Reinventing the wheels
As carmakers geared up for tighter European emissions standards being introduced in the coming year, a big focus of 2011 remained the development of hybrid and battery technology, and also cleaner, more efficient petrol engines. Not content to let bureaucracy take all the fun out of motoring, however, a fair number of cars with shamelessly sporty specifications still found their way onto our roads. We take a look at some of the favourites that were launched in Hong Kong this year.
The all-rounder: BMW M5
It's nothing spectacular in the looks department, but the 'M' logo on the back signals that there's more to this car than meets the eye, even if it otherwise looks little different from a regular 5 Series BMW. The M5 - from the carmaker's motorsports division - is widely considered the ultimate BMW. And it's versatile, too. Essentially a luxury executive sedan, it's sporty enough to pose in and yet sufficiently conservative to serve as a small family car. The 2011 version of this legend, launched in Hong Kong last month, discards the thirsty V-10 for a more economical turbocharged V-8. It's nevertheless a more powerful engine, unleashing 560 horsepower - 57 more horses - and 680Nm of torque, while using 30 per cent less petrol.
Most controversial: Aston Martin Cygnet
The question has already been asked: can this reimagined Toyota iQ really be classed as an Aston Martin? But perhaps the more pertinent question is whether sports car enthusiasts will see the Cygnet as an alternative city runaround, or instead buy one for the wife. We'll find out after the Lunar New Year when the first made-to-order Cygnets are delivered to local customers. It may not be as rapid as a Rapide, but on a drive around Central and Wan Chai during lunchtime, it was impressively nippy when dealing with aggressive bus, truck and taxi drivers. Aston's way of negotiating Europe's fleet-wide average emissions quotas, the Cygnet may look dinky on the outside but is wide enough that, once in the driving seat, size is not an issue. It's comfortable, too, with as much interior leather as there is in one of Aston's sports cars. Although James Bond would probably be more shaken than stirred, we expect it to be a hit as the city car of choice among luxury-loving tai-tais.
Greenest: Nissan Leaf
The government gave Nissan's reasonably priced green Leaf the seal of approval when it was launched here in March, announcing it would buy 200 of the plug-in cars for use by its departments, power companies and others. Costing about HK$420,000, including tax, the Leaf has a range of 175 kilometres on a fully charged battery, which shouldn't present a problem in Hong Kong. Its lithium-ion battery pack produces 110hp and 280Nm of torque, which is just enough power to prevent most people from losing their self-esteem. As of last month there were 330 electric-vehicle chargers in the city, covering all districts. The government says there will be more than 1,000 by the middle of next year, which could encourage hesitant motorists to buy one of these multiple award-winning, zero-emissions cars.
Biggest milestone: Jaguar XKR-S
Jaguar celebrated the 50th anniversary of the iconic E-type this year with the launch of its fastest, most powerful sports car ever. The XKR-S, which only came to Hong Kong this month, is the first Jaguar to break through the 300km/h barrier. It has a five-litre, V-8 supercharged engine that musters 550hp and 680Nm of torque, powering the car from zero to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds. With aerodynamics very much at the forefront of the aggressive design, the XKR-S is also a testament to how far Jaguar has come under design director Ian Callum.
Best limited edition: Fiat 500
The Fiat 500 retains much of its original 1950s charm inside and out. So when the carmaker teamed up with Gucci creative director Frida Giannini to produce a limited-edition '500 by Gucci', the cars allotted to Hong Kong sold out quicker than you could say Bugatti Veyron. A fashion accessory on wheels, the cute retro car was available in black or white with the fashion house's trademark red and green stripe along the sides and interior features. The Gucci double-G logo adorns the hubcaps.
Best grand tourer: Ferrari FF
FF means 'Ferrari Four' and that means four seats and also four-wheel drive - a first for the Italian carmaker. It could also mean 'fantastically fast'. The long-awaited replacement of the 612 Scaglietti as Ferrari's flagship grand tourer, the FF has a top speed of 335km/h and can reach 100km/h from a standstill in 3.7 seconds. That comes courtesy of a 6.3-litre, V-12 engine that unleashes 651 horsepower and 684Nm of torque. The FF can comfortably seat four six-footers and yet still has plenty of room in the boot for luggage. How much for almost five metres of luxury Ferrari? The FF costs more than twice as much as Porsche Panamera - one of the GT's rivals.
Best off-roader: Range Rover Evoque
Land Rover generated buzz this year with the launch of its Range Rover Evoque. The smallest SUV that Range Rover has ever made is also its best performer and most stylish looker - so its appeal need not be limited to New Territories villagers. The Evoque was design-led, with engineers working within the design limitations. It nevertheless stays true to its four-wheel-drive DNA, and despite being fitted with only a four-cylinder engine, it is said to outpace any of its competitors off the beaten track. There's a posher limited-edition version in the works, designed by Victoria Beckham.
The brashest: Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4
The Aventador replaces the Murcielago as Lamborghini's flagship motor and is named after a particularly fearless breed of fighting bull. Launched locally in October, this raging toro is all about raw power, with a 6.5-litre, V-12 engine that produces 700 brake horsepower and 690Nm of torque. The car has a top speed of 350km/h, flies from zero to 100km/h in just 2.9 seconds and willingly shouts it out loud. In an effort to avoid being labelled as environmentally incorrect (its Gallardo was named the planet's least green car a few years ago), Lamborghini's Aventador is 20 per cent cleaner than its predecessor, emitting 398 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre despite an 8 per cent power boost.