Every time this year we, the writers at paultan.org, seclude ourselves into our respective mental caves to jog the memory of some of the most extraordinary driving experiences in the past 12 months. More often than not, the standout experiences often feel short-lived, but such is the workings of time, fleeting and precipitous.

My tenure as an automotive journalist has only been for the better part of seven years, and I sometimes wish I’d kept a personal log of each car I’ve driven, especially if we were tasked to recount the most eventful drives of the decade. But such a list doesn’t exist, which makes my Top 10 all the more… authentic, if you will.

So, as a convenient way of excusing my laziness, allow me to present you with my Top 10 most significant four-wheeled memories of the decade. This honestly took a few days, so bear in mind that the 10 aren’t arranged in order (despite being numbered, in line with the format), because they each carry an indelible, intrinsic weight.

10. Audi R8 V10 Plus

While not the kind of showstopper its predecessor was, the second-generation Audi R8 is a recurring blockbuster star with more substance than meets the eye. The engine, the exhaust sound, the snappy gearbox, the brake’s sheer stopping power, the utterly balanced handling (if not slightly tail happy when wrung), the build quality… everything was made to excite the senses. Everything.

I’d been lucky to have driven Audi’s halo car twice, both times at the Audi driving experience centre in Neuberg, Germany. It’s unfortunate that the R8 isn’t officially sold here in Malaysia, because as much as it is a left-field option compared to the Porsche 911 and the Mercedes-AMG GT, the R8 is truly a special machine to wield for most occasions.

9. Suzuki Swift Sport

I didn’t think much of this tiny hatch at first, but all doubts and preconceived thoughts got blown out the water as soon I plonked myself in the hot seat of the manual variant. For under RM100k, the second-generation Swift Sport was one of the earliest sporty hatches I had driven, and boy what a hoot it was.

It’s old-school fun, unpretentious, and genuinely capable even at its limits. The 1.6 litre NA engine gives great top-end shove (and noise too!), the stick snaps joyfully into place, and the car turns exactly how you want it to, when you want it to. If you could get a used one today, I suggest you jump at it!

8. Proton Saga

You must be thinking, why did Matt choose the Proton Saga over the decade’s most popular, best-selling national car, the Perodua Myvi? And why the 2016 model over the 2019 model? What about the Bezza? Valid questions I assure you, but it’s to do with the fact that I haven’t driven the 2019 Saga, plus the lasting impression of the 2016 model during my brief one-day excursion with it sometime back.

To me, the Saga’s finest trait has everything to do with how it’s sprung, from shock absorbency to the way it manages lateral forces. The chassis isn’t new, but carried over from the 2008 Saga BLM. That gives engineers more time to refine the platform without investing too much into R&D, plus the ride and handling folks at Proton learned from some of the best guys in the industry.

It’s far from the perfect car, but once you’ve got the platform dialled in, more time and effort can be spent improving on other aspects of the car, such as build quality, and perhaps more importantly, upgrades such as the new Hyundai-sourced four-speed auto and class-leading touchscreen infotainment system.

7. BMW M2 Competition

BMW’s decision to spin the E82 1 Series coupe off into its own 2 Series line-up couldn’t have come at a better time. It won’t sell in droves because the base car is deliberately made for enthusiasts (minus the front-wheel drive MPVs, of course), and consequentially the whole range gets the dullest modern-day BMW cabin. Not quite befitting of the times, but it’s a driver’s tool. The Ultimate Driving Machine.

A few laps around the 16-turn Kyalami race track in Johannesburg, South Africa, sealed the deal for me. Brake hard in a hairpin, the nose gives, but regaining composure is as instant as lifting your foot off the brakes, thus providing maximum traction as you floor the gas on the exits. The M2 Competition is magic; the purest and most distilled offering in the Bavarian stable. If there’s one BMW M car I’d have in my dream garage, this would be it, no questions asked.

6. Porsche 718 Cayman GTS

If I’m privileged enough in this life to personally own a Porsche, I’d have the 981 Cayman GT4. I’m sure it would’ve made this list had I driven one, but my virgin Cayman experience was in the 718 GTS. While Porsche’s most sought after sports car is the physics-defying rear-engined 911, its midship offerings are nothing short of exemplary.

The Cayman isn’t a match in terms of mechanical complexity and luxury when compared to the 911, not by a mile, and its 2.5 litre turbocharged engine isn’t quite as dramatic at the top of the rev band. But as a whole, there’s always thrust when you need it, and the Cayman is more predictable, raw, and dead accurate. I’d normally prefer an automatic gearbox – or PDK in this instance – for cars with over 300 hp, but I’ll happily row my own gears in a Cayman till the day my legs give way.

