Telegraph Cars: Review of the Year 2015

The Telegraph Cars team look back at 2015, picking out the events that made the headlines – and those they simply enjoyed the most. Volkswagen may have lost our trust, but there was also plenty to celebrate

Steve Huntingford, Editor, Telegraph Cars

Above all, this year will be remembered for the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal, a story that dominated the headlines for weeks and caused serious damage to the reputation of Germany’s largest car maker.

However, perhaps the biggest surprise was how slowly VW reacted to the crisis; even now there’s a suspicion that the company is stalling for time in the hope that the world will move on and it will never have to give a full explanation.

The Audi TT’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’ places the satnav display right in front of the driver

It’s a shame, because in 2015 VW Group brands continued to make  cars that were worth shouting about for all the right reasons, including the latest Skoda Superb, an enormous family hatchback that we dubbed “almost as comfortable as a Rolls-Royce”, without it being hyperbole.

Audi’s new TT was another car that left a lasting impression on me, partly because it’s enjoyable to drive and beautifully made, but mainly due to its whizzy “Virtual Cockpit”, which places the display for the satnav and entertainment functions right in front of the driver. This looks great and works brilliantly – although my passengers tended to disagree, given that it meant they were stuck with my choice of music.

And then there’s the Cayman GT4, which I drove just a couple of weeks back – a lighter, faster version of Porsche’s mid-engined coupé that’s so sharp and precise that when you swap into pretty much anything else it feels like you’re trying to steer with your elbows.

Porsche Cayman GT4
Driving the Porsche Cayman GT4 was one of Steve’s highlights of 2015

Away from the VW Group, I was also impressed by the new Mazda MX-5 (despite the seats giving me backache), the Volvo XC90 (which has some of the best seats I’ve ever tried) and the Jaguar XE (where the seats didn’t stand out at all, but its ability to soak up bumps did, even on massive 19-inch wheels).

Meanwhile, the worst car I drove in 2015 has to be the SsangYong Korando, which is supposed to be a budget alternative to the Nissan Qashqai, but feels more like an expensive alternative to the bus.

Paul Hudson, Deputy Editor, Telegraph Cars

Another barnstorming year for classics, with the exponential increases in the values of the best cars showing no signs of abating. Only two weeks ago an Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato was sold for £9.45 million in New York. The 14th of 19 made, it became the most expensive British car sold at auction.

Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato
This Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato sold for £9.45 million, a new record for a British car

Ferraris remain the most sought-after. At the same RM Sotheby’s sale as the DB4GT Zagato, a 1956 Ferrari 290 MM fetched £18.8 million to become the most expensive car sold at public auction this year. Six of the top 10 were made in Maranello.

This year was not all glamour, however. We’ve been following the rising interest in everyday cars of the Seventies and Eighties which culminates in the Festival of the Unexceptional. This year’s winner was a 1978 Mk2 Ford Escort 1600L. Perhaps this interest is a backlash against stratospheric auction prices. Everyday cars remain affordable to buy and run, with younger enthusiasts being able to participate.

The Goodwood Revival continues to delight with its scale and attention to detail. I was also impressed by the inaugural Flywheel event at Bicester Heritage, a former RAF bomber base that’s much as it was in the Second World War. It is being developed as a centre of excellence for restoring historic cars and aircraft.

Ferrari Daytona
The best car Paul drove in 2015 was a classic Ferrari Daytona

The best car I’ve driven? It was undoubtedly the first right-hand-driveFerrari Daytona in the UK . It could have been a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, the famed Gullwing, but insurance issues meant I had to stand by the roadside, frustrated, as it was filmed for our series on great classic cars.

Andrew English, Motoring Correspondent, Telegraph Cars

Clearly the sort of cheating that Volkswagen was caught indulging in this year is a Very Bad Thing, but I can’t help thinking about the words of Professor Guido Palazzo of Lausanne University.

“All companies exist in a world of grey… they are all doing it,” he said, citing the widening gap between test figures and real-world consumption. “The only thing is that VW took a much clearer way to manipulate the figures. On the face of it VW had some engineers who cheated the software, but what if they thought they were right?”

Volvo XC90
The new Volvo XC90 was an attempt to reverse the trend of increasing weight in the SUV sector

Since Cadillac, Ford, Honda, the US commercial diesel engine industry and others have been caught out in the past, perhaps this is more than a case of a few bad apples. Have our legislators turned a blind eye or been asleep on the job? Have consumers and motoring journalists not made enough fuss about that “widening” gap? I’ll vouchsafe that by the time we come out the other side, VW will be very different and so will European emissions testing, but I feel really let down and sad about the whole business. I used to believe VW was something special, but not any more.

As to what I’ve enjoyed? Certainly Volvo’s XC90 was one of the bravest cars and while it didn’t achieve all it set out to do, it was a remarkable attempt to reverse the trend of increasing weight and emissions in the SUV sector. I liked Mazda’s MX-5 (who wouldn’t?) and the fourth-generation version is a salutary reminder to rivals about how a sports car should handle.

