Motoring moments: our car highlights of 202212/31/2022
Our team remembers their personal highlights of the past year
Being able to drive all the latest cars is already a wonderful way to earn a living, but every member of the Auto Express team has at least one particular moment this year that stands out above the rest. Some of these highlights are much grander in scale than others, but each is incredibly special in its own particular way.
- The best long-term car tests 2022
We were lucky enough to take part in a host of amazing events throughout the past 12 months, something that felt especially fortunate after the restrictions of the Covid pandemic. So read on below as the Auto Express team reveal their 2022 motoring highlights…
Lamborghini Huracán Tecnica launch, Valencia
Matt Robinson, deputy executive editor
Yes, I know tearing around a track in a V10 Lamborghini seems like an obvious choice. And yes, the Huracán Tecnica was sensational – and just the right amount of scary – around the Valencia circuit in Spain. By the way, that’s the permanent Ricardo Tormo track, not the Formula One street circuit, which now lies largely in ruins.
But anyway, as joyous as it was to hear that 5.2-litre engine bouncing off the rev limiter at 8,700rpm, the drive itself isn’t the only reason the launch of the penultimate Huracán derivative is my 2022 highlight. It also helps there was a real sense of hope coming from the launch that cars like the Tecnica might just have a future. This wasn’t a bittersweet occasion that left me sombre at what might be lost in the electric revolution.
Against all odds, next-generation Lamborghini supercars are set to retain big, naturally aspirated engines with many cylinders, with electrical assistance making them possible from a legislative standpoint. Speaking to company bosses both there and at the Urus Performante launch later in the year, it was clear that Lamborghini isn’t giving up on engines, even as it plans its first EV. There’s positive talk of how synthetic fuels might stop ICE Lambos from going extinct.
Driving Audi’s Group B rally monster
Sean Carson, associate editor
My favourite moment of 2022 has to be getting behind the wheel of Audi’s incredible S1 E2 Quattro Group B rally car as part of Auto Express’s five-cylinder celebration feature.
Just being around the S1 E2 was a sensory overload, let alone driving it. The bulging bodywork and eye-popping wings and scoops had me nervous, as did the flimsy kevlar door that clipped simply to the roll cage to keep it shut. Turning it on was an adrenaline-building process: flicking the two battery master switches, hearing the fuel pump prime then prodding the starter button as the 2.1-litre engine lazily turned over before catching with a deafening roar inside.
The heavy clutch was like a hair trigger, the gearshift meaty and the engine surprisingly docile – until the rev counter swept past 4,500rpm, where the turbo’s boost built and all hell broke loose. The ferocity with which the car accelerated was incredible. Each rapid-fire gearchange was accompanied by a chirrup from the turbo and then another huge hit of torque. It was a genuine privilege to drive such an incredible piece of engineering that typified pretty much the pinnacle of Group B rallying for me.
Motorsport stars of the future and past
Steve Fowler, editor-in-chief
Over the years (and next year marks my 30th in the business) I’ve been lucky enough to sit next to plenty of racing drivers, and two stand out for very different reasons.
Louis Sharp is a star of the future – of that there is no doubt. This 15-year old New Zealander has just completed his first season driving race cars in the UK – finishing fourth in the Formula 4 championship, despite not being old enough to compete in the first few rounds and never having raced on UK circuits.
- “Paddy Hopkirk was a motorsport legend and the best of men”
I caught up with Louis and dad (coach, manager and buddy) Jason at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire, where Louis took me around the track in an Abarth 595 – shortly after admitting he’d barely driven any road cars, let alone one with a manual gearbox. Louis was fast, smooth and – importantly – a really nice guy. He’ll go far and we’ll be following him all the way.
Sadly this year we also said goodbye to Paddy Hopkirk, who passed away shortly after being inducted into the Auto Express Hall of Fame at our Awards in July. Paddy was a motorsport legend who also shone in the motor industry for numerous reasons. More than that he was a good friend and someone I sorely miss.
Audi RS 3 vs Mercedes-AMG A 45 S twin test, Wales
Pete Gibson, senior photographer
If I’m going to ask the team to drive for a few hours on top of an already-long day of photography and road testing, I have to make sure it’s worth the effort. But given that I was shooting an Audi RS 3 against a Mercedes-AMG A 45 S, it seemed like I probably wouldn’t have to do too much convincing.
