Hello and welcome to 2020. Here at paultan.org the start of decade means we have opted to reflect upon the most memorable cars of the of the one just concluded, and so we expand from the Top Five lists we have put together in the past years.

You’ll notice that some entrants here have also been past finalists, and their inclusion here is testament to just how memorable they have been. Here, then, is my list of machines sampled in this span of time which appeared more than most when it came to populating my make-believe garage.

10. Isuzu MU-X

A ladder-frame 4X4, really? Yes. The seven-seater MU-X will never set tarmac alight with its performance, and living with one means making allowances for the lack of refinement that comes with its construction, but the big Isuzu charmed with its simplicity and interior materials, the latter made for durability rather than perceived plushness to the touch.

This model lacked much in the way of onboard infotainment, and cabin fixtures were relatively rough but robust in their operation; certainly no silent, soft-close mechanisms here. In that sense, it felt like a rudimentary Casio G-Shock rather than a connected, multi-function smartwatch.

Where choice is concerned, the MU-X offers manual override for its five-speed automatic gearbox, switchable four-wheel-drive and that’s about it. The MU-X raises its utility quotient with its fuel efficiency, though, and its ground clearance along with approach and departure angles as standard give it capabilities off-road that make up for its shortcomings on highways.

9. Toyota Camry Hybrid

For this writer, the petrol-electric, continuously variable transmission-equipped Toyota Camry Hybrid makes the list for a fitness for purpose on this selection of vehicles here surpassed only by a car that couldn’t be more different from it – the most physically demanding car here, a track-bound single-seater.

In the case of the Camry, that purpose is to transport its occupants in as much comfort and serenity as possible. It rides with a calmness that eludes the vast majority of newer models in its class – and a few more beyond – which prioritise that show car look of large wheels with low-profile tyres.

Plenty of spacious pockets and compartments in a cabin which is spacious as one would expect, and while its 205 PS peak power figure was impressive in the segment, the powertrain’s real trump card was its refinement. At first acquaintance, it was difficult to notice the transitions between EV mode and internal combustion, certainly with the stereo playing and air-conditioning at work.

All considered, it almost matters not that the steering is light and accurate without being engaging, and its body movements at high speed merely served to confirm that this car is for relaxed progress, and not one for being hurried through the twisties.

8. FK8 Honda Civic Type R

The current Civic Type R has been based on a model that is knocking on the door of the segment above it in terms of size, and this makes for a vehicle that can pull double duty in the roles of family car and performance car rather convincingly, it would appear, so long as one could live with a manual gearbox – the sole choice – on a daily basis.

And why not? The clutch and gearbox were found to be light and precise in that classic Honda fashion. Having said that, this car was sampled by yours truly within the controlled environment of the Sepang International Circuit where its considerable performance in extremis was put to the test, and its practical qualities in everyday situations were less taxed.

The now-commonplace turbocharged inline-four cylinder engine configuration is one that so easily ends up devoid of all musicality, but its a trap the FK8 Civic Type R has managed to not fall into. True, the latest of the lineage no longer revs to almost nine on the dial and now does its best below seven instead, but the full-bodied, throaty roar is still present, albeit at a lower pitch, and it still makes a rush for the top end.

That rush is properly harnessed by the chassis, resisting understeer admirably in the high-speed sections of Turns 7 and 8 while tightening its line neatly with a well-timed lift into Turn 2. Torque steer is a non-issue when driving hard out of corners.

Its prowess at the racetrack, particularly the way the FK8-generation Civic Type R soaked up all manner of apex and exit kerb attacks made this writer wonder about how well it might fare on commonly encountered, severely compromised public road surfaces. This could be a Type R that at last, brings its dynamic treats to the table without beating its occupants into submission.

7. Renault Megane RS 265 Cup

Where the quality of driver engagement offered by manual, turbocharged hot hatches are concerned, however, few come close to the previous-generation Renaultsport Megane RS 265 Cup.

Some bits struggle to impress: its dashboard continued to be a drab shade of grey, the gearshift was remembered to be average in shift quality and for the shape of its gearknob – the rounded item from the RS 275 Trophy or Trophy-R would have fared better, one suspects – and the engine/exhaust note was uninspiring.

No such accusation could be levelled at the RS 265 Cup’s chassis, however, as steering feel and accuracy was as good as one could expect from a front-driven chassis, and when paired with its front axle’s resolutely tenacious grip, made for an experience that would make one question the rear-wheel-drive layout’s often-assumed position as the be-all, end-all of high-performance driving fun.

6. Mazda ND MX-5

If you are specifically looking for classic RWD chassis balance instead, the ND-generation Mazda MX-5 is surely high on the shortlist. As our colleague Danny pointed out with his review of the 2016 car, the ND MX-5 is a throwback to the simpler times of motoring, shorn of digitised distractions.

Beyond its simplicity, the ND MX-5 was also notable for its chassis which paired its immediate and clear responses with a pliancy that would shame most four- or five-door passenger vehicles, SUV or otherwise; an important trait for a road car, most should agree.

Even if the six-speed automatic transmission was merely a substitute for the manual option, that 158 hp/200 Nm 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four offered plenty to have fun with, with a surprisingly rorty sound to boot.

5. Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI 44

Like the seven-seater Isuzu listed earlier, the Subaru WRX STI is an entrant of recent years that harks back to the days of motoring in relative simplicity. More than just about any other present-day vehicle, this manual-only AWD sedan suffers in the context of a review. Instead, it’s an attraction of a less objective kind that seals it for the WRX STI.

Road noise was ever present, and interior plastics are solid but far from tactile in a way expected of a car that was initially priced at RM280k. Furthermore, its EJ257 horizontally-opposed 2.5 litre four was already a decade old at launch, and doesn’t really wake up until it has at least 3,000 rpm on the dial – certainly unlike the modern direct-injection turbo petrols with their diesel-esque torque bands.

