David Thomson and Richard Bosselman conclude their review of cars that made a real impression last year by picking their SUV and sportscar favourites, as well as an overall winner.
UV/MPV: Range Rover Evoque
When I took delivery of the new Evoque in early 2012, there were precious few on South Island roads, and so I became the temporary driver of an out-and-out attention-grabber. Style is certainly part of the appeal, but the junior Rangie backs that up with substance in the form of outstanding onroad dynamics and solid offroad (or at least softroad) performance credentials.
Light commercial: Mazda BT50
Visually it's a bit of an ugly duckling, but under the skin the latest BT50 is a virtual twin of the more conventional Ford Ranger. That makes it a vehicle that - with possible rivalry from the VW Amarok - sets new class standards for comfort, driving demeanour, and the deployment of safetyfocused technology. With a 147kW/470Nm 3.2litre turbo diesel under the bonnet, it packs a hefty power punch, too.
Sport: Toyota 86
Richard's outright favourite of the past year is my sportscar choice, and for very much the same reasons. Affordable cars that provide this level of tactile connection between driver, car and road come along once in a decade at best, and deserve all of the plaudits they get. All the more so when they come from a company better known for worthy as opposed to wow-factor machines.
Overall: BMW M6
It's the sort of phone call that, even in the world of motoring writing, is usually the stuff of dreams: Man from BMW HQ to motoring writer: ‘‘Have you arranged anything to drive over the Christmas break yet?'' Response: ‘‘No, actually.''
‘‘Well,'' man from BMW continues, ‘‘Why don't you take our new M6 for a few days before Christmas, and drop it back on December 28th?''
Sleek, luxury coupe. 412kW/680Nm twinturbo V8 under the bonnet. The fastest two-door BMW has ever made. In my garage over Christmas. Available for my wider motoring pleasure as required.
After 40 years of doubt, I ended 2012 knowing that Santa does indeed exist. He works for BMW, his name his Ed, and he lives in Auckland.
SUV/MPV: Mazda CX5
The test went like this: Mazda ($55,990 SkyActivD Limited) meets $70k Audi Q3 diesel. The winner? A technical and engineering masterpiece, loaded with virtually every nouveau convenience and driver aid plus a diesel that behaves - even sounds - more like a petrol. A car so far out on the technology edge that, with one small step, it would fall back into the future. And, ahem, it's not German.
Light commercial: Volkswagen Amarok auto
VW's 2.0litre biturbo four-cylinder might stand as the smallest-capacity engine in the one-tonne utility sector but it shines in marriage to one of the world's best transmissions. Excellent performance and good economy, with 8.3 litres per 100km overall claimed, is just the half of it. Also delivered is a level of finesse and refinement that threatens to make rivals come across as country bumpkins.
Sport: Megane RS265
Even with an invisibility cloak, this car would draw a crowd. With a 195kW/360Nm 2.0litre turbo, this is the hottest of hot front-drive hatches, made all the more hardcore by getting the full performance treatment, from sticky tyres and Recaro seats to an inbuilt computer that will also measure lap times. It is absolute madness. I loved it.
Overall: Toyota 86
Not hugely fast, not wholly good-looking, not even particularly brilliantly presented (or finished) within, but you quickly learn to accept/excuse/ignore all that. Because the joy that this Subieyota provides, at least in manual form, easily extinguishes any issues. No other current Toyota, not even the mighty Lexus LFA, is so dedicated to driving pleasure. The responses are so seamless and sensory you're left wondering if it has somehow hardwired into your brain. There's no penalty for saving cents: In some respects, especially for tailtwitch action, the entry car is even better than the fatter-tyred, tighter-honed TRD.
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