Welcome to the annual paultan.org Top Five cars list, where each author picks the vehicles that have impressed them the most over the past 12 months. We’ve switched up the formula this year – we’re breaking up the usual big roundup post to give the individual writers the space to go into greater detail with regards to their selections, and some of them also get to be on camera. Enjoy!

And so we’ve come to the final day of 2018. It’s unthinkable how quickly time goes by – it barely feels like much time has passed since I compiled my top five list for 2017. Since then, many things have happened, some of which were shockingly unprecedented, like the third national car project and Ghosn’s arrest.

But as we sit back in our reflective state to welcome the new year, perhaps it’s best to cherish the pleasantries that were. Personally, things couldn’t have been better this year, and the inaugural paultan.org Premium Auto Car Expo (PACE) 2018 represents the pinnacle of the Driven family’s achievement this year. If you missed it, don’t worry, there’s always next year.

Okay, onto more pressing matters. This year saw the introduction of some incredibly interesting vehicles (headlining those is of course the Proton X70), and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a go in a few. In the spirit of continuing a family tradition that first started in 2012, I present to you, the five most impressive cars I’ve driven in 2018. Let me remind you again that forming this list is never easy, so here goes.

5. Mk7.5 Volkswagen Golf R

The Volkswagen Golf R is easily one of the best driver’s cars to land in Malaysia this year. With 290 PS and 380 Nm channeled to all four wheels, the German hatch is rapid, insanely grippy and downright intoxicating to drive. The new seven-speed wet-clutch DSG also helps coax more zest from the already effervescent 2.0 litre four-cylinder petrol which, unlike the older six-speed unit, leaves drivers content instead of wanting more.

While the mid-life update didn’t offer much in terms of outright physical changes, the cabin has been suitably updated with a large 9.2-inch touchscreen Discover Pro infotainment system, as well as a configurable 12.3-inch Active Info Display virtual instrument cluster. In short, the Golf R is perhaps the closest thing to being the ideal daily car, both for the driver and his/her family. The synthesised engine note may put some off, though.

4. Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design

You may or may not have seen this one coming, but fourth on the list is arguably one of Volvo’s best cars to date, the XC40 T5 AWD. It has got the whole package – looks, build quality, spacious cabin, and a peppy 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 350 Nm of torque.

In the premium compact SUV space, it’s hard to overlook the XC40’s value proposition. Granted, it costs about RM25,000 more than the ageing F48 BMW X1, but for the slight premium, you’re essentially paying for unrivalled safety features and a distinctly unique-looking SUV that’s sure to stand out.

However, what really impressed me was the drive. The XC40 is hands down the best handling model in Volvo’s SUV range, and the ride quality is delightfully balanced for comfort and performance. Besides the moderately sluggish gearbox, Volvo has by all accounts delivered a fantastically well-rounded car. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Volvo is going after your money, and soon your children’s as well.

3. MINI Cooper S Hatch

Putting the MINI Cooper S facelift in third may come off as sacrilegious to some (especially with the Golf R in the mix), but I feel that the move to plonk a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission into one of the world’s most recognisable cars should somewhat be celebrated.

In as few words as possible, the fast-shifting DCT has been a long time coming, and it significantly changes the way the Cooper S performs. A few tens of kilometres through the absurdly narrow mountain roads of Palma de Mallorca proved that the MINI was right in its element, albeit drastically more competent now with the brand new transmission and control logic.

Like the Golf R, the mid-life makeover is kept to a minimum, though the changes are obvious enough to most eyes. It took MINI three full generations to fine-tune the Cooper S recipe, and I never for the life of me thought I’d prefer driving a DCT-equipped MINI over the proverbial stick shifter.

2. E3 Porsche Cayenne S

Now for the big hitters. The second best car I’ve driven this year is the new E3 Porsche Cayenne S. If you’re judging based on looks alone, it will likely underwhelm, but the cabin is built to a whole other level. Every joint panel, every button, every dial, every seam and touchable surface feels so expensive that it makes the previous model feel a tier lower by comparison.

However, the real magic goes beyond skin deep. This third-generation SUV is teeming with tech, all working in unison to deliver a physics-defying driving experience. I kid you not, the Cayenne S drives so much like a car that Porsche could just literally call it as it is – an SUV that actually drives like a car.

Part of the wizardry stems from the use of fully independent aluminium multi-link suspension, along with an array of electro-mechanical components such as Porsche 4D Chassis Control, Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), adaptive three-chamber air suspension, rear-axle steering and Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC).

Oh also, when the need arises, you can choose to take the Cayenne off-road, although I don’t imagine anyone of sound mind would with their near million-ringgit SUV. Well, you should at least know that the Cayenne is more than capable, so there’s that.

1. Ford Ranger Raptor

The honour of administering the most profoundly memorable driving experience throughout the year is without a doubt, the Ford Ranger Raptor. Now I’m no fan of pick-up trucks, and I certainly don’t look forward to off-road driving experiences. In fact, I’ve never fully experienced the unpredictability of off-road drives, that is until I drove the Ranger Raptor. In Darwin, Australia, no less.

I went in not knowing what to expect, but it’s one of those life changing experiences that render you mum and completely elated at the same time. Armed with a 2.0 litre bi-turbo four-cylinder diesel that makes 213 PS and 500 Nm, the Ranger Raptor isn’t exactly powerful by performance trucks standards. The proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating.

Underneath its swelled body is an entirely different chassis, designed specifically to tango on some of the world’s toughest terrains. The high-performance Fox Racing Shox dampers are pure mechanical genius, and a coil-sprung solid rear axle with a Watt’s linkage further contribute to the Ranger Raptor’s sublime body control. Nothing beats drifting a pick-up truck in soft, lush sand. Thank the heavens for Baja mode.

For RM200k, many chafe at its overambitious asking price, but I can’t even begin to describe the absolute mechanical potential of the Ranger Raptor. Is it worth over RM50k more than the top Wildtrak? Well, if the Raptor is in a league of its own, I’d say hell yeah.

So that pretty much sums out the year for me, guys. To say that 2018 has been a monumentally fantastic ride is quite understating it, because things will only be amped up in 2019. Watch this space, folks, because paultan.org is kicking the year off with the most anticipated car review line-up for the Driven Web Series. Till then, Happy New Year, everybody!