Best moments of 2022: the Autocar team's motoring highlights
From supercar slides to mountain bike rides, we did it all
From 24 hours in a McLaren GT to test-drives with Marc Gené, Autocar's writers share their best moments
Witnessing the on-track carnage of banger racing, mountain-biking in the Dolomites with the help of a Honda long-termer and the unexpected driving crediblity of the Dacia Jogger on a back-road are just three of the highlights Autocar's writers have come up with for 2022.
In a turbulent year of massive changes for the motoring industry, one thing has remained constant - the abiding memories and simple pleasures derived from the cars themselves. Read on for the details of our favourite moments.
*Jim Holder:* In a lucky life of driving fancy cars and more, an hour in the company of softly spoken, fact-focused scientist Gill Pratt is what I’ll remember. Yes, really.CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, Pratt is well known for being an articulate exponent of (and I paraphrase) using the world’s finite battery resources for the greatest impact on CO2 reduction, which means, in some cases, prioritising hybrids over EVs. It’s a controversial stance, because it stands in the face of global governmental direction, enrages EV evangelists and neatly ties into credentials established by the Toyota Prius.
But it’s also courageous, because it opens him and his employer to criticism for being slow, retrograde and self-serving, and fascinating, because it forgoes hype for expertise. He might be right or he might be wrong – even he admits he can’t be certain – but successful change needs challengers. That the world’s largest car maker, renowned for conservatism, is prepared to provide it is to all our benefit.
*Jack Harrison: *As far as Instagram messages go, “Would you like to get a lift to a Bicester Scramble in a Jaguar Sport XJR-15?” is one of the nicer to get. I’ve always had a soft spot for this Tom Walkinshaw-developed monster. It’s essentially a toned-down version of the XJR-9 Le Mans winner, although it also raced in its own one-make series. With an unsilenced 6.0-litre V12 just inches behind your head, stiff racing suspension and a cabin so noisy that you need a headset to communicate, the XJR-15 is the sort of car that you feel just shouldn’t be on the road.But I’m seriously glad it is. I’ll never forget the roar of the engine as we climbed through the rev range. I’ll be amazed if I ever end up in anything that sounds half as good. I just couldn’t stop smiling. A huge thank you to David and Ludo for making it happen.
*John Evans:* If the sight of a dozen gaudily painted hatchbacks slugging it out on an oval circuit like gladiators doesn’t stir the blood, little will. This summer, I reported on banger racing from Aldershot, and while I didn’t get a go behind the wheel, it was thrilling simply to witness the on-track carnage and a pleasure to meet the folk who make it happen.
There are rumours the sport is dying out, with old cars becoming harder to find and more expensive, but on my visit, although numbers were reportedly down, there was still a large and vocal crowd urging the cars and their drivers on.
My abiding memory? Witnessing a Vauxhall Corsa with its nearside rear wheel at right angles to the car, being inched out of the way of the approaching pack on its starter motor. Me? I’d be terrified. The Corsa’s driver? He was laughing.
*Piers Ward:* Am I allowed to include a lowlight? It was at 3.45am, in January, and I’d just woken up with a right arse cheek that was so numb I worried someone had stabbed me with a local anaesthetic while I’d been asleep.
The car at fault? A McLaren GT. The true root cause of the issue? Your idiot correspondent, for deciding to test just how comfy the McLaren GT is by spending a solid 24 hours cooped up inside one.
But for the hours of daylight, the GT was brilliant, marrying enough GT comfort with superb handling and joyful steering. It was a delight to drive across to North Wales, where I enjoyed the scenery and V8, even with the prospect of the night ahead looming large. As a camper van, it’s not ideal. Premier Inn next time.
*Rachel Burgess:* It’s sad that traditional motor shows appear to be in their twilight years. Still, I’m clinging on for as long as I can because, however small – as the Paris motor show in October was – there’s still a brilliant buzz to be had from the bright lights, overheated halls, ability to touch every kind of metal and unbridled access to top car execs.
The stories we sourced from that show filled many of our pages for the following weeks and months, plus we got some brilliant soundbites: Stellantis boss Carlos Tavares dramatically calling for the Euro 7 emissions regulations to be canned and Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo joking that he might crowdfund to build the cracking 5 Turbo 3E racer.
*Mark Tisshaw:* “What car would you buy with your own money, if money were no object?” A question asked more than any other of me and my colleagues when conversations with strangers turn to what we do for a living.
It’s an incredibly tricky question to answer, and most people don’t keep the conversation going when I suggest a stealthy warm hatch or mile-munching executive saloon due to a desire to blend in.