I elected to do the shoot in Wales, a country with some fantastic roads and some equally fantastic scenery. Plus, we were lucky, because the weather wasn’t wet. Our trip combined all three: great roads with stunning scenery and just the right level of moody Welsh skies. I got exactly the shots I wanted, and Sean and Alex were happy to be given some time to test the cars in what is still a great unspoilt part of the world. What’s not to like?
Hitching a ride over London in the Goodyear Blimp
Tristan Shale-Hester, current affairs editor
I’ve had some really enjoyable feature assignments for Auto Express in 2022, but there is one experience that has stuck in my mind more than any other – and it didn’t even involve a car. Instead of getting behind the wheel, I took to the skies aboard what is perhaps the most iconic piece of automotive advertising in existence – the Goodyear Blimp.
I was hugely excited at the invitation to fly over London in the airship during its visit to the UK, only to then be hit with massive disappointment when I arrived at Damyns Hall Aerodrome in East London to be told the flight was cancelled due to high winds.
This proved to only be a temporary setback, however, and made us feel even more jubilant when we climbed aboard the blimp the following day. I’ll never forget gently cruising 1,000ft above the capital on what was a perfect summer’s day and seeing all those famous landmarks from a bird’s eye view. It was an extraordinary experience, as was meeting the blimp’s crew and learning about the incredible engineering behind the aircraft.
Don’t worry, though – this isn’t Airship Express, and the usual coverage of cars has since resumed.
Ford Puma ST vs Hyundai Kona N video shoot, Wales
Yousuf Ashraf, video content producer
Mooching around Wales in a pair of small SUVs doesn’t sound particularly enthralling, but the Ford Puma ST and Hyundai Kona N are no ordinary crossovers, and this was no ordinary day. Taking charge of the Puma, I joined Auto Express contributor Steve Sutcliffe for a flat-out comparison at Llandow Circuit.
This was more than an opportunity to grab a performance car by the horns around an empty race track, however; Steve is one of the best road testers in the business, and as a newbie journalist, I sought to snap up any nuggets of advice he could provide.
I’d be lying if I said the driving wasn’t the best bit, giving chase to Steve as we hopped over the curbs and slithered through the lap. No crossover should be able to attack a damp circuit like these two did, and extracting performance from a tall, family-orientated machine was entertaining – a snapshot of Steve flicking the Kona sideways through Jack’s Curve is etched in my mind.
Spa 24 Hours with Lamborghini
Alex Ingram, chief reviewer
Two of the most iconic Italian brands have been responsible for my greatest highlights of 2022. But not even my first visit to Maranello for the launch of the Ferrari 296 GTS could top what Lamborghini had in store for me in late July.
As part of Sant Agata’s expansion of its customer racing program, I’d been invited to Belgium to watch the Spa 24 Hours as its guest. As a motorsport nerd who’d never been to Spa, this was already a special feeling. The circuit is incredible; the view from the new stand at the top of Raidillon (frites in hand and doused in mayo, of course) is stunning. The speeds the GT3 cars are capable of around the track, day or night, are incredible – it must be draw-dropping to watch Formula 1 cars at full speed.
To cap it off, I also had my first taste of the Huracán STO and drove an Aventador, too. This was the final run-out Ultimae Roadster complete with 769bhp and 221mph top speed. Getting either from the paddock car park to clear, public roads involved slowly weaving your way through thousands of motorsport fans; if you’re the type to want to get by unnoticed, a bright purple Huracán or a loud V12 Aventador isn’t the way to do it.
While the Huracán is one of the most accomplished, thrilling supercars of the modern era, there was a glorious mix of modern sophistication and old-school brutalism of the Aventador that I just adored.
Ford Ranger Raptor launch, Barcelona
Dean Gibson, senior test editor
My 12 months have been bookended by Ford Ranger events, starting with some off-roading in Wales and finishing with the arrival of the new Ranger Raptor in November. We first saw the Raptor Mk2 at an event in Farnborough in February, where it drove off a cargo plane in mid-flight before it stormed its way into a hangar for the media to pore over.
Nine months later, it was time to see exactly what the new Raptor could do from behind the wheel. Ford’s event in the hills of Catalunya showed it at its best. Not only did it tackle some tough low-speed terrain with almost zero effort, but there was a high-speed course on offer to demonstrate its Baja mode. The dusty track featured plenty of twists, while a big jump helped the V6 monster take flight, only for it to land so softly that a British Airways pilot would be proud.
