The Irish Examiner's best cars of 2022

Declan Colley reflects on an astonishingly innovative period in which the car industry moved quickly into an era of new technologies, most notably in the field of electric cars — the future of the automotive business
The Irish Examiner's best cars of 2022

The Opel Astra is the Irish Examiner Car of the Year. Some readers might be surprised by this one because the main gong goes to the new Astra, which is – in essence – a boring family hatchback

It is entirely appropriate that on this, the final day of 2022, we here at Examiner Motoring unveil our favourite cars of the past 12 months.

This has become an endearing ritual and, of course, the prize-winners can also bask in a full year of reflected glory as they boast of having become the winner of, er, one of the industry’s most sought-after gongs.

In terms of the cars we drive – or more pertinently the cars that are being made and from which we choose what best suits our own individual needs – the changes are coming thick and fast and from a time no so long ago where all that was on offer were diminutive beasts that might realistically get you to the shops and back, we have now gestated into a much more evolved and realistic period of car making that sees us able to undertake almost any journey without that most awful of modern maladies – range anxiety.

And, our charging network is also developing quickly and the societal adaptation to what has been quite a visceral change in landscape has been impressive and proves once again that humankind, when faced with a massive challenge of this nature, has a unique capability of being able to produce the necessary solutions. 

We are not there yet – by a long shot – but we are getting there quickly and hopefully the unified aims of the people of the planet will come up with the right answers.

Some of our winners this year – and the overall winner in particular – might surprise people but, hopefully, it will get you talking – and thinking. 

So, enough waffle, let’s get to it. Oh, and just by the way, we’ll start with the best electrics we’ve driven and then move on to the best of the ‘normal’ cars we’ve given a lash.

Best Electric Luxobarge

Mercedes’s EQS is fantastic to drive and as an exercise in technological and engineering prowess it is unmatched right now.
Mercedes’s EQS is fantastic to drive and as an exercise in technological and engineering prowess it is unmatched right now.

The Mercedes EQS, by some considerable margin, ran away with this prize. The S-Class Mercedes is the embodiment of what might be described as affordable luxury motoring. 

Of course, you can spend lots more dosh on your luxury car if you so wish, but the €168,000 being asked for the EQS450+ we tested isn’t exactly bargain basement either. 

But, with a claimed range of 717 km, a power output of 313 bhp, a 0-100 km/h time of 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 210 km/h (all from a car weighing in at two-and-a-half tonnes) this thing is savagely impressive.

Throw in sci-fi levels of technology and a level of luxury you only see in seven-star hotels and you’ve a package which is completely mind-boggling. 

It’s fantastic to drive and as an exercise in technological and engineering prowess it is unmatched right now. It got a five-star rating and deserved every one of them. Magnificent thing.

Best Electric Executive

Mercedes EQE 350 - Best Electric Executive
Mercedes EQE 350 - Best Electric Executive

It’s Mercedes again, this time with the EQE. Based on the same platform and with much of the Star Trek technology as its larger sibling the EQS, the EQE was another tour de force from Stuttgart, although blessed with somewhat controversial looks – a factor which contrived to deprive it of a five-star rating. 

Nevertheless with pretty similar range, pace and on-road abilities as the bigger car, the EQE was easily the best thing we drove in its class in the last year. A fantastic piece of kit if you can ignore the, er, challenging appearance of the car.

Best Electric SUV

Kia EV6
Kia EV6

Winner by a mile here is the Kia EV6

Sure, it is a sister car to the Hyundai Ioniq 5, but for reasons best known only to the Hyundai importer, we never got to drive their contender. 

For its part, however, the EV6 is, by some distance, the best thing the company has ever made. It is good-looking, packed with technology, has a very workable range and great charging times. 

It is also really big inside and capable of carrying a large amount of your gear as well. Great to drive and a very imposing presence in your driveway, the only problem with the EV6 is getting your hands on one as supply issues have dogged Kia (and pretty much every other manufacturer) globally, thanks largely to the shortage of microprocessor chips.

The cars that came closest to it were the Nissan Ariya and the ridiculously-named Ford Mustang Mach-E. The Ariya came out of nowhere all of a sudden and plunged Nissan right back into the fight in this segment.

Similarly, the Mach-E was unexpectedly good but in our judgement, however, the Kia was the better of the three – on price as much as anything – and thus gets the gong.

Best Electric Coupe

The Best Electric Coupe this year was the BMW i4. It would take your breath away.
The Best Electric Coupe this year was the BMW i4. It would take your breath away.

Well, not really a coupe, per se, as it is actually a five door hatch in coupe clothing, but the BMW i4 took our breath away. Not alone was it a real looker, but with a 5.7 second 0-100 km/h time, a top speed of 250 km/h and a 500+ km range, it was the first car I’ve come across that offered petrolheads a real performance alternative to the internal combustion engine. 

This is a car which will change hearts and minds when it comes to automotive sporting endeavour and one which will put a smile of the face of any enthusiast. 

Not only is it quick, but the handling and ride are top drawer as well and the comfort and tech levels are right what you’d expect from a Beemer, And the thing is that if this is a foretaste of what’s to come, then we can actually look forward to a bright electric future indeed – especially at the sporty end of things.

