As the clock stops on the second decade of the second millennium, the dawn of this particular new year gives all of us a pause to reflect on some of the joys we have experienced not just over the past 12 months, but the past 10 years. For us writers here, this gave us a unique opportunity to look back on the best cars we’ve driven, with our special 10-car retrospective we have here. It makes for quite a list, if you ask me.

I joined the industry (at this website) at the beginning of 2014, meaning that a little less that half of the decade had already passed before I saddled up. Even so, I managed to document some of the biggest births, upsets and upheavals of the era – the dawn of the SUV craze, the fall (and rebirth) of the hybrid vehicle market in Malaysia, ever-increasing safety standards, and the inevitable march of electrification.

Through it all, I managed to drive some of the most exciting and important cars ever produced, making corralling a list of only 10 cars extremely difficult. But eventually I managed to pick out the ones that have stood out, and they range from the affordable to the absolute pinnacle of motoring. Right, here goes.

10. GK Honda Jazz/GM6 Honda City

It’s hard to put into words just how accurately Honda nailed it with the third-generation Jazz hatch and fourth-generation City sedan back in 2014. The company ditched the five-door’s perennially cutesy design in favour of a sportier and more aggressive look that appealed to boy racers everywhere – especially in this region. Its decision to more closely align the four-door’s development with the global Jazz model was also inspired, giving the car a more sophisticated look and feel compared to a contemporary Toyota Vios.

Taking a petrol City – dressed in gorgeous Passion Red Pearl – for a spin over Christmas served as a reminder of what has made the duo such a success, and much of it came down to the powertrain. The 1.5 litre VTEC engine was sprightly, free-revving and surprisingly frugal, and in stark contrast to most other CVTs out there, the one in this car was a willing enabler, reacting like a stepped transmission when I asked for more power. It was also decently comfortable and displayed un-Honda-like levels of refinement.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Honda’s insistence of using cumbersome touch controls over the past decade – which can be traced back to these cars – is something it’s still trying to walk back on. Problems on its high-tech Intelligent Dual Clutch Drive (i-DCD) hybrid system also led to a spate of recalls and seeming curtailed its rollout in other markets, Malaysia remaining its sole export destination outside Japan.

Despite those issues, the outgoing Jazz and City are some of the strongest products from Honda in recent memory, but even that hasn’t stopped the brand from returning to old habits. They may share the same platform, but the new Jazz and City have once again diverged – the former going back to looking friendly and cute, the latter being tweaked more for regional tastes. Time will tell if this recipe will be a right one.

9. Honda HR-V

If the City and Jazz showed that Honda could read a market well, then the HR-V proved that it was borderline prescient. The Hip and Smart Runabout Vehicle might not have been the first modern B-segment crossover on the market, but when it arrived in 2015 it offered everything seemingly every customer was asking for – funky SUV looks, a tall driving position and a reliable, no-nonsense engine and transmission.

And it came just as Malaysians were becoming more affluent and ready to splurge, with pricing that didn’t break the bank. When I drove it in Thailand before the launch, I predicted that it would obliterate its then rivals, the Peugeot 2008 and Ford EcoSport, and it did – it sold in numbers the others could only dream of.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why. Apart from the fact that the H badge practically sold itself, the interior was commodious and filled with lots of practical touches, including a huge, easy-to-pack boot and the Jazz’s awesome Ultra Seats. The latter’s impressive drivetrain was also augmented by an even stronger 1.8 litre engine, which meant that the HR-V was brisk enough to keep up with our cutthroat traffic.

It’s telling that despite Honda Malaysia’s ongoing troubles and the onslaught of talented, capable rivals, the HR-V continues to sell well. The house that Soichiro built is going to have a hell of a time trying to replace it…

8. Jaguar F-Pace

One does not kick off a global test drive on a ferry in the picturesque Bay of Kotor and not make it on this list. The Jaguar F-Pace may still be a bit player in the grand scheme of things, but this pull-out-all-stops event in 2016 not only showed just how much bravado this British institution still had, but also how much importance it had placed on its first ever SUV.

Driving across the Montenegrin landscape was like descending into a dream. The rocky outcrops that dotted the coast – set against a killer mountainous backdrop, no less – appeared to have been lifted straight out of a film set, on top of which lay kilometre after kilometre of snaking tarmac. To cap it all off, we stayed at the beautiful Sveti Stefan, a jewel in the Adriatic Sea. No, our job still isn’t all fun and games.

But the car was something else. The F-Pace was marketed as a high-riding sports car, and while the claims of being a plus-size F-Type were a little over the top, it handled the litany of hairpins with aplomb, with an agility rarely seen in the class. It was the engine, however, that stole the show – the 3.0 litre supercharged V6 sounded every bit as rorty as you’d expect, which was handy given the many tunnels on the route.

