched out of a rear-drive Lambo intent on throwing me into the wilderness. But with the standing water of Exmoor to face, the enormous, unflappable pace of Gazoo Racing's three-door was mind boggling. How could such a little car carry so much speed across varied surfaces with this much consistency? I had the Yaris set to rear-biased Sport mode the whole time despite the downpour, such was the level of grip on offer.
Oddly, the clearest demonstration of the Yaris' capabilities were when Nic was driving it and I was following in the Huracan as we headed away from the worst of the weather. On several occasions I found myself unable to keep up with the hatchback, which would slice through the endless streams of B-road water and claw its way off of roundabouts like a hound that's locked onto a scent, while the Italian stallion would push and wobble over the same sections. It was a classic case of David and Goliath. After the jaunt, Nic was brimming with confidence, I was exhausted. My respect for the Yaris was sky high. SS
BMW M2 CS
Hand on heart, the BMW M2 CS was probably my favourite car of 2020 before driving it an inch. Which is not to denigrate the achievements of anything else launched – these two ably prove it's been another great 12 months – rather that the spec couldn't have read any more like my kind of car: straight six, 450hp, rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual. And the gold wheels, of course. Something would have had to have gone catastrophically awry in the development for me not to have adored the M2 CS. Lo and behold, there wasn't a hitch – price perhaps notwithstanding. The CS is great. I'm infatuated.
And I love it, put most simply, for all that it isn't, everything that it doesn't have as much as what it does. BMW hasn't tried to reinvent the wheel here – much less the M car – instead it's honed a recipe that's served it so well for so long. And, lest we forget, that has produced some fantastic cars over the years. The CS isn't a pared-back and limber coupe (M cars seldom are), though it does go without xDrive, a standard automatic or the possibility to spend £20k on one option pack. That the silly dials and the awful grilles are absent surely count in its favour, too.
Though BMW has proven emphatically that it can make M cars with more technology – and I remain hopeful for the M3 – there exists an endearing purity about the CS. That's probably the first time anyone has spoken about the purity of a 1,600kg car, but you get the point. It's old school, traditional BMW M, updated for 2020 and executed with aplomb. I can live with the kerbweight, too, as it's been about M3 mass since the turn of the century – and this is faster than a lot of them.
Even in such vaunted company, alongside the greatest driver's car Toyota has ever made and perhaps the best supercar package yet produced by Lamborghini, the CS shines. Even if I'll be the first to concede that damp, dark, bumpy moorland roads don't show off the BMW to its best (but do exhibit some further advances made over earlier M2s). Exmoor in December could have been built for the Yaris, and the Huracan's plush damping ensures more confidence than expected. Though I love it, the BMW never feels quite as assured in the same setting, a bit more restless and not as at home.
When it's good, though, there's still not a car from this year that I'd rather be in. Perhaps my highlight of the trip was actually the drive down, blasting between roundabouts on the A303; I love that the straight six punches so hard from so few revs but remains willing to rev, that the driver has three pedals and a stick to choose gears and that it corners how it looks: with broad-shouldered aggression and a rear-driven heart on its sleeve.
Even on the moorland roads, the CS was good enough to convince me it was the right choice. It's entertaining not because of some great dynamic revelation, more its ability to drive with the attitude and bravado that all the best M cars have. The Cup 2s give the front end a tenacity absent in other M2s, even in less than ideal conditions, while 450hp and the M differential ensure an endlessly malleable balance. The CS isn't a gratuitous loon (unless you want it to be), it's front-engined, rear-drive, transparent fun done the BMW way. Some might say that's the best way, actually, and I'd be inclined to agree. As an M fan I'm as intrigued by the new era as I am perturbed – but if some CS fairy dust can make it to the next generation with all of the requirements now placed on a contemporary performance, it'll be more than alright. We live in hope, don't we? MB
Matt, of course, has the M2 down to a tee. The murmours moorside were that it was too expensive and had already suffered defeat to two iterations of Porsche Cayman. But comparison with the decade's preeminent mid-engine two-seater (while inevitable) does rather miss the point. M cars have always played second fiddle to ground-up sports cars, and ultimately there's no escaping the M2's more humble features when you drive it back-to-back with a car that never had to countenance the idea of packaging four people and their luggage.
