PH 2018 - Favourite car of the year

Nic - Alpine A110
It's fair to say we had fairly high expectations of what the A110 would be like to drive before it finally arrived in the UK. It was developed by Renault Sport's magicians at Dieppe after all (albeit wearing Alpine branded polo shirts) and it had its 252hp engine in the ideal place driving the most appropriate axle. What we weren't prepared for was the high bar to appear as dot in the car's rear-view mirror. Almost from the first second, the A110 turned out to be relentlessly and unimpeachably lovely to drive. Much like the Toyota GT86 did at the start of the decade, it functions as a reminder of all that can be achieved if your two-seat sports car is light, adequately powered, brilliantly balanced, thoughtfully sprung and easy to steer. Sure, it's not the cheapest option around and a manual gearbox would arguably have ushered it on to even higher praise, but Alpine's first new model in nearly 25 years can still count itself among the four or five very best cars on sale in Britain today. And an all-round PH favourite.

Matt B - Ferrari 812 Superfast
Predictable? Of course. Unoriginal? Fair enough. Deserving? No doubt whatsoever. While there are those less keen on the 812, for me it represents everything that's great about 21st century Ferrari: a powertrain of exquisite quality and ludicrous potency, chassis technology that feels a generation ahead of anything else and the ability to make any drive feel impossibly exciting. That does make it a little wearing sometimes, sure, but only if approached as a conventional front-engined GT - consider it as perhaps the most thrilling V12 supercar of recent times (and I would) and its slight restlessness is far more tolerable. That the 812 must surely be replaced by something hybridised means I can only adore it more - it's just sublime. I should end with a spec choice here; frankly I'd drive one for the rest of my days in chocolate brown with kiwi seats. And love every single second.

Dafydd - VW GTI Clubsport S
The Golf GTI Clubsport S may not be the most exotic car I've driven this year, but it remains one of the most special. Correctly dialled in - 'Individual' mode sees to that - its bespoke suspension and re-tuned chassis bestow it with near-otherworldly levels of poise and composure. It wasn't even on the Cup 2 tyres for which it was designed when I found myself behind the wheel, but even so, the steering response and feel were just sublime. Such is the engrained comfort and practicality of the GTI experience that, allowing myself to relax for a second or two, it was easy to altogether forget the nature of the stripped out track special; a car with no rear seats and reduced soundproofing. Turn the wheel with intent or step on the throttle, though, and its unbelievable ability instantly reasserted itself. It may not possess as perfect a shift as a Type R, or as emotive a soundtrack as a Megane RS, but when it came to the hottest of hatches, it didn't get better for me in 2018 than the two year old Clubsport S.

Sam - Ferrari 458 Italia
It might sound a bit corny, but driving a Ferrari 458 Italia in Italy last summer will forever be one of my fondest memories. It was my first time behind the wheel of Maranello's last atmospheric V8 supercar and what a fine venue for my inauguration. On a winding, billiard-table-smooth ribbon of north Italian tarmac, the 458 poured through the bends as if it were made specifically for them - which it kind of is. I've driven the Italia's younger brother, the 488 GTB, in the UK, and that boosted car is unquestionably the more ferocious of the two. But the 458's even more instantaneous responses - we're talking split seconds but you really can feel it - coupled with the gorgeous intake howl of that flat plane crank V8 at 8,500rpm, the perfect weighting of the carbon steering wheel paddles that control seven, willing cogs and a chassis so sweetly balanced you immediately feel at one with machine... Oh. My. Will we ever see a car like this again? I don't think so. So I doubt any other car will have more of a profound effect on my senses.

Matt P - Mercedes Unimog
There are faster vehicles, there are more refined vehicles, there are vehicles with a better finish but, by gum, this year I haven't tried another 'car' (yeah I know, go with it) that was quite as fascinating as the Unimog. It's the versatility that does it, I think. You can get a small truck or a big pick-up or a fast tractor and convert them for some of the 'Mog's uses but, depending on what they are, they can feel like playing a player out of position. The Unimog is the genuine utility option. It's exceptional off-road, acceptable on it, you have a flat bed, a crane, can load tools on it and power them by electricity, hydraulics or even take drive from the engine. Our 'test' 'Mog was a 175hp, 553lb ft, Β£100,000(ish) U218 Implement Carrier. Typically 100 Unimogs a year sell in the UK, to agricultural types, arboreal types, power companies, and local authorities who use them a bit for snow clearing, tunnel cleaning and mowing, depending on the season. In 2018, though, Mercedes UK tripled the number it sold because a British defence contractor is converting 200 into gun platforms for the Belgian army. Did I mention it's pretty versatile?

Mike Duff - Aventador SVJ
It's been a mega year for mega cars, with the sharp end of my shortlist containing two of the most lottery-winningest: the McLaren Senna and Lamborghini Aventador SVJ. By one of those cosmically arranged coincidences I drove them both in the same place, on track at Estoril, although a few months apart. Technically, and in terms of ultimate performance, the Senna walked it. It is a jaw-slackening tour de force, a car that makes even the modestly talented feel like veteran endurance racers. (The fact McLaren insisted we wore branded flameproofs probably helped, too.) But looking back it was the Aventador that lodged further in the part of my brain where the really special memories are stored. It is a beast: angry, intimidating and utterly savage in a way hypercars increasingly aren't. It was doubtless slower around Estoril than the McLaren, struggling to find grip and coming close to cooking its brakes, but it was also a proper adventure, a stunning piece of supercar theatre. Everything a Lambo should be, in other words.


P.H. O'meter

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