By almost any yardstick, 2020 hasn’t been a vintage year. Thankfully, during those seemingly rare times when we weren’t locked down, we managed to drive some brilliant new cars.
These aren’t the best cars of 2020 per se; you can search elsewhere for worthy lists of reliable crossovers or practical people carriers. Rather, these are the cars that surprised us, delighted us – and that we loved driving. They provided life-affirming moments in a year we’d rather forget. So, in no particular order…
Toyota GR Yaris
This year’s hottest hatchback is the Toyota GR Yaris. But you already knew that, right? This thinly disguised rally car feels like a throwback to the days of the Impreza Turbo and Lancer Evo, with bespoke bodywork, a potent 261hp engine and four-wheel drive. Its arrival was greeted by a flurry of five-star reviews, including ours.
After a blast around rural Sussex, we said: ‘Its steering feels alert, its gearshift knuckly and mechanical, its damping tightly wound. There’s a sense of carefully calibrated control weights that Porsche, for example, does so well. You just know that serious men in Gazoo Racing fleeces spent hours on this stuff.’ (Tim Pitt)
Read our Toyota GR Yaris review
Aston Martin DBX
The DBX is a make-or-break car for Aston Martin. In a turbulent year that saw the departure of CEO Andy Palmer – replaced by Tobias Moers of AMG – this 550hp V8-engined luxury SUV arrived to save the day. Although hamstrung by its lack of a hybrid option, we reckon the £158,000 DBX feels special enough to succeed.
After some hot laps of Silverstone, the Aston faced an even tougher test: a family day-trip. ‘The drive was brilliantly soothing, and I just wanted to carry on,’ we said. ‘The DBX is a thoroughbred, as purely focused on being a super-SUV as a Range Rover is on being a luxury SUV. It’s exactly what the doctor [Andy Palmer] ordered. He can consider it a job well done.’ (Richard Aucock)
Read our Aston Martin DBX review
Land Rover Defender
No car this decade had bigger boots to fill than the Land Rover Defender. Its predecessor lasted, in various guises, from 1948 until 2016, and is one of motoring’s true icons. The new Defender is wholly different – as it needed to be – yet it retains the rugged, go-anywhere spirit of the original. In a market stuffed with same-again SUVs, this one stands out.
We tackled Land Rover’s famous off-road proving ground at Eastnor, Herefordshire, in the Defender 90. ‘Recent rain has made the hillsides especially slippery, yet select “Mud and Ruts”, knock the eight-speed automatic gearbox into low range and the Defender doesn’t flinch,’ said our review. ‘In that great British tradition, it simply keeps calm and carries on.’ (Tim Pitt)
Read our Land Rover Defender review
This year brought news that new petrol and diesel cars (with the exception of hybrids) can no longer be sold after 2030. Fortunately, the Honda e provides proof that an electric future needn’t be dull. Cute styling, agile handling and a show-stopping interior make for an EV even petrolheads can warm to. Computer geeks will love the HDMI slot for plugging in a games console, too.
We said: ‘The Honda e is a class act. It is a futuristic car that doesn’t short-change you on comfort or sophistication. It drives nicely, with a sporty feel that should delight enthusiasts, yet is also compliant and quiet enough for those who want to be wowed by the electric cars of the future.’ (Richard Aucock)
Read our Honda e review
Lamborghini Huracan Evo RWD
Turns out the cheapest Lamborghini supercar is also the best. The £164,400 Huracan Evo RWD does without the four-wheel drive, rear-wheel steering, adaptive dampers, carbon-ceramic brakes and electronic chassis control system of the ‘standard’ Huracan Evo – but it feels more authentic and engaging as a result. And yes, it still has that epic 5.2-litre V10.
Still buzzing from the experience, we wrote: ‘In Strada (Road) mode, it sounds surprisingly civilised, but flick the red toggle on the steering wheel to Sport or Corsa (Track) and all hell is unleashed. It feels like a salivating psychopath behind your left shoulder, goading you to the 8,500rpm redline with every razor-sharp upshift.’ (Tim Pitt)
Read our Lamborghini Huracan Evo RWD review
Lexus LC 500 Convertible
Styled like a concept car with number plates, and powered by a 477hp 5.0-litre V8, it seemed unlikely we wouldn’t love the LC 500 Convertible. And so it proved – the flagship Lexus was as indulgent and satisfying as we’d hoped. Even at £96,625, there really is nothing like it.
Our review said: ‘The engine is outstanding. Rather than offering a guttural, all-guns-blazing V8 experience, it’s much more cultured and lush. Impossibly smooth, this is a polite yet engaging motor, serving up that distinctive V8 feel and making you realise what we’ll miss when they’re gone.’ (Richard Aucock)
Read our Lexus LC 500 Convertible review
‘Longtail’ (LT) is to McLaren what ‘RS’ is to Porsche: a lighter, faster, more track-focused breed of supercar. And given its starting point is the McLaren 720S – still the best supercar you can buy – this LT had already hit the ground running. A 765hp twin-turbo V8 rockets the McLaren to 62mph in 2.8 seconds and 205mph flat-out. Then there’s the way it goes around corners…
Driving on-track at Silverstone, we said: ‘This isn’t a hold-on-and-hope rollercoaster ride. The McLaren’s hydraulic steering overflows with tactility and its chassis is benign and forgiving. Oversteer is there if you want it, of course, but the 765LT rewards tidy lines and accurate inputs, not heavy-footed hooliganism.’ (Tim Pitt)
Read our McLaren 765LT review
Apart from its fantastic three-pin-plug alloy wheels, there’s little to distinguish the Electric from a standard Mini. And in many respects, that’s also true from behind the wheel – it’s very nearly as chuckable and fun to drive (no mean feat with all those heavy batteries on board). Like the Honda e, the Mini Electric shows electric cars can be characterful.
We said: ‘If ever a car was likely to force people to think how they actually use their cars – and realise going electric is not only perfectly viable, but actually more convenient than driving petrol or diesel – it’s the Mini Electric. It really is that appealingly, authentically ‘Mini’.’ (Richard Aucock)
Read our Mini Electric review
Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0
The Cayman GTS 4.0 was the last car we drove before the March lockdown: a ‘final fling’ before months confined to home. In hindsight, that made the experience seem extra special. At the time, we were just living in the moment – relishing the Cayman’s naturally aspirated flat-six, snappy manual gearbox and balletic chassis. Sports cars come no better.
Recalling that drive, we wrote: ‘Like many 911s of old, the flat-six sounds lumpen at idle, then coalesces and intensifies into a piercing howl. Beyond 5,000rpm, it’s utterly explosive – an addictive rush that gets under your skin like a hungry mosquito. Frankly, you’d have to drive it back-to-back with a GT4 to notice any difference. It’s the engine this third-generation Cayman has long deserved. (Tim Pitt)
Read our Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0 review
Yes, really. For decades, the Corsa has been the supermini for people who don’t care about cars: popular because it was familiar and cheap. This latest version is proving even more popular – it topped the UK sales chart last month – but also displays real depth, both in terms of design and engineering.
We said: ‘The new Vauxhall Corsa is a big step on from the outgoing model. How it drives has been transformed; it’s now thoroughly class-competitive, with an appealing blend of sportiness and comfort. Vauxhall at last has a front-running supermini again, one that looks smart and feels appealing inside.’ (Richard Aucock)
Read our Vauxhall Corsa review
Tim Pitt and Richard Aucock write for Motoring Research