carwow might be all about aggregating expert reviews to help you choose the best vehicles -and then buy them at great prices -but in order to really understand the UK car market we need to drive the cars ourselves.
Just as you wouldn’t go out and buy a car without test driving it first, we also like to try out the latest vehicles. It helps us understand where those aggregated carwow scores are coming from -even if we disagree with them -and also allows us to give you real-world impressions that you may not find elsewhere.
As such, we’ve driven an awful lot of cars in 2013. Well over a hundred in fact, and those are just the ones we’ve reviewed -several more have been omitted due to only getting a short spell behind the wheel, insufficient for giving you our full impressions.
Some of those cars have been very, very good though. To celebrate those cars -and to scorn those that simply weren’t good enough – here, in no particular order, iscarwow’s Top Ten Cars Of 2013… as well as the two worst…
Ford Fiesta ST
The Ford Fiesta ST is a seminal car for the brand, and not just because it’s arrived at a time when Renault seems to have lost its way with the latest Clio Renaultsport. The ST isn’t just significantly cheaper than its closest rivals, it’s also truly accessible and properly good fun, a balance of attributes we’ve not really seen since the much-missed Puma.
Okay, so the interior is a bit naff (Recaro seats aside) and one of our team has remarked that its ride quality is a little unforgiving on some UK roads. But find the right strip of tarmac – like the southern French Alps -flick down a couple of gears and the Fiesta ST will entertain like few cars at any budget.
The MG3 is ourfavourite budget hatchbackfor a number of reasons: its fun, well finished, and economical; its entertaining to drive no matter what the speed; its fast enough and yet feels even faster; it handles beautifully and -more importantly -utterly faithfully. Best of all, its a cheap car that never really feels that cheap.
It isnt perfect – you can read the full story in our full review -but none of its flaws come close to being a deal breaker. MG needs this car, and time will tell whether UK drivers need it too.
Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC
There are many reasons to like the current generation of British-built Honda Civic. Styling may not be one of them, as it does seem to divide the opinion. But in terms of build quality, room, boot space and that subtle satisfaction of driving something with such a reputation for reliability, the Civic is worthy of praise.
But the real reason it’s here is that aside from a handful of electric vehicles we’ve driven this year, the Civic diesel is by far and away the most economical, efficient vehicle we’ve driven. After over 900 miles of driving it had averaged a number in the high 60s without any real effort – and without pious Eco-this and Green-that stickers and weird aero bodykits shouting about its talents. If you want to get on with the business of cutting your fuel bills but don’t feel the need to impress people with it, this is the car you want.
Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover Sport isnt just the best new car of 2013; its the best car on sale today, full stop. Whether youre pottering in the city, demolishing continents via the autobahn, wading through a river, or clambering up a mountain, nothing on sale today has the Sports breadth and depth of ability -not even the full-fat Range Rover, a profligacy that the RRS has rendered utterly obsolete.
If the two cars were the same price wed still pick the smaller one; that the Range Rover Sport costs twenty thousand pounds less than its big brother is the icing on the cake. Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.
If we exclude the too-expensive-for-most Range Rover Sport, the Subaru Forester is possiblythe best family car on sale in the UK today. Its roomy, tough, hugely capable, fun, and endearing in a way that too few cars are. Buy one, and it becomes part of the family.
Sure, its not the most economical car in its class, but the mighty boxer diesel engine is unlike any other in its zest for revs – and it sounds like nothing else either. Permanent four-wheel-drive will keep you mobile in places you couldnt walk, and it is so reliable your children will be learning to drive in it in a decade or so.
Skoda Yeti Greenline II
Actually, we have another option for those looking for a genuinely brilliant family car. Several, in fact, but we did want a bit of variety in this list so a few others were left on the cutting room floor. One that survived was Skoda’s truly brilliant Yeti, tested earlier this year in Greenline II trim.
