It’s the Charles & Dean best-of-the-year countdown...
10. Porsche Macan
The new Macan is very much like the old Macan, and that’s a relief – the UK’s best-selling Porsche remains the benchmark premium SUV, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The Macan’s secret is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it combination of genius Porsche dynamics and real family-friendly practicality. While the £66k GTS is gorgeous, the £50k entry-level Macan, with its 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine, is all the car you could possibly need – or want.
9. Mercedes EQS
For most of the last century the Mercedes playbook barely changed: debut all your new and very best design and technology in the S-Class flagship limo, then cascade it down to the more affordable E-Class and C-Class. Now we’re in the electric age, that makes the S-Class’s electric equivalent – the EQS – a critically important car. Fortunately, then, it’s a peach; beautifully engineered, dramatic inside thanks to its Hyperscreen infotaintment system and (whisper it…) better to drive than even the S-Class. Job done.
8. Hyundai i20N
As the world rushes to buy electric SUVs the hot hatch is increasingly looking like an endangered species. But cars like the i20N are proof that extinction would be a tragedy. Fast but not too fast, the i20N is lovably old school; manual gearbox, front-wheel drive and keen to lift an inside rear wheel when pushed, just like that old Golf GTI you had.
7. BMW M5 CS
Tempting as it is to dismiss a £141k BMW as entirely irrelevant, in the case of the magnificent M5 CS that would be a mistake. M division is on a roll and this M5 is proof. Power, from the car’s twin-turbo V8, is generous in the extreme, and M’s rear-biased four-wheel drive has never felt better. But mostly the M5 CS’s greatness comes from its chassis, which somehow monsters road and track alike with an incredible blend of compliance and control. A very, very special car, and one that bodes well for the next M5 (likely a plug-in hybrid), due 2023.
6. Hyundai Ioniq 5
Boldly styled like a concept car and available in a trim level, power output and battery size to suit pretty much everyone, EV trailblazer Hyundai hit the bullseye with the Ioniq 5 hatch. Kia’s deeply impressive EV6 uses the same underpinnings and is equally talented – a good option if you’re not a fan of the sci-fi Ioniq 5’s polarising design.
5. Audi RS e-Tron GT
Audi – much like everyone else – spent most of 2021 launching electric cars, including the mainstream and slightly dull Q4 e-Tron. By far the most desirable of this zero-emission onslaught was the low-slung and gorgeous RS e-Tron GT, essentially a re-bodied Porsche Taycan with a nicer interior and a keener price. Audi design boss Marc Lichte calls it the best-looking car he’s ever designed (he’s been in the job since 2014), and we’re not about to argue.
4. Toyota GR Yaris
Most of 2021’s new-car waiting lists were down to the global chip shortage, which continues to blunt sales and infuriate manufacturers and impatient buyers alike. But with the GR Yaris the lengthy waiting list is a product of good old-fashioned supply and demand – as in, everyone wants one and Toyota can’t build them fast enough. Confused? Don’t be. The GR Yaris rams all the charisma and clever engineering of legends like the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru Impreza into a cute supermini body. Like a GT Porsche, secondhand examples now change hands for more than the list price – says it all.
3. BMW M3/M4 Competition
The internet was ready to hate it. ‘Heavier than the old one!’ and ‘What, no manual gearbox?!’ it screamed, while also suggesting that the new M3’s four-wheel-drive option would ruin the car. But, not for the first time, the internet was wrong. Expensive it may be, and of course it could be lighter, but this M3 is the best in generations. It’s the perfect performance daily driver, a car as happy cruising to work as it is embarrassing Porsche 911s. Whatever your preference – two doors or four; tin-top or convertible; rear-wheel drive or four – there’s an M3/M4 Competition for you. And come 2022 the M3 Touring estate and GT3-baiting M4 CSL will join the line-up.
2. Tesla Model 3 Performance
The best car Tesla makes is a runaway smash hit, and with good reason – one by one the ‘legacy’ manufacturers release their Model 3 rivals, and one by one they mostly come up short. Not a new car by any stretch, near-constant evolution keeps the Model 3 at the head of the pack. The Performance version now boasts north of 500bhp, a handy real-world range of circa 250 miles (Tesla claims 360 miles) and numerous detail improvements, including classier interior materials. Still a breath of fresh air, still awesomely quick in a straight line and still great fun in a way most of its strait-laced German rivals are not.
1. Porsche 911 GT3 with Touring Package
The new 911 GT3 is not perfect. Traditionalists are still getting used to the feel of the new double-wishbone front suspension. The naturally-aspirated engine is, by turbocharged standards, entirely gutless. The electronic driver aids are basic and the car not hugely forgiving when you overstep the mark. But the 911 GT3 (particularly in de-winged and stealthy Touring Package guise) was without doubt 2021’s most desirable new car: beautiful, mesmerising to drive and with an engine so special that it alone deserves more awards than Porsche has shelf space for.