Which were our favourite cars in this Covid year? We tot up the socially distanced votes
Being on Autocar’s long-term test fleet is the ultimate test for any new car. It’s a chance for us to find out what a new machine is really like to live with over an extended period.
Although the sudden – and still ongoing, for the Autocar team – advent of remote working means our office car park has been empty since March, we’ve maintained a fleet of long-termers at our various home offices. But while the need for social distancing and suitable sanitising safety measures has reduced our ability to swap cars quite so frequently, we’ve still been privileged to run some incredible cars this year. And, as is tradition, it’s time to hand out some awards.
The Best Innovation (Until a Vaccine) Award – for the most innovative feature
Modern cars are kitted out with ever-growing amounts of cutting-edge and sophisticated technology. But sometimes the best form of addition is subtraction – which is shown by our Jeep Wrangler’s removable doors and roof. Effectively, this allows drivers to turn it from largely civilised SUV into a stripped-back off-roader with relatively limited effort.
“This is a car that can tow my Defender home when the clutch goes on a rainy October evening but can also be a fun-loving roofless convertible when the sun shines,” said custodian Matthew Prior.
Still, the Autocar team did also highlight some more advanced tech in this category. The compression-ignition Skyactiv-X engine in our Mazda 3 long-termer drew praise: the improvements in economy may be only relatively modest, but Mazda’s efforts to show the combustion engine still has a future are very welcome.
The Honda E scored for its truly brilliant twin-touchscreen set-up, which both looks good and offers innovative, useful features. Plus, as deputy digital editor Tom Morgan noted: “Any car that rolls off the forecourt and lets me hook up a PlayStation gets the thumbs-up.”
The Socially Distanced Disappointment Award – for the car you most wanted to drive but couldn’t due to Covid
There are many positives to home-working and also many drawbacks. And, for Team Autocar, the latter category included the difficulty in switching cars around as much as we would like to.
Some of the team fared better than others, and most fortunate of all was clearly road tester Richard Lane, who found himself stuck with a Lamborghini Huracán during lockdown and then took custody of a Toyota GR Supra later in the year. The rest of the team were well jell, as I believe the kids call it.
“I’ve always liked the Supra’s sporty GT flavour, but I still haven’t done a really long drive in one,” lamented road test editor Matt Saunders.
Meanwhile, staff writer Felix Page really wanted a go in the Huracán. He did note that the restrictions preventing him weren’t just about social distancing and home working but also a healthy fear of driving the Huracán around his speedbump-blighted neighbourhood.
The Lockdown Clear-Out Award – for the best car to carry your old junk to the tip
With a Skoda Superb Estate having featured on our fleet, there was never really any doubt over the winner of this award. Fact: rule 37b of the car journalists’ rule book makes it a requirement to wax lyrical about the load capacity of a Skoda estate whenever running one.
“Its massive boot is bigger than my entire flat,” said road tester Simon Davis, and editorial director Jim Holder added: “It’s probably big enough to empty the contents of my home into. It’s better appointed, too. I should probably live in the car and leave my rubbish in the house.”
That the gargantuan Volkswagen Touareg garnered some votes wasn’t a surprise, with editor Mark Tisshaw noting that you really had to drive one to appreciate how big it is.
More surprisingly was the Ford Puma’s popularity, showing that compact crossovers can carry plenty if designed right. “I used it for multiple clear-outs from multiple houses,” said Felix Page, who clearly is too cheap to hire a removal firm.
Draws a Crowd (at a Two-Metre Distance) Award – for the car that gained the most interest from passers-by
Winner: Honda E; Highly commended: Mercedes-Benz EQC, Mazda 3
Perhaps reflecting how wider public interest in electric cars has grown this year, two very different battery-powered cars shared most of the votes in this category, with Honda’s retro-tastic city car edging out Mercedes’ big, grand SUV.
“Who would have thought a city car with an electric motor and average range would have so much star power,” mused special correspondent James Disdale, adding: “Wherever you go, this is a car that attracts attention and questions.” Certainly, the cute styling draws people in, although the frequently asked question about its cost is often met with an incredulous “how much?”.
Custodian Jim Holder reckoned the EQC “highlighted how far stuffy, old-man Mercs have come in the past 10 years,” noting that “kids are drawn in by the monster bonnet badge, big wheels and LED light show.”
Meanwhile, a nod of respect is due to the Mazda 3 – a humble family hatchback – for finishing a solid third in the voting. News editor Lawrence Allan reckoned its stirring design “received more compliments and interest than stuff three times the price.”
