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!

What a year it has been, 2018. These few short months brought us the most important, exciting new metal we’ve seen in years, with major refreshes of industry stalwarts like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Porsche 911 and Toyota Corolla. There have also been high-profile product launches from the likes of McLaren with its stunning Speedtail and Mercedes with its big gamble on electric propulsion, the EQC.

We also got to see the first fruits of the partnership between Proton and Chinese carmaker Geely, the X70 SUV – and having briefly driven the car’s twin, the Geely Boyue, I can’t wait to see what the tiger-badged version will be like on the road. As for sport, Lewis Hamilton won the Formula 1 driver’s championship yet again, his fifth overall – good for Hafriz Shah, not so good for the rest of the office watching.

It’s been a great year for me personally, though. I got to go to America for the first time – you’ll get to read all about what I drove there next year – and managed to drive my first Porsche, which you’ll read about later. And yet, in this bumper crop that is 2018, a few cars managed to stand out from the rest. So let’s get into it.

5. F60 MINI Cooper S Countryman Sports

Let’s face it. The Countryman encapsulates pretty much everything that is wrong with MINI these days, in that it’s so far away from the original Alec Issigonis ethos that you wonder why it has bothered to wear the winged badge at all. It’s huge and for a long time it struggled to justify the size with a big enough practical benefit, and it doesn’t help that the first-generation model was ugly as sin and rode like a skateboard.

I’m a purist at heart, so the Countryman was my least favourite among Oxford’s recent products – and yet the minute I drove it I fell for its charms. This was a bright red SUV with black racing stripes, and it wore that extroverted personality on its sleeve. In Cooper S form, it was reasonably brisk and a hoot to drive, and while it still wasn’t the last word in comfort, at least it didn’t threaten to break my back over every pothole.

What’s more, it had grown to become a perfectly usable everyday car, and while the porcine nose meant that it was still kinda hideous, one needs to make a differentiation between a good-looking car and a fashionable one, and the Countryman was definitely the latter. If you want one, however, be warned – this is now a properly massive car, so the days of simply breezing into a parking spot in the MINI will be firmly in the past.

4. Kia Picanto JA

And so, to something that can actually breeze into parking spots, and probably with the driver blindfolded as well. The latest Kia Picanto is – barring the absolutely minuscule Perodua Axia – the smallest car you can buy in Malaysia today, and while that is an accolade unto itself, it’s the way it punches above its weight with various qualities that do not need to be qualified with the phrase “for its size” that beggars belief.

Now, full disclosure – I happen to own the previous Picanto, a car already understood in motoring media circles to be a Very Good Car. It’s reasonably comfortable, well-built and, for such an inexpensive mode of transport, fairly refined to boot. These, along with the funky, upbeat styling, were all the reasons I needed to walk away from the equivalent Perodua Myvi and Proton Iriz to get one for myself.

This new version takes things to a whole new level. It’s now got that coveted big-car feel we already saw an inkling of in its predecessor, because the ride is so cosseting and so hushed you’d swear you’ve in a car that’s two, even three classes up. Kia has also fixed the old car’s wooly steering and slightly nervy on-limit handling, so the new one is now actually fun in the twisties as well. Oh, and it’s the cheapest car with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – what more could you possibly want?

Really, this is a car that can stand toe-to-toe with anything this side of RM100,000, with only the tiny cabin, relative lack of oomph and the lack of autonomous emergency braking (which the Myvi is offered with) counting against it. Doubtless many of you are holding out for the long-awaited GT-Line version, but even if that never comes, the standard EX is already plenty of bang for your not-so-plenty buck.

3. G30 BMW 530e Sport

This one’s personal, so bear with me. You see, I was pretty elated when I got my hands on this BMW 530e Sport, as anyone would if they had the keys to a big propeller-badged machine. I was looking forward to a weekend of enjoying the G30’s fantastic driving dynamics I had experienced 12 months prior, coupled to the surge of the 330e‘s excellent plug-in hybrid powertrain. And then the call came – my grandmother had died.

As I was the only one living in Kuala Lumpur at the time, I was tasked with picking up my relatives coming in from other parts in the country, before making the three-hour trek to Sitiawan, Perak, where the funeral was taking place. It was a tragic time, for sure, made worse by the fact that I had already been exhausted from a day’s worth of work, and that I still had to drive the 300 or so kilometres in the dark.

