More than a few household names were selected for deletion last year; we take a moment to salute the fallen…
By PH Staff / Saturday, 7 January 2023 / Loading comments
That three Fords appear in this list ought to indicate just how seriously the electric reinvention is being taken at the Blue Oval. Other badges may return, but a replacement for a 660hp, V6 supercar can’t be high on the priority list. While it’s been easy to mock the GT in recent years for seemingly countless special editions, the seismic impact of Ford’s mid-engined masterpiece shouldn’t be forgotten, either. The project had been kept secret so that, when the covers came off at Detroit in 2015 – along with an F-150 Raptor and Mustang GT350R – it was a genuine, and undeniably epic shock. A year and a half later, a GT claimed three of the first four spots in the LM GTE Pro class at La Sarthe, 50 years after that first GT40 win. A supercar superstar, no doubt, and what a way to bow out the Mk IV looks – we’ll probably never see its like from Ford again. MB
Caterham Seven 1.6
Such is the unbridled brilliance of a Caterham Seven that the powertrain is almost immaterial – which at least bodes well for its eventual electrification. But nothing connects you with internal combustion quite like a flyweight track car, and nothing powered a Seven like the Ford-built Sigma 1.6. It’s going to be very sorely missed, because once you’ve tried a great Sigma – something like a 310, for example – you wouldn’t want for anymore. It was lighter than the 2.0-litre but punchier than the 660cc turbo triple, perfectly complementing the Caterham experience. With a little less power, as in a 270, the Sigma was the ideal starter Caterham; paired with Jenvey throttle bodies in a Super 1600 it sounded like a BDA – there wasn’t anything it couldn’t do. But as Ford stopped making Sigmas, so the supply dried up, and the best Sevens were gone. Rumours persist of Mazda Skyactiv replacements, which sound ideal. Until then, temptation persists in the classifieds.
Talk about ahead of its time. Imagine the clamour in 2023 if an electric city car was launched made from a recycled carbon tub, with a stunning interior and futuristic styling. But in 2013 people didn’t need or want an i3 as much as BMW hoped they would; electric adoption hadn’t yet taken off, the look didn’t appeal to BMW traditionalists, and those after a conventional city car could spend much less. That didn’t stop the i3 being an immensely clever creation, however, and it became a really desirable EV once the range increased. It was only the arrival of alternatives years later like the Honda e that showed just what had been achieved with the i3. There were early reliability woes and a ride always on the firm side, but for a company as big as BMW to be this bold will ensure it remains special. An early i3 can now be yours for less than £15k, too.
Renault Sport Megane
Even with the demise official, even with it off the Renault website and even with the used ones getting older and older, it seems hard to believe that there isn’t a Renault Sport Megane anymore. For 20 years it had forged a reputation as one of the hot hatch greats, even if some were ultimately better received than others. But if a Golf GTI was too predictable and Focus ST a bit lairy, you could always count on Renault for unflinchingly focused Meganes. Once the 225s were out the way, at least; and even when it was meant to be the sensible, five-door-only one – you could always rely on Renault Sport for driver reward, PerfoHubs, hydraulic bump stops, Cup packs and all. For the committed few, no hot hatch has quite such a reputation, and the final Mk4s really were much better than you’ve probably heard. What comes next isn’t clear, although it’ll be Alpine-badged for sure. And have some act to follow.
Nissan GT-R (R35)
We shouldn’t be too upset at the R35’s demise; or rather, we can hardly bemoan Nissan for pulling it. For more than a decade the car was on sale largely unchanged, each model year revision tweaking this or modifying that but never fundamentally altering the wild character. For a car that was pilloried for being too tech-laden and too easy to master, a proper drive in a GT-R was an unforgettable experience. To this day, nothing quite combines twin-turbo power, four-wheel drive and incredible chassis electronics to such devastating effect. By the time it went off sale, cars like the M4 xDrive had shown where progress had been made – the Nissan launched when an M3 had a V8! – but the GT-R remains an icon for good reason. A decent one will have you hooked for as many years as it takes Nissan to make another…
We couldn’t possibly do this list without the Lotus Elise, the longest-lived of all 2022’s fallen heroes. Though production officially wound up in December 2021, last year was the first without a Lotus Elise available to order – the first since 1996, remember. There’s not a whole lot more to say after more than 25 years of redefining sports car expectations, but we couldn’t let the moment pass without solemn recognition. As proof of the rightness inherent in low mass, rear-wheel drive and obsessive development over the decades, nothing does it like an Elise. Driving experiences don’t come much more brilliant, and all Elises remain great-looking cars, so it should be no surprise it propped up Lotus for as long as it did. The Emira marks the start of a brave new world for Lotus, and it’s doing so in some style – but there will never be a modern Lotus quite as significant as the Elise.
