From special cars and diabolical trends to wayward institutions and inspiring concepts, The Wheel Deal takes an alternative look at the year that was
☺The Rip-Roaring Jaguar F-Type:
I was first introduced to the Jaguar F-Type at this year’s annual Cannonball Run Africa. And from the moment I took off in a cloud of acrid tyre smoke, I was smitten. For not only is Britain’s new cat one of the best-looking machines the world has seen in ages, it also delivers some seriously impressive performance. Mixing fine handling with blistering straight-line pace (especially the V8 S), this machine is one of the finest sportscars money can buy. So fine that you can almost overlook the fact that it has no luggage space. Bravo, Jag.
☺The Rise of New Americana:
Crawling out of the 2008 financial meltdown, the US automotive industry is kicking back with some exciting new products. Like the Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray that was unveiled at this year’s Detroit Motor Show. Loaded with 21st-century technology and a plush cabin that you actually want to sit in, the new ’Vette has shaken its mullet-and-incest image to become a true rival to the Porsche 911. Also worth mentioning is the freshly minted Ford Mustang. Cut with futuristic new design cues but still managing to honour the cool essence of the ’64 original, this sixth-generation ’Stang is the most sophisticated pony we’ve yet seen. And, cue that drumroll, it will be available in South Africa from 2015.
☺The Emergence of Drive:
I don’t know about you but I think Top Gear is becoming a little long in the tooth these days. There are only so many times you can watch a caravan being imploded or dropped from a crane. This is why I now get my celluloid car fix from YouTube’s Drive channel. Though shot on a budget, it dishes out a hearty mixture of car reviews, industry news and left-field automotive adventures. It also has a chap named Chris Harris who I tend to respect a bit more than the BBC’s fab three. With a growing web viewership, it can only go from strength to strength.
☺Ron Howard and ‘Rush’:
With perhaps a few notable exceptions (Le Mans and WRC), modern-day motorsport has morphed into the ultimate cure for chronic insomnia. This is why I was thrilled when director Ron Howard released Rush — a Hollywood hat-tip to the glory days of Formula One. Highlighting the spectacular battle between Niki Lauda and James Hunt for the 1976 driver’s championship, it shows how exciting racing’s top tier used to be before Bernie Ecclestone and his corporate baiters mutated it into a sterile yawn-fest. It certainly won’t change anything, no, but it will get a whole new generation interested in the brazen heroes of yesteryear. With any luck they’ll see there is more to life than KERS and Robert Kubica.
☺The Small Coupé Revival:
Love them or hate them, the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ last year proved that there was an audience for a fun and affordable rear-wheel-drive coupé. Wise to how successful these machines have proved over the last 12 months, manufacturers such as Nissan are now looking at producing something similar. Indeed, at the recent Tokyo Motor Show this Yokohama-based firm unveiled its IDx Nismo and Freeflow concepts. Even though we might see them on the streets only in the next five years or so, it shows that Nissan is intent on chasing down the Toyobaru twins. Do not be surprised if you see more large carmakers follow suit.
☹ The Flaky Mercedes-Benz A-Class:
Keen to cash in on well-heeled fashionistas, Mercedes-Benz this year launched their all-new A-Class hatch. On paper, what with those poster-boy looks and the lusty turbocharged engines, it promised to be something of a revelation. Unfortunately — the A45 AMG aside of course — it proved to be my single biggest automotive disappointment of 2013. The chassis feels wooden, the ride is atrocious and those optional 7G-Dual Clutch transmissions are about as lazy as a government official on a hot day in parliament. Only the most superficial boulevard posers need apply.
☹ The Decline of Top Gear Live?
I have been to three of these circuses in the last eight years. And apart from a change in venue, they’ve all been identical. The same old stunts. The same tired format. The same hungover presenters cracking the same distasteful jokes adapted to fit whatever country they happen to be in at the time. Tied-up with insulting ticket prices and terrible on-the-day organisation, I can’t see why people keep flocking back for more. TG Live is a bottle of champagne that this year finally lost the last of its fizz.
☹ Electric Cars in South Africa:
Please don’t get me wrong — I really do like all-electric cars. A lot. I’ve driven the Mini E and the new Nissan Leaf and they both make a whole lot of motoring sense … just not here in South Africa. Not only are they doomed — for the time being at least — to run on Eskom’s filthy fossil-fuel electricity, the lack of a good government incentive/rebate programme means that they’re also very expensive to purchase off the showroom floor. Factor in limited public infrastructure (a lack of public charging stations) and the whole concept starts to fall somewhat flat. It’s sad to say, but in our backward country we’re not ready for the future.
☹ The Arrival of e-tolls:
How’s this for a brilliant moneymaking scheme? You get your taxpaying public to fork out for the construction of roads. Once the roads are completed and paid for, you then charge said public again for the privilege of using them. Welcome to the genius of e-tolling: the devious plan that Sanral says has been implemented to pay for the Gauteng freeway improvement project. We all know that most of the proceeds will end up lining the coffers of the government and various offshore enterprises. It’s an absolute disgrace. So while the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance licks its wounds, I can only suggest you hug those back roads and avoid being tagged. That, dear reader, is the only right thing to do.
☹ The Land of the Floundering Sun:
With the exception of the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, Japan has of late been failing to bring anything exciting to the automotive table. Not too long ago the land of cherry blossoms and samurais was spoiling us with cars like the Honda S2000 and Mazda RX-8. Now all we get are comparatively dull products like the Honda CR-V and Mazda 3. Oh, and that soul-sucking new Nissan Sentra. I really expected more rousing products to emerge from Japan’s top four auto manufacturers during the course of 2013. But unfortunately I was disappointed. And I suspect I’m not the only one. With the Koreans on a serious offensive, the Japanese need to up their game in 2014. At least we know it can be done.