With the past year seeing a dizzying array of automotive launches, on both two and four wheels, we had a right old time trying them all out. Here are the ones that really stood out.
Best budget hatchback
Maruti Suzuki Baleno
“What’s a hatchback doing on this list?” you may well ask. Granted, the Baleno isn’t a revolutionary car, nor will it ever leave sportscars for dead at traffic-light Grands Prix – but it wasn’t built for either of these purposes. The principal reason it’s here is because you get twin airbags and ABS brakes in it across the range, and safety has for too long been a neglected area in lower-end cars. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the Baleno has great interiors, a host of features like Apple Car Play, reliable engines and the peace of mind of the Maruti after-sales network.
Best performance hatchback
Mini Cooper S
The hot hatch space in India isn’t a highly contested one, but we’d be hard pressed to name anything apart from the 2015 Mini Cooper S. Mini was the car maker that arguably gave the world the first hot hatch, and they don’t seem to have lost the plot after all these years. The new Mini Cooper is a little bigger, a little more powerful and a little more luxurious, but the fundamental go-kart feel endures. It’s also more suited to real world driving conditions than the previous generation model was, and that means that there is a lot of fun to be had with this car. With nearly 190 bhp of peak power, the Mini Cooper S continues to remain peerless.
Best luxury car
Mercedes-Benz S600 Maybach
The S-Class is and always has been the world’s foremost executive sedan. Often touted as one of the greatest cars ever made, it’s known for its unmatched comfort, trend setting innovations and stately appeal. If there ever was a modern-day chariot of the gods, the current generation S-Class is it. So what happens when you marry one premium luxury brand to another? You get a Mercedes-Maybach. The S600 is a longer, more spacious version of one of the most luxurious cars in the world. To propel the French-monarch levels of luxury in this car, you get a giant 6-litre, twin-turbocharged V12 engine, putting out 523 bhp of peak power. No one will accuse you of undergoing a midlife crisis in this car, so stoic and dignified is the Maybach.
Best performance luxury car
Some things in this world simply have to be accepted, because there is no logical explanation for them. Take the RS6, for example – why would anyone need a family station wagon with a twin-turbo V8 engine that produces 560 horsepower? Would you take your kids to school in a car that can hit 305 kph, with the optional Dynamic Package Plus? Who cares, really, because once you floor the accelerator, one of the most glorious exhaust notes in existence will make your hair stand on end, as you race to100 kph in under four seconds. Long live irrationality.
Best compact SUV
The mid-level Crossover SUV space in India is a highly crowded one, so it’s advisable that you enter the arena with a well researched product. Hyundai, having been on a winning streak in the Indian market, have done just that with the new Creta. It’s bigger and more spacious than any other vehicle in its segment, and is tailored to Indian driving conditions.While it doesn’t possess any true off-roading credentials, it’s high ride height and torquey 1.6-litre CRDi engine make it a worthy companion for long journeys. The Creta also comes with a laundry list of features, such as an optional automatic gearbox, traction control, a standard 5-inch touch-screen infotainment unit, dynamic headlamps and a reverse parking camera.
Best premium SUV
Land Rover Discovery Sport
The successor to the beloved Freelander 2, the Discovery Sport had big shoes to fill. Despite being the most affordable car in the Land Rover portfolio, it happens to be one of the most formidable off-road vehicles in the market. Equipped with Land Rover’s famed Terrain Response System, the new Discovery Sport is the last word in premium off-roading. The top-end 2.2 litre, SD4 engine packs plenty of heat and is one of the smoothest units in the business. The Discovery Sport manages to tow the line between full-sized off-roader and premium crossover perfectly, which makes it one of the most reliable and comfortable cars to drive, on and off the tarmac.
Best luxury SUV
Viking-tough, practical, understated and purposeful – those were the defining attributes of the previous generation Volvo XC90, so raising the bar by a factor of 5 was by no means a small feat. And yet, the new Volvo XC90 has surpassed its predecessor in every possible way, thanks to its remarkable attention to detail and dedication to aesthetics. It has one of the most elegantly luxurious cabins to be found in a modern car and is an extremely spacious, well-equipped and capable off-roader that possesses the ergonomic appeal and duality of purpose of a Range Rover, without costing as much.
Porsche Cayman GTS
One suspects that the people who work for Porsche, apart from being highly skilled professionals, are also masters of the dark arts. What else explains the fact that they manage to keep making the world’s best-driving cars, decade after decade? The Cayman GTS is so good that it’s a surprise it hasn’t been banned yet; ‘one-with-the-driver’ barely begins to explain its nature. The engine is fabulous, with a rorty exhaust note, and you get so much feedback from behind the wheel that you feel like you’re one of the tyres. No other car handles quite like the Cayman, and in skilled hands, it’ll run rings around cars twice its price. The scary thing is that they’ll soon make a better one.
Lamborghinis, until very recently, had a bit of a reputation as thrilling supercars that also chewed you up and spat you out, if you weren’t careful – or even if you were. A luxuriance of chest hair and an abundance of family jewels were once considered necessary to drive one, but no longer – the Huracan is a supercar that virtually anyone can drive. It’s still absolutely ferocious in nature, however, so old-school purists should be happy, but it’s also a doddle to drive every day, with a nose-lift feature that effortlessly carries it over Indian speed-breakers without fuss. This is a car that sounds amazing, looks like an angry stinging insect, goes like the blazes and is still, somehow, friendly. Bravo!
Best automotive design
Remember Minority Report, with its high-tech vision of what the future would be like? The BMW i8 is a car that fits right in with that vision. It doesn’t fly, of course, but it’s a sexy, cutting-edge example of what we could all be driving in the not too distant future. The thing about the i8 is that it looks fast standing still, even though it’s not, by any means, a supercar – it’s in fact a reasonably-powered hybrid. Those upward-opening doors are the business, all those edges and slashes work beautifully in combination, and there isn’t a single view of this car that doesn’t stand out.