Best and worst cars of 2018
A lot happened over the last 12 months, including the Commodore morphing into an imported front-wheel drive hatchback, some bloke bought a Volkswagen Up! and the internet lost its marbles over the new Suzuki Jimny.
Continuing an end-of-the-year tradition, everyone in the office gathered to ‘strongly’ express their opinion regarding the best and worst cars of 2018.
So, which cars dazzled, and what frazzled? Read on…
Mitchell Tulk - 'Mitch'
Worst: Holden Equinox
Best: Suzuki Swift Sport
With 103kW/230Nm on tap and only 970kg to throw around, the eye-catching Sport is a blast to drive at any speed.
Starting from $25,490, I challenge anyone to find a (new) car that offers a similar fun factor as this small hot hatch.
James Lisle - 'J3'
Worst: The Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S
I’m probably wrong, given the amount of praise this thing gathers, but that won’t change my mind.
From what I’ve seen in life, the purpose of a Mercedes is to be comfortable, the pinnacle of luxury. That’s the point - the sole reason why it exists. BMWs are fun to drive, and Audis are logical in their design and ergonomics.
To me - and maybe I’m stuck in the old (better) way of thinking - an uncomfortable Mercedes is about as practical as a flat-screen with no picture. And the GLC 63 S is about as relaxed as a prison riot.
In its softest setting (Eco), the suspension is very, very firm (even by AMG standards), the torque-converted auto’s shifting patterns are all over the place and it behaves like an angry dual-clutch at inner-city speeds.
The massive rear wheels scrabble and judder during parking, low-speed pedal modulation is difficult, you can’t see the edges of the car, there’s nothing flash about the interior, and it costs more than $170,000. What?
And then there’s the Sport and Sport+ modes, which make things worse.
While I suspect these eccentricities come from AMG’s desire to make the fastest SUV around the ‘Ring, it’s proof that making a car faster doesn’t always make it better. There are compromises that need to be made, and I can’t stand any of them.
Best: Alpina B7 BiTurbo
There have been heaps of genuinely great cars this year. Heaps!
There was the BMW G30 5-series (530i & M5), M4 and M3 CS, the 1.0-litre Volkswagen Polo turbo, and the affordable Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid. But, my pick must be the criminally underrated Mazda 6 turbo. No wait - the Alpina B7!
Made for the few who think Bee-Emm's halo model is too common, the 330km/h, 447kW/800Nm Alpina B7 stands out as one of the most awe-inspiring cars of the entire year. And for good reason - it has everything but a weakness.
Despite the aggressive power-per-litre figure, the buttery 4.4-litre V8 is a breeze to drive in traffic. The ride, even when partnered with stupidly large 21-inch wheels, was the most supple I’ve ever experienced.
And the inner-city fuel consumption was only 11.5L/100km. Trust me - that’s witchcraft for an all-wheel drive 2.2-tonne limo. I’ve done worse at the same speed in a BMW 120i (12.3 L/100km). This rule-breaking machine eats the cake and stays thin!
Then there’s the contoured leather, the tech, and the GADGETS! In the back alone, there are a pair of TVs (controlled by a super-responsive HD tablet), adjustable lights, electric side and rear window shades, and electrically operated… everything. There are even uber soft pillows that engulf the rear headrests.
I’m sure it’s a hoot to drive as well, but I fell asleep by the time I left the garage.
Matthew Pritchard - 'Mr. Pritchard'
Worst: Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series
There are big cars that have this kind of magic where, like Hermione Granger's deceptively deep bag, they're big without feeling too big. They're easier to park, and when you sit in the driver's seat you don't feel like a little kid pretending to drive your parents' car.
The LandCruiser 200 Series is not one of those cars.
The second I climbed (and I HAD to climb) into this behemoth I was struck by how cavernous the cabin felt. Seriously, you know that eerie feeling you get when you're alone in a place where there's normally full of people, like an office building, a cinema, or that cool party you were invited to in high school, but everyone forgot to tell you that the venue changed at the last minute and it definitely wasn't a joke, besides mum says you're cool so what's there to worry about? That's (more or less) the feeling I was getting.