But now I’ve got the answer they’ll want to hear, and one I truly believe: a Ferrari Roma. I spent a weekend in Le Mans with one for the 24 Hours race in June, and then drove it all the way back home, utterly captivated and in awe of its breadth of abilities. It looks great, has incredible performance, makes a wonderful sound and is far more spacious and practical than it has any right to be. Did I mention it looks great?
The highlight was driving it to dinner (moules frites, of course) far further away than I needed to go, because that’s what you do in GTs like this. I’ve already forgotten about the race (Google says Toyota won), but I’ll never forget the experience.
*Ilya Verpraet: *The stars aligned for a great drive. I was on the North York Moors. I was in a bit of a hurry, because I needed to swap cars and then head to the airport. Google Maps had decided to ignore the motorway and take me down some bumpy, twisty back roads with very little traffic. It was bliss. Corner after corner, good sight-lines, a tight manual gearbox, an engine that needed to be worked and pedals perfectly spaced for heel and toe downshifts.
Did I mention I was driving a Dacia Jogger? I’m not about to claim the budget seven-seater is Britain’s best driver’s car. But it is far better to drive than most would expect, and the circumstances are just as important as the car in creating a good drive. And I won’t shut up about the virtues of cars that you can drive hard on the road without endangering your licence.
*Felix Page:* I detest passenger rides. So my heart dropped when it was revealed that before driving the 819bhp Ferrari 296 GTB around Monteblanco circuit unsupervised, I’d (obviously, and fairly) learn the circuit from the wrong seat of a professionally piloted car.
And then out walked ex-Formula 1 driver and 2009 Le Mans winner Marc Gené, shook my hand and climbed into the driver’s seat. Which didn’t help. But over the next three minutes, my conception of what is possible of a combustion-fuelled automobile in the right hands was rewritten so comprehensively that it will endure as a formative moment in my ability to appraise a car.
Flowery press releases lose all meaning when a thumping V6 behind your left ear gives its best impression of a motor twice its size and flings you at the first corner. Cynicism of plug-in assistance vanishes as the electric motor takes up the slack in gear-changes to ensure constant, unmitigated acceleration and any awareness of the car’s 1.5-tonne kerb weight evaporates as the star racer flicks the steering wheel 180deg and grins as the 296 screeches with pinpoint accuracy and exhilarating flamboyance over the apex.
The sensations are nothing like you’d experience on public roads, nor in anything outside of the supercar sphere, and so all-consuming as to make me want to do it all over again. Every day.
*Richard Lane:* My inner 10-year-old especially enjoyed an afternoon recceing a hill route south of Bologna for our Lamborghini Aventador Ultimae review in April. In true OTT fashion, Lamborghini supplied an STO Huracán for this trivial task, but the weather was far too warm for the winter rubber the car was inexplicably wearing. The results were hilarious – akin to what Toyota achieved by putting Prius-grade tyres on the Toyota GT86, only with 630bhp. What an engine, obviously. But also, what an epic chassis. STO owners: never mind the Trofeo Rs; have you considered Sottozeros?!
As for my 34-year-old self, there was the 296 GTS launch, where I was lucky enough to sit next to Cristiano Pompucci at dinner. He’s the man who oversaw the development of Ferrari’s superb new 3.0-litre V6 but was also an engine analyst during the second half of the Schumacher era.
It was fantastic to rake up his F1 experiences and chat about the crazy pressure they were under to find any power gains, no matter how small, between race weekends. To hear someone like Pompucci talking of how Schumi could instantly tell if the team had conjured an extra 5bhp from an already 900bhp-strong V10 put the hairs of my neck on end. What fabulous access to people this job often brings.
*Steve Cropley:* The year’s biggest deal for me was hanging out for a couple of days in Croatia with Mate Rimac, a 24-carat genius. He was the winner, you might remember, of our premier award for 2022, the Issigonis Trophy, and it was necessary to go to his place both to tell him the news and produce an awards interview. It’s less than a decade since Rimac was a clever but impecunious young bloke messing about with a battered 3 Series to which he’d fitted an electric motor because a suitable replacement combustion engine was too expensive.
Incredibly, the lessons from that – and the core team he assembled to do it – have built a uniquely high-achieving business in which blue-chip companies like Porsche and Hyundai are now investors. Today, Rimac runs Bugatti because businessmen of greater experience but less vision haven’t managed to make it viable.Yet through it all, Rimac keeps his normality. It’s an amazing story, this year or any other.
*Charlie Martin: *As a long-time car enthusiast, but a relatively new addition to the Autocar team, I was thrilled to have the chance to visit DS’s design headquarters near Paris and get a top-secret insight into its future plans.
