Behind-the-Scenes TGS#33: Cars of the Year 2014

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David Khoo
 handpicks Singapore's Star Cars of 2014... 'special' gatecrasher royally rumbles this gang-bang

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Awards-type affairs aren't always firm favourites, since everybody who thinks they are anybody has a personal 'best-of' list of their own... and woe betide the friend, family or magazine title that dares to include any cars these armchair critics don't agree with. You would already have read the full story in the current TGS#33, but for those who haven't, these cars are my picks of the year; though these winners aren't intended to fit strictly into any particular segment (save the qualifiers that they have to be fun to drive and available in 2014 in Singapore), we found that they fell rather neatly into distinct categories...

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As with all our cars here, Drive'em before you Diss'em... the Renault Clio R.S. (left) gets our vote for its old-school hot-hatch thrills. It's not a car that has grown 'maxi' with time, nor is it one of those new-fangled sports-hatches that have too much grip and too much power.  This Clio R.S. may not have the sublime chassis/steering as the seminal Clio Williams, but we feel it retains the character flaws and foibles that made the hot-hatches of the 80s/90s so engaging. We'd rather have taken it in a proper stick-shift but the dual-clutch is the only option available these days – but hey, the 991 GT3 is now PDK-only and we can tell you, we have no complaints whatsoever with that option in the car!

On the face of it (and it has the sort of face only a mother could love!), the BMW i3 (right) is a city-car electric vehicle (in this instance with a Range Extender, a 647cc 2cyl generator that powers the batteries when needed, as opposed to powering the car), but that's the least of its talents. Instant access to its torque means it will blitz quickly from 0-60km/h ahead of far sportier cars. The cabin ambience (if you spec it right) exudes Nordic chic with the liberal use of recycled materials, but there's never any cheapness to be felt. It will seat four easily with quirky suicide doors to add to its appeal. The i3 is equal parts saving the Earth and making a statement, so if you're thinking, "hey I could buy a 328i with the same money!", then perhaps this isn't for you just yet. After all, setting trends as an early-adopter comes at a premium...

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Moving on from the compact hatchbacks, we come to more 'practical' cars that prove bags of fun. We've always appreciated the subtle touches of any Alpina and the B3 Touring (left) is no exception, especially in its gorgeous estate form. Alpina works in close cooperation with BMW to the extent that its cars are assembled on BMW's own production line, albeit with significant technical enhancements. The other bells-and-whistles take the form of  equipment options that add plenty of show to the go. Alpina also uses the ZF 8spd auto to devastating explosive effect, especially when mated to its biturbo'd straight-six.

We've spent a lot of time in the Audi S3 sedan (right) and enjoyed practically a full 1500km in total, both here and in the UK. For what it's worth, we weren't as taken with the S3 Sportback – for some reason it never felt as resolved as the sedan variant. It had huge punch from the turbo'd 2.0-litre, with a firm, well-controlled ride, while the boot and four-doors made it an agreeable short-tour companion with four adults and their belongings.

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The Jaguar F-Type R Coupe (left) really lets you channel your inner hoonigan, since its favourite stance seems to be defiantly smoking sideways whenever the opportunity arises... which is pretty darn often if our right foot had anything to say about it! Lovely E-type coupe haunches give the F-Type Coupe a beautiful silhouette, while the steering and sheer seat-of-pants chassis control were nothing short of amazing... which goes to show that it is possible to retain feel in an increasingly over-assisted and electronic age. The snap-crackle-pop of the V8 soundtrack is madly addictive and gloriously anti-social.

The 911 GT3's (right) footprint is a huge one to fill, especially since purists still obsess over its non-Mezger and PDK-only credentials. Let's take the collectible-quotient factor out of the equation for a moment and focus on the drive. It's one of two cars in this list we sampled around the Sepang F1 Circuit, which is really the natural environment for such a track-honed car – you'd barely be tickling its potential on the road. It's been a long while in modern times that we've really enjoyed a car in such a way, since it is both fierce dominatrix and acquiescing lover in the way it goads you on towards greater heights as it gives the more you flog, yet will reward the novice even if you choose to drive within your thresholds.

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Every list needs its exotic car or two (or three!), and the Lamborghini Huracán (right) is the new heir to the Gallardo crown. Like its predecessor, the Huracan is animated by a naturally-aspirated V10 engine mated to a four-wheel drivetrain. However, like its peers in the segment, it gets a new 7spd dual-clutch transmission that offers seamless, slick shifts for those who don't quite understand that blinding-fast sports-shifts aren't supposed to be softly slurred as well... It's a veritable everyday supercar that now has good cabin space and decent visibility all-around, yet retains the aesthetic bits that elevate such cars into the realm of the exotic.

The McLaren 650S Spider (left) retains the coupe's dihedral doors, which add to its visual appeal and with a retractable hard-top, gives the Spider owner the best of both worlds. The 'black-swan' front is transplanted from the P1 and give it a more modern look, and its performance is nothing short of mindblowing. The twin-turbos hook up with startling ferocity and there's so much you can inflict on the car and it never even comes close to biting back in anger... which could be good or bad depending on what rocks your boat, but there's no denying the harder-edge to the 650S as compared to the 12C.

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And our gatecrasher is the third in the supercar trinity and besides, what list could really be complete without a Ferrari in it? We couldn't get hold of the Ferrari 458 Speciale for the group-shoot gangbang, so had to make do with this late addition to our Star Cars feature. We've enjoyed every hardcore version of Ferrari's V8 coupes so far and the Speciale is no exception. All Ferraris feel special, there's an indefinable quality to every model that conspire to bludgeon your senses into reverent submission, and the Speciale feels even more special, if that's even possible. Sound and steering are perfectly nuanced and fluid in motion, and there's a manic urgency to the car that encourages balls-out driving... and this is just the sort of car that can back up the smack-talking. PHOTOS: VANQ

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And here's one of our lensman, VANQ, hard at work!

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David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.