Revelations of the year came from Audi for its astonishing R8 revamp,Mercedes-Benz with its fantastic looking AMG GT and Vauxhall with the reworked Astra hatchback driving so much better than its forebears. I liked a lot Skoda’s Superb for its ride comfort, Honda’s HR-V and Jaguar’s XE. I sort-of liked the Land Rover Discovery Sport on UK roads, similarly the McLaren 570S on smooth Portuguese ones.

I didn’t much like the Vauxhall Viva or the Mercedes Benz GLE coupé. Disappointment of the year was home-grown, however, with my 1939 Peugeot P53 motorcycle awaiting parts so missing the best riding spring for years.

Chris Knapman, Contributing Editor, Telegraph Cars

It feels as though 2015 has rushed by faster than a Ferrari 458 Speciale. I can say that with authority, having been lucky enough to try the final Maranello masterpiece with a naturally aspirated V8 engine. As is the way with supercars, the drive was a series of frustrations interspersed with a constant fear of causing irreparable damage to the car or my licence, but hey, it made a great noise.

Driven: James Bond’s SPECTRE Aston Martin DB10Play!04:40

To be honest, I had almost as much fun in the Mazda MX-5, which costs a tenth of the price and can be driven hard well within the speed limit and is every bit as good as we’d hoped.

The same goes for cars from the recent Bond film, SPECTRE, namelyJaguar’s C-X75 and 007’s own chariot, the Aston Martin DB10. The DB10 left more of an impression, primarily because Aston seemed happy to let me drive it like a bit of a wally (given a private test track, wouldn’t you?).

Our video reviews, hosted on the Telegraph Cars website and onYouTube, now have 60,000 subscribers. We add at least one new review each week, and all are free to view, so be sure to have a look.

Ariel Nomad
The Ariel Nomad is a triumph of British design and engineering, says Chris

I’ve also enjoyed writing the car reviews in the Sunday Telegraph’sLiving section, which has given me space to be rude about all kinds of vehicles. There have been some greats, too, like the McLaren 675LTand Porsche Cayman GT4, so perhaps it’s just that I’m a snob.

The best car of the year, though, has to be the one that I’d least like to drive on a regular basis: the Ariel Nomad. This skeletal-framed off-road buggy is a triumph of British design and engineering, and guaranteed to raise a smile, any time.

Alex Robbins, Consumer Editor, Telegraph Cars

If you’d told me in January that the company most besmirched this year would be Volkswagen, I’d have raised an eyebrow or two. Its cars have always been some of the most respected in the industry, and the benchmark in most classes, but its reputation for engineering excellence has been tainted.

VW California
In addition to getting caught cheating in emissions tests, VW updated its California camper van

Don’t get me wrong; it’ll pick itself back up, as the underlying cars are still very good, but never will it quite have the public’s trust in the way it once did. And there are still questions about emissions testing in general and other manufacturers’ diesel emissions levels.

It was in a VW that I had one of my more memorable experiences; camping by a waterfall in Norway in a California camper van. I can confirm that it was as cold as you’d expect, but pleasurable. One I’d repeat? Perhaps – but with a few more creature comforts next time.

An enormously delayed flight led to a test of the new Audi R8 at night, while most of the other hacks were in the bar. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, as the deserted roads north of Toulon gave me a chance to remember why I love Audi’s supercar. In an era of downsizing and muted enjoyment, Audi’s V10 is unabashed, and utterly intoxicating for it.

Mazda MX-5
Alex loved the new Mazda MX-5 so much that he’ll be running one in 2016

But the high point, undoubtedly, was the arrival of Mazda’s new MX-5. Not since the Fiesta ST have I driven a car that made me fall in love with it so rapidly. It’s so good at its main purpose – providing accessible, easy-going thrills – that it’s impossible to imagine a rival doing it better. We’ll put that to the test when we pick up the keys to our long-termer in January. Roll on 2016.

Erin Baker, columnist, Telegraph Cars

It’s been a year of riding quad bikes and lawnmowers at Silverstone, driving a Zenos E10S around Norfolk lanes, and wishing I had a spare £10,000 to buy a Caterham I found on the Pistonheads website.

Highlights of the year included getting back behind the wheel of a Caterham for the first time since I raced one in the 2007 Academy, the base Seven 160. It was just as much fun as I remembered.

At the other end of the scale, I wafted around the lanes near Goodwood for a week in a Bentley Flying Spur V8, and didn’t miss the larger W12 engine one bit.

I drove to Amsterdam in one hit, via two charges, in an electric Tesla Model S, and did my back in in the process. In Hamburg, Toyotashowed us the other side of the future with its hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai, which felt like a more feasible future, if only due to comfier seats.

A business briefing by Hyundai back in February told us all we needed to know about the future of buying cars outright – PCP now accounts for 80 per cent of all purchases and is rising.