Best ICE Supermini

Skoda Fabia - Best ICE Supermini
Skoda Fabia - Best ICE Supermini

A clear winner in this segment was the Skoda Fabia. Skoda has produced a car to rival and surpass (yet again) product coming from VW HQ in Wolfsburg. 

The Czechs pulled off a similar trick with the electric Enyaq, which was palpably better than any electric the Germans have thus far made. Now they’ve done it again with the Fabia. Sure the VW Polo is a really good thing, but like the SEAT Ibiza before it, the Fabia has stolen VW’s thunder by being every bit as good and cheaper to boot.

A little car (well, not too little as it’s about the same size as the original Golf) with a big heart and plenty of tech, the Fabia is great to live with and to drive. It’s surprisingly commodious as well and has a decent choice of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines.

The people in Wolfsburg must be getting a little pissed off that the crowd in Mlada Boleslav keep stealing their thunder.

Best ICE Medium SUV

Kia Sportage - Best ICE Medium SUV
Kia Sportage - Best ICE Medium SUV

Another winner for Kia here. Their Sportage has long been a favourite of Irish drivers – and with good reason as it is a spacious and comfortable family SUV with a decent range of engines. But this time around Kia did a lot more than just give it a pretty new face. 

They largely re-engineered it and also took a lot of the kit – including the infotainment tech – from the EV6 and scored heavily on the approval front. 

In a segment largely ruled by dull cars, the Kia stood out from rivals such as the Ford Puma and the vastly improved Opel Mokka. It might still lag a little behind stuff like the brilliant Peugeot 3008, but it was the best of the lot in the class this year.

Best Small ICE SUV

The Dacia Jogger was the best Small ICE SUV. It is not bothered with any class issues.
The Dacia Jogger was the best Small ICE SUV. It is not bothered with any class issues.

Dacia has pulled off a remarkable trick with its Duster model range by making a car that’s not hidebound by class issues. Everyone drives them. Now they’ve gone and done it again with the cheap-as-chips Jogger.

Nominally a seven-seater, it is easy to see the Jogger become a staple in the family SUV market. 

It drives well, is comfortable and has a decent amount of tech as well without any real frills. The excellent Toyota Yaris Cross was another contender here. Brilliantly put together – as ever – by Toyota and mindful of the ‘no more boring cars’ edict issued by company boss Akio Toyoda, it looks great and, despite being a hybrid, is really good to drive. 

The Jogger gets the nod, however, simply on the basis of value for money.

Best Hatchback and Irish Examiner Car of the Year

The Opel Astra is the Irish Examiner Car of the Year.
The Opel Astra is the Irish Examiner Car of the Year.

As I’ve already said, some readers might be surprised by this one because the main gong goes to the new Opel Astra, which is – in essence – a boring family hatchback. But, because of a confluence of events not least of which was the breathing of new life into a brand that had been allowed to wither and die on the vine by its previous owners, General Motors. 

Purchased initially by Peugeot and then consumed by the new entity – Stellantis – which was formed when the French joined forces with the Fiat/Chrysler empire to form the fifth-biggest car manufacturing company in the world, the German marque has made an extraordinary comeback. 

We saw the first signs of this when they rebuilt the Corsa on the excellent Peugeot 205 platform and now they’ve pulled off an even better trick with the Astra. The new Mokka and the new Grandland confirmed Opel was going in the right direction, but the Astra rubber-stamped that opinion.

Like the Corsa it shares the same platform and engine line-up with an excellent Peugeot – in this case the new 308 – but it scores heavily on price and quality. The Peugeot will not suit everyone because it has been set up with a very firm suspension set-up and also boasts the somewhat controversial ‘i-Cockpit’ interior design. 

The Opel avoided these pitfalls and everything about the car suggests that the designers and engineers at Russelsheim have not only delighted at being allowed access to the Peugeot parts bin, but – and here’s the trick – making good use of it.

Having previously only been allowed the automotive equivalent of a voucher for Halfords in terms of their R and D budget, now they can get their hands on properly engineered base materials, they have gone from sow’s ear to silk purse in terms of finished product. The Astra is a truly surprising car – and in a good way and if it is an indication of what the company is capable of, then Opel are in for a good time of it in sales and popularity terms in the coming years.

I recall telling people that the 1.2 petrol turbo was a dinger (we also drove the 1.5 diesel, but the small capacity 130 bhp petrol is a gem) and watched as they fell around laughing – “A 1.2 petrol, you’re taking the mick.” 

But it’s true and when you throw in kit levels and pricing the package is truly impressive. There’s also an electric Astra coming down the tracks soon and that should be the final key to the revitalisation of a near-dead nameplate.

So that’s it folks and apart from the usual thanks to our resilient readers (both of them!) who put up with our wordy guff on a weekly basis and very sincere gratitude to all of you who took the time send good wishes when we had a near death experience last March – and especially the folks, medics and friends both – who physically saved my ass. Best wishes to you all for a happy and safe 2023.

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