It's the most exciting time of the year. No, not Christmas – it's AOL Cars' Road Test of the Year. We've brought together nine of the finest cars to grace showrooms over the past 12 months, and headed for our favourite Welsh testing ground, deep in Snowdonia to sort out exactly which is the best car of 2014.
From limousines to hatchbacks, sports cars to 4x4s, there is no bar to what sort of car we've considered here, just that they've got to be fun to drive. Today, AOL Cars editor James Baggott kicks off proceedings with quite possibly the most ostentatious car of 2014, the Rolls-Royce Wraith.
This is surreal. I'm wrapped in the finest leather, staring at some of the most ornate materials I've ever seen inside a car and yet still I'm wafting along the challenging A543 at a pace that is leaving the rest of the Road Test of the Year crowd lagging behind.
Surfing on a gloriously torque-filled surge of V12 goodness, delicately light steering guiding this two-tonne luxury monster across the Welsh moors, I'm opening up a gap on the cars behind me as my relationship with the Rolls-Royce Wraith finally clicks. For the past two days I've been living in fear of harming the £219,480 brute, every wayward sheep tying my stomach in knots, every oncoming tractor making me wince at the impending doom that never happens.
It's here, now, on this stunning piece of Tarmac that's twisting across the dew-dipped Welsh countryside that the Wraith truly comes alive. The 624bhp V12 may be whisper-quiet on the motorway, where the dash tells you there's still 90 per cent of power in reserve (there's no gaudy rev counter in here), but in kick-down it growls, bellows deep and powers off towards the future like a Bullet Train. The first time I let the Roller scamper off, it shocks with the speed with which it adds digits to the head-up display. Make no mistake, this big girl has serious pace.
There's no hiding the Wraith's girth, though. It's absolutely huge – and feels it. Most of the team who got behind the wheel exited with a huge grin on their face, not just because it was such an event to drive but also because they were handing back the jewel-like key with the Wraith unscathed. Everyone also agreed that it was simply a very special place to spend time in.
Driving the Wraith is an event. From the automatically-closing suicide doors, to the inch-deep lamb's wool carpets, to the glass buttons on the dash and beautifully-machined solid metal vent pulls and piano black dash, everything inside feels five-star-hotel, Ritz-like perfect. All it needs is a butler on the options list to retrieve the umbrellas from inside the flanks of the doors to be truly palatial.
Driving it to and from Wales for our shoot, I was staggered at how comfortable, relaxing and easy it is to clock up hundreds of miles with so little effort. Yes, the 327g/km emissions and 20.2mpg might worry the wallet, but it's a small price to pay for palatial levels of luxury.
Rolls-Royce insists its cars are bought by owner drivers – and after a week behind the wheel of the Wraith I can well believe that.
Yes, sitting in the back might be a pleasant place to spend time but the Wraith is aimed squarely at the driver, and after shelling out close to a quarter of a million pounds I for one know exactly which seat I'd be occupying.
Model: Rolls-Royce Wraith
Price: £219,480 (as tested)
Engine: 6.6-litre, twin turbo V12
Power: 624bhp, 800Nm
Max speed: 155mph
MPG (combined): 20.2
Read the second installment on the Caterham Seven 160 here.