Diving into the motoring world: best features of 2019
We take a look back at some of our favourite features from the past 12 months
Over the past 12 months we have travelled the length and breadth of the country, and indeed the globe, to give you some of the most interesting, fascinating and insightful views from deep within the automotive world.
From the furthest reaches of the Peruvian desert to the most typically green and pleasant British countryside, 2019 has been an eventful year as our team have been busy bringing you top quality features all year long.
We’ve explored the hidden world of motoring, with many fascinating individuals doing brilliantly unique things in and around cars.
Scroll down below to read our round-up of the biggest features of 2019...
We met the eco-conscious owners of two businesses that use Tesla delivery vehicles. Paulo Benfeito of Amore Bakery has racked up 200,000 miles in his Model S. He ferries cupcakes all over Europe, and has saved £300 a month on fuel compared with his previous diesel. Robin and Carla Betts from Winterdale Cheesemakers use a Model X to deliver from their carbon-neutral farm.
In February, Skoda invited us to take its new Kodiaq vRS SUV for a hot lap of Silverstone before trying to match our time on a 1:1 replica of the famous track carved into a large area of ice in northern Sweden. It proved to be a very difficult challenge, and our lap time on ice was 40 per cent longer than at Silverstone. It wasn’t a bad effort, though, and certainly showed off the Kodiaq’s versatility.
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of Britain’s favourite car weekly, we created an Auto Express-themed SEAT Mii, which we then gave away in a competition. Winner Michael Simmonds had the car for six months, mainly commuting from the Scottish Borders to his civil service job in Edinburgh. Michael praised the car’s “individualistic” design and said his children were particularly fond of it.
We compiled a list of 10 cars unavailable in the UK, and asked you which ones you most wanted. The Honda S660 proved to be the winner, but the Japanese manufacturer said there’s zero chance of the tiny rear-drive sports car coming to Britain. The less outlandish BMW M550i came second, while the third most popular car was the Dodge Challenger.
We had a perfect opportunity to explore the lengthy history of the electric car when we visited the Grampian Transport Museum’s It’s Electric exhibition. Curator Mike Ward led us around the display, which focused on Robert Davidson, a chemist, engineer and inventor born in Aberdeen in 1804, who was credited with having created the world’s first EV. It used a rudimentary battery connected to an electromagnetic motor.
In a bid to find out how listening to different music genres affects your driving, we headed to Oxfordshire’s Base Performance Simulators. Using its state-of-the-art racing simulator, we ran a course set out for us by IAM RoadSmart, listening to a different song each time. Heavy-metal music had the worst effect on our lap times, throttle movements and accuracy, but pop and rap weren’t too problematic.
In celebration of the 125th anniversary of Mercedes’ motorsport debut, we took a trip to Silverstone to meet the stars and the cars behind the brand’s continuing success. A wide variety of models on show included a 1904 Simplex, 1928 SSK, 1937 W125 Silver Arrow, several DTM cars and a Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 car. A plethora of famous drivers from across the years included current F1 stars Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, as well as DTM legend Bernd Schneider and GT racer Maro Engel. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula One Team boss Toto Wolff was also in attendance.
July saw us explore the world of green-laning, taking a Land Rover Discovery off-road with the help of the Green Lane Association. We set off across the Welsh countryside, learning how to identify and stick to the legal routes as we went, as well as how to drive safely. If you’re willing to learn the jargon and stick to a code of conduct, it’s a great way to explore the capabilities of a 4x4.
With many of the UK’s estimated 5,000 ice cream vans running on old diesels, producer Mackie’s of Scotland teamed up with Nissan to build an e-NV200 electric van that was perfectly suited to selling ice cream. An ‘energy roam’ function with solar panels charged a 1.4kW lithium-ion battery to run the soft-serve ice cream machine, fridge and freezer that are fundamental to such a van’s life.
Citroen celebrates centenary
This year marked Citroen’s centenary, and we celebrated with a trip to Paris, delving into the French firm’s history. A highlight was getting behind the wheel of a 2CV. We were surprised how well the old two-cylinder hatch held up in the 21st century; once we became accustomed to the controls, it was easy to drive smoothly. We also spent time in a 2006 C6. While slightly less idiosyncratic than some of its Citroen saloon predecessors, it was distinctive enough to stand out, while also offering the silky smooth ride Citroen has become known for.
With the second-hand car market roughly four times the size of its new counterpart, our third and final ownership survey of the year was the Driver Power used-car poll. The fourth-generation Kia Sportage was declared the best second-hand car, with owners praising virtually every element of the mid-size SUV, from its infotainment and reliability to its driving experience and spaciousness. The Toyota Prius – our 2019 new-car champ – narrowly missed out on the Driver Power double, having to settle for silver. The Kia Sorento took third place, while eight of the top 10 second-hand cars were Japanese or Korean.
Celebrating MX-5’s 30th birthday
The Mazda MX-5 has been the go-to affordable sports car around the world for the past three decades, so it’s only fair that we made a big fuss on its 30th birthday. At a special party, we got the chance to cast our eye back over all four generations before taking a 30th Anniversary Edition MX-5 on a road trip, hitting destinations that shared their names with MX-5 special editions.
Armoured XC90 is a cool £450k
A trip to Stockholm, Sweden, allowed us to get the inside story on Volvo’s new line-up of armoured cars. The main exhibit was the Heavy Armoured XC90, a 4.49-tonne SUV with a £450,000 asking price. As well as upgraded brakes and suspension to cope with the added weight of its life-saving armour, the XC90 Heavy gets a fire-suppression system and an escape hatch.
What has been your favourite Auto Express feature from the past year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...
Review of the Year 2019
• Best car news stories of 2019• Best car reviews of 2019• Best car group tests of 2019• Best long-term tests of 2019• Best motoring features of 2019• Best car videos of 2019• Best motorsport stories of 2019• Our highlights of 2019