Jaguar may never rise beyond relative anonymity in Malaysia (it would take a lot to break the BMW-Mercedes hegemony), and its parent company may not be in such good health at the moment. However, products like the F-Pace show that Coventry has its place in our future. It’s a company that zags when the rest of the industry zigs, and in a world that is becoming increasingly homogenous, we could use a little spice.

7. F30 BMW 3 Series

You could probably have accused BMW of playing it safe when it unveiled the F30 3 Series back in 2011. The sixth generation of the benchmark sports sedan wasn’t a world away from the E90 that preceded it, and it certainly didn’t break the mould of a car central to Munich’s original Ultimate Driving Machine mantra.

But it moved the game on in the areas that mattered. The F30 was the first 3 Series to be powered exclusively by turbocharged engines, and my were they effective – always buttery smooth and exceedingly torquey, even though they lacked the aural drama of a naturally-aspirated straight-six. It also possessed excellent road manners, deftly mixing ironclad body control with supreme ride comfort.

It also didn’t hurt that its sharp suit was extremely handsome, or that the iDrive infotainment system had evolved into a paragon of functionality and usability. But it wasn’t perfect – its interior felt cheap next to newer rivals, and its shocking lack of refinement simply didn’t cut it in a car with luxury pretensions.

Even so, the car marked a watershed moment for the premium segment. Its immense popularity, both here and around the world, pressured competitors into building better rivals, and the result were the mightily impressive W205 Mercedes-Benz C-Class and B9 Audi A4. The new G20 may have arrived to take its place, but the F30 still holds a special place in my heart.

6. Toyota GR Supra

This probably wasn’t what purists had in mind when Toyota said it was going to revive the Supra. We knew it was going to develop the car with BMW, but did it really have to take the engine too, lock, stock and barrel? Did the interior have to be hastily assembled from parts bin components that F30 owners would be familiar with? Surely that would be an affront to such a hallowed nameplate?

I was just as sceptical as the rest of you, but I knew I had to drive the car with an open mind, understanding and acknowledging the role BMW played in engineering and building it. And once I got that out of the way, the penny dropped – this was a competent and engaging sports car that knew few equal.

It all started with the engine. Despite being muffled by a turbocharger, the B48 3.0 litre straight-six still made all the right noises, accompanied by its silky power delivery and potent punch of torque – a real iron fist in a velvet glove. Yes, it did feel very BMW, but you can’t argue with a powerhouse as effective as this.

The chassis was more than able to keep up, and it was here where Toyota’s magic shone through. For all the hardware it shared with the G29 Z4, the Supra also exhibited some of the keenness, a certain lightness to its movements, that it shared with other sports cars the company makes – some of which you’ll read later on. At the end of the day, the new Supra is an accomplished machine, and at a time where seemingly every new car is an SUV, shouldn’t the emergence of any new sports car be celebrated, whatever the badge?

5. F56 MINI 3 Door/F55 MINI 5 Door

Ask the general twenty-something layperson what car they aspire to own, and nine times out of ten, the answer would be a MINI. The ultimate hipster brand is something of a status symbol for the young and upwardly mobile, with a unique design and identity that resonates with the fashion forward.

As someone who appreciates aesthetics myself, the traditional MINI Hatch was a car that I was drawn to, especially in its current F56 (F55 for the five-door) form. It might have grown to ridiculous proportions this time around, but it was still very stylish, and the creative use of ambient lighting – especially the centre ring around the infotainment display – only added to the visual appeal.

But it was the driving experience that blew me over. The latest model was perhaps a more mature and comfortable proposition compared to its predecessors, but it could very much still carve up a good road. The steering was slick and incisive, and the taut chassis meant it could follow my every whim. I drove my first MINI not long after I took this job and ever since then, I was hooked.

Even now, nearly six years later, I still get a rush whenever I get a chance to get behind the wheel of one. The facelift arrived last year and introduced even more dashing Union Jack tail lights and a dual-clutch transmission that shifted quicker than the previous automatic, making for an even better steer. I’m infatuated by it, and not gonna lie, I still lust for one.

4. Toyota 86

Not as much as I want a Toyota 86, however. I know, how original, right? This small, rear-wheel drive sports car is just about every enthusiast’s pick for a fun and relatively attainable daily driver (so much so that even my colleague, Gerard, purchased its Subaru BRZ twin), but as someone who had never driven one, I had to know what all the fuss was about.

