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We’ve wanted to do this for the longest time, come out with a year-end list of the cars that dazzled us in a particular calendar year, but somehow it never quite panned out. Now that we’ve got a bit of a team where writers are concerned (!), there really is no excuse not to do so, and so, here’s our first ever Top 5 list in our very last post of 2012.

Why five? Well, most lists have 10, but instead of going the “Top 10 selected by the publication, and by group consensus” route, I decided to get everyone to each come up with the five that most impressed them this year, and as such this is an individual pick list of the cars we drove in 2012 (yes, to make it on a list, the choices had to be ones that were driven). Whittling it down to five makes it a tad more difficult – for one selection becomes a pickier process. Well, at least that was the plan!

Technical competence and resale value (hello, Sam Loo!) may be deciding factors when it comes to buying a car, but emotion has much to do with the choices made too – arguably, save for those who aren’t into cars and view them as mere transportation, we make our ride choices, like we do people, with our hearts. Hence the brief to see what tugged at our writers’ heart-strings, what was memorable, or was simply a delight to be behind the wheel in. Something along different lines, you might say.

We love cars, but more importantly, we love driving them. Ultimately, our pick is about what floated our particular boats in 2012. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it, and in ending, have a great end to the year, and we’ll see you in 2013!

JONATHAN JAMES TAN

Compared to the others, I haven’t actually driven very many different cars this year, and so have a pretty short list to shortlist from. Still, there’s more than five, thankfully, so I am just about able to provide you with a rundown of the makes and models that got my motor running in 2012.

5. Peugeot 508 GT

508gt

I do love diesels. It’s not just the inherent high torque or that you don’t have to fill up so often; driving and owning a diesel car is still somewhat of a non-conformist thing in Malaysia; a sort of rally against the norm, if you will.

Except with the Peugeot 508 GT, you’re also disproving the antiquated perception that diesels are of a class inferior to their petrol-powered counterparts – the 2.2 litre HDi-powered GT is in fact the range-topper, benefiting from double wishbone front suspension, snazzy 19-inch alloys and higher levels of interior trim and equipment.

Plus, its 204 hp, 450 Nm of torque and 5.7 litre per 100 km fuel economy make the GT a more-than-worthy alternative to the petrol variant – and it’s a sweet-sounding mill, too.

4. BMW 330d (F30)

f30-1a

Of all the cars in this list, I drove this for the shortest time, but it was the one that surprised me most. We were in Munich, and I was the last car behind a BMW M135i and MINI JCW. The two cars burst into life with loud, sporty barks (mine with a muted clatter) and shot out of the press fleet centre. That’s it, I thought, I’m about to be left very, very far behind.

The 330d’s blown 3.0 litre straight-six makes 255 hp at 4,000 rpm and 560 Nm of torque between 2,000 and 2,750 rpm. A power-to-weight ratio of almost 158 hp per tonne collaborates with BMW’s quick-shifting eight-speeder to yield a 0-100 km/h time of 5.6 seconds.

I caught up all right – grinning all the way. And I was the one with the 4.9 litre per 100 km combined fuel economy (quoted) and the most comfort, equipment and space.

3. Bentley Continental GTC V8

gtc-v8

The second costliest car in my list, and by far the most exhibitionist – those who get stage fright are advised to look elsewhere, provided they aren’t short of a couple of quid in the first place. Whisked along by a twin-turbocharged 4.0 litre V8 that produces 500 hp and 660 Nm of twist, the open-topped Conti GT gets to 100 km/h in under five seconds and can exceed 300 km/h.

I could use all manner of superlatives to describe the way it drives, but it’s the sense of occasion that sticks with you – cosseted in liberal lashings of chrome, wood and quilted leather, I have never since felt more like a Hollywood A-lister or Monaco playboy than I did that fine day.

2. Bentley Mulsanne

BentleyExhibition027

Another exercise in excess – the most expensive car here, with a bank-breaking retail price of around RM2.4 million. If the Conti GTC makes you feel like a celebrity, the Mulsanne turns you into an aristocrat. While the GTC is all about being seen in, the Mulsanne isolates you from the outside world, reminding you that you are indeed more equal than others.