There’s not much I can report on for now – keep an eye on these pages over the next 12 months for that – but I did see an impressive interior concept created in 2019 that showcased the brand’s plans to replace touchscreens. It was never meant for public consumption and was seriously progressive.
If it reflects the radical overhaul we can expect to see from DS and the wider industry over the next few years, I’m optimistic the automotive world will continue to be as innovative and exciting as it’s always been.
*Jack Warrick:* Choosing the Goodwood Festival of Speed as my highlight might sound an obvious choice, but I think this year’s event was among the finest and a glorious showcase of the best parts of the motoring industry right now.
Whether you’re a fan of internal combustion or battery power, this year’s festival had it all – culminating in a celebration of one of the best performance motoring outfits around: BMW M. It was excellent to see the likes of the BMW 3.0 CSL positioned on the lawn’s famous central feature.
And, of course, there were plenty of reporting opportunities. I spoke to John Hennessey about his frankly ludicrous six-wheeled 2400bhp Deep Space project and was present at the reveal of the Polestar O2 concept, which later came to be known as the Polestar 6, and heard some fascinating insights from boss Thomas Ingenlath on the brand’s future direction.
As Rachel Burgess said on the previous page, the traditional ‘motor show’ might be waning, but here’s hoping the Festival of Speed lives on.
*Kris Culmer:* My highlight of the year – not just automotive but in general – was absolutely a week-long road trip with my best mate. We drove down to the Dolomite mountains in Italy via nine other countries in my long-term Honda HR-V hybrid crossover, which proved to be spacious, comfortable, relaxing, efficient and 100% reliable, while enabling us to indulge properly in our shared passion for music.
It also was able to transport our two mountain bikes, the whole purpose of the trip, on which we had immense fun and, I must admit, some scary moments – including lots of bruises, both to my body and pride, and some blood but no broken bones, which I’d call a success.
The trip reaffirmed my love for Europe, with so much stunning scenery, beautiful cities, great cuisine and camera-free, trafficless high-speed motorways, and my love for Ben, considering that conversation between us was never anything other than pleasant or hilarious, despite us being stuck two feet apart in a tin box for up to 11 hours per day.
*Matt Saunders:* It’s so often those days you don’t see coming that you remember longest in this job. I was supposed to be on holiday but, because a colleague happened to test positive for Covid one day in August, I got to be one of the very first people in the world to drive the brilliantly bold new Ariel Hipercar instead. A little company like Ariel simply shouldn’t be capable of making a car like this. It looked otherworldly. New from the ground up, and innovative like few electrified sports cars made even by the world’s wealthiest car companies, it also took my breath away to drive it.
And so did the incredibly friendly and trusting attitude of the blokes who made it, and who simply handed it over to us to do whatever we liked with. “Here’s pretty much the future of our business. It’s been about 10 years in the making, and it’s the only one we’ve got, but don’t let that stop you. Have fun.”
*Damien Smith: *Not bad for an old man. Well, 47. That’s not old. I should know: Sébastien Loeb and I are the same age. But clearly he’s in slightly better shape, as he proved when he rolled back the years in January by winning the Monte Carlo Rally for a record-equalling eighth time.
This was a big moment, in more ways than one, as the old master scored his 80th World Rally Championship win and his first in something other than a Citroën by upstaging the new generation in a cameo for M-Sport and its new Ford Puma. The first event run to the new Rally1 hybrid regs, and who should pop up to win it?
Fellow legend Sébastien Ogier did him a favour by picking up a puncture on the penultimate stage and then jumping the start on the last one, but still. And he was joined by 50-year-old school teacher friend Isabelle Galmiche as co-driver, the first female WRC winner since 1997. As Loeb pulled off his old signature backflip (me try that? No chance), I had a hunch motorsport’s best feel-good moment of 2022 had come early. It had.
*Will Rimell: *It’s been a busy year, my first at Autocar. Although taking part in this year’s London to Brighton veteran car run was a big highlight (this job really does open some amazing doors), being one of the first people to see the first new Bugatti in six years was a bit of an experience.
At an event held in an old Berlin power station (also a former nightclub…), we were greeted by not just the convertible Mistral but also Bugatti royalty in the form of the Type 22, the Veyron Super Sport and the Bugatti Chiron – three very important cars for the firm. And a childhood dream of mine was realised that day when I sat in not just the Chiron but also the poster-perfect Veyron. But what stuck in my head are the words of one designer while I sat in that £1.6 million hypercar: “It’s nice, right?”