The Quaratine Express Award – for the best long-haul car for driving through France to avoid two weeks of self-isolation
Non-stop drives from various European countries through to the Channel Tunnel became all the rage this year, given that the consequence of stopping in France was quarantining for 14 days. That’s also the sort of trip in which the Audi S5 Sportback’s mix of pace and premium comfort comes into its own – as the voting in this category showed.
Lawrence Allan also noted: “It’s a fast diesel, so nothing else on our fleet could make progress so effortlessly relative to fuel consumption.”
The contenders for this award were to be expected – the BMW 330e and Volkswagen Touareg also mix premium comfort with cost-effective economy – but a nod of respect is due here to editor-at-large Matt Prior. He nominated his Jeep Wrangler, which seems an unlikely contender, except he actually drove it non-stop to and from Germany. “It’s probably not the best for it,” he confessed, “but it has a 550-mile range, and if things do go full zombie apocalypse, it would be quite useful for that, too.”
The ‘I’d Buy It’ Award – for the car we’d be most likely to spend our own money on
Winner: Suzuki Jimny; Highly commended: Toyota GR Supra, Porsche 911
Is this an upset? This feels like an upset. Yes, we’d say this is an upset. Although you might say we’ve taken leave of our senses. Because apparently the car we’ve run in 2020 that we’d be most likely to spend our own money on is a rough, compromised and unrefined micro off-roader that Suzuki is in the process of withdrawing from the UK market.
Matt Saunders was one of those who voted for the Jimny, saying: “I just like ’em, and I’ve a feeling they’re going to get quite collectable now they’ve been taken off sale.” That said, he did admit the Jimny is “generally pretty rubbish to drive.”
Executive editor Rachel Burgess ran the Jimny as her daily driver and still voted for it, describing it as “honest, fun, tiny and with no pretension whatsoever” – although she did add that drivers should “avoid motorways”.
Still, not all of the Autocar team were charmed by the Jimny and the voting was extremely close: Suzuki’s mini marvel took the prize only once second-preference votes were considered to break a three-way tie. The machines it edged out: the Toyota GR Supra and Porsche 911.
The 911 may well have nicked the crown had it arrived on our fleet earlier: our Carrera 2-spec car landed on Mark Tisshaw’s driveway only when voting was already taking place. In voting for it, Tisshaw said it was “as ostentatious a car purchase as I’d make” but praised it for its breadth of ability, saying: “It’s a sports car that thinks nothing of the weekly shop at Tesco.”
The Lockdown Lottery Jackpot Award – for the best ‘accidental’ long-term test car
When the UK entered full lockdown in March, various team members were driving test cars they were only supposed to have for a few days – but ended up running for three months.
We came to refer to it as the lockdown lottery, given the mix of cars we were left with ranged from a full-on Italian supercar (the Huracán) to a convertible SUV (a Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet). But our voters decided that editor-in-chief Steve Cropley hit the jackpot, having landed a Bentley Flying Spur on his drive for three months. It was, at least, a stylish way to make the occasional essential shopping trip.
James Disdale said: “If you’re going to be locked down, do it in style.” And because he’s down with the kids, senior contributing writer Andrew Frankel said that choice was “obvs”.
The Huracán also scored well, and its accidental custodian, Ricky Lane, also insisted the choice was “obvious”. We salute his desire to spell words out in full.
Having ended up with it, I was outraged – sorry, I mean unsurprised – at the lack of support for the T-Roc Cabrio. No, it’s not a great car but it attracted interest from neighbours, who love both its look and concept.
The ‘Sod Zoom, I’m Going for a Zoom’ Award – for the best car to take on a long, fun, solo drive
This was another close category, but the Focus ST narrowly edged the Supra, Huracán and 911. Ultimately, where Ford’s hot hatch got the nod over those three was in versatility: it’s a true performance car that really can be a practical family car.
“It kept up with a brawny Ford Mustang on a blast across the Brecon Beacons, sounded great throughout the rev range and wasn’t a hassle at low speeds in towns,” said Andrew Frankel, who was lucky enough to run the Focus.
Matt Prior was one of the main proponents of the Supra, claiming “it’s correct-wheel drive and therefore better than the Focus ST”. Meanwhile, Lawrence Allan praised the Huracán, noting that “for a back-road blast with that astonishing engine, little else thrills like it.”
The ‘pick your own’ awards
Toyota Corolla, Mark Tisshaw: Eight-and-a-half-out-of-10 Everywhere Award for having no outstanding strengths or flaws.
Suzuki Jimny, Andrew Frankel: Silk Purse Award for being so cute that it made everyone forgive just how disappointing it is to drive.