In isolation though, the CS is terrific. For its fundamental ability, yes, but mostly because it specialises in the sort of feelgood aura that is seldom well served by the very latest cars. It still feels acutely mechanical for one thing, and admirably compact. Not unlike the Yaris, it invites you to make the most of its lusty engine – even when it's struggling to put the power down. By the time I'd got the CS back to Surrey from Somerset, I'd half forgotten all the reasons why I like the Cayman GTS more. NC
Lamborghini Huracan EVO RWD
In what is the last decade of pure petrol car sales in Britain, models like the Huracan Evo RWD feel doubly significant – and you won't need me to explain why. But I've not picked the Sant'Agata Bolognese supercar because of that not-so-distant deadline; I was drawn to its knife-edge looks, V10 vocals and, most significantly, its rear-wheel drive layout long before the 2030 announcement was confirmed. For me, the Huracan RWD epitomises 21st century Lamborghini perfectly – which means few things come close to packing in so much drama.
The Huracan looks more sublime than ever, which is saying something. It still packs enough visual punch to dovetail perfectly with the V10's ASBO start-up and coarse, oh-so-distinctive voice. The infotainment system's swipe controls annoy me, but there's no denying the aesthetic impact of a cabin styled with such flair. It feels authentically Lambo inside, and that makes you, the driver, feel like a bloody rockstar. Or at least it does in my case. Sunglasses are mandatory in daylight.
Still, I'd be lying if I said it was love at first go, because I originally drove the RWD in March in less than perfect conditions for its 610hp potential. It was too cold and wet for the P-Zeros to really bite, so I initially found it a little nervous – and not just when asking for heavy supplies of the V10's muscle. It took time to dial into its tippy toe balance and trust that the limited-slip diff would manage the torque split across two driven wheels. Something that becomes eminently rewarding when it equates to more music from over your shoulder.
And then you're totally engrossed. Like the all-wheel drive Huracan Evo, the RWD is all about its ultra-responsive engine and quick reacting gearbox, but to an even greater degree because now the car's direction of travel can be better manipulated with your right foot. It's a car that lives almost permanently on the oversteer side of life, rotating as you trail brake into corners and dancing on exit as you chase the throttle. It feels compact and agile and forever abuzz with energy; you're never more than a big toe flex or left paddle click away from an ear-to-ear grin.
As such, I can forgive the front axle's vagueness and the few cabin annoyances that largely centre around the infotainment system's menus. I genuinely left the radio off for the vast majority of the time we spent in the south west, with the engine in Sport almost permanently so the ten-cylinder orchestra and snap gearchanges could be fully appreciated. It rides well and is a relatively comfortable place to spend time, but I love the way the Evo RWD doesn't try to be this all-encompassing supercar in the manner of a 911 Turbo or Audi R8. It's unashamedly mad and will absolutely bite if you don't respect it in tricky conditions. At a time when the internal combustion engine's days are numbered, it feels honest.
I'm normally drawn to the most technically impressive car, the machine with the smartest engineering or most daring setup. In the company of other supercar stars like the McLaren 600LT and Ferrari F8 Tributo, the Lamborghini Huracan Evo RWD is none of those things – and even in the company of a GR Yaris and M2 CS, it feels very straightforward. Lighter, more aggressive but no faster than its all-wheel drive sibling, it is a Huracan simplified. That's exactly what makes it so enthralling. SS
It would be wrong to say that this Evo RWD is when I 'got' the Huracan – that engine in a car this striking made plenty of sense already – but it's comfortably the one I've enjoyed driving most. It's both more capable than the old LP580-2 and more exciting than the four-wheel drive cars, which were already very, very good indeed. Whatever you've heard on Twitter. For its combination of ability, sense of occasion and driver reward, I honestly think this new RWD could be the best Huracan ever – Performante included.
Unsurprisingly there wasn't much time on Exmoor when there wasn't a bum already in the Huracan's seat, but nor did it take long to reveal why it's here. Of course, there's the obvious stuff – the baying howl of that 5.2 V10, the sublime dual-clutch transmission, the way it looks – but it's the finer details that leave just as favourable an impression. The damping is of exceptional quality, the assists are well sorted – you can explore a 610hp, two-wheel drive Lambo without scaring yourself silly – and its built like a vault. No flaky Italian supercar stereotypes here. Put simply, I think the Huracan Evo RWD is pretty much everything that you would want from a supercar, everything you'd want from a Lamborghini no less, and probably quite a lot more besides – it's wonderful. Excellent choice, Sam. MB
- 2021 Toyota GR Yaris | PH Review
- 2021 BMW M2 CS | PH Review
- 2021 Lamborghini Huracan EVO RWD | PH Review
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