The best car from 2017 is actually eight years old, but there was also plenty of great new machinery coming out in the past 365 days.
This year’s Annual Resident Motor Awards are going to be nothing like last year’s. Sorry, this is not a democracy. One person dictates the rules and, thankfully for me, it is me. Therefore, and because I cannot be bothered to say which SUV or supermini I preferred, I am just going to hand out awards to what I believe were the best cars I drove in 2017.
Now, I could have written the best new cars I drove in 2017, but I didn’t, for one simple reason: the best car I drove in 2017 was built in 2009 and launched in 2007, a nice round number of 10 years ago. Maybe that should not qualify for best car of the year, but hey, I wasn’t writing for this paper in 2009, I never drove it in 2009 and, besides, you can still buy one today from a used car dealer.
That car is the Ferrari 430 Scuderia. It is also the car of my dreams, so I am not exactly sure just how much my infatuation is clouding my judgement (clue: probably a lot). It doesn’t matter really because until the first day I drove it, I had never read a bad review of the Scud. In fact, back in the day, I read many experienced journalists saying this was the best car they had ever driven. My favourite car magazine, the British EVO, whose tagline is ‘The thrill of driving’, even wrote ‘the thrill of driving now has a name’ about this car. High praise indeed.
Anyway, what exactly is the 430 Scuderia for those of you who are not Ferraristi? Well, it is the racier version of the normal F430, the pinnacle of a lineage that began with the 360 Modena in 1999 and ended when the 458 Italia came out in 2009. The Scuderia was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007 as a Michael Schumacher-developed grown-ups toy that promised a racing car experience for the road – 110kg lighter than the F430, with 510 horsepower from a 4.3 litre naturally aspirated V8, the Scud was as fast around Ferrari’s test track in Fiorano as the Enzo hypercar.
It was offered exclusively with a paddle-shift gearbox, the best single-clutch MTA transmission ever fitted to a road car. How much time does the Scud’s F1-Superfast II transmission need to change gears? That’ll be 0.06 seconds. Yup, blink and you’ll have missed it. To put it in perspective, that was the same as Ferrari’s 2004 Formula 1 car with which Schumacher won its seventh world title, the fifth in a row with the Italian outfit.
The interior is a pared down cocoon of carbon fibre with racing seats and four-point harnesses. There is no radio, no carpets, no noise insulation. This is not a luxury car: the 430 Scuderia was made for delivering the purest driving experience imaginable.
And my God does it deliver. You get comfortable with the car after five minutes and it starts to be an extension of your body. It reads your thoughts and materialises them corner after corner with a mix of precision, poise, elegance and aggression I have not found in any other car to date. And then there’s the noise. Oh, the noise. It’s like you’re carrying a perfectly tuned orchestra behind the seats. Rev it to the 9000 rpm redline and stupid thoughts like ‘If I died in this moment I would die a happy man’ start to creep into your mind.
So you push a bit harder, brake a little later, immerse yourself in the experience a little deeper. Drug addicts say they never feel as alive as when they are high on the stuff. Driving a 430 Scuderia is the closest I have ever been to being high and what I imagine it must feel like. A bit like a trance, a bit like dreaming with my eyes open.
If there is even the slightest chance in your life to own one, I cannot stress how much you should take the plunge. Prices start at around €170,000 for a well-kept example, rising to €250,000 for a perfect-spec, low mileage car. The Scuderia 16M convertible – limited to just 499 units – is a €400,000 investment. But the coupé is the better car.
So what about the new metal? Well, there were two cars that stood out in 2017 for me. Funny thing, they are each other’s greatest nemesis. The BMW M5 and the Mercedes E63 AMG S are the world’s fastest super saloons, they look and drive better than ever before and are so close in terms of performance, dynamics and concept that the choice comes down to personal taste.
The BMW is a bit quieter, a bit less dramatic. It goes about its business without making a big fuss, but demolishes pretty much every other car on the road with its 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 with 600 horse power and permanent four-wheel drive. At 3.4 seconds to 100km/h it is 0.2 seconds faster than the 430 Scuderia itself, Ferrari’s pinnacle just a decade ago.
The Mercedes shouts more about its presence and likes to let others know who’s the boss. It is a more extravagant driving experience and the noise of the AMG’s 4 litre V8 and its 612 horsepower is a lot better than the Beemer’s. To me, it doesn’t look as good and the interior is not quite as accomplished, but I would struggle to choose between these two. I would probably go for the Merc in estate guise, something BMW insists on not offering, saying there is no business case for such a car. Mercedes politely disagrees.
What else? Well, I really enjoyed driving the new 124 Abarth, a small roadster that shows us you don’t need a tonne of horsepower to have fun. A small 1.4 litre engine with 170 hp and a brilliantly tuned chassis are enough to make you want to get up at 6am and go for a drive just for the sake of it.
The Alfa 4C Spider was another highlight of 2017 and I will write about it very soon on these pages. It is not perfect, but it is so beautiful you can forgive some personality flaws. I love almost everything about it and am running out of reasons why I shouldn’t put one in the garage. It is a car like no other and makes life that bit more complete because owning one is being in the presence of true beauty all the time. Who wouldn’t want that?
Surprises came in the form of the Kia Stinger, a four-door coupé from Korea that teaches a thing or two to the Germans and the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, proving the guys from Stuttgart can pull a rabbit out of every hat, even if that rabbit is a two-tonne estate with a 680-horsepower engine.
As for the cars I am pretty sure would feature on this page, had I had the chance to drive them, they are the new Porsche GT3 and GT2 RS, the Ferrari 812 Superfast, the McLaren 720 S, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and the BMW M3 CS. I hope one day I get the chance to drive those six fantastic cars and tell you about them, but I wonder if they will make me feel what the 430 Scuderia did.
With the Scud, it was like falling in love: you don’t see it coming, but when it happens it seems like it couldn’t have been any other way. The Scuderia is not just my favourite car of 2017, but my favourite car ever. Have a great year everybody.
By Guilherme Marques