Audi A6 Allroad
On paper, the Audi Allroad offered everything a burgeoning family might need and want: a prestige badge, loads of space, more than ample performance, handsome design, and enough off-road ability for even the gnarliest National Trust car park. There was both an A4 and A6 variant in time, to cover all the bases. But people don’t buy cars on paper, and the Allroad has become another victim of the SUV’s inexorable rise. They want everything the Allroad offers, just in something shaped a bit more like a Q7. Mercedes found the same with the All-Terrain E-Class, and when did you last see a Cross Country Volvo? The customer is always right, for better or worse, and right now they want an SUV. Still, with adaptive air suspension and some fine engines, it makes the A6 in particular look like a smart used buy for those willing to forego a supposedly cooler shape.
You know how obituaries are always glowing? This one won’t be. I thought the last NSX was terrible. I tested one against an Audi R8 Performance and the R8 demolished it. The R8 was quicker in a straight line, way faster round the track, sounded better, rode better…you name it, it was better. And cheaper, too. The NSX was ridiculously expensive – as tested, something like £170k – and for that it came with leather on the seats that, I assume, had been skinned from a 1950s dinner rather than a cow. But we should still celebrate the NSX, though. Firstly, the last one shouldn’t sully the legend of the first. I bet you didn’t know that Ayrton Senna was involved in the original, did you? Little-known fact that, but true. It was also a lovely, useable supercar that just got better like a fine wine. It showed what Honda could do, in arguably its heyday, and even the last one, despite its flaws, showed the company in the innovative, forward-thinking light that suits it best. Those moments, perhaps regardless of the results, are to be celebrated. JH
If you read my favourite car of the year piece, you’ll already know why I love the Aventador. I loved it because it’s a loud, stupid-looking Lamborghini. Quite a childish statement, and yep, agreed. So what? The big old Aventador brought out the inner child in people, and that’s exactly what made it so fabulous. But beyond that, it represented the last gasp of the old-school supercar. A still largely binary beast, with a whacking naturally aspirated V12 sat amidship. Fair enough, it had four-wheel drive, but that didn’t dilute its majesty one iota. And yes, it had an automatic gearbox, but even that was the antiquated single-clutch type. Oddly, I liked that, too. You had to work with it; you couldn’t ignore completely the mechanics, like you can with modern dual-clutch alternatives. But this car had no turbos and no hybrid system. That made it raw and exciting beyond simply the performance stats it generated. It gave you tingles at any speed, and that broader facet, as much as the car itself, is what makes its demise so profound.
Audi TT RS
Here’s another one that represents more than just a car, but the loss of a type of car. The TT RS (and TT in general) was very underrated. The number of journalists who’d write it off, simply by dint of being an Audi and a TT, was unbelievable. After the launch of the TT RS Iconic Edition, people wrote those same old tropes. I was there, though, and I can tell you that the TT RS steered well, handled well, and displayed fabulous body control. The fact that there won’t be a replacement (or for the TT as a whole, in its current format) is bad news. But the fact that a replacement isn’t coming because people are buying SUVs instead of low, compact sports car is seminal. Almost criminal, actually. What’s gone wrong? Cars like the TT RS used to have broad appeal: those who liked to look good bought them along with those who appreciated driving. Now it seems everyone just wants to look good because SUVs, by and large, aren’t this great to drive. Pity.
I went on the launch of the Kia Stinger. It was in Mallorca, and Kia was so confident in its new, rear-drive exec that it included a track-driving element. Did it live up to its maker’s billing and usurp the 3 Series as the sportiest of execs? No, not at all. Kia people kept on telling us that Albert Biermann (of M Division fame) was involved in engineering it, but I’m sure he must have been bunking off work. The Stinger was rougher around the edges than a circular saw, yet I loved it. Very quick with the V6 in GT-S format, and if you turned the systems off, a riot, too. Most of all I loved that it was being made. Everyone knew, including Kia, that it wouldn’t sell, but they produced it anyway. Why? Because they could, and wanted to. The Stinger was a hairy-chested offering to petrolheads that helped us forgive and forget the tedium of the e-Niro. And it showed Kia was a proper car company for proper car people – we like that.
Ford Fiesta & Focus
Most of the cars on this list are great, but perhaps not a part of our everyday lives. How many people, on an experiential level, are going to miss an Aventador? Not many. But the Focus and, even more so, the Fiesta, are different. Those two cars, so long-lived and ubiquitous, are woven into the fabric of our lives like peanut butter on toast. The Fiesta’s been around for almost half a century and the Focus racked up nearly 25 years. And while they’ve not been denied to us immediately, it is enough to know that the axe falls on both in the very near future. We all, after all, surely have some experience of one or both, and plenty of fond memories. The Fiesta went through an iffy stage in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but mostly has been a great little supermini. And the Focus has just been brilliant – the benchmark for handling and a cracking all-rounder. So both will be missed, and on a deeper level than some here. Their loss is visceral, like that of a family pet. RIP you two, and thank you for everything.
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