Members of the CarAdvice team let you in on their winners and losers from 2018.
2018 is officially over. It’s time for sunshine and (a sometimes rose-tinted) reflection on the year gone by. Here at CarAdvice, we’re taking the chance to look back at some of the most interesting, exciting and downright strange stories published this year.
Here’s a look at the CarAdvice team’s hits and misses for 2018.
Sam Purcell, Off-Road Editor
Hit: Ford Ranger Raptor
I love the Raptor because it’s a significant jump forward in the evolution of the 4×4 ute. It comes from the factory with some quality 33-inch all-terrain tyres, and has a massively increased wheel track (and bodywork) to suit. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just about the looks with the Raptor.
It looks great, but the exterior is a by-product of the engineering and design. Big tyres and a massively improved suspension setup means this thing is significantly more capable off-road compared to other 4x4s, ute or not.
Like you, I imagine, I wouldn’t say no to a few extra ponies under the bonnet. Hopefully the next iteration of this model will have that, with a petrol and diesel option being ideal. But regardless, the Raptor is a very special 4WD. How can you not like something that can jump?
Miss: The constant flow of uninspiring sticker pack special editions
How long can manufacturers get away with blacking out a few things, thinking up a crappy name, and trotting out another ‘special edition’? Nine times out of ten, these vehicles are exactly the same in terms of driveline, suspension, dimensions and performance. Four-wheel drive utes seem to be particularly good (bad) at it.
Unless you’re really in love with the look, or you’re getting a good deal with some additional value, I say save your money. You hard-earned would be better spent on some quality aftermarket gear. Spend a day with some basic tools and plasti-dip, and see how much aftermarket wheels and tyres will set you back. That’s what I’d be doing, anyway.
Mike Costello, Senior Editor
Hit: BMW 3 Series
It seems like every week I change my mind on this one. But I’m confident on this one.
I drove the new G20 3 Series in Portugal ahead of its March 2019 Aussie launch, and can promise you it’s a massive return to form, if that form ever really lapsed.
The new CLAR platform is lighter yet stiffer, the new passive dampers are ingenious, the cabin a huge improvement and even the design is more engaging. It’s the best all-round executive sedan out there.
Oh, and the M340i xDrive has a fully variable AWD system that still manages to be sufficiently rear-biased to keep purists on side, and a straight-six that’s music to any Bimmer aficionado’s ears. Wunderbar.
Miss: Paris Motor Show
The Paris show this year was flat. A number of brands had meagre presences with no technical premieres or global news (Audi, for example), and a heap just didn’t show up at all. Fiat Chrysler (including Alfa Romeo and Jeep), Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Volkswagen and Volvo all saved their money, despite having big developments to talk about.
Even hometown hero Renault’s stand was sparsely populated and devoid of anything particularly interesting. That’s a bad sign. I expect this might be my last Paris show. There may be one more at best.
The thrill of a new reveal has been eclipsed by online leaks or deliberate early media releases, once-available execs are squirrelled away or media-managed into oblivion, and buzzwords like “mobility” carry the day.
Paul Maric, Senior Road Tester
Hit: Jaguar I-Pace
I didn’t think my hit for 2018 would be an electric car! But I’m glad it is, because the Jaguar I-Pace is a cracking example of an electric car done well. It’s built well and drives incredibly well. Unlike some electric cars that can feel overly heavy and devoid of handling, the I-Pace takes it up a notch with a powerful electric drivetrain with range to boot.
Plus, being part of the JLR group, Jaguar has managed to integrate off-road ability and it will do race tracks too. The launch of this car in Portugal surprised me because we covered the full gamut of terrain – highways, city streets, off-road and one of the most technical race tracks around, Portimao.
I’m dangerously close to buying one and I’m looking forward to spending time in one over the next six months as our newest long termer to see if the hype is justified
Miss: The death of motor shows
I’ve had the chance to see all of the major global shows as part of my role at CarAdvice. The one thing that has predominantly stood out as each motor show has rolled around is the lack of interest from manufacturers in these events and the continuous decline of attendance.