This is a Bentley for the traditionalists, and so the venerable ‘six and three-quarter’ litre V8 (soon to be phased out) is the order of the day, pushing out 505 hp and a colossal 1,020 Nm of torque. The fact alone that Crewe’s engineers managed to make an engine whose design is over four decades old Euro 5-compliant earns the Mulsanne a well-deserved place in this list.

1. MINI Hatch John Cooper Works (R56)

DSCF3327-e1356947994258

How can a MINI possibly be mentioned in the same breath as a Bentley, or two for that matter? Well, it’s all very well handcrafting something to stratospheric levels of luxury and perfection, but you’ve got to charge the world for that, and that means it remains out of reach for many.

Of course, there are more affordable cars that offer just as much fun, but we’re concerned with cars we’ve driven this year, and despite the MINI Hatch’s age, few others – especially the JCW-tuned version – offer pocket rocket thrills wrapped in such a complete, solid package.

The hot MINI does look the part, and with 208 hp and 261 Nm of torque (279 on overboost), there’s some serious go to match the show. Handling is very sharp and precise, and the ride’s actually not as hard as you’d imagine it to be. The fact that the car I drove had a manual gearbox (the only one in this list) could’ve helped its case a fair bit, and naturally contributed much to the driving experience.

CHRIS NG

With an influx of shiny new machines on the road, it has been a busy year for car companies and journalists alike. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and the roads have never been livelier.

From the gaggle, I’ve come up the five that have made an impression. So here it is, my list based on a very unscientific measurement – the irrational need to go around the block one more time.

5. Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsu iMIEV

If the i-MiEV could talk, it would say, “Welcome back to the future.” That’s right, electric cars aren’t something that was just invented; the old battery packs were the size of small cars and possibly cost as much.

The i-MiEV heralds a new way of getting around town cleanly and quickly. It’s small, light and full of zest to move quickly off from standstill. Honestly, this thing is fun to drive. But mind the range. You have to think before you travel with this car, as the infrastructure to recharge the EV isn’t up. It’s OK though, since it isn’t for sale yet in Malaysia.

4. Honda Jazz Hybrid

Honda-Jazz-Hybrid

This car being in this list is a surprise. In truth, I didn’t think that Jazz Hybrid would be any good – the engine is smaller and the hybrid system has made the car heavier. Yet, it works.

The acceleration is perkier, chiefly in the lower end of the torque range, thanks to the electric motor. The uprated spring and dampers have also made the ride more stable, with less body roll and yaw. Plus, the ability to squeeze more mileage out of the small fuel tank also helps keep money in the wallet longer.

3. Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5

The thing that I don’t like about SUVs is their size. I know they’re meant to be practical, but I’m not willing to give up drivability for a few extra acres of boot space. The CX-5 is different. Sure, its 2.0 litre engine desperately needs more lower end torque, but its nimbleness more than makes up for its lack of zest.

It’s kitted nicely too, the high-spec AWD coming with sat nav, sunroof and BOSE sound system for under RM170,000. Which makes this one value for money.

2. Honda CR-Z

Honda-CR-Z

There are fast cars that aren’t special and there are not-so-fast cars that are. Here’s one of the latter – the Honda CR-Z. It’s a reasonably sporty hybrid with a peppy acceleration and lively handling that lets it earn some cookie points. But when compared to the Polo GTI or the MINI Cooper, for example, the CR-Z becomes less than spectacular.

Yet, it remains a car I want to drive long after the engine has been switched off. It’s the hatchback that I’d gladly pick over others without giving a second thought. There’s something about this car I can’t put my finger on that makes it special. And that makes the CR-Z all the more captivating.

1. Porsche Boxster S

Porsche-Boxster-S

I can count myself fortunate to have been behind the wheel of a 911 Carrera S, Carrera 4 and a Carrera 4S this year, all brilliant cars in their own right. However, it’s the Boxster S that has made a lasting impression. And it isn’t just because of the full aural assault from the engine, made especially enjoyable with the top down.