Bentley Flying Spur
She was also keen on the far from minimalist Bentley Flying Spur V8

The biggest learning curve of the year has to be getting to grips with the integrated technology in the connected car. I remember when journalists baulked at the introduction of BMW’s iDrive rotary selector. Imagine trying to explain to them then the concept of Apple CarPlay, orVauxhall’s Onstar on-call system. Of course, it’s all quite simple when you face up to it; although while the Ferrari California T I drove had nicely mastered CarPlay, I couldn’t get a DAB signal for love nor money.

James Foxall, columnist, Telegraph cars

After doing away with the tax disc in 2014, the DVLA went a step further this year by binning the driving licence, or more accurately its paper counterpart. Doing so just before the summer holidays when people might need their counterpart to hire cars wasn’t the best piece of timing. Nor was the idea of an online code to allow others to see your driving licence details that remained valid for only 24 hours.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) proved the DVLA wasn’t the only government agency to get it dramatically wrong. When it launched its online MoT system in the summer, it was plagued with problems. Garages complained they couldn’t do their job and were having to turn away customers because the system was crashing or just too slow.

For drivers, there were nonetheless plenty of positives about 2015. The pressure on household budgets was relieved by the falling cost of fuel. Not that many drivers saw the benefit as early as they might like. Although fuel retailers argue there’s more profit in a cup of coffee than a tank of fuel, there’s still no excuse for the dilatory way they increase prices almost instantly but wait for weeks to lower them. Still, at least the Chancellor continued to eschew a mooted increase in fuel duty – for the time being.

Car buying 2015-style carried on where 2014 had left off. Manufacturers have been throwing incentives around to keep cars flowing out of the showrooms. And it’s worked, with sales continuing to boom. But in order to manage this feat, the car industry appears to have become addicted to pre-registering, the tactic where dealers buy cars themselves and then sell them on cheaply to inflate sales artificially.

It’s resulted in some buyers driving away in new cars that are cheaper than used equivalents. 2015 may well be remembered as the year when the car industry began to think about changing a sales model that is unsustainably flawed.
Roland Brown, Motorcycle Correspondent, Telegraph Cars

The bar for superbike power reached 200bhp, as Yamaha’s new YZF-R1 arrived to take on the addictively thunderous Ducati  1299 Panigale plus the revamped Aprilia RSV4 and BMW S1000RR. Riding these amazing bikes revealed them to be not only thrillingly fast but more sophisticated – and safe – than any previous generation of superbike.

Small bikes can also be big fun, as KTM’s RC390 and Yamaha’s 321cc YZF-R3 confirmed. Ducati’s laid-back Scrambler V-twin impressed, while Harley-Davidson’s Street 750 and Indian’s Scout made the US brands more accessible.

Kawasaki Ninja H2
The Kawasaki Ninja H2 personified a spectacular year for sports bikes

My bike of the year comes down to budget. Yamaha’s MT-09 Tracer is a quick, capable and well-equipped 847cc sports-tourer for little more than £8,000. The KTM 1290 Super Adventure costs twice as much, and justifies it with 160bhp plus a blend of versatility, comfort and refinement unthinkable only a few years ago.

Yet there’s only one bike for which 2015 will be remembered. Kawasaki’s 998cc, supercharged Ninja H2 isn’t remotely sensible. But with 207bhp, unique styling, brutal throttle response and kidney-scrambling performance, it perfectly personifies this most spectacular of motorcycling years.

Rebecca Jackson, video reviewer and columnist, Telegraph Cars

Project Le Mans, my mission to race at the 24 Hours next June, is exactly where it needs to be. It was essential for me to drive a faster car this season, hence why getting to grips with a Porsche 911 Cup – which is in a similar vein to the GT-class cars at Le Mans – was the perfect choice.

Porsche 911 Cup racing car
Rebecca raced a Porsche 911 Cup as part of her preparations for Le Mans in 2016

Away from the track, highlights included the Exclusive GP supercar tour to the Monaco Grand Prix in a Rolls-Royce Ghost and taking part in my first ever rally, with famed Land Rover tuner Bowler. After gaining my rally licence my first competitive outing was at night – a steep learning curve, but I managed to finish fourth.

I was also delighted to be invited to join Belle Bespoke’s regularity trial for classic and historic cars in sunny Mallorca, driving a beautiful 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4.

Oh, and I set a Guinness World Record. After 28 hours of almost non-stop driving Telegraph Cars contributor Andrew Frankel and I covered 1,158 miles on one tank of fuel, while taking in 14 countries.

Another European adventure was driving a Lotus Exige S to visit disused street circuits formerly raced on by the likes of Fangio and Senna.

Some of my favourite videos to shoot this year include the Suzuki Jimny because it was like a baby Land Rover Defender in its off-road capabilities, and the Porsche Cayman GT4, which must be one of the greatest sports cars of all time. And Ferrari’s turbocharged California T simply oozes Italian flair – it’s just a shame I had such a nasty cold when filming it.

Planning for my Le Mans debut has been a constant feature of 2015 for me, and it will only increase in intensity as we head towards an exciting new year.