When I got the LandCruiser on the road I realised that that uncomfortable feeling translated to the way it drove, making it feel like you're driving a ballroom instead of an SUV. It's big and clunky, and while I can see that being appealing on a wide country road, in heavy Sydney traffic and city driving it felt like being in a special circle of hell reserved for people with chronic road rage.
It did feel quite hardy, so I can see where the appeal of the car is, but if you're not planning on going off-road with it then what's the point? There are cars that are just as big that are more comfortable to drive, so why put yourself through trying to live with this anywhere that isn't the country?
I had to park this thing in Surry Hills, Sydney, which is full of two-way roads the size of one way streets, packed with people who drive like they're on the freeway, and I swear it was like trying to fit an elephant in a handbag while an irritable local glares at you for not getting that pachyderm in there quick enough, after all THEY'D be quick at it.
With the sheer bulk of the car, a turning radius comparable to the curvature of Mars and the most adequate reversing camera system that 2008 has to offer I'm surprised I only had two panic attacks.
Okay, so I'm exaggerating, I'm a drama queen and I'm sure it wasn't that bad. But that car gave me my most stressful driving experience of 2018. So here it is.
Best: Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Okay, so I was only a passenger in this car, so I can't speak to how it drives, but I have a good reason for making it my favourite car of 2018, and that is this: I wanted to HATE this car. My god I wanted to hate this car so badly.
I love ads, and I love fun and clever ads. What I don't love are ads and marketing that try to pander to me in the most obnoxious way possible, and to be perfectly honest, whoever oversaw advertising the new A-Class to the #youth market should be fired. From a canon. Into the sun.
Okay, so I'm being dramatic again. But seriously, have a look at this:
Everything about this ad makes me so unbelievably, irrationally angry, and the frustrating thing about it is that every feature shown in the ad is pretty cool in real life.
The giant media display, that I thought would be awkward and hard to use is super intuitive and it looks nice (although I don't want to think about how much a repair job for it would cost). Voice commands are notoriously clunky, but, yeah, they're getting better and it shows. AEB is a great feature, obviously.
Plus, it's a very comfy place to be, the inside of the car just feels nice. Save for sporty seats that curve in and clearly weren't made for someone whose body curves OUT, but that's a 'me' problem so I'll let it slide. But, generally speaking, it was a lovely little car.
And I hate that I'm saying all of this because I feel like somehow, I've been tricked. I was ready to tear strips off the A-Class as vengeance for an ad that only goes for a minute and a half, but feels like two hours of that one knob at the office (you know the one) smugging directly in your face.
I wanted that car to be complete trash, so I could feel justified in my anger over the "lol! He doesn't want to call his mother. Just like you!" joke, or the self-congratulatory "well done, designers!" bit, or for paying Nicki Minaj what I can only assume was enough to re-tile her Scrooge McDuck-esque money pool she must have by now, to sit in a car and throw out some meaningless buzzwords someone in marketing thought would appeal to a 'young person' or someone in the throes of a midlife crisis (because let's face it they're the ones who can actually AFFORD the damn thing).
Thomas White - 'Barry'
Worst: Nissan Juke Ti-S
Ah Nissan. The Juke was cool and quirky when it came out. That was a long time ago.
Huge panel gaps, a rattly and claustrophobic interior and goofy handling is not made up for by a ridiculous 140kW engine and luxurious bits like heated seats. Also, why does it cost so much?
The look, which I can only imagine is the result of someone explaining to engineers that they want a 370Z SUV made of Nissan Micra parts, will appeal to some people. I am not one of those people.
To drive the Juke was… less than ideal. The 1.6-litre turbo with its silly 140kW output sure is quick in a straight line, but it absolutely punishes the skinny front tyres, and trying to combat the resulting torque steer is like entering the ring with a luchador. It’s also a little on-tilt in the corners and there were a few disconcerting creaks from around the cabin.
Credit where credit is due, the Juke is still unique and packed with halfway decent features, but this car is desperate for a new generation (current rumours are that it is to be replaced with the Nissan Kicks).
