Mazda CX-5

6th Annual Resident Motor Awards

Another year over for test drives here at the Resident. So what car was the most fulfilling of the last 12 months?

First of all, I have to say that I hadn’t driven such a small number of cars in a year in a long time. There is no one reason that explains it; I guess it was just the circumstances.

Of course, I still drove more cars in the last 12 months than most people do in a lifetime – but please don’t think I am bragging. Just think of all the hours I lost at airports waiting for delayed or cancelled flights and picking up and returning cars from their respective press parks.

Anyway, remember this is mostly a subjective analysis and that I am not saying these are the best cars in the world, merely my favourites among the ones I drove in 2018.

There are also many cars I didn’t drive – or drove for too short a period – which I am sure would be worth a mention here.

Cars such as the Alpine A110, the BMW M2 Competition, the Lexus LC, the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS, among others. I have great expectations for them and will report as I drive each and every one of them throughout 2019.

There were, nevertheless, some great cars visiting Resident Towers in 2018 and I shall now reveal my Top Five. Beginning with the Mazda CX-5, the only SUV to make the cut.

The second-generation CX-5 is an evolution of the first iteration of the model, not a complete rethink, but boy, have they done a good job. First of all, it looks fabulous for this kind of car: proportionate, with beautiful detailing and a distinctive look that perfectly embodies Mazda’s Kodo design language.

I didn’t exactly know what to expect when I drove the CX-5, but I did know I had given high praise to all new generation Mazdas I had driven before it. The 6 is great, the MX-5 a triumph and the CX-3 a lesson in how to build an attractive SUV you can use around town.

I wrote it on these pages when I drove it and I will say it again: the feeling of quality that the CX-5 exudes in everything it does is incredible. Just incredible. I am talking Mercedes/BMW/Audi levels here – or above even. The shift action of the six-speed manual gearbox is out of this world and needs to be experienced to be believed. This car just seems properly engineered, as if everyone involved was given enough time and resources to get everything exactly right.

I am not an SUV type of guy but the CX-5 completely won me over. It’s fabulous. Please buy one.

Next up we have the new Volvo V60. I mean, just look at the thing. Beautiful. A mini-me style V90 that drives and steers better than its big sister and, to these eyes at least, is even more intoxicating to look at. Volvo have really got their catalogue right and the non-German approach to the design is paying off big time. Sales are at an all-time high and will get even higher with the V60 in full production next year.

This car is not a revolution, it’s not reinventing the wheel or anything: it’s just using the ingredients we all know in a better way. It feels great to drive and must make for a great ownership proposition. When I drove it, I said I would buy one today if was I in the market for such a car and that statement still holds true. It is definitely a bit on the expensive side, but, hey, like someone I know once said: I cannot afford to drive cheap cars.

Let’s move on to Bronze medallist of 2018, the Hyundai i30N. It’s definitely not a car for everyone, but for those who want to enjoy the pleasures of driving while we are still allowed to, there are few affordable cars that can perform so many tasks so well and still make every journey that bit more special.

The i30N is the first model of Hyundai’s N brand, a series of road cars developed within the racing department. They pitched Albert Biermann from BMW’s M and set out to build a credible alternative to the established players. Guess what? They got it right first time around.

The i30N is an i30 on steroids and feels properly old-school. There’s a 2-litre turbocharged engine at the front, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox only and a chassis that can cope with everything you throw at it. The biggest achievement of Biermann’s team is the fact that the i30N is not just a thoroughly capable machine, in a very objective way; it is also how it makes the driver feel.

I had more fun driving the i30N than the new Mégane RS; and the Renault used to be my benchmark when it came to front-wheel drive hot hatchbacks. I must still drive the Honda Civic Type-R to be sure, but for now, the i30N is my favourite performance-oriented car on sale today with a front-driven axle.

The 2018 runner-up is the only out-of-the-box car in this Top Five. The BMW i8 Roadster is a spaceship that accelerates the heart rate and makes you want to sell everything, so you can put one in the garage. The Coupé was already spectacular, and the Roadster adds even more drama with another layer of excitement.

Experiencing a car like this with the roof down is something unique that I can hardly put into words, but I guess you will believe me when I say that, unique really is unique just by looking at the thing. Imagine yourself driving down the street in an orange convertible, with orange seats, in electric mode, the sun shining … and everyone – I mean every single person – on the street looking at you. If you don’t like being the centre of attention, don’t even get near the i8 Roadster.

Of course, it doesn’t get to second place by being all show and no go. It feels great to drive, with all the small improvements BMW developed for the model amounting to a big difference regarding how the car feels. It’s not a super sports car – nor could it ever be with a 1.5 litre engine – but it is a tremendously well-judged sporting convertible. A pleasure to just get in and drive. For the price, there are a lot of other choices out there, but remember what I said: this is a unique automobile.

And finally, the car I enjoyed the most this past year. The Giulia Quadrifoglio. The best car Alfa Romeo have built in the last 40 years. I am so happy to write that sentence.

This is a four-door saloon with a Ferrari engine under the hood that runs rings around the competition when it comes to driver involvement. Why? Because there is a certain Ferrari-ness about it, something very special that comes not only from the extraordinary 510 horse power, turbocharged V6 engine, but also from a chassis, steering and suspension set-up that makes you want to burn every last gallon of fuel on the planet just for the sake of it.

Of course, being a three-box car, you can take the kids to school in it. You can go to the supermarket. You can take a trip across Europe with the family. And you can smoke supercars on the track as well. It’s a very emotional car, but also one you can be totally rational about – provided you are prepared to live with ginormous fuel bills.

And that’s it. Japan, Sweden, Korea, Germany and Italy. A worldwide diverse collection of amazing cars. You or me, we’d be lucky to drive any one of them.

By Guilherme Marques

BMW i8 Roadster
Hyundai i30N
Mazda CX-5
Volvo V60
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio