2016 review: Surprises of the year

Now, here are some things that happened in 2016 that genuinely made us go ‘we did not see that coming!’
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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December 30, 2016
Aston Martin AM-RB 001
Aston Martin AM-RB 001(1/8)
AWD muscle car: Challenger GT
AWD muscle car: Challenger GT(2/8)
Ford GT wins at Le Mans
Ford GT wins at Le Mans(3/8)
McLaren BP 23 ‘Hyper GT’
McLaren BP 23 ‘Hyper GT’(4/8)
Diesel’s fall from grace
Diesel’s fall from grace(5/8)
Volkswagen surpasses Toyota
Volkswagen surpasses Toyota(6/8)
Ron Dennis leaves McLaren
Ron Dennis leaves McLaren(7/8)
Giulia QV faster than the M5 and E 63
Giulia QV faster than the M5 and E 63(8/8)

Aston Martin AM-RB 001

At a time when the most secretive of automotive projects get busted by spy photographers and internet leaks, Aston Martin pulled off a near flawless surprise with its AM-RB 001. The extreme hypercar, a result of Gaydon’s collaboration with Red Bull F1, promises to redefine the very concept of a performance car with its massive naturally aspirated V12. It made such an impression on petrolhead oligarchs that despite the prohibitive price tag of $3 million, all 150 road-going examples have already been spoken for.

AWD muscle car: Challenger GT

When Dodge brought the AWD Challenger concept to last year’s Sema show, we all thought that was just another crazy ride specifically made for the show. After all, nobody believed that one of Detroit’s big-three will ever consider doing something as sacrilegious as building an all-season muscle car. But Dodge startled everyone by announcing a production model early this month. Burnouts are not going to be this muscle car’s party piece!

Ford GT wins at Le Mans

Race wins cannot get more fairy-tale-ish than this. The rivalry between Ford and Ferrari at Le Mans is the stuff of legend. And exactly 50 years after knocking the Prancing Horse out of Le Mans in 1966, Ford dared to dream a comeback with its new GT. But even the top brass at the Blue Oval would not have dreamt of the outcome. Prepped by the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing team, the No:68 Ford GT snatched the lead from the No:82 Ferrari at the 20th hour and never looked back. It was one of the biggest surprises of the year, and definitely one of the most incredible.

McLaren BP 23 ‘Hyper GT’

When McLaren Automotive was announced, the first thing every car enthusiast hoped the company would do was build a successor to the legendary F1. But the British carmaker did the right thing and built up a brilliant line-up of supercars before recreating the F1 magic. And the result is the ‘world’s first Hyper-GT’ promising outrageous performance and the famed three-seat layout. And even the tentative codename, BP23, is in line with McLaren’s alphanumeric naming convention, and stands for Bespoke Project 2, 3 seats. Boasting a hybrid drivetrain and dihedral doors, the F1 homage is set to go on sale in two years. This has ‘pleasant surprise’ written all over it.

Diesel’s fall from grace

Although diesel engine cars are not common here, expats from Europe, America and India will sure have fond memories of their diesel rides back home. Boasting more torque and returning better fuel economy, these oil-burners used to dominate these markets. But things have taken a dramatic turn this year, with diesel coming under intense scrutiny, mainly due to the negative spotlight from Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Earlier in the year, New Delhi banned registration of vehicles powered by diesel engines larger than 2.0 litres. Although this ban was lifted later, this month the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens jointly announced that all diesel cars would be banned in their cities by 2025. With more cities likely to follow suit, diesel could soon be pushed to the brink of extinction.

Volkswagen surpasses Toyota

When it was rocked by the Dieselgate scandal last year, automotive pundits wrote Volkswagen off. They said there was no way the German carmaker would realise its ambitions of being the world’s largest carmaker by 2018. But Volkswagen proved everyone wrong, and took a lead over Toyota right in the first half of the year, and if projections are anything to go by, it is poised to extend the lead into the next year.

While sales have dropped in the US, that market accounts for just a miniscule percentage of the brand’s global sales. So the dip in America has been offset by profits from markets like China, and the cheap euro adds to its export gains, fuelling the Volkswagen juggernaut on.

Ron Dennis leaves McLaren

For many of us, McLaren was Ron Dennis, and Ron Dennis was McLaren. But the 69-year-old, who had been at the helm of the British brand for three decades and a half, was chucked out unceremoniously last month. It took most of the automobile world by surprise, but was the culmination of Dennis’s long-standing differences with fellow shareholders Mansour Ojjeh and the Bahraini Mumtalakat wealth fund. Dennis isn’t McLaren top man anymore, but he leaves behind a legacy of 20 Formula 1 world championships and a £850 million-a-year business.

Giulia QV faster than the M5 and E 63

Alfa Romeo had our attention last year itself when it said the new Giulia QV had lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes 39 seconds, a good 13 seconds faster than a BMW M4. A year on, the Italian super saloon has bettered its own record and that of the Porsche Panamera Turbo, which was a second faster until then. With its new time of 7 minutes 32 seconds, the Giulia QV, powered by a 503bhp, 600Nm 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6, is now the world’s fastest saloon; faster than the venerable M5 and the E 63.