From Porsche to Polestar, Ford to Ferrari – we’ve been inundated with crucial new cars to drive this year
Whether it’s a new trim level, an addition to the engine line-up, a complete overhaul or an entirely new model, if it’s new we want to drive it. Against the odds, you might say, 2020 has been a particularly busy year for the Autocar reviews desk, with everything from £300,000 SUVs to hybrid superminis passing under our microscope.
Here are the highlights:
It’s only been on sale since the start of 2020 but already the Puma is well on its way up the bestsellers list. Clearly, Ford’s pilfering of a hallowed 1990s nameplate for a Fiesta-based crossover was a canny marketing decision, and you know what? Put the curvy old coupé next to its modern namesake on a particularly bendy bit of road, and the taller car won’t embarrass itself half as badly as you might expect. Plus, it’s got a hidden storage box in the boot and fuel-saving mild hybrid tech. No wonder it only just missed out on a five-star verdict.
First there was the Beetle, then came the Golf and now we have this: an all-electric family hatchback that begins Volkswagen’s third age but blends elements of the two that came before. Thus, it’s a sensibly sized five-door family hatchback (there’s your Golf) with a motor at the rear (there’s your Beetle) and a charging port on its rear flank (there’s your future…). Important, for sure, then. But does it truly move the game along?
You can hardly say we’ve not given the new Defender a good going-over. Fully aware of how crucial the model’s successful revival was – not just to Land Rover, but to its hordes of loyal fans – we tested its off-road mettle in Namibia before returning to the UK to try multiple variants on our battered tarmac, stage a vital off-road showdown with its key rivals and then conduct a full road test. The long and short of it? Forget its more rounded edges and higher list price, this is a Land Rover Defender that thoroughly deserves to wear its badge.
“You’re looking at the quickest car in the world.” If that sentence doesn’t hook you in, we don’t know what will. But this is no gratuitously gushing opening salvo; the 641bhp Turbo S variant of the latest Porsche 911 is truly in a class of its own on a point-to-point dash across the twisties, and our tester reckons whatever was joining you for the journey would stay firmly in the rear-view mirror. Whether it’s also “the best supercar” in the world is another matter entirely, however…
The most potent series-production Golf was always going to cause a stir, and when it promises not just enhanced straight-line performance over its predecessor, but also to excel dynamically, you know it’s going to be something special. Our first stint at the helm failed to disappoint, and chances are when it touches down on UK roads in the next few weeks, the Honda Civic Type R will be quaking in its boots.
A brand with the esteemed sporting reputation of Porsche was never going to have an easy time launching its first electric car. The original Cayenne, diesel Panamera and four-cylinder-powered 718 were each controversial in their own right, but pale in comparison to the prospect of a 2.3-tonne, four-door EV from Stuttgart – with a Turbo badge on the back, no less. Just as well then, that the Taycan – even in ludicrously quick 751bhp Turbo S guise – manages to conceal the heft of its electric innards to the extent that it can behave like a true sports car that doesn’t need the “…and it’s electric” caveat. Our 100th Porsche road test and the first EV to land five stars: a milestone indeed.
Not one to rest on its laurels, Toyota has completely reinvented its best-selling Yaris supermini. The fourth-generation car doesn’t just mark a radical design departure from its predecessor, but also offers more space, improved efficiency and – perhaps most surprisingly – boosted driver appeal. It’s one of the priciest cars in its segment courtesy of its hybrid-only powertrain, but with character and charm high on its list of traits, it’s a welcome return to form for one of our long-time favourite urban runarounds.
Ten years ago, if you’d have said a company called Tesla would be battling another company called Polestar for executive EV supremacy, we’d have told you to go and have a lie down. But nonetheless that’s where we are, and though the Californian brand’s latest European offering, the 3, is an undeniably impressive piece of kit – its rival from Volvo’s newly hived-off electric performance brand could just edge it in terms of kerb and cabin appeal.
Porsche, Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Maserati have each generated no end of controversy in launching high-end SUVs to shore up sales of their shorter and sportier rangemates, but none more so – perhaps – than Rolls-Royce. The Cullinan is a 2.7-tonne, V12-powered London taxi lookalike that Rolls refers to as a “high-sided vehicle”; it’s not one for the purists. But climb (and we do mean climb) aboard, and it’s not hard to see what your £300,000 outlay gets you.
It’s taken nearly 20 years for Ferrari to properly plug the gap in its line-up left when the 550 Maranello bowed out at the turn of the millennium. Combining four-seat grand tourer credentials with the brand’s trademark poise and agility is no mean feat. Add in genuine drop-dead gorgeous design and a suitably plush interior to the bargain and it starts to look like the pick of the range.