5. Ford Ranger Raptor

On the other end of the spectrum is a gargantuan four-wheeler, one so excessively talented that no other rivalling pick-up truck in its class could hold a candle to. Not when it comes to dirt driving, I should say.

It took Ford Performance some 50 months to create a new platform different from the regular Ranger, and all mechanical components other than the engine mounts are unique to the Raptor. It’s all over-the-top stuff, but nothing really comes close. Can you fly over a crest, land as gently as a dove, then flick the wheel into an actual drift off-road in another pick-up truck? Yep, I thought so.

4. Proton X70

Proton’s first ever SUV is also the automaker’s second model to make my Top 10 list, and for good reason. The value with which the X70 offers is unheard of in the Malaysian auto industry, and I pretty much told anyone who has considered the C-segment SUV to plonk the cash down for one. There’s hardly any downsides if you think about it objectively, unless you’re not a fan of the design, or that it’s just too sizeable to drive around comfortably.

I could write a separate piece on all which I like and dislike about the X70, but some of its most distinguishing features are ride comfort (if a bit floaty, but that’s okay), refinement, build quality, luxurious brown Nappa leather seats, and onboard tech. What other SUVs in the same class get the similar breadth of functionalities that can be called upon simply by saying hi?

3. Mercedes AMG GT 63 S 4-Door Coupe

This is definitely one of the most challenging cars I’ve reviewed. It’s got bleeding edge tech, from engine to chassis management, and a brilliant multi-clutch automatic gearbox. It has more traction than your driving experience can defy, so powerful you forget it can do everything else a car could besides rocketing standstill launches, and so luxurious you sometimes forget the cabin can be as comfortable and pleasant as a CLS.

The GT 4-Door is an all-in-one, and it’s the most powerful AMG model ever made. For some people, this is the GT they’ve been waiting for, but at RM1.8 million it’s nearly twice the price of the E 63 S, which really isn’t much less of a beast than the monetary difference suggests. Having said that, AMG could do as they please, because clearly, I’m a fan. Plus, that M177/M178 4.0 litre engine is really one of the best V8s in existence.

2. Kia Forte

I know I said this list wasn’t arranged in any order, and it’s true, save for the last two entries. We’ll start with my own daily driver, the 2011 Kia Forte, which will go down in history as one of the greatest landmark moments for an automotive brand. The C-segment sedan was the first to feature a full redesign, sporting a timeless shell that Europeans find more palatable than any Kia that came before it. That, was a new dawn.

Peter Schreyer, a German designer most well-known for penning the first-gen Audi TT and Mk4 Volkswagen Golf, vacated his coveted spot at Volkswagen as design chief to lead Kia’s global design team in 2006. After successfully overhauling the group’s passenger car line-up, he went on to become the first foreign presidential-level employee in the company. It’s much deserved, I think, but it’s worth noting that he doesn’t actively design every Kia/Hyundai model, but merely oversees his design teams.

If having my personal car in this list of 10 is biased, then I’m guilty as charged. I’ve put on over 210,000 hassle-free kilometres on the car that will be turning nine in April, and never once has it broken down or failed on me. The two-year old Daytona Grey coat helps mask many obvious signs of wear in the cabin, but beyond that, its unfailing will to serve puts to bed the all the haunting tales of yore. Looking at it, I probably won’t need a new car anytime soon, and I’ve got Schreyer to thank for penning its timeless design.

1. Lotus Elise S

We’ve come to the final entry on this list, and driving it was by far the most eventful moment of my career, almost fateful too, I dare say. Many have asked, “what’s the best car you’ve ever driven?” More often than not, the words “Lotus Elise” often yielded curious stares that led to a prompt Google search, but yes, the S3 Elise S is one car I clutch very dearly to heart.

If adoring the M2 Competition and 718 Cayman GTS gave no indication as to the kind of cars I like, then the Elise embodies every sporty aspirations I want in a car. It’s nothing but sheer unadulterated fun, from the brutality of the vibrations to the instant throttle response. I may not have pushed the car to its limits, but even half-arsing it was recipe for some much-needed adrenaline rush, especially when the days feel long.

A used Elise S doesn’t go for much, so if I ever want to scratch that itch, I could fetch one for less than what a brand new Mazda 3 costs. Who knew that, for a guy who in his teenage years used to lust for cars like the Nissan GT-R, Ferrari 458 Speciale, and Pagani Huayra, would settle for a little-known sports car powered by a puny 1.8 litre four-cylinder Toyota engine?