Like every year, 2017 gave us some spectacular automotive stories. From outrageous top speeds to electric cars, the year saw a ton of advancements across the board.
We’re doing things a bit differently for our inaugural Automotive Year In Review. Unlike its gaming equivalent, we’re not breaking things down by month, but rather trends that spread across the calendar. Take a look at a selection of our top news stories, involving technological advancements and record-setting runs.
The New Age of Speed
If previous years were the age of ridiculous horsepower, then 2017 is the year of outrageous top speeds.
In November, Hennessey took the wraps off the latest hypercar from the brand. Packing 1,600 ponies and capable of a 0-186mph time of 10 seconds, the Venom F5 is a rocket ship on wheels. According to Hennessey, the Venom F5 will break the 300mph barrier once it’s up and running.
It’ll have some stiff competition though. Mere days after the announcement of the Venom F5, Koenigsegg showed it wasn’t messing around. The company closed off an 11-mile section of Nevada highway and took the Agera RS to a record-setting 277.9mph average with a one-way top speed of 284mph.
The run dethroned Bugatti as the king of speed with its 268mph record.
With the top speed war just heating up, it’s entirely possible that 2018 will bring the first production car to eclipse the 300mph barrier.
Even with the impressive numbers, these cars pale in comparison to the Bloodhound SSC. With a 210mph run in October, the SSC is by no means currently on par with the Venom or Agera. However, this was just a test run; in 2018 we should see the SSC hit 650mph or more, en route to its final goal of the cracking the four-digit barrier.
Track Monsters Usher in a New Era of Speed and Performance
Top speeds might make for good headlines, but not every million-dollar hypercar focused on that metric in 2017. Other manufacturers looked to the track for the latest batch of uncompromising performance elite.
Kicking things off in March, Aston Martin finally dubbed the absolutely insane hypercar the Valkyrie. Even though the Valkyrie first made an appearance in 2016 as the AM-RB 001, it wasn’t until this year it really took shape.
Throughout the early part of the year, Aston gave us snippets of the car until July when we really found out what the car was made of. With its 900hp Cosworth V12 and space-age materials, the Valkyrie will hit the sought-after 1 hp/kg mark. This will make it downright bonkers once the 150 examples his the showroom in 2018.
Not to be outdone, Mercedes showed off its Project One for the 50th birthday of AMG in September.
While not as extreme in the looks department as the Valkyrie, the Project One is anything but tame. With a screaming 1.6-liter engine plucked straight from its dominant F1 cars, the hypercar makes 670hp on petrol alone. However, this wasn’t enough for the Affalterbach crew. With three electric motors, the total output of the Project One is a staggering 1,000 ponies.
In November, Ferrari took a slightly different direction with its track car, the FXX-K Evo.
Still with a stable of horses – 1,035 of them – Ferrari cranked the downforce dial past 11. At a “reasonable” 124mph, the FXX-K Evo generates a hefty 1,411lb of downforce – that’s 75% more than the LaFerrari.
Once built, the FXX-K Evo should prove to be a menace to track records everywhere.
Finally, in early December McLaren took the wraps off its track toy. Named after the late Ayrton Senna it joins the McLaren “Ultimate Series”.
Power is a relatively modest 789hp from a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8. However, with a focus on aerodynamics and a lightweight 2,641lb dry weight it will make mincemeat out of whatever track it comes across.
With all these high-performance hypercars hitting market, it left us with just one question. Does this mean a return to GT1 racing in 2018?
The Ridiculous Hunt for the Most Specific Ring Record
Ah, the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The great equalizer. As we learned in 2017, you didn’t need a top speed a third of the speed of sound, or extreme levels of downforce to make headlines. At the ‘Ring, a record title is available for just about anything — and if one doesn’t exist yet, just make it up!
The first notable record of the year came in March when Lamborghini took the Huracan Performante around the track in 6:52. This stole the production car crown from the previous title-holder, the Porsche 918 Spyder.
The second record of the year came the following month. In pursuit of the fastest FWD lap time, Honda took the new Civic Type for a spin around the Green Hell. With a final time of 7:43.8 the Civic beat the previous record from the VW Golf GTI Clubsport S by seven seconds.
In May, the all-electric NIO EP9 lapped the ‘Ring in an impressive 6:45.90. This set the record for the fastest, production, non-street legal electric car. Thanks to its megawatt of power it obliterated the previous 7:22.33 record held by the Toyota TMG EV P001.
With summer just kicking off, McLaren (er, Lanzante) ventured to the ‘Ring with a purpose-built P1 LM. With a time of 6:43.2 it saw off both the NIO and Huracan. However, it stretches the definition of “production” to breaking point.
In late July, Subaru took the Scrabble high score WRX STI Type RA NBR for its own shot at ‘Ring glory. Setting a time of 6:57.5 it only just missed the mark of the Porsche 918 Spyder. Since the Type RA is a bespoke race car (that’s not really a race car) it fell into its own special category for a ‘Ring record.
Days later a private team, with the help of crowdfunding, took a Viper ACR to the Ring in hopes of giving fans something they desperately wanted: a ‘Ring time. Even with a multitude of records to its name, the ACR never lapped the Green