Is it because punters don’t care? Absolutely not – a perfect example is SEMA, which is ballistic in comparison to most global motor shows. The crowds are so packed that you can barely move freely inside or outside. There are demonstrations around every corner and there’s an overall enthusiasm for everything on display.
So it seems that it’s more the concept of the traditional motor show that needs an overhaul and it needs to happen fast before these events disappear for good.
Rob Margeit, Culture Editor
Hit(s): Ford Fiesta ST, Audi R8 performance quattro, Citroen Grand C4 Picasso
So many to choose from. The Ford Fiesta ST impressed me from the moment I fired up the engine, that thrummy little three-pot barking for a glorious little tune that I just want to add to my Spotify playlist. It’s fast, it’s fun and so, so drivable. I was privileged enough to hustle the little ST through some spectacular mountain passes in the south of France and every corner was a delight. The Fiesta ST remained simply unflappable, responding to every input with precision and vigour. Loved it.
At the other end of the price spectrum, the new Audi R8 was a star on the Ascari circuit. With its thumping V10 and quattro underpinnings, the R8 made an ordinary driver look quite capable. It’s one of those cars that’s way better than you will ever be, and that means you can rag it at your own personal limit and never be intimidated or come undone. So forgiving, so much fun.
Finally, for something completely different, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso which offers a completely different take on hauling a larger family. I love its clever features, such as the front passenger seat that fully reclines with a footrest, its futuristic cabin design and how it drives on longer road trips. It’s quiet, refined and reasonably frugal on fuel. Best of all, it’s not another SUV, an altogether more charming way to carry the fam.
Miss: The Ford Mustang ‘Supercar’
I’m going to stray into motorsport territory here. When I first heard Australia’s premier racing series, Supercars, would allow the iconic Ford Mustang on its grid from next year I became, well, excited. As a longtime fan of the sport, but one whose enthusiasm had waned in recent years, the prospect of the tough-looking Mustang joining the field was tantalising.
But, imagine my dismay when the first images of the prototype racer were released on an unsuspecting public AND without the appropriate ‘Warning: Graphic Content’ disclaimer. It’s hideous, the proportions all wrong. It looks like the Mustang equivalent of those 1980s kits you could buy to convert your VW Beetle into a something resembling a Porsche 911. Remember those?
Now, having worked in motorsport for a long time prior to joining CarAdvice, I understand all too well the limitations placed on the Mustang body and its need to conform to Supercars’ ‘Car of the Future’ control chassis, a chassis designed for large four-door sedan silhouettes, not sleek and low-slung coupes. But surely, with the series in need of an injection of interest, and with the dawn of a new era where coupes can once again grace Australia’s premier motorsport category, the time was ripe for a rethink, better yet, a redesign of the chassis that underpins every car on the grid.
If the sport’s bosses are hopeful of attracting other manufacturers, some of whom may even want to race their own two-door muscle cars or coupes, then one look at the abomination that is the Mustang ‘Supercar’ could well see them having second thoughts.
Curt Dupriez, Comparisons Editor
Hit: Hyundai i30 N
For every hopeful buzzing with positive anticipation, Hyundai’s i30 N faced maybe three or four times as many hard-nosed sceptics convinced, prior to launch and sight unseen, that Korea just couldn’t possibly step up to the hot hatch status quo on equal terms.
That it appeared out of thin air – no providence, no practice starts – and instantly became a dominant force in the most vibrant, diverse and progressive segments in motoring demands a bloody big golf clap. Bravo indeed.
And, boy, did it belt the beehives. Readers and viewers weighed in heavily, of course, if largely unaware of the less conspicuous shit storms the i30 N trailed in its wake behind the scenes and screens, be it crucially or politically. At times, the topic of i30 N was volatile, exhilarating and downright tiresome to deal with, yet all of it reflected the sheer impact with which it hit the ground.