The ‘charm’ is found in its powerful, naturally-aspirated flat-six mounted just behind the spine to bring balance to its chassis so that it handles as easy as swiping fingers across an iPad’s screen. Just as intuitive too, which makes it more personable, like an extension of the self. Which is why the Boxster S is my number 1 car of 2012.

ANTHONY LIM

It looked simpler than I thought at first, but as things came down to a shortlist there were surprising omissions (like the two mentioned in the fifth choice). That which I’ve chosen has been memorable for the right reasons – an accelerated heartbeat or a chuckle or five as you chug along are as good as any. Most importantly, they are rememberable, even now. Some, very vividly.

5. MINI Roadster Cooper S

Mini Roadster

Picked ahead of the VW Mk7 Golf and Lexus GS 250, both impressive offerings, simply because of the fun factor. While purity – and arguably, direction – has been diluted with the broadening of the MINI range, the R59 restores faith with its winsome, spirited character.

Some cabin ergonomics are quirky, and it’s no measure of something like the Toyota 86 dynamically, but that doesn’t stop the Roadster from offering plenty of glee bombing along at speed. Roadholding is superb, and the car shines on B-roads. Being able to tear around in topless fashion just cements the appeal. Shame it’s not coming here, ever.

4. Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsu iMIEV

Still a way to go before EVs get to a workable reality, but this one brightly lights up the path towards there. Clean and quiet shouldn’t equate to gratification, but the i-MiEV provides oodles on that front. A thorough surprise, the week with it was a gas, if you’ll pardon the expression.

The torque offers gobsmacking pull, but the rest of the car isn’t bad either. Yes, the interior is rather low rent, and that body shape is more fragile cuddly than car, but it actually drives well enough and can chirp along at 140 km/h without ever giving the impression that it’s all going to come apart. Great fun, and for once, the silence isn’t deafening.

3. Peugeot 508 SW GT

Pug 508 SW GT

Perhaps a little less mesmerising the second time around than a year ago, when it absolutely captivated in Spain, but the oil burner remains a veritable lion in my books (in wagon form, the prettier of the two bodystyles in my eyes). Good heart from the 2.2 HDI, as always, with impressive tractability heading the list of pluses.

Arguably, the suspension feels less supple on the less-than-perfect blacktop that happens to be Malaysian roads, but on the whole the SW GT is keen and lively, chassis-wise. It’s been a while since I behaved badly from a tyre scrubbing POV, but I did so with this one. In a word, delectable.

2. Mercedes-Benz W176 A-Class

Merc A-Class

Transformation-wise, this one surely ranks as the standout for 2012. Dowdy gets replaced by radical, and the entire package – set to appeal to the younger buyer – works a charm. There’s much to like; aside from the rakish looks, the cabin is well appointed and offers a sense of occasion.

But there’s more to just window dressing. There’s inherent drivability, and there’s definitely character. The A 250 Sport epitomises the fresh take best – with its ever-willing mill and dynamic ability, aided by a sterling, non-intrusive ESP, this is the best bog-standard Benz yet from a driving point of view.

1. Toyota 86

Toyota 86 1

Yes, the price tag isn’t exactly favourable, the interior isn’t all that natty, and it could certainly do with a few more ponies under the hood, but what a gem of a car. Superb from seating position to chassis dynamics and feel, this one does more than entertain both heart and mind. It stirs the soul.

Sharp and responsive with the electronics on, and an absolute hoot when off (add oil and soap to tarmac for some scrumptious sizzle), those who adore driving will find this one a joy. The delicacy and detail of its strokes – and the fact that it’s a Toyota – makes the 86 all the more impressive. Easily my pick for the best driving car of 2012.

DANNY TAN

Time flies, doesn’t it? A blink of the eye, and the year is coming to an end. 2012 has been a great motoring year for us at paultan.org – a raft of good cars came our way, along with some good times behind the wheel.

My personal view is that technical brilliance is nothing if it doesn’t deliver joy to the driver, so my fab five is as much of a “Top 5 Moments” list as it is a “Top 5 Cars” list, starting with the one day that made my year. I’ve actually wrote my list reading No 1 to No 5, so for actual flow you should read the list as such.

