The first thing you must do when Cackett says pick your favourite car of the year is appear lost in thought. To look up to the heavens, as if thinking deeply as you sift through all the various cars you’ve driven over the course of the year. It’s a serious business and not necessarily an easy one, of course. Working for PH means I am in the very fortunate position of driving a great number of contenders for the role. And I am not just talking about the stupidly high-end stuff. The humble Volvo V60 T6 crossed my mind, but it was vetoed on the basis that a new infotainment system didn’t make it, well, new. Fair point I suppose, but it is a very, very good car nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed driving it around.
Next, I mentioned some of the more typical mega machines you might expect. Not one but two Ferrari 296s – the GTB and the GTS. There were many Porsches, too, naturally. The Sport Classic and the Cayman GT4 RS – although Cam, the little swine, nabbed the latter. The youth have no respect. Its big daddy was in the running as well. And why didn’t I choose the 911 GT3 RS? It was, after all, one of the most phenomenal things I’ve driven all year. Or ever, probably. Maybe had I driven it on the road it would’ve been the pick, but I felt a bit odd about choosing it as my favourite car after a track drive in less-than-perfect conditions.
The thing is, though, all this ruminating and looking skyward was just for show. An attempt to demonstrate to my colleagues that I was being considered, and for once acting like a professional. But I can admit the sham to you. I knew immediately what car I was going to choose. After spending the best part of a week and the balmy Jubilee weekend in a Lamborghini Aventador Ultimae, it was always going to be that. Simple. Not just because it is loud and madcap, or all the other things you might imagine it to be. They were all factors in my choosing the big Lambo – but two things made this car particularly special.
Firstly, I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. Discovering that a car is way better than expected is one of the most joyous things in motordom. The sense of ‘meh’ being flipped like a fried egg to ‘my god’ is one of the most gratifying feelings there is for me. And the Ultimae was immeasurably better to drive than I’d imagined it would be. I drove it from London to Wales to make a video, and the idea of spending several hours behind the wheel to get there seemed like an act of torture, and for what? To drive it around some tight and twisty mountain roads where, obviously, it would feel completely out of place? The prospect didn’t excite me one bit. Yet the truth of it was somewhat different.
The Ultimae has one of the most sublime suspension setups known to man. It rides with the delicacy and lightness of a butterfly fluttering in a warm breeze, so despite my preconceptions it’s unbelievably comfortable on a motorway. There is real joy in just being in it, sat in the outside lane of a motorway, observing the excellent engineering at play as it rises and falls with deliciously fluid movements over bumps. And that same deftness means it can manage uppity Welsh mountain roads with the composure of Wellington leading his troops into battle. Talk about a car shrinking around you. The fact that it also steers and stops with finesse meant it was an absolute hoot to drive, so I didn’t stop driving it. At least not until I’d run out of money for petrol.
The other reason I wanted to claim the Ultimae is that it’s not just here representing itself, but a genre. The naturally aspirated V12 is currently sitting in the last chance saloon after the barman’s called time. When all is said and done, this is objectively one of the worst engines in production. Hear me out. Electricity is what it’s all about these days, and this V12 is as far removed from the efficient simplicity and serenity of an electric motor as it’s possible to be. My friend’s teenage son was with me over that Jubilee weekend, and his only meaningful experience of cars is being driven around in the back of a Tesla. Needless to say, he has a very different view of internal combustion than I, and trying to get him enthused by the noisy box of booming cylinders in the back of the Lamborghini was like trying to get him excited by the notion of climbing up a chimney. That was once quite normal, too, but like the V12, it’s now been assigned to history on the basis that it’s dirty, unhealthy and unethical.
He’s right, of course. Electric motors are compact and light but can produce far more power and torque from a thimble of energy. Meanwhile, the V12 in the back of the Aventador is big and heavy. It has many moving parts as well, all of which create lots of friction, which is very wasteful. It’s basically an enormous pump, sucking up expensive petrol and blowing out heat and noise in return, and because all those moving parts are wearing out, no doubt it’ll eventually huff and puff its own pistons out the back as well. Even I realised I sounded very silly trying to explain to a smart, tech-savvy teenager why this thing was brilliant, meanwhile the big exhausts were bellowing and there’s a heat haze so extreme rising from the glass window above the engine it felt like I was burning money. Which, when you think about it, I was. He said that’s all wasted energy, and what else could I do but agree? It just is. Objectively, the argument was over there and then.