It comes alive when the full 300 hp and 407 Nm are eventually produced, however, the sensation amplified by the initial lag before boost arrives. The notchy six-speed manual gearshift is satisfying, and the well-positioned pedals help the driver further his or her enjoyment of the process; I’ve personally found the throttle and brake pedal positioning to be conducive to employing heel-and-toe downshifts, even at normal road speeds.

Its chassis certainly is capable of maintaining composure well beyond that, and its steering is as communicative as it is meaty; which is to say, considerably so. The Driver’s Control Centre Differential (DCCD) also allows one to indulge in some rally driver fantasy when tweaking the centre diff for different road conditions. Possibly childish, especially with that great rear wing, but most definitely entertaining.

4. Porsche Macan S facelift

If the WRX STI was a Group A rallying throwback, the facelifted Porsche Macan S is well and truly up to date, even if updates to its aesthetics are sparing in the utmost. Key changes include the infotainment which rejigs the dashboard fascia enough to afford the real estate for its widescreen display, though the most satisfying parts of the revised Macan aren’t necessarily the most visible ones.

That would include the chassis, which is satisfying for both ride comfort and handling when driven at speed. The rest of the cabin architecture, infotainment excepted, is largely unchanged though that also means the front seats are still a very agreeable place to spend hours in, and the driver will find a suitable position entirely naturally.

Where driver satisfaction is concerned, it’s certainly expected from something that bears the Porsche crest. Beyond the usual parameters for which we grade a car’s strengths and weaknesses, the Macan’s most substantial contribution is arguably to Porsche’s bottom line which won’t just look good at a board meeting; it helps the company continue to justify future supercars and GT department specials.

3. Racing Club Toyota 86

If a car has been designed from the outset to entertain its driver, a logical step beyond is to exercise it in a closed course. A drift clinic we attended two years ago gave us seat time at the helm of a Racing Club Toyota 86, which was outfitted with roll cages, bucket seats and harnesses with wheels and tyres to suit the rigours of hard driving, but were otherwise mechanically standard.

Its occupants are seated low in the car, and the main controls for the driver are positioned naturally, which offer appreciable feedback in the process. A sub-200 hp peak power figure doesn’t sound like much, but it is adequate to showcase a chassis that doesn’t need much more than that to truly entertain its driver.

In the case of the Racing Club 86, it also demonstrated robustness in the face of harsh usage, a full day’s worth of clutch dumps, handbrake turns and sustained drifts not fazing its mechanical integrity even by the time our allocated group took its turn towards the end of the day.

2. 991.2 Porsche 911 GT3

There had to be a Neunelfer. The core qualities of the base 911, for a start, are most appreciable in this more potent guise – well sighted forward extremities, a relatively upright windscreen and the relative positioning of the seat, steering wheel and pedals which are just about perfect.

It’s easy to cast the 4.0 litre naturally aspirated flat-six engine as the star of the show because, what a show it puts on indeed. 500 hp comes from a powerplant that revs to a 9,000 rpm peak, and the its power delivery is as helpful as it is exciting and sonorous; truly, trimming your line via throttle mid-corner is a joy in this car. We’d all love a manual gearbox, but the PDK option we sampled is slick and instantaneous in its responses.

The 991.2 GT3 chassis is at least an equal partner to the powertrain, and the rear-engined layout has been honed by the company’s engineers over the decades to capitalise on all the benefits and neutralise the quirks of a heavily rear-biased weight distribution. On track, you’d probably notice a touch more latency to the 911’s initial turn-in phase compares to something like a Cayman, for example, though the benefit here is superior traction for powering off the apex.

Such potent performance resides in a bodyshell that is still modest in its exterior dimensions, and when paired to the aforementioned ergonomics and visibility for the driver, should make for a very agreeable car to manoeuvre away from the expanses of a racetrack and into the congestion of public roads. The abiding memory of the 911 GT3, however, will be of exercising its considerable abilities on track.

1. Formula 4 single-seater

Time spent in this Renault-powered Formula 4 car was fleeting, but the most visceral and most memorable. 158 hp and 163 Nm of torque are modest by road car standards, however this is no road car, and its diminutive weight of 500 kg multiplies the effect of the engine’s outputs. Being a track-bound machine gives the car a sense of purity, with no pretense of anything else other than to go fast and chase laptimes.

The claustrophobic may initially struggle in here. As seen of single-seater drivers on TV, you first step both feet into the seat, then perform a tricep dip to slot your legs forward towards the pedals. Those wider of shoulder will have to turn diagonally a little before completing the drop into the seat. Only then, the previously removed steering wheel is replaced.

Rolling out – for first-timers anyway – is done by easing out the clutch with no throttle. Easy enough, but from then on the Formula 4 single-seater doesn’t like half-measures, and it will let you know exactly that if you’re tentative. The engine-transmission connection is fiercely direct, and part throttle at low RPM – which is what you’d expect to use exiting the pit lane for the first time – saw the car jerk rather violently. Only when you drive it like you mean it, the single-seater plays ball.

Speed is your friend here, and the unassisted steering pours useful feedback as you start to get around the circuit. Once underway, the Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox bangs through its ratios instantaneously and the more revs are used, the better the gearchanges feel, and while the brake pedal was just a little less solid than a brick, it was actually easy to modulate exactly how much brake pressure you wanted.

Slicks and wings, matched to the aforementioned minimal weight make for what felt like great corner speeds, especially through Turns 5 and 6 where we had to ease off to avoid piling into the back of the Clio RS lead car. If only there was much, much more track time…