The town of Al Dhaid being our next destination, strategically positioned as neither really in the desert, nor exactly in the Hajar mountains.
A few other cars start to make sense now. Sharjah’s Al Bataeh region is about to throw up the first corners of the day. Anybody with half a brain left the key-wrestling for this moment. Imran got the Golf R. Kinan bagged the C-Class.
And immediately the interrogations from the mob turn to the Renault Clio RS 200. The reason it’s not here is because it’s, well, not very good. Renault obviously thinks it’s being clever with that dual-clutch gearbox, but it isn’t, and the new turbocharged engine is turbocharged for the sake of being turbocharged. The Golf R makes no excuses — 280bhp, all-wheel drive, auto transmission, the most boring interior in car-dom. And then you run into the base of a mountain and the highway starts meandering, and Imran doesn’t even have to drop a gear. In fact, you know what? Add throttle.
The Golf R is one of those rare cars, in the vein of the 911 Turbo, that really comes out of its shell the faster you drive it. Potter around town like we did earlier on inside that stubborn fog, and you’ll grow bored before the DSG hunts fourth. But our Hot hatch of the Year has passed all those tests. It’s trumped the 380bhp Mercedes A 45 AMG in a wheels comparison, and proven itself as a worthy daily driver, and now it’s in its element, bouncing between ludicrous triple-digit speeds having to merely lift, as a matter of courtesy, you see, for corners a regular car would shift down two gears for.
Granted it makes for a rubbish camera car, because we try, and that sunroof is only a novelty. Plus the space in the back is useless when four grown men attempt to climb inside, but everywhere else the Golf R startles as a car to end all cars. Performance, affordability, equipment, usability, what more do you really need? Luxury?
"The Mk7 Golf R is a pleasant surprise, despite its foibles it’s a remarkable car to hustle on this mountain black-top. The new version is edgier and not as easy to live with every day as its predecessor; it’s more R than Golf this time around. And that is enough for it to blast the doors off its competition. It’s a GTI turned up to 11 and that’s all you need to know."
- Amit on the VW Golf R
The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class has that covered. It’s the Executive saloon of the Year, depending on who you ask. Kinan would go further: “It’s the first car that can beat the BMW 3 Series.” He has a point.
When wheels did a German comparison between an Audi, a BMW and a Merc, for the first time ever the C-Class beat the 3 Series.
“The price in not too high, and it’s not too low. It’s very sporty when you need it and economical and serene when you want it.”
He’d know. He just spent an hour sticking to the back of a wayward Golf R.
This is up for argument but Mercedes also stepped it up with the car’s design. Half of us feel it’s nice and elegant, and the others argue it’s surface treatments have no place on a rear-drive luxury saloon, the profile lines making this new C-Class look like a tapered-in front-wheel drive car.
“It’s smarter than the old one,” maintains Kinan. The car’s handling, though, over these meandering desert roads dodging dunes and climbing into mountain towns is wonderful. Mercedes is starting to catch up to BMW when it comes to electric steering systems. Porsche leads the way, but BMW and Mercedes are battling for second place. Or is Mercedes overtaking its Munich rival? The new C-Class has a wonderful, light and precise steering feel, which doesn’t burden the driver — like, say, Audi’s or Jaguar’s exaggerated and artificial steering systems – instead offering only precision and bringing the car that much closer to its pilot. So many luxury saloons (or premium executive sedans, call them what you will) get this wrong. If Kinan has his way this thing will be our Car of the Year.
“For me it’s a reasonable car to win,” he says. “As a balanced all-rounder it will be hard to beat. It’s not perfect, but what car is?”
So what’s counting against it? Well, the judges pick out some minor niggles, but they all add up. For example, if you have the screen manually switched off and you put the car in reverse the camera doesn’t reactivate. If the door is not closed fully you don’t get a specific warning. When you adjust the air conditioning the system needs one or two seconds to catch up. This can be confusing if you keep pushing the button. Then again, no car in the world is perfect. The Merc comes close though. And don’t forget, it had to beat a 3 Series and an Audi A4 to even be here.
"The new C-Class has borrowed its looks and a great amount of technology from its iconic bigger brother, the S-Class. That’s a lot to live up to, but good news is that the C-Class impresses with its performance and driving dynamics, making it an even better saloon than the BMW 3 Series, and better than any executive saloon that came out in 2014."
- Fadi on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class