So once our coverage of the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show was done, I stayed on, rented a manual unit from Toyota itself, and set about tearing up and down the Mecca of every fan of Japanese performance – the Hakone Turnpike. What followed next was six hours of utter joy, with nothing but me and my trusty red steed as company. Even the pouring rain did little to dampen the fun.

The iconic touge road was everything I expected it to be – fast, punctuated by tight hairpins and littered with towering bridges that offered fantastic vistas of the valleys below. It was also autumn, so the trees (and the road) were covered in gorgeous auburn leaves, making the 86 look très cool as it blew past.

Speaking of which, the car was a superb companion. The gruff boxer engine and recalcitrant gearshift action were quite apparent when I was just pootling along, but once I hustled the Toyota up the mountain road, they all faded into the background. It really showed that on a good road, all you need is an engine at the front, power going to the back, a manual shifter and a chassis that you can fling into the corners – I could not ask for more. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

3. W463 Mercedes-AMG G 63 (2018)

If there’s any car that doesn’t need to make apologies for itself, it’s the Mercedes-AMG G 63. On the face of it, that whole statement seems preposterous – an SUV whose entire purpose of being is to be a go-anywhere, do-anything mountain goat of an automobile, dumbed down with a raucous V8, huge wheels and suspension tuned more for road holding than rock crawling. It’s a machine full of compromise.

Yet, there’s an inexplicable appeal when it comes to a car that is this extravagant, this thuggish. It exudes a certain character that just by looking at it, you’d know exactly what it’s all about. People can’t help but be swayed by its charm, even though they don’t share the image or live the lifestyle that its owners are known for. There’s a reason why it’s Hafriz’s dream car.

Me? Being more of a fan of svelte, delicate sports cars, I wasn’t entirely sure if a car with such a brazenly loutish look should have a place in the automotive world. But it only took a few seconds with the fettled Geländewagen for me to completely fall in love. How could I not when, every time I mashed the throttle, the car would almost pop a wheelie before spearing off into the horizon?

The backing soundtrack, meanwhile, was pure muscle car, all eight-cylinder growls and pops and crackles. But it was the way it bent the laws of physics that beggared belief – somehow, this tower block could corner with something approaching composure and maybe even verve. A G-Class that’s this fast and can handle within an inch of a Porsche Cayenne? A recipe for quite a drive, if you ask me.

2. Proton X70

So good was the Proton X70 that, even if it didn’t have the national carmaker’s badging, it would still have been a strong contender on this list. But it was the way it confounded expectations – both the company’s own and of Chinese cars – that nearly gave it top billing.

Let’s break down some of its considerable qualities. It was a good-looking SUV both inside and out but, more importantly, its build quality wasn’t just excellent for a car designed and built in the Middle Kingdom, but excellent full stop. Its use of genuinely premium materials also lifted it beyond the realm of the mainstream – it genuinely could compete with those of more expensive brands.

However, it was the way it drove that placed it as high as it did. Many a Proton were criticised on this site not because they were in any way bad to drive, but because the refinement just wasn’t plain good enough. Not this one – the X70 was so hushed at highway speeds and so good at absorbing even the biggest of potholes that we were all stunned when we drove it.

To top it all off, it was well priced and packed with plenty of neat technologies, including a suite of driver assistance systems, a slick and responsive infotainment system and the headline-grabbing Mercedes-style voice control. It’s no wonder the X70 almost singlehandedly reversed Proton’s fortunes, and with more updates coming for the locally-assembled model this year, we can’t wait to try it all over again.

1. Lexus LC 500

This may sound a little cheesy, but the Lexus LC 500 was a car that tapped into all of my deepest desires. Of all the cars that I’ve had my hands on for nearly six years, this latest luxury coupé from Toyota’s premium offshoot was by far and away the one that stuck to me the most, despite the short time we had together.

It did so, of course, by being achingly gorgeous. As an incredibly busy design, the LC should have been a disaster, but somehow it all worked. The body was long, low and wide like a supercar, and the riot of lines and angles simply accentuated the visual drama, giving this car a show-stopping quality. It’s a look that burns into your subconscious straight away, like your first crush in high school.

Fortunately, driving it did nothing to shatter the illusion. It drove exactly how I had expected it to be, dancing gracefully through the corners thanks to the sharp steering, rigid chassis and towering grip, yet still maintaining enough pliancy to absorb the bumps.

And my, oh my, the sound. The 2UR-GSE 5.0 litre naturally-aspirated V8 made the most musical of noises, the guttural roar inducing goosebumps and tingling spines everywhere it went. It was the most visceral of experiences, goading me to drive it harder and harder just to hear more of it. As the best drive I’ve ever had, it’s going to be hard to beat. Roll on the next decade…