Lerato Matebese and Mark Smyth look back at their top drives of 2014.
What a ride this year has been for the IgnitionLIVE team. We have travelled to all corners of the world to drive the latest models and bring to you our reviews on a daily and weekly basis. As I look into my rear view mirror to the year that was, I cannot help but note that while it has been a very busy time, it has been a memorable year.
What with having travelled to some of the most exotic locations and driven on some of the best roads, I have the urge to turn back time and do it all over again. Travelling to Spain earlier in the year to sample the Jaguar F-Type coupe on some of the best roads I have yet driven on was one of those trips that truly blew off the cobwebs. Scything through the snaking roads in the mountains is something that manages to stir the soul and get the adrenalin pumping.
I also travelled to Austria to drive the Audi A3 e-tron Sportback, which is the company’s foray into the plug-in hybrid landscape which will be made available in SA in 2016. A few weeks later, I was back in that country, this time around to drive BMW’s first production front-wheel drive car, the 2 Series Active Tourer, that will be here early next year. However, if there is one trip that will remain etched in my mind, is that of driving the Audi TTS on the Ascari racetrack, which is truly one for the bucket list.
Of course there were also cars that truly stood out as beacons for me this year. While the brute that is the RS7 Sportback is easily the best RS model I have driven since the B7 RS4, I was also mightily impressed by the Volkswagen Golf R. Not only does it look the part and drive in a manner that is surefooted yet engaging, but it is unequivocally the best hot hatch that is currently on sale today, period. That said, my favourite car of 2014 is easily the BMW M3. Melding searing performance with the practicality of a sedan definitely takes some doing. You can easily drive it on the daily commute without any qualms then you could take to the track at the weekend or blast through a mountain pass in a manner that befits a thoroughbred sports car.
With performance that borders on that of the Nissan GT-R as a package, at the price the M3 is the best performance sedan that you could get your hands on and is easily my favourite car of 2014.
At the beginning of the year, I expected a quiet 12 months. The industry was already feeling a little subdued and while sales for the year have not been anything to get too excited about, 2014 became another very busy year.
I have many highlights for the year, in particular when it comes to the people I have spoken to. One was a chance encounter when I found myself sat in an airport check-in waiting area in Italy next to Norman Dewis. Now 94 years old, Dewis was a test driver for Jaguar and even set a world production car land-speed record. He also competed in a number of legendary motor races and today is as passionate about the industry and motorsport as ever. I also had a long chat with James Caan of Dragon’s Den fame about his passion for motoring and interviewed two brothers who are major names in vehicle design.
The first was Moray Callum, when he visited SA. He designed the new Ford Mustang, and I also had a regular catch-up at the Paris Motor Show with his brother Ian Callum, who heads up Jaguar design. Ian is always a special chap to talk to as he shares his passion in an open way that always brings a stern stare from his PR minders. I also got to chat to another visitor to SA in the form of Gerard de Rooy who flew in straight from winning the truck section in his Iveco on the Morocco Rally.
Iveco provided another highlight for me when the local operation put on its Dakar experience day. The company created a number of replica vehicles including its Dakar Rally truck which I took a ride in over a short off-road course. Internationally my major highlights of the year included driving the new McLaren 650S at the superb Ascari circuit in Spain, the recent drive of the Mercedes AMG GTS at Laguna Seca in California, and then not driving anything when I travelled to Amsterdam with Shell to see how much research actually goes into making fuel. Thereafter I went on to Spain to watch the Barcelona F1 grand prix. Being at Le Mans to experience the return of Porsche was also a major high point.
A real bucket list item though was heading from the international BMW M3/M4 launch to Italy to the banks of Lake Como. The Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance is legendary as some of the most iconic vehicles ever created are parked in one of the most picturesque settings in the world. Whether you appreciate great scenery and culture, or great cars and even future car designs, the Villa d’Este event is a must-do.
Another international trip was to Hiroshima in Japan. It was a wonderful opportunity to see how a region has recovered from one of the worst events in their history. The people and the culture are amazing and it was definitely a time for reflection.
It was also an eye opener when it comes to the philosophy of Mazda, a company which is going through a radical change and which I think has the potential to be a major force. A chat with the chairman was enlightening when it comes to the values that he and the company hold and it definitely bodes well. I would say that my final highlight was also one of the quickest events this year. The future of Kyalami was in serious jeopardy but witnessing it being sold in less than two minutes was amazing.
The fact that it was sold to Toby Venter of Porsche SA means that this historic GP circuit will live on as a race track. There is a long way to go for the track has fallen into disrepair but it is finally in the right hands. For any petrolhead in SA, its sale was a major highlight of the year.