After a 2020 where we mostly had to ‘stay at home’, this year has offered more freedom – including memorable drives in some brilliant cars. Here, we reveal our four-wheeled highlights of 2021, from a racing-inspired Lamborghini to a rugged Volkswagen Golf.
Before you ask, this list is wholly subjective. We’re not claiming these are the best cars of the year per se. However, they are the ones that made us smile and reminded us what we’d missed. Here’s to many more great drives in 2022.
Nominations by Richard Aucock (RA), John Redfern (JR) and Tim Pitt (TP).
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring
Anyone who reads our articles for new website 9WERKS knows we have a penchant for Porsches, so the latest GT3 is an obvious place to start. For the first time in the 911’s 58-year history, Porsche has redesigned its front suspension, with double wishbones for greater feedback and precision. Oh, did we mention the manual gearbox and 4.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-six that revs to 9,000rpm?
Driving the wingless GT3 Touring on a scorching July afternoon, I said: ‘On hot and dry tarmac, you need to be a hooligan to unstick the super-soft Michelin Cup 2 tyres, but the difference in front-end response is readily apparent. The 911 turns in aggressively and bites hard into bends. Combined with a sportier rear-wheel steering setup, it feels intoxicatingly intense.’ TP
BMW M4 Competition M xDrive
Tim may have sampled that 911 GT3 Touring on a scorching hot day, but my drive in the BMW M4 Competition M xDrive was far more British: a cold, drizzly day in late November. Weather that’s made for the new all-wheel-drive M-car, because 510hp channeled through only two wheels is a challenge, despite what the driving purists insist. Split it four ways and you’ve far more chance of the power reaching the ground, without stability control trying to save you from yourself.
It means the divine 3.0-litre straight-six engine can really sing, rather than be electronically held back. This is another great combustion engine that’s going out on a high as we get ready for electric. The ‘M4 Comp’ handles sharply, rides surprisingly well and has a fantastic interior. Even that nose is growing on me. For a premium of less than £3,000 over the rear-drive M4, you’d be foolish not to. RA
GTO Engineering 250 GT SWB Revival
So, one of our favourite cars of 2021 was actually launched in 1959? Not quite. The GTO Engineering Revival is an exact, tool-room replica of the iconic Ferrari 250 GT SWB. However, while the real thing might cost you £20 million, this starts at around £750,000. We’d have one to drive and another to simply stare at.
The Revival makes most modern supercars seem dull. I said: ‘Gioacchino Colombo’s magnificent V12 overwhelms everything. Throttle response is strident and razor-sharp, goading you into chasing more revs. By 4,000rpm, the prancing horses are really galloping and there’s still nearly 4,000rpm to go. The genteel GT has thrown down its dinner jacket and stripped to a loincloth. It feels utterly feral.’ TP
Hyundai Kona N
The phrase ‘performance SUV’ sends a shiver down the spine of most motoring enthusiasts. However, the Hyundai Kona N is not just a compact crossover with dramatic styling. The product of Hyundai’s N division, spearheaded by Albert Biermann (formerly of BMW M), the Kona N is a true Nurburgring-tuned SUV. It also has an incredibly vocal sports exhaust, plus a bright red button for ‘N Grin Shift’ mode. Yes, really.
After four fun-filled days with the Kona N in freezing conditions, I said: ‘There is something strangely appealing about all the Kona N’s performance in a compact SUV body. Its styling is almost cartoon-like, while the higher driving position increases the sensation of speed’. In summary: ‘The Kona N is not simply fun for an SUV. It is hilariously grin-inducing as a performance car full-stop.’ JR
I was involved in a serious cycling accident over the summer. Only my left arm remained unbroken or undamaged in some way. So my return to driving had to be an automatic car, had to be large (but not too large), and needed to be easygoing and soothing. My own BMW 330i is not this car; the new Genesis G70 absolutely is.
Genesis’ BMW 3 Series alternative, the G70 looks good, turns heads through being different, and has an impeccably built interior. Probably better than anything in its class – yes, even Audi. The rear-drive chassis is agile, the adaptive dampers of my Sport model add sophistication to the ride, and the premium feel it oozes really satisfies. I’d have a soft-spot for any car that got me back behind the wheel. That the Genesis G70 is an able, likable car in its own right makes it a dead-cert among my cars of the year. RA
Lamborghini Huracan STO
The hardcore Huracan STO is a road-going version of Lamborghini’s Super Trofeo racer. Think of it as a 911 GT3 with an even more outrageous engine: a free-breathing 5.2-litre V10 that can wake the dead. A road-trip through the Scottish Highlands provided the perfect playground for the STO – the most exciting new supercar of 2021.
Still buzzing from an early morning blast in the STO, I wrote: ‘Unlike certain Huracans of the past, the chassis no longer feels like a supporting act. Its fixed-ratio steering is hyper-alert but unerringly precise, while mighty Brembo CCM-R brakes inspire real confidence. In default STO mode, the magnetic dampers keep the car utterly nailed-down, yet still pliant enough for broken British blacktop.’ TP
‘Oh heavens, not another crossover SUV,’ I thought when I first saw images of the Cupra Formentor. So imagine my surprise when I first got hands-on with one. It looks squat, sporty and distinctive. Sure, it’s raised-up, like all good crossovers, but it’s anything but boxy and bland. It all boded well for a week behind the wheel – and things got even better the more I drove it.
You feel nicely hunkered-down behind the wheel of the Cupra Formentor, and the sporty makeover is charismatic and premium. I love all the copper detailing and the family liked the space in the back. The 310hp engine, nicked from a Volkswagen Golf R, is terrific, and the suspension shows real sophistication, barring the occasional ferocious crack from the wheels into a pothole. A week later, I was fully convinced. This is a corking car. And in 2022, we’ve got the all-new Cupra Born electric car to look forward to as well. I can’t wait. RA
Peugeot 205 GTI Tolman Edition
I was tempted to choose the Hyundai i20 N, but John had already selected the larger Kona N. Besides, my hot hatch highlight of 2021 was actually a car I owned some 20 years ago: the Peugeot 205 GTI. Tolman Motorsport’s restomod GTI is even better than the original, with more power, reworked suspension and stronger brakes. It even has a push-button Sport mode. Simple driving joy.
‘It feels like a 205 GTI after a few months at the gym: fitter and more focused,’ said my review. ‘You can push harder in corners, while the steering ‒ now via a tactile, Alcantara-wrapped wheel – is lighter yet equally full of feedback. There’s notably more mid-range punch, too, so you don’t need to wring out the revs in every gear. Spoiler alert: you will anyway.’ TP
Volkswagen Golf Estate Alltrack
Finding an off-road capable estate is becoming increasingly harder, with drivers drawn to trendier SUVs instead. But, as a self-confessed fan of American woody wagons, I’m forever on the hunt for a modern interpretation of the 1980’s AMC Eagle. The new Volkswagen Golf Estate Alltrack comes close, with a raised ride height, spacious interior and powerful diesel engine. All it lacks is some wood grain vinyl exterior trim.
‘It might not be fit to tackle the Dakar Rally, but it will venture further into the dirt than a regular Golf Estate’ was my verdict on the Alltrack. Although it will never be a major seller, those who buy the off-road Golf will get: ‘an estate with effortless performance, plenty of space and genuine off-road ability. To use a predictable motoring cliché, it really is all the car you need.’ JR