Best: Peugeot 208 GTi Edition Definitive
Now this is an ‘old’ car done right. The GTi ‘Edition Definitive’ is the death breath of this generation of 208.
But, instead of adorning a regular GTi with feel-good badges and stickers, Peugeot has gathered all the best bits they have lying around the factory for one last penultimate track-ready hot hatch to remember.
Torsen limited-slip diff from the 2014 30th Anniversary Edition? Tick. Manual only? Tick. Bigger brakes? Tick. More responsive throttle tune? Tick.
Hell, Peugeot knows you don’t want any screwing around, so it even nerfed the traction control system specifically for this extremely limited-run car.
What’s it like to drive? Hair-raising. You’ll yo-yo between panic and bliss. There’s awesome acceleration, basically no turbo-lag, wild torque steer, tyres so thin you’d think they were painted on, and it’s so tight that the inner rear wheel even gets close to lifting off the ground when you corner hard.
Unlike the Juke though, there are no ambiguities. You know exactly what’s going on at all times. It feels so connected, so engaging. Just thinking about it makes me want to drive it again.
The transmission isn’t the tightest, and there’s still some signature crappy plastics. And while it’s hardly comfortable enough to be ideal as a daily driver, it’s the fact that you can still extract so much entertainment out of it without even needing to go to the track that gives it genuine old-school hot hatch appeal.
Read my Peugeot 208 GTi Edition Definitive review here. I only gave it 7.5 because it’s objectively not the best for the regular commuter.
Subjectively though? 9/10.
Rosie Niven - 'Rosie'
Worst: Jeep Wrangler
Jeep, what are you doing?
The Wrangler can be traced back all the way to World War II, and it feels like a lot of it hasn't been updated since. It's got a reputation as a great off-road vehicle, but try driving this hunk of metal through the back streets of Surry Hills (or any suburban street). It's a nightmare and a half. I'm about two seconds away from starting a petition to get Jeep to finally consider driver/passenger comfort.
Moving past the the wildly uncomfortable seats, the Wrangler is an all-round let down. Clearly this car did a summer course at a theatre school because its response to every small thing that happens on the road is more dramatic than any other car I've driven. Go over a bump? Whole car rattles. Gentle breeze? Feels like the car is about to commando roll sideways. Drive on a highway? Get ready for the sound of a thousand winds screaming at you because the wind noise on this is insane.
If you want to go all GI Joe and hit the outback with one of these, you'll have a great time. Just don't bother with it in the city.
Best: Audi RS3 Sportback
You know when you jump into a car for the first time and you have this moment where you think "Wow, this is it. This is THE car." That was me earlier this year the minute I hopped into the front seat of the powerful Audi RS3 (which doesn't bode well for my Volkswagen Golf sitting at home).
I'll be honest with you, as soon as I put my foot on that accelerator, I knew I was taking the long way back to the office. The RS3 drives like a dream, with Audi claiming this majestic beast has the potential to flash from 0-100km/h in just 4.1 seconds.
It did feel wasted in the peak hour traffic of Alexandria, but on highways it will change your damn life. The 2.5-litre five cylinder turbo is paired with a Quattro all-wheel drive system that immediately puts it in the big leagues with any of the latest supercars.
While the drive will absolutely take your breath away, the design will punch you in the gut until you're gasping for air. I love it. Everything from the all black grille and the oval tail pipes to the quattro badging and edgy wheels with the blocky cut-outs makes this the kind of car that will definitely earn you some looks on the road.
Our car came with the 'Ara Blue crystal' paint option, which takes this car into a league of its own. This blue is next-level blue. It reflects light beautifully, and made the other blue cars on the road look like trash.
Inside: the seats look like a damn Chanel handbag. Nothing says 'I'm too expensive for you' like quilted leather seats. The interior is pretty much identical to a regular A3 Sportback, but why improve on an already good thing?
In short, I love this car. I want one in every colour. (I definitely can't afford it though so if you want to buy me one that'd be great).
What’s your favourite car of 2018? Let us know in the comments.