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Top Cars of 2008

 

Jacqui Madelin picks her most memorable drives of the year

Forget the best of this year's sensible cars. There's the NZ Car of the Year for that, not to mention the awards presented by various individual publications.

My own top picks are the really memorable vehicles - the cars I'll recall when I'm rocking on the porch of the old folk's home.

This year might not have presented a Lamborghini, or an Aston Martin DBS at Fuji Speedway (regrettably without James Bond riding shotgun), the more outstanding moments of 2007. But there were plenty of goodies, regardless.

Not all were pricey. Driving your first Hummer, even the surprisingly compact H3, is interesting for the stir it causes - likewise the Fiat 500. But they'll soon be old news.

There's the rather tasty XF Jaguar of course. A new car for a historic brand; a bridge between British and Indian ownership; and an enjoyable vehicle in its own right. If the V8 engine and smart body weren't enough there are all those futuristic gizmos. The start button that pulses as you get in, the gear dial that rises to your palm when she fires, the hidden air vents that swivel open at ignition. Clever stuff, but will it seem as clever in 10 years time? I doubt it.

Bentley's latest Flying Spur is pretty memorable too - particularly the Naim audio, its hair-raising clarity causing shifts in the space-time continuum as your eyes tell you you're driving, and your ears swear you're in the concert hall's front row. Bentleys have a hard-to-forget presence anyway, but will such profligate use of wood and leather be allowed in years to come?

Indeed, will such engines be allowed? It's not often you drive a 6.0-litre W12, and they're hardly frugal.

The same could be said for the Ferrari California. It's 'only' powered by a V8, but what a V8. Ferraris have their own soundtrack, and there's nothing like hearing it from within the car - especially with the top down. Through a tunnel... And in Italy, where old men raised espresso cups as we passed and swarms of small boys flowed from alleys as the Ferrari slid by.

But there are two cars I'll remember more than this.

The HSV W427, as no car this big, brash and powerful has a right to be so wieldy. I couldn't match Greg Murphy round Lang-Lang's handling course, but still, the speed the W427 attains - and the way it handles - is truly impressive. As was Mr Murphy himself. He stood me on a bolt on the skid pan, told me not to move, then made great smoking circles around me for the camera. That I'll remember - I think I stank of rubber for days.

But top of this year's hit parade is Maserati's GranTurismo S. Not because it's gorgeous, though it is. Or because it'll fit four adults in comfort - rather luxurious comfort, too. But for the experience of driving this testosterone-addled, barking-mad monster over, round and through some of Italy's most demanding mountain roads, the massive V8 hammering off the rocks, echoing from mountain passes and raising the roof tiles of the medieval villages we passed.

It sounds leg-crossingly wonderful, feels utterly decadent, and looks good enough to hang on my bedroom wall; thus the GranTurismo S is my pick for 2008.
 


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