As another year draws to a close at carwow HQ, we thought it would be fun to reflect on the test cars that defied expectations and brought a smile to our faces bigger than we ever expected… and one that didn’t.
Few cars have the potential to defy expectations quite like a Vauxhall but only because, truth be said, we never expect too much. The homegrown brand has taken a pounding from the UK motoring press for years and lacklustre models seem to be the company’s favoured dish.
Imagine our surprise, then, when we drove the new Astra and, shock – it was good! Not just good, but brilliant, even. Well built, smart looking, practical and loaded with high-tech kit. Despite our test’s spirited drive through wet and windy Wales, the mid-range Astra never once felt out its depth. In fact it revelled on the challenging roads, leaving a more lasting impression than the Peugeot 308 GTi (with close to double the horsepower) we drove later in the year on a sun-kissed Portuguese race circuit.
Ford Fiesta ST
That the Ford Fiesta ST turned out to be a superb drive came as little surprise, we (like most of you) had seen the reviews.
But nothing we read quite prepared us for quite how good it was as we embarked on a morning blast with a Porsche Boxster down some favourite back roads. Truth be told, on the greasy surfaces of our test the plucky Fiesta, with its impressive punch and grippy handling, would have left the Porsche for dead were it not leading our convoy. And remember, the Fiesta isn’t an exotic sports car – it’s a practical hatchback that’s cheap to fuel, affordable to maintain and somewhat more practical than a two-seater Porsche.
It’s little surprise it turned out to be one of our cars of 2015, and had several members of the carwow team looking for the most tempting offers on carwow’s Fiesta ST configurator.
Much has been made of the huge improvements made to the Kia range over the past 10 years and no model provides a better advert for that than the new Sorento.
It proved to be the perfect chariot for a 1,000-mile round trip to Scotland thanks to its quiet motorway manner, comfortable suspension, punchy acceleration and impressive fuel economy. Even on the kind of twisty country roads that might catch a large SUV out, the Sorento never felt out its depth and it even proved fun in the effortless way it flowed along A and B roads.
Add to that one of the best interiors Kia has ever produced – with seven seats and infinite practicality – and the company’s legendary seven-year warranty, and its clear why the new Sorento proved to be one of 2015’s nicest surprises.
And the bad…
For all the cars that impressed us more than we could have hoped, there was always going to be one that disappointed in a way we never expected. Step forward the CVT-equipped Honda Jazz. We’d already driven the manual version of Honda’s mini MPV – its practical body hides a car that is surprisingly fun to drive – so we rightly had high hopes for the automatic model.
But oh how they were dashed. Changing the gearbox seems like a minor thing, but in the Jazz it transforms the car – blunting acceleration like you wouldn’t believe and turning what is usually an eager-sounding engine into a mind-numbing drone box. Stick the manual version and it’s a great buy, however.
Here’s to 2016
With a thoroughly enjoyable 2015 under our belts, we’re already looking forward to 2016 and quite a year it promises to be for car fans and buyers alike – read our guide to 2016’s best new cars and see if there’s anything that takes your fancy. Alternatively, take a look at the cars that were killed off in 2015.