What were our favourite cars of 2011?
2011 might almost be at an end, but before we look forward to the new metal of 2012, it's time for the Autoblog team to pick our favorites that we've driven this year.
Despite having driven and reported on hundreds of cars, in the interests of length and relevance, myself and the rest of the bloggers were given the almost impossible task of slimming down our favourites to just two.
The results are below, as always let us know if you agree or disagree.
1.BMW 1 M Coupé
2011 has been a bumper year for M cars; first there was the BMW 1 M Coupé in May, then BMW rounded the year off with the launch of the fifth-generation M5. Don't get me wrong, the latest M5 is awesome, but it's the 1M that really turned my head this year. Why you might ask? It's certainly no beauty, there's not a lot of room in the back and the dashboard design with the optional sat-nav is ugly.
But, what I like is the simplicity; in a world where a manual box fitted to a performance car is becoming a rarer and rarer sight, BMW has bucked that trend, as just a slick six-speed manual gearbox is available in the 1 M. Another highlight has to be the tweaked, 335bhp version of the 135i's 3.0-litre six-cylinder, twin-turbo engine. The handling is also roll free and never feels scary. The only downsides are the jittery ride and the fact that all 450 of these £40,020 Coupes are sold out. I still want one!
2. Range Rover Evoque
All it took was a couple of short passenger rides on the Land Rover test track back in April to convince me that the forthcoming Range Rover Evoque had to be one of the most exciting cars to be launched in 2011. Could the production-ready version of the baby Range Rover live up to my expectations? Or would I be disappointed? Well, just four months later I was in Liverpool to drive the finished Evoque at the international launch to find out.
So with the fancy styling, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Evoque would be rubbish in the rough stuff. Well, you'd be wrong as I was given ample opportunities to drive the Evoque off-road and it didn't disappoint. Living up to Land Rover badge, it's far more capable than most owners will ever need. What's more impressive, is that despite it's off-road capabilities, it handles like a sports car on it.
1. Skoda Yeti
2011 has been a good year for the Skoda. Once the laughing stock of the industry, Skodas are now the thinking man's cars, offering the premium feel and quality of a Volkswagen without the expensive price tag. The Yeti is just one new model that highlights everything great about the brand.
It can handle rough with smooth equally well, combining comfort and refinement on the road with a rugged capability on some of the roughest terrain I've seen. You really have to see it to believe how well it can cope off road. So before you turn to the big heavy 4x4's that handle like boat on the road, consider the Skoda Yeti as an all-rounder that will conquer anything you throw at it.
2. Megane Renaultsport 265 Trophy
The 265 Trophy is a rather special car. With only 50 made for the UK market, it's a shame that so few will enjoy this hot hatch. The moment you touch the accelerator, the car comes alive. The acceleration and engine note is infectious.
More grown up than the Clio RS, the Megane urges you to push on and each journey becomes a joy rather than a chore. It can balance out and out ferocity with quiet and refined town driving admirably. Despite an annoying lack of visibility and a bit of brake fade if you really hammer it, this car is proof that Renault still builds fast, desirable models with lashings of va va voom.
1. Nissan Leaf
Before you lot start commenting: "Oh, how wonderfully obvious – they went for the eco chariot", it's not for the reason you think it is. While it's very clever, it's too flawed for urbanites to use effectively. I can't charge it in public without being terrified a chav will unplug it for one... No, the reason it's here is because it's a sort of genesis for 'leccy cars. Forget the G-Whiz, that's not a car – it's a deathtrap. In years to come, when the oil is almost out and we're all silently bombing around town in EVs the one car we'll look back to is the Nissan Leaf.
No matter how pretentious that sounds, it's true. Name another mainstream, sensibly sized, practical electric car. Go on, I dare you.
2.Vauxhall Astra GTC
I never thought I'd love a Vauxhall. Never ever in a million years. I'll freely admit that the look and feel of the things never did anything for me – no matter how well they drove (aside from the Monaro, VXR8 and VX220, none of which were developed by Vauxhall proper)... or not. I grew up with Vectras in their hayday and never once woke up thinking: "One day I'll get that Astra I've always dreamed of".
While I won't be gagging for one, the Vauxhall Astra GTC is chuffing brilliant. With the more powerful 180bhp petrol in there you'll be laughing on a b-road scream thanks to its incredible HiPerStrut suspension. You may not aspire to one, but as a three year stop gap an Astra GTC will keep you more than entertained.
1. BMW M5
Without doubt the best car 2011 year is the BMW 1 M Coupé, but as Martyn's already snaffled that one I'll take its big brother instead. The M5 doesn't have the sewing needle precision, short chassis tractability or the condensed visual drama of the 1 M, but it's the more complete car.
Perfect it's not - the throttle response can be hesitant, it's difficult to pull away smoothly in it, the steering can feel artificially resistant and it feels too bulky at times - but it's all the car anyone will ever need. It's at the same time thunderously powerful and wonderfully comfortable, and while some will feel the looks are too subtle, BMW clearly knows its audience: the dude with £80,000 to spend on a 552bhp saloon doesn't want it to look like a Mitsubishi Evo.
2. Volkswagen Up
If you've followed the gestation of the Volkswagen Up, you'd be forgiven for feeling slightly aggrieved by the final result. Years of kooky, innovative concepts - the original 2007 car had a rear engine, rear-wheel drive layout - have led to a city runabout that, really, does nothing special. The engine's in the front and everything.
But the up is a brilliant little car. It has, somehow, captured the essence of VW (quality, class, simplicity, reliability) without being entirely devoid of personality, or looking like it's trying too hard. Your mum will say hers it "like a tardis," while your teenage soon will be eyeing a red one up as his first car, with a matching red dash. And you'll be happy about that, because VW is dreaming up some unfathomably cheap ownership schemes. Plus you can choose one of three badges for the front. Win.
1.Ferrari 458 Italia
Ok, so it might not have been launched this year, but in 2011 I finally got the chance to have a go behind the wheel. The sound the engine makes on full chat will live with me forever, as will the fact no other car will ever quite live up to it. Well, that is of course, until the 458 is replaced.
The seven-speed, dual clutch gearbox is quite easily the best I've ever tried and the way the supercar feels – and makes you feel – is just so special. Ok, so the Fezza may cost more than most semi-detached houses – especially in the £245,000 spec our test car came in – but if I had the money I honestly wouldn't think twice about buying one.
2. Sierra RS Cosworth
I came a bit late to this party and Mark and Martyn had already snaffled my second and third choices – the M5 and 1M BMWs, both of which are incredible – so instead I've gone a bit left field. My second car of the year is in fact my drive of the year: A stint behind the wheel of a classic Sierra RS Cosworth.
This was the first time I'd ever got the chance to drive one of my heroes and it really didn't disappoint. The Cossie's pure steering, rear-wheel drive character and tuneful engine reminded me just why these cars were such icons. It was a drive I'll long remember and has left me with an annoying habit ever since: Constantly searching the online classified just in case an affordable one comes up!