But the very fact it has a glass window through which you can gawp at its antiquated lump of pig iron tells you all you need to know. The Polestar 1 has a glass window in its boot, behind which are some orange wires and plastic connectors. Looking at that lot is as emotionally uplifting as staring into your fuse cupboard. But when you peer into the depths below the Aventador’s glass panel it’s a window to a soul. All those moving parts somehow manifest as a living and breathing entity. They may be needlessly complex and wearing out with every rotation, but there’s something utterly beguiling in contemplating what’s going on down there. It’s a mechanical machine, and the small boy in me remains endlessly fascinated by those.
If you don’t get what I mean, think about watches: digital versus automatic. Digital is just better, and for many of the same reasons: no moving parts, greater accuracy, and these days so many more features as well. But people still pay tens of thousands of pounds for a watch with little springs and cogs on show behind a glass panel because it’s fascinating. Seeing all those little components – all made by a master craftsman with skills beyond your own – working away to tell the time. When you buy a watch like that it won’t count the number of steps you’ve made in a day or tell you how well you’ve slept the night before. On top of that, it’ll lose a minute a day and need endless servicing, so it’s not that great at telling the time. But you don’t care. It’s worse, and it’s better. It’s a complex little machine and how it operates is somehow tangible but also remarkable.
So yes, electric motors are technically superior. But they have the aural splendour of a timid librarian. To me, cars are meant to be noisy and have bits that suck and squeeze and bang and blow. I know that means I’m stuck in a rut, but I can’t help that. I just love these machines; they make me happy. I can still appreciate the objective upside of EVs, and I’ve driven a few that I like – but in comparison to the Aventador even the best of them is like fitting a Temazepam tablet with doors. Driving the Ultimae, on the other hand, is like saddling up Cerberus, kicking your heels and shouting giddy up. Listening to the yowl it makes at 8,500rpm bouncing around a valley is something truly visceral and enlivening. Electric cars may be able to out-accelerate it, but they don’t sound like a ‘90s F1 car hooning up a Welsh mountain, do they? They never will, and it’s that, not the speed, that I care about most.
That’s why I had to pick the Ultimae. It’s not only a brilliant car, but it feels like the passing of the baton. It’s the Old Testament of internal combustion at its very best saying: “Goodbye, it’s been a blast”. And it truly has. There are a few more things I’d like to mention before I go. Firstly, and I have proof of this, the big old brute was doing 21.5mpg en route to London after this photo shoot. Not bad that, considering it’s supposedly the most inefficient thing this side of a flabby council. And you might imagine it would’ve been the worst car of all our group to drive around in minus-five conditions, but you’d be wrong. Other than the Range Rover it was the most adept on the icy roads, because the GR86 has little grip whatever the weather and the temperature had turned the M4 CSL and GT4 RS’s tyres to stone.
You might also think that driving around in a car that’s more ostentatious than the Romanian Parliament building would put people’s backs up, but not so. I’ve now done a lot of miles in this car, on two separate occasions, and it just brings joy. People point and smile at it. They come to talk to you about it and they want their picture taken next to it. They do so because it’s not just a simple car, it’s something far greater than that, and that’s the reason why I love it so much.
Specification | Lamborghini LP780-4 Ultimae
Engine: 6,498cc, V12, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 7-speed single-clutch automated manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 780 @ 8,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 531 lb ft @ 6,750rpm
Top speed: 221mph
Weight: 1,550kg (dry)
Price as tested: £447,954
I mentioned the Porsche GT3 RS was in the running as my main pick, but I felt I needed more time in the car to choose it as my favourite car of the year. I stand by that, but that doesn’t mean I cannot give it an honourable mention. You only have to look at the GT3 RS to know that it means business. When I first saw it, I thought it looked ridiculous, and to be honest it does on a purely aesthetic level. It’s got more ducts than the Lloyds building, half its wings (as in the panels) are missing, but it also has that rear wing. That massive appendage towering above the back. But when you sit down with Andreas Preuninger and go through every flap and strake and he tells you the numbers, it all makes sense. The headline, as you probably know, is 860kg of peak downforce. What makes that so special isn’t that it’s a similar number to a GTE Le Mans car, it’s that you genuinely feel its effects clearly out on track. They manifest as grip on a level that I, personally, have never experienced from a road car. Even though I drove it in the wet and tyres weren’t working properly, it still went through high-speed corners with ease when a regular GT3 was nearly falling off the road. The engine and so much else about it is very special, too, but the downforce is the bit that astounded me. It’s what defines the GT3 RS as one of the greatest road cars of all time, let alone the past year.