It’s been a busy year at CarExpert. Between regular reviews, launches, comparisons, and mega tests, we’ve filtered through hundreds of cars across our three offices.
A few special cars stood out from the pack, though. Here are our highlights from 2022.
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS
It’s impossible to go past the hottest-ever Porsche Cayman for my highlight of this year.
The GT4 RS project “started with a car, and not with a PowerPoint presentation”, according to Andreas Preuninger, head of the Porsche GT division. Rather than convincing the finance department with numbers, his team had the RS approved by putting a big smile on the board’s face.
If that first mule was anything like the finished product, it’s easy to see how the project was given the green light.
It’s not the handling (approachable yet challenging, delectably balanced) or the straight-line performance (suitably impressive), or even the styling (angry, but not over-the-top), that imprinted the car so firmly in my mind. It’s the noise.
Gruff at low speeds, complete with constant huffing and puffing from the air intakes behind your heads, the sound moves from a purposeful mid-range bark to a howl, before evolving (or should that be devolving?) into pure thrash metal as the engine zings to its 9000rpm crescendo.
The first time I let it rip to nine-grand was on the road in first gear, overtaking a Smart car coming out of a Portuguese village, and I had to slow down and compose myself because I was cackling like a deranged child. It’s that sort of car.
Honda Civic Type R
I’ve driven some epic cars such as the Lamborghini Urus Performante on track in Rome, the Aston Martin DBX 707 on the twisty roads in Sardinia, and the 296 GTB (best Ferrari in a decade) in Spain on some of the best roads in the world, but the car that stands the most is the latest Honda Civic Type R.
In my mind, there isn’t a better engineered or better sports car under $80,000 on the planet. This is next-level engineering that manages to dial in more feedback than a Porsche 911.
Throttle control, steering, brakes, transmission, body control are all off the charts, making it a car you drive on the limit so easily, and with so much confidence.
But don’t take my word for it exclusively, test drive it and tell me I’m wrong.
It’s a tough one this, but it would have to be the Lamborghini Huracan STO which I forced my way into at the launch of the new Huracan Tecnica.
Although it’s had the European nanny commission fiddle with its sound, the STO is still such a mesmerising car to drive on track, and I loved the rawness of a V10 screaming behind me while the chassis, suspension, wheels, and all the fancy electronics kept me looking like a hero throughout the ordeal.
This was it folks, the very last naturally-aspirated Lamborghini V10 race car for the road. Next one will be hybrid and likely much faster but nowhere near as raw and angry. Adios.
If I can name a budget-conscious car as well, the GWM Ute… I don’t know why, but I loved driving it, and it got so much attention from curious ute owners. Here was a Chinese-made ute that was actually reasonable and well-priced.
Imagine where that brand will be in a few short years!
Anybody who knows me will know I’m not much of a ute person, and yet the car that impressed me the most this year was a ute.
I had the opportunity to take the Ford Ranger Raptor off-road a couple of times, and naturally it tackled tough terrain like nobody’s business. But I was also impressed with just how comfortable it was to drive, with SUV-like ride quality and impressive manoeuvrability and steering feel for a big, brash ute.
The ability to tailor individual settings like the exhaust mode via simple steering wheel buttons is also refreshing in an industry that, broadly speaking, is going down a touchscreen and touch control rabbit hole.
All the core Ranger strengths are also there, like excellent in-car tech and beefy styling, dialled up to 11 in Raptor guise.
Downsides? It certainly sounds better than the old turbo-diesel but I still wouldn’t call the twin-turbo petrol V6 mellifluous. The interior has some differentiation from the standard Ranger, but it doesn’t feel like the cabin of a circa-$85,000 vehicle.
But then what else are you going to buy? The Ranger Raptor is in a class of its own. Just as some rivals were starting to narrow the gap between their flagship offerings and the Raptor, Ford has gone ahead and moved the game forward again while also finally (hallelujah!) bringing one of the twin-turbo petrol V6 engines it puts in damn near half its American line-up.
If I was going to buy any ute on sale in Australia today, it would be the Ranger Raptor. Mind you, an Everest Raptor would be more my style… hint hint, Ford.
Honourable mention goes to, believe it or not, another pickup: the Ford F-150 Lightning.
I had only a limited drive in one in Michigan earlier this year, but it has whet my appetite to drive it some more thanks to the gobs of torque and yet familiar, comfortable pickup truck packaging. Now, if only Ford Australia would bring it here.
I had some track time in the Toyota GR Corolla at the US global launch back in September. As subtle as a sledgehammer, the GR Corolla is not your Nanna’s econobox.
Rather it’s a WRC-inspired, track-honed, manual-only, all-wheel drive pocket rocket that’s fiercely uncompromising, having all the attributes to pull people out of their Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai i30 N, or Subaru WRX.
An honourable mention goes to the Maserati MC20, a return to form for the Trident brand.
MORE: Toyota GR Corolla review
The most memorable car I’ve drive this year was definitely the Lamborghini Huracan STO on a wet Phillip Island Circuit.
This car now holds a dear place near my heart as it was the first car I ever drove on track. It was also the first left-hand drive car I’ve driven.
When I saw the Huracan STO for the first time in person I couldn’t believe how small and low it was. It was very funny watching how Scott contorted his way into the driver’s seat (I’ve got video proof).
Despite being an extremely rainy day, I was still able to get a few track sessions in the Huracan STO.
I managed to get around 260-270km/h on the home straight which felt a little terrifying given I was behind the wheel of a $600k, rear-wheel drive supercar.
I know I would never actually own a Huracan STO as I’d constantly be worried about breaking it, but it was amazing to experience it for a short period of time.
We drive a lot of cars throughout any given year, and for me the ones that stick with me are the ones that I would consider buying for myself.
For me, it’s a close tie between two standout Volkswagen Group products released this year – the Audi RS3 and the Cupra Formentor VZx.
The Audi is an epic car, and getting to experience it on the wonderful rolling hills of Adelaide and then The Bend circuit really demonstrated the all-round capabilities of this car.
It’s supercar quick, looks like a boy racer’s dream, but still has all the tech and comfort to get you to and from work every day.
As for the Formentor, I had been itching to have a steer of the Cupra range for yonks largely due to my Catalan heritage, and was far from disappointed when I drove the brand’s sportiest crossover.
It’s got baby Urus vibes about it, and feels like so much more than a jacked-up and rebadged Golf R. There’s a flavour and flair to the Spanish brand’s products that really injects some personality and drama into the VW underpinnings.
There’s probably little surprise here with this answer, but the Ford Ranger Raptor.
The fact Ford had the balls to build a twin-turbocharged V6 dual-cab ute that jumps things in 2022 tells you everything you need to know about the Ranger Raptor.
I had the chance to join Ford in a number of development drives with Ranger Raptor ahead of its launch and all of this solidified the reason I went ahead and bought one myself.
It’s a very versatile vehicle and as an all rounder it’s hard to fault. Do I need a dual-cab ute in my life? Absolutely not (and stop sounding like my wife). But do I want one? Absolutely yes.