If there were a mere half dozen other all-new model launches in 2018 that caused nearly as much excitement, the motoring world would now be a vastly more interesting place.
Miss: Absolutely anything marketed as a ‘black’ pack
All of them.
Trent Nikolic, Managing Editor
Hit: Chevrolet Camaro
An excellent muscle car that is better in nearly every way than the Mustang, but costs more to boot. An exceptional right-hand drive conversion by Walkinshaw, and one that’s almost flawless in its execution.
I love muscle cars, and this is a retro muscle car done the right way. The engine is a cracker, the transmission brilliant, and aside from the slightly firm ride, the whole package puts a smile on your face. If only they could be built in RHD from the factory.
Miss: Stupid ‘limited editions’ from any manufacturer
Black packs, sticker packs, ‘limited runs’ of hundreds of cars, you name it, it’s nonsense. The whole thing is a con job by manufacturers trying to eke every last cent out of potential buyers. It’s annoying, stupid and pointless.
Mike Stevens, News Editor
Hit: Audi RS4
Well, it’s my pick of 2018 isn’t it! I’ve long been a wagon man, and a focused performance wagon is the ultimate for me. You can keep your supercars, I only dream about hot wagons. (Well, I also dream about a pristine 240Z… some day, baby, some day)
For me, nothing this year could top Audi’s mean RS4. It may only be a V6, but it’s a tough one and it sounds a treat. Combined with Audi luxury and wagon practicality, it’s the ultimate package.
Miss: Jaguar E-Pace
Heavy, gawky, weirdly misguided and reeking of desperation. Entering a hugely competitive market with a model based on older architecture developed for larger cars makes one wonder if Jag is taking the piss. Perhaps they know something we don’t…
Kez Casey, Road Tester
Hit: Hyundai i30N
There’s so many contenders. Is it the feisty Alpine A110, the sublimely silly M4-engined BMW M2 Competition, or the utterly over the top Rolls-Royce Cullinan? (bwah ha ha, nope!) Maybe I’m too much of a realist, but I just keep coming back to the Hyundai i30 N.
I’ve sung its praises in Winners Circle, and spent sleepless nights debating if it should really edge out the Golf GTI in this comparison. Simply put though, given the ridiculously large grin on my face every time I got out of the damn thing, there’s no way I could overlook it.
Now, every brand has to start its hot hatch legacy somewhere. The way Hyundai has done so with the i30 N is truly impressive though. Restrained visuals, a potent engine, and a tricky limited slip diff subscribe to the hot hatch rule book – it’s fast and handles admirably. There’s also stacks of noise from the pipes at the rear to satisfy my inner boy racer.
Miss: Australia, as a car-buying nation (Wow, ouch – Ed)
Australia, I’m disappointed in you collectively. Okay, that might be a little unfair, but a quick glance at the new car sales charts shows SUVs and utes continue to enjoy unbridled success while passenger cars languish and in a few cases disappear into obscurity.
Of course I see a place for SUVs and utes, but the idea of classifying a light hatch, with black plastic cladding on the wheel arches and a barely perceptible raise in ride height, alongside cars like the Toyota Prado is properly taking the mickey.
I’d like to see Aussie new car buyers throw practicality out the window and live a little. Given the immense number of single occupant vehicles I see on my way to work every day, why not trade your RAV4 on an MX-5. Ditch the Sorento and enjoy a Stinger. Goodbye HR-V, hello Fiesta ST.
Let’s make 2019 the year Aussie motorists turn the tide on the bland and bloated, and start to enjoy our colourful motoring landscape. Don’t let me down again!
Mandy Turner, Road Tester and Podcast Host
Hit: Toyota Camry Hybrid
You read right. My hit this year is a Camry. Toyota is kicking goals in the styling department at the moment (*cough* Corolla *cough*), and the new Camry is not only a handsome car, but the interior has stepped up to look and feel European – and the Hybrid drivetrain really is a great thing.
