We probably don’t need to explain why this year’s crop of cars is a little smaller than usual. Sure, we’ve had a number of exciting new launches – some of which will be covered in the next few pages – but the annual car harvest is a bit more compact than it was a couple of years ago, with manufacturers carefully prioritising product releases and manufacturing capacity. The pandemic, natural disasters, political upheaval and widespread supply-chain disruption have disproportionately impacted on the car industry, which was already facing considerable headwinds.
But, somehow, it doesn’t feel like there’s any real shortage of new cars to be excited by. Those that are coming on sale in this uncertain post‑lockdown world are still phenomenally impressive, the world’s automotive engineers still designing and building machines that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.
The Hyundai Ioniq 5 looks like something from a sci-fi comic book and boasts an advanced electric powertrain that makes the once-futuristic 2009 Nissan Leaf look like a primitive toy. The new Audi RS3 is a hatchback that produces 395bhp – comfortably more powerful than a Lamborghini Countach or a Ferrari Testarossa. And the Dacia Sandero, while extremely ordinary on a mechanical level, is still more affordable in real terms than any car on sale in the 20th century.
And that’s ignoring the relatively prosaic advances in safety and economy, which continue to make our roads less dangerous and less polluted. Then there are the even smaller advances in comfort and technology, which make the cars we occupy that little bit nicer. And for those of us who need a car to perform off-road, machines such as the new Land Rover Defender feel like spaceships compared with the illustrious models that came before.
Pretty much any of the cars in this supplement are an improvement on the models we featured in last year’s. Because while the industry has been rocked by the storms we’ve all endured over the past 18 months, it continues to do what it does best – innovate.
Of course, that’s not exclusive to the automotive sector. Engineers and designers in all fields push humanity further into the future with every passing day, often with more meaningful, impactful results than the relatively minor technological advances mentioned above. Medicine, computing, aerospace – we’ve all watched the news over the past few months and been amazed at vaccines and rockets and all the other feats of engineering that make our world so remarkable.
The difference with cars is that you can go into a dealership and purchase the fruits of this process. Thousands of immensely intelligent and highly skilled men and women have worked for years to make, for example, a car that can safely park itself, and now you can go and buy one. Hydrogen fuel cell cars exist. If you want a car that can cruise at 200mph, or hit 62mph from a standstill in under four seconds, you can have one. Some cars can even read traffic signs, for heaven’s sake.
I could talk at length about the various developments that have been made available to us humble car buyers over the past few years, but there would be little point; most of us still buy a new car based in no small part on whimsy. But remember that behind every one of the models on sale are thousands of people spending millions of days and billions of dollars, yen, euros and pounds to make cars safer, cleaner, faster and better with every passing year.