New Car Awards Photoshoot 2022
Darren Wilson, creative director
It’s probably no surprise that once again my highlight of the year is the annual New Car Awards photoshoot. I spend much of my time working from home these days, so the excitement of seeing my fantastic colleagues in person is a treat in itself. Throw in 20 or so award-winning cars plus a couple of days of photography on an old airbase, and you really can’t go wrong.
This year, senior photographer Pete Gibson took the creative lead and suggested we use neon light tubes. It proved to be a great idea, giving us the flexibility to change colours and lighting around and under the cars. The main location was a disused jet engine testing facility, and the sealed bunker enabled us to keep the light low to let the colour pop out from the images, and also provided some fantastic industrial backdrops for the smooth lines of our award winning cars. Pete excelled, but as always it’s a great team effort by all those that attended and helped out.
NIO Power Swap station, Norway
Richard Ingram, Carbuyer and DrivingElectric editor
My colleagues might, quite reasonably, refer to me as something of an electric car bore. I love driving and writing about all the latest models to hit the market, and since becoming editor of Auto Express sister site DrivingElectric.com back in 2020, I’ve fully immersed myself in everything EV.
There is certainly plenty of future-gazing to be done, and I understand that a lot of what we read, see and hear can seem a bit pie-in-the-sky at times. But when Chinese car maker NIO invited me to Norway to check out its latest battery-swap technology, I couldn’t refuse. NIO’s Power Swap stations are already operating in its home market, and they’re now coming to Europe.
Experiencing it first hand has to be seen to be believed; dropping the battery out of our ES8 SUV and replacing it with a new pack all happened in less than six minutes – roughly the same time it took one EV-driving onlooker to figure out how to use a neighbouring rapid charger. I had reservations about the scalability of the stations, but it appears that the network is already expanding across the EU, and there are plans to launch it in the UK next year. Watch this space.
BYD Atto 3 launch, Amsterdam
John McIlory, deputy editor
Every so often, a car launch creeps up on you that could turn out to be huge. This was the case when I checked out developments at Chinese firm BYD. I knew Build Your Dreams as a major battery manufacturer, but the pace of its rollout to Europe and the UK as a car maker is staggering.
In a world where some brands are quoting delivery times of more than a year, BYD is planning to set up its first dealers and deliver cars in the UK within six months. No problems with semiconductors here, either; the company makes every component on the Atto 3 small SUV bar the tyres and glass. It’s a decent thing to drive, too, and while the cabin isn’t flawless, it’s got decent space and tech.
Before we left, Tim Bryant, the former Tesla man who’s at the heart of setting up the BYD dealer network, asked me for my honest opinion on the brand, and the Atto 3. “Laughably credible,” I replied. “And potentially bad news for the established manufacturers.”
A relatively brief encounter with the BMW i4
Pete Baiden, web producer
Some cars come along that you immediately fall in love with, and that’s how I felt with the BMW i4. I was lucky enough to have one on my driveway for a month at the start of the year as a temporary replacement for my then long-term Nissan Qashqai. The memories stick with me now because I simply enjoyed every moment I spent with it.
Being the lower-powered eDrive40 model, it had great range without compromising performance. It was rapid, which made me wonder why anybody would spend the extra on the flagship M50, and was fantastic when the road got twisty. The smile never left my face.
At the time the i4 was still new and a relative rarity on UK roads, so much so I even had an i3 driver follow me home to ask questions about it… For me, it’s up there as one of the best electric cars money can buy. I was extremely sad when it left.
Launch of new car brand Aehra, Milan
Alastair Crooks, staff writer
Who would start a new car brand in 2022? The ongoing saga of semiconductor shortages and a looming global recession would be enough for an established car maker to exit stage left, but the fledgling Aehra (pronounced eeeh-ra) brand is looking to weather the storm and make a name for itself in the electric car sector.
It’s not every day you get to see the birth of a new car company, but I was invited to Milan to witness the unveiling of Italian-American Aehra’s first vehicle: a fascinating 800bhp electric SUV with a 500-mile range.
The trip also granted me some time with Aehra’s founder, Hazim Nada, who was refreshingly forthcoming about the challenges that the new brand faces and its plan to overcome them. Let’s hope we see the firm’s first car meet its scheduled production date of 2025, because competition breeds innovation, and we could do with a little more of that in the EV market.
Now read about our favourite long-term tests of 2022…
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