5. Honda CR-Z 6M/T

CR-Z 1

The Renault Megane RS is a great real world driver’s car, but if I were a car mixologist, the cocktail will be made tastier and deadlier with the six-speed manual gearbox from the CR-Z. Honda knows what makes a good stick shift, and the CR-Z’s 6 M/T follows form with a short throw and nice mechanical feel. Worth the admission price alone!

Gearbox apart, the CR-Z is fun to drive with very quick steering and fast reflexes. You won’t be winning any races, but it’s good, affordable fun. Won’t be buying one because of that fish face, the useless rear seats and the image it brings.

4. BMW 328i Sport

BMW 328i

The BMW 3-Series is once again the complete sports sedan, bar none. If the allure of the previous gen E90 was starting to fade in the face of fresher rivals, Munich blew all of them into the water with the squinty-eyed, flat-nosed creature that’s the F30.

The 328i Sport that I drove was so well balanced, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Loved the effortless power and pace, and its softer edged character compared to the E90. There’s also more space and a better looking cabin. More efficiency, more desirability, more everything.

3. Renault Megane RS 250 Cup

Renault Megane

I sound like a broken record whenever I talk up the Megane RS (how many drive experiences have we done already?) but this is my list, and you’ll have to bear with me for two minutes. Sorry!

As I told a friend recently, I am king of B-roads in the Megane. How? Better drivers are usually in lesser cars (for me, that includes every hot hatch in the market) and drivers of better cars (Porsche and above) are usually less committed on the road. Feels good to be king!

2. BMW M3 E92

BMW M3 E92

When it rains, it pours! The day that we did the dirty on the Toyota 86 was the same day I had my BMW M3 experience, a box that I believe car enthusiasts must tick in their lifetime.

I’ve had a brief go at the E90 M3 Sedan before, but nothing prepared me for the riot that was driving the M3 Coupe flat out in Sepang. That raw, snarly tune from the high-revving NA 4.0 litre V8 is to die for, and you can indulge in rear-end slip moments without praying for forgiveness each time. Looks stunning while standing, too. The next M3 won’t be like it, and I’m sad to see it go.

1. Toyota 86

Toyota 86

Short but sweet. Didn’t have much time with the 86, but the day with it had it all, from highway cruising to unlocking its deep-buried treasure chest of promised talents – sideways, of course!

A rare gem. The 86 will be a rare sight because of its quarter million price tag and basic nature, and it’s a true gem not only because no one else dares make a lightweight NA RWD coupe today, but because it delivers plenty of smiles.

From the driving position to its throttle adjustability at the limit – sideways, of course – there’s plenty of evidence that the 86 is a car made by people who love to drive, for people who love to drive, above all.

PAUL TAN

You’ll see a stark difference with the cars on my list compared to the rest of the paultan.org crew. Limited test drive opportunties because of business development commitments over at Driven has narrowed down the cars that I managed to test drive in 2012 down to those that I felt needed the most attention from the style of writing that I could offer – the day-to-day drivers. Even then, I didn’t manage to test much, but these are the top picks from the cars that I did manage to try.

5. BMW M5 (F10)

BMW M5

Which car enthusiast can forget BMW’s The Hire series? It was the ultimate in automotive-branded entertainment. My favourite was the one with Madonna in the M5 – I fell in love with the E39 M5 thanks to that video, and though I couldn’t afford an M5, I did eventually buy an E39 and gave it the ‘M5′ look with a simple bumper switch (friends and those in BMW Club Malaysia will know what else went into that car, in the engine bay!).

I’ve had the opportunity to drive the F10 version, which has regained its V8 power but traded two cylinders for two turbochargers. The M5 impressed with its day-to-day drivability, much improved fuel consumption over the E60 model and good “comfort mode.” Still, it’s a brute when you want it to be – it’s the only car where I can say I tried taking a 0-100 km/h acceleration video but ended taking a 0-200 km/h one instead!

