That, as they say, was that. After the last engine fell silent, and the cars sat ticking themselves cool in the car park of a Welsh bed & breakfast, the difficult task of deciding on a winner began. 2014 has been a brilliant year for car fans, with exemplary machines in nearly every market segment. However, only one of our line-up could walk away covered in glory, so the four members of the AOL Cars test team retired to give their verdicts, beginning with editor Baggott. Scroll to the bottom of the page for the scores in full.
So here we are. Hundreds of pounds spent on explosive liquid, thousands of frames captured, copious cans of Red Bull consumed, three days enjoyed and one verdict reached. After our numbers have been crunched, the panel has decided and our Road Test of the Year crown goes to Germany, and the incredibly capable BMW M4.
But before I go there, let's start at the bottom. Placing the Caterham 160 last makes it sound rubbish, but this isn't a result to be negative about. A place at RTOTY makes it part of an illustrious few already. Many were considered, many were rejected, but this little three-cylinder roller skate still made the grade. Looking at our panel's scoring, it was woeful comfort and practicality scores that sealed its fate. The latter is understandable, but even our miniature road tester Rebecca struggled to get settled, let alone six-footers-plus Daljinder and I.
The Mercedes S63 finishes seventh. Packed full of technology and with a blistering nuclear missile under the bonnet, it scored well for comfort and practicality. However, the panel weren't won over by its looks or value for money.
In sixth, there's another German offering but this time SUV-shaped and Turbo-badged. The Macan shocked with its pace and scored highly in the fun factor stakes. However, fairly average scores across the board resulted in this mid-table placing. We admit it's a very accomplished car, though, and it's not hard to see why Porsche retailers are having it away at the moment.
Volkswagen's spicy Golf R offering takes fifth. We all had some cracking drives in this better-than-expected hot hatch, with strong scores for fun factor and practicality shining out in this test. However, our panel didn't feel it offered the strongest value for money, which let it down.
One of my favourite cars here, the Audi S1, takes fourth and narrowly misses out on a podium position by just three points. Despite our concerns that this particular example may have been subjected to some press office tinkering, our panel loved the way it drove and performed, and when combined with smart looks and those quad exhausts they thought it was really rather desirable too.
So to our bronze medalist and a car we know very well indeed: the Seat Leon Cupra 280. Such a high placing in such talented company proves just how good this Spanish hot hatch is. Strong scores for performance, styling, comfort and practicality all helped, but it was the smile that it put on our testers' faces that sealed its place on our podium.
So to the tough top two. For the entire test I failed to put a cigarette paper between the Brit and the German – so much so we had to shoot the verdict shot for this page in two different formats. We all knew it would be a close call between the Jaguar and BMW, but it wasn't until those mathematical score sheets were filled out that we knew which would finish top.
It's the wonderful Jaguar F-Type Coupe R that just misses out on our RTOTY crown. Despite our panel thinking its good looks and addictive soundtrack make it more desirable than the M4, poor scores for practicality – the boot is rather petite – and that whopping price tag saw it just miss out on the spoils.
And so to our winner. The blokes from BMW have done it again. Thanks to its aggressive styling, wonderful exhaust note, pin-sharp precise handling and veritable bargain price tag, when stacked up against the competition the German bruiser barged its way to the top. A worthy winner.
It's a jolly good way of doing things you know, our chart down below. Just one look at the table will show you that our winner is the BMW M4. Its place in pole position is well-deserved too – it's a perfect all-rounder and you get a lot for your money. But although I voted it top, my heart really belongs to the Jag. I'm captivated by its style, looks, power, noise and the fact that it's a Jaguar at the end of the day – and that's rather cool at the moment. Yes, the F-Type does have some flaws – I'm not especially keen on the design of the multimedia system and the steering lacks precision – but when a car looks this good and wears an R badge, who really cares?
For me, there was never really any doubt of the M4's triumph in this year's showdown. When it comes to creating truly engaging – and yet completely everyday usable – performance cars, BMW really has it licked. The M4 is so slick, so polished and honed in the way it goes about its business, it feels like a machine worth twice as much as its £55,000 sticker price would suggest.
Taking a close second place, it had to be the Mercedes S63. I have a soft spot for big, overpowered barges, but this hefty AMG threw up the biggest surprise of the test. Push it hard and it's a match for a well-driven sports saloon, never mind the bloated limousines it counts as rivals.
A Germanic one-two then, I'm afraid. The Jag takes the bronze.
It was a very tight competition but by just one point the Jag has turned out to be my favourite – which is good, because it was. It had one critical thing that the others didn't: sex appeal.
The cars were all technically brilliant with good looks and great toys inside, but the Jaguar has that roar from its fantastic exhaust system, it looks incredible and, let's face it, it's got that flair of British eccentricity that you just can't beat.
I've got to give credit to the M4, though. It was a strong contender and definitely the best to drive. It's clinical and perfect, but that's not what I want in a car; I want crazy, wild and passionate. I want a Jaguar F-Type.
The scores in full