Where do we start? It was economical, easy (and even fun) to drive, never wanted for too much performance, was surefooted during the snow we enjoyed last March, comfortable over 900 miles of driving and even – and we know this is subjective – looks pretty cool. It’s almost a shame that Skoda has recently lumbered it with the corporate front end as the Yeti’s slightly goofy grin gives it something that not many other Volkswagen Group products have: a personality.
Volvo V40 D2 R Design
That the Range Rover Sport gave us such an enormous sense of well-being was not a surprise, but welcome anyway. That Volvo has done similar with the V40 – a car rated incredibly highly by both of carwow’s road testers – is worthy of a large round of applause.
The V40 looks great, particularly in R Design trim and Rebel Blue paintwork. But once you step inside, you also discover a hidden gem of a cabin, as comfortable as almost any car on sale and easily a quality match for anything the Germans offer in the class. You get a stunning TFT display for your driver information and aside from some slightly fiddly console buttons, ergonomic perfection. It’s quiet, refined, and with the D2 diesel engine, economical.
And it’s a Volvo, which means you both feel, and are, exquisitely safe behind the wheel.
Supercars are an extravagance no one actually needs, and so they have to be loud, lairy, and ever so slightly scary if they are to fulfill their primary role of impressing pre-pubescent lads and your mates down the pub.
If you agree, you wont understand the McLaren 12C; its too quiet, too civilized, and too easy to drive. Its so refined you could (and many do) use one as your everyday car. It is also the fastest thing we’ve ever driven. By a long, long way. With a great engine, sublime suspension, and an obsessive attention to detail that I find hugely reassuring, it is the best supercar in the world and our lottery win treat.
Ford Transit Custom
If you wanted a versatile family car in the old days you bought an estate. Then SUVs were invented, which offered similar space and kept you mobile even if you lived in the middle of a field. A few years on and seven-seat MPVs were introduced that kept you mobile during the (presumably brief) periods you werent reproducing.
However, none are as versatile as the Ford Transit Custom. Its six seats will accommodate all but the largest of families and the boot is so big you can work on enlarging your brood anytime, any place, anywhere. This is the best multipurpose car you have never considered.
Surprised to see a humble petrol saloon in this list? You shouldn’t be. Mazda occasionally churns out an absolute zinger of a car, and we found its latest in the rarely-seen-these-days combo of a regular four-door saloon with a petrol engine and manual gearbox.
There are several factors to this. One is the sweet, accurate, well-weighted steering, which immediately evokes that of Mazda’s sporting MX-5. Another is the gearbox, which again harks back to the famous roadster and is far better than most you’ll find in a car of this type. Then there’s the new Skyactiv engine:mid-forties mpg, a sports car-like exhaust rasp when you’re enjoying it and near-silence when you aren’t. It’s refined at speed, rides and handles well and proved comfortable over long distances. And it made us wonder what on earth everyone is doing buying crossovers these days…
And 2013’s losers are…
Its not just the choppy ride, hideously underpowered engines, cramped interior, and faux sense of fun that irritates us. No, what really gets our collective goats is the patronizing marketing: trim levels are Jam, Glam, and Slam; colours include Saturday WhiteFever and White My Fire; and expressions like this car doesnt just talk the talk it swaggers the swagger are used without shame. No wonder people are shying away from it in droves. Every company needs a WTF Guy, and none needs it more than Vauxhall.
If the Adam is contemptible, at least it provokes emotion. The Mirage does nothing of the sort, other than possibly disappointment. The bright green paintwork of our test car did nothing to hide its true personality, which was several shades towards the beige.
It’s a massive shamereally, as unlike Vauxhall, Mitsubishi actually got some stuff right – the Mirage is acceptably priced, adequately spacious, not terribly uneconomical, moves with relative conviction and is commendably easy to drive. It’s just that dozens of other small cars on the market also do these things well and many do them much better. The Mirage feels like a brand new 15 year-old car, but doesn’t have the USP of a Dacia-like low price to make up for its deficiencies.