4. Toyota Prius

toyota prius

One of the most value-for-money cars you can get in Malaysia, due to the absence of taxes. With the facelift, it looks even better, and with the introduction of a new luxury spec, Prius owners finally get luxuries like a JBL sound system, leather seats and seat heating. Most importantly, you also get the full suite of safety features such as seven airbags and stability control, making it a very appealing alternative to a Camry.

Fuel consumption is a diesel-like average of 5.0 litres per 100 km easily. The electric motors add instant torque and adds drivability. Most importantly, the ability to go into EV mode gives you a taste of pure electric motoring, even if its simply maneouvering around a parking lot most of the time or rolling along the jams around Mid Valley while you wait for your turn to get into the jockey zone.

3. Peugeot 208

peugeot 208

Meant to be an affordable B-segment car, Peugeot has managed to inject a good amount of cool into this one. You can see a considerable difference between the effort put into the design in cars like the 208 compared to Japanese B-segment cars in general.

In the 208’s case, things have been taken a step further; inside, the split level dash takes centre stage, with a big touchscreen infotainment+navigation system at the heart of things. The car also drives well (the 1.6 litre diesel is good fun, but the three-cylinder 1.2 litre is also very smooth and revvable) and the suspension is very nicely sorted for a B-segment offering – it tackled the many cobblestone-paved Portuguese roads very ably.

2. BMW 520d

BMW 520d

You’ll forgive the word indulgence with this one, which you could say has been the longest test drive ever done by paultan.org. I had the privilege of getting the F10 520d as a company car for 1.5 years, and traded it back in to BMW Premium Selection for around RM270k (information for the benefit of Sam Loo), which if you calculate from the retail price of RM334k is approximately a 1.3% a month depreciation, pretty decent for a luxury car in the first two years of ownership. The ‘loss’ incurred would be a lower percentage if you managed to get your car priced lower as a pre-reg.

The F10 is a completely different animal than the E60, with EPS power steering and EfficientDynamics features as standard, and adjustable dampers as an option. The EPS power steering is far lighter at parking speeds, making maneouvreability easier. The adjustable dampers make the car feel like a better Merc than what you’d expect a Merc to drive like in Comfort+ mode, and you can still have the E60 era sharpness when you switch to Sport mode.

The 184 hp may not sound like much, but the 380Nm of torque and the slick-shifting eight-speed auto offers good kick when you stand on it. Eco Pro mode is Comfort+ but with an accelerator pedal programming that forces you to drive fuel efficiently – there simply is no way to drive inefficiently in this mode, unless you just floor it, at which point the system detects you must be really in a hurry and temporarily disables Eco Pro.

As a result, my 520d managed about 850 km to 900 km per full tank on average and I was only refueling my car approximately twice a month. At about RM125 per full tank of diesel, this meant my monthly fuel bills was only between RM250 to RM310, incredible for a car of this size, weight and power.

My only complaint is that BMW diesel buyers are treated like second-class citizens – in a quest to make the diesel models the cheapest in the range, the spec levels are low, although not as low as ex-rental grey import cars which don’t even come with adjustable dampers. The standard steering wheel felt so un-BMW that I had to spend a considerable sum switching to an M Sport steering. Another issue is that while interior design has improved significantly over the last generation, interior build quality seems to have dropped compared to the E60.

There’s also no real upgrade path for the 520d owner who has been bitten by the oil burner bug hard and would want to stick with diesel – not everyone can pull off a big 7-Series, and there’s a massive price gap of almost double between the 520d and the 730d. I ended up moving to the X5 3.0 diesel to try SUVs out, but would have gladly opted for a 530d Touring instead if it was available, as my main intention was for the more versatile boot space – the Quinny Moodd stroller is pretty large!

1. Nissan Leaf

nissan-leaf-test-drive-10edited

If I was Walden Schmidt, a completely different electric car would be at the top of my list, but since we’re limited to the experiences that a Malaysian motoring journalist can get, I’s say the No 1 car that I’ve driven in 2012 would be the Leaf.

Zero emissions, instant torque, and more than enough range for town usage. It has the size, space and drive of a regular C-segment hatchback, but once you go electric, you won’t want to go back. There’s nothing like that instant response and silent drive.