MUSCAT DAILY 2019 ON WHEELS
Bentley, Ferrari, an underrated Polestar and a surprising Lotus all made the cut
After a decade of automakers offering throatclearing concepts and testing prototypes, the electric-car era has begun - finally! Over the past 12 months, car companies have unveiled more than a dozen new electric vehicles, ranging from sports cars that look like modified space ships from the future, Hummer-style electric SUVs, and even a totally carbon-neutral hypercar.
Pininfarina gave us a first drive of the US$2.2mn Battista; Tesla smashed the windows of its Cybertruck. Porsche finally put its foot in the electric-vehicle ring with the US$185,000 Taycan; and so did Volvo, with its sharp, range-dominating Polestar 1.
But electric power was not a cure-all for every luxury brand: Mercedes has said it will delay its electric SUV debut after underperforming sales - and even recalls - of those from Audi and Jaguar. Demand in China, the world’s biggest electric-car market, fell by double digits for months after the government scaled back EV subsidies. Harley-Davidson started, then temporarily halted, an electric motorcycle. And the Volkswagen diesel scandal continues. In Europe, carmakers struggled. Aston Martin in particular struggled to regain its footing at all after a massively flopped initial public offering… and then created a make-or-break SUV.
Meanwhile, we saw Ford face Ferrari again in true Hollywood blockbuster style. We saw the big-money business rise of the Influencer generation. We saw the obliteration of a 482kmph world record. And Ferdinand Piech, the man who created the Volkswagen AG empire as we know it today, died in Rosenheim, Germany.
All of this, yes - but still no fully automated, driverless, cars. Yet. Check back with VW, BMW and Daimler in about four years for that.
All told, car lovers and driving enthusiasts had plenty to rejoice over this year. Here are the 11 best vehicles I drove since this time last year.
Best Open-Top Thriller: Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder
This is the mid-cycle refresh of the Huracan Spyder line, but it feels like the one you'd want out of the entire lot, thanks to its plus accoutrements for longer drives: ambient light packages, smartphone interfaces, electric seats, and ‘Lamborghini telemetry’ for an enhanced driving feel as you round those hairpin turns. The US$287,400 Huracan Evo does zero to 100kmph in 2.4 seconds. Top speed is 325kmph. Total power is 631hp.
Best Italian Classic: Ferrari F8 Tributo
This US$270,530 coupé pays fitting tribute to the almost-sacred V8 engines that have powered the automaker’s most successful cars since its first mid-engine V-8, all the way back to the 1975 Ferrari 308 GTB. With a 3.9ltr, 711hp engine, a perfect seven-speed gearbox, and 770Nm of torque, it’s more powerful and efficient than its predecessor, the 488 GTB. The F8 Tributo weighs less than 1360kg and is lethally quick: zero to 100kmph in 2.9 seconds, with style to spare.
Best Electric Sedan: Porsche Taycan Turbo S
The US$185,000 Taycan Turbo S is fast, powerful, practical and well-built. From behind the wheel and from the sidewalk, it feels and looks like a real car, not an appliance. The performance stats back it all up: 750hp; zero to 100kmph in 2.6 seconds; two ‘gears’ and a range of 419 electric km on a single charge.
Best Town Car: Bentley Flying Spur
Bentley re-evaluated its iconic marque from the ground up this year, with a new grille, hood ornament and crystal-cut LED headlights, 22-inch rims and diamond knurling throughout. It retains the same 6ltr, twin-turbocharged W12 engine as the Continental GT, with a dual-clutch, eight-speed transmission and the biggest iron brakes in the world. That's enough to do a zero to 100kmph sprint in 3.7 seconds, with a top speed of 330kmph.
Best Affordable Brit: Lotus Evora GT
This is the cheapest two-door car on the list, but you can have more fun in it than in others that cost twice as much. The US$96,950 Evora GT has a 416hp, V6, supercharged engine that wheezes and hums as you drive, and at 1440kg, it can hit 100kmph in 3.8 seconds.
Best New Act: McLaren GT
The US$210,000, 612hp GT is spacious, smoother on the road, and dropdead good looking. The entertainment system has been improved, as has the stiffness of the chassis.
Best Hybrid, Period: Polestar 1
Consider this the sleeper hit of the year. Volvo’s luxury sibling brand, Polestar, released a US$156,500 plug-in hybrid that gets the longest driving range available on the market today: some 125km on pure electric charge. Its 100 per cent carbon-fibre body makes it supremely lightweight, and its complex system of motors and engines can be driven in fully electric mode, with two rear electric motors providing 232hp and 480Nm of instant electric torque. Total combined output is 619hp and 1,000Nm of torque. All-wheel drive is also accessible by the push of a button.
Best Grand Tourer: Bentley Continental GT V8
The US$198,500 V8 version of Bentley's exceptional Continental GT grand tourer comes with a new engine, lightweight aluminium body, and double-clutch gearbox. It comes with 542hp and 770Nm of torque and is heavily rear-wheel-drive biased, especially in Sport mode. Zero to 100kmph takes 3.9 seconds, with a top speed of 320kmph.
Best Grocery Getter: Audi RS6 Avant
There's space in the market for a powerful, well-apportioned wagon aimed at the well-off adventurer or creative buyer, and Audi might as well be the one to make it. The US$113,000 RS6 Avant (estimated price) comes with a twin-turbocharged, 4ltr V8 that gets 591hp and 800Nm of torque. It has Audi's classic Quattro all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmission - and Audi says it'll get to 100kmph in 3.6 seconds, topping out at 300kmph.
Best Comeback Kid: BMW M850i
BMW stopped making the original 8-Series in the 1990s. Since then, the M3 and M4 Coupés had to fill the gap for those who wanted a fast, powerful, true sports car they could drive comfortably on a daily basis. Now, with the US$112,895 M850i, you can better those other M cars. All in, the M850i will go to 100kmph in 3.6 seconds, with a top speed of 250kmph. It has such elegant details as a glass-knob shifter, seats draped in merino leather, and a 10.25-inch central information display with a 12.3-inch instrument cluster.
Best Motorcycle For City Slickers: Zero S
Zero is doing what Harley-Davidson had hoped to achieve. The company has become exceptional in its ability to produce - and keep producing - sporty, reliable, and handsome electric motorcycles. The US$10,995 Zero S is its latest. The 150kg street bike has a thrilling riding style and a driving range of up to 360km in the city and 180km at highway speeds.
Best Open-Top Thriller- Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder
Best New Act- McLaren GT
Best Hybrid, Period - Polestar 1
Best Town Car- Bentley Flying Spur
Best Comeback Kid - BMW M850i
Best Grocery Getter - Audi RS6 Avant
Best Affordable Brit - Lotus Evora GT
Best Electric Sedan - Porsche Taycan Turbo S