Now to convince my Nana to upgrade her old Camry.
Miss: Aston Martin converting classics to EVs
No. Just, no. I know more countries are wanting to ban internal-combustion engines, but this ‘cassette’ powertrain is all kinds of wrong.
Sure, it’s reversible, but the sound of a classic car is just another reason why enthusiasts love them. You take that away, you take away its soul.
Scott Collie, Journalist
Hit: Ford Mustang
Having spent a little bit of time in the pre-facelift Mustang, there were a few things on my wish list: more noise, a slightly more modern interior, and lots more noise. Did I mention it needed more noise? Noise.
The facelift fixes all those problems. The new exhaust is absolutely brilliant, burbling at low revs and snarling at redline, while the digital dashboard elevates what’s still a pretty plasticky – but overall functional – cabin to where it really should’ve been originally.
Nothing comes close to matching its presence for the money, or its smile-generating power.
Miss: Jaguar E-Pace
Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe the E-Pace. It’s just horrifically compromised, from the fact it’s sized to rival the BMW X2.5 that doesn’t exist to its unbelievable heft, and Jaguar has no-one to blame but itself.
For god’s sake, develop a proper compact SUV platform and give us the sharp-handling, sharply-styled Jaguar we know you’re capable of. Need inspiration? Look at what Volvo has done with the XC40.
Tony Crawford, Founder
Hit: Alpine A110
You have to applaud a carmaker which makes the decision to recreate an iconic nameplate like Alpine A110 in the current pressure-filled landscape, where sales volume is everything and automotive passion runs thin.
It could have all gone so wrong with this project, which started life as a joint venture with English sports carmaker Caterham, but fell apart mid-way through development.
Against all odds, Alpine has produced one of the best driver’s cars on the planet with a near perfect power-to-weight ratio and connection with the driver that rivals a Porsche 911, but at nearly one-third the price!
Miss: BMW M4 CS
If this is the best BMW can do in the hardcore department, I’m afraid it’s a ‘fail’ for me. I was hoping for a next-gen CSL (for the love of God, when are they going to do another? I mean how long do us BMW fans have to wait?) but it’s only marginally better than a stock M4 Competition, and costs way more.
The M2 is by far the more involving driver’s car and so much cheaper.
James Wong, Journalist
Hit: Toyota Corolla Hybrid
There were several impressive vehicles released this year that I loved (namely the Hyundai i30 N and Skoda Kodiaq), but I just have to give a special mention to my Winners Circle pick for 2018 – the Toyota Corolla Hybrid.
Without sounding like a broken record, it’s genuinely impressive how much of a step forward Toyota has made with the new-generation model, which drives beautifully in all conditions, is great on fuel, and stands out in the car park.
I think the Japanese brand also has to be commended for including the full suite of driver assistance systems to all versions of the new Corolla, meaning you get things like AEB, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring regardless of whether you spend $23,000 or $32,000.
The Corolla also makes me excited for upcoming Toyota products, like the new RAV4 and next-generation versions of the Yaris and Kluger. Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) has done wonders for the drive experience in the C-HR, Camry, Corolla and Prius already, and I can’t imagine the brand won’t continue its form with its upcoming models.
Miss: Infiniti and Nissan
You know when there’s that athlete that never fulfills their promising potential? That’s Infiniti and Nissan for me. I feel both brands have had so many opportunities with their respective models to make them great, not just ‘good’ or ‘adequate’.
I don’t think anyone can fault Infiniti’s design, and to an extent most of Nissan’s recent products look rather good too. However, getting inside and having to deal with the sub-par infotainment systems and lacklustre powertrains just dulls any dream of excitement or engagement.
Here’s to hoping the turbocharged Qashqai makes an entrance in the Australian market next year, and I really look forward to driving the all-new Leaf. I’d also love to think the Infiniti QX50 will be a real contender in the luxury mid-sized SUV class with its unique variable-compression turbo petrol engine and beautiful looks.