What to expect in 2016by Andrew Frankel on 29th December 2015
If you believe those who write reviews of the year, every one is a vintage year or they’d have precious little to write about.
So too is the year to come, and for the same reason. In fact I don’t think 2015 was a vintage year for the car or motoring and I don’t think 2016 will be either. But it has at least been an interesting 12 months and the next will be more interesting still. I feel the industry is building towards something big, and that something is cracking the electric issue and coming up with predominately electrified powertrains that are affordable, desirable and actually fit into our working lives. They’re close and getting closer faster than many had thought, but I still think we are still two or three years away.
In the meantime, I think we can all agree that Volkswagen provided us with the biggest stories of the year, none of which it will have wanted to read. I still think there were only a small number of people directly involved, that none of them was a senior director and that no other manufacturers were up to similar things. But I also believe their actions were the result of an unhealthy amount of pressure coming down from on high, and while the departure of both Wolfgang Hatz and Ulrich Hackenberg was desperately sad, for they are two of the most gifted engineers I will ever have the privilege of meeting, they clearly had to go, as did the man at the very top, Martin Winterkorn.
Better news by far is the fact that the new top man at VW R&D is Ulrich Eichhorn, a man whose hero is WO Bentley. He has done incredible work at Bentley, VW and Ford in the past and will be needed now, not just for his undoubted skills, but his open, honest approach in what remains for VW a crisis of PR as much as engineering.
On the fast car front, I think McLaren probably has most cause to feel pleased with its progress, with both its 675LT and 570S supercars receiving reviews of a kind few would have imagined possible after the botched launch of the MP4-12C just four years ago. Ferrari defied its critics too, its 488GTB proving far more exciting even than the 458 it replaced notwithstanding the introduction of turbochargers to its V8 powertrain. But despite the fact it is the best turbo installation I have yet encountered on a road car – better by far than that just introduced by Porsche on the 911 – I’d still prefer a normally aspirated motor. It is the other things the 488 does, mainly its quite exceptional handling, which explains why I liked it so much.
As for Porsche, the new 911 is a mixed blessing: the turbo engine is simply not as good at the things I want a 911 engine to be good at as the last one, but in all other areas the car has taken another big step forward. And as for the Cayman GT4 and 911 GT3 RS, these are dazzlingly good at what they do and as Porsche makes the normal 911 more user friendly than ever, crucial in their role of reassuring us all that red blood continues to course through the company’s arteries.
What will 2016 bring us? More cars than ever before, most of which will be minutely modified versions of cars that already exist as the market seeks to find niches within niches in which to sell cars that cost very little to develop. But there will be some important ones too.
I’m probably most looking forward to driving the new Alfa Romeo Giulia because I love the brand and in its looks and specification Alfa really does seem to have provided a genuinely competitive package and a car that subscribes to proper Alfa values too. But then we thought exactly that about the 4C which, relative to expectations fell far short of the mark.
I’m excited about Aston Martin too. The launch of the DB11 in March will be its most important since the DB9 went on sale in 2003 and it will be fascinating to see its new design language, any visible Mercedes influence and whether enough has been done to bring the car bang up to date. Other British debutants I will be interested to drive include the Bentley Bentayga and Jaguar F-Pace – SUV debutants from both brands.
Amid literally hundreds of other launches of less interesting machinery, 2016 will also be the year in which Ford brings us both a new GT and a new Focus RS and Porsche puts a manual gearbox back in the GT3R and four cylinder motors in both the Cayman and Boxster. Bugatti will unveil the Chiron replacement for the Veyron (with allegedly 1500bhp) and Honda’s NSX will finally go on sale, Renault will show us the all-new Alpine sports car and Mercedes-Benz the ‘GT3’ version of its GT supercar. It may not be a vintage year, but it’s certainly looking like being a busy one.