And through it all, the 530e was an able companion. It was brisk, sure, but it was also supremely comfortable and whisper quiet, whisking us calmly and uneventfully to our destination. Even there, it maintained a quiet, dignified presence behind the scenes, its subdued styling – highlighted only by a few classy satin aluminium trim pieces – being careful not to draw too much attention to itself (rare for a BMW, I know).

Sure, we could’ve easily done the job in any other car, but the 530e made it just that little bit easier. I don’t think I could’ve had another vehicle so perfectly suited to the role of being a discreet mode of transport – a Mercedes E-Class might have been too flashy and wouldn’t have rode quite as well. The fact that the 5 Series is already a great car to begin with means that VBD 530 holds a special place in my heart.

2. 991.2 Porsche 911 GT3

OK, happier times now. I had been waiting to drive a Porsche pretty much ever since I started the job as a naïve, wet-behind-the-ears motoring scribe. I had long cast glares of envy at my colleagues as they got their chance to pilot one of Zuffenhausen’s latest – not their fault, of course (and yes, I know I have a kickass job and I’m grateful for it all the time). For some reason, those cars were always just out of reach.

Then, earlier this year, I got my chance. I was going to drive a Porsche around Sepang, which was a good thing, but I wasn’t going to dip my toes in a Boxster or a Macan or a Cayenne. No, it was to be the original, the 911. And not just any 911, but the rip-roaring, track-focused GT3. I was excited, yes, but also terrified.

Terrified because any hardcore 911 is preceded with a certain kind of reputation – one of extreme rear weight bias, obscene amounts of power and a voracious appetite for snap oversteer. You make one error, one ill-judged brush of the throttle and it will spear you into the next tyre barrier. At least, that’s what I thought.

I needn’t have worried, because this latest iteration of the GT3 was the ultimate vice-free track machine. This was a car honed through 70 years of experience, designed not to push you off the edge, but to ease you to it. This was a car so precise in its responses, so docile in its demeanour that I forgot everything about the car and simply proceeded to wring out all the usable performance.

And what a performance from the naturally-aspirated flat-six – ever eager to sing its intoxicating ear-splitting tune all the way to the 9,000 rpm redline, yet so full of low-end punch that I could enter corners in a higher gear and just ride the wave of torque on the way out. But all this doesn’t mean that you can drive this thing with complete abandon – lift the throttle mid-corner and the tail will step out, as I found out on Sepang’s hilariously quick Turn 3. Scary? A little bit. But a real tonic for the soul all the same.

1. 2019 Mercedes-AMG G 63

Everything about the new Mercedes-AMG G 63, from the Gatling gun V8 soundtrack, to its modernist reinterpretation of the Geländewagen‘s signature boxy design, can be summed up in one line I wrote in our review of this two-tonne, 585 hp wrestler in a Gucci suit: “it makes you feel like a rockstar wherever you go.”

It’s an easy thing to hate, isn’t it, an AMG G-Class? Affalterbach got its paws on a proper military-style 4×4, complete with a steel girders for a frame and three locking differentials, and proceeded to sully its impervious off-road capability by fitting an enormous, wasteful engine, massive wheels and low-profile tyres.

But it took me just 24 hours with the new G 63 for me to completely understand the hoards of wealthy glitterati who buy these things. The minute I stepped past the bank vault doors, I felt like I was the coolest man in the world. I felt like I could blast Nicki Minaj from the Burmester speakers and nobody could judge me.

The best thing about the new G 63, however? It is finally a machine worthy of both the AMG badge and its gilded reputation as an off-roader par excellence. It still isn’t a patch of proper sporting SUVs like the Cayenne or the Lamborghini Urus on the road, but it isn’t too far off, and yet it can show the young pretenders a new pair of heels when the going gets tough.

It’s this depth of engineering (and let’s not forget, Mercedes is often guilty of pursuing vapid visual appeal rather than outright excellence these days) coupled with this thing’s ineffable feel-good nature that gets the new Mercedes-AMG G 63 my vote as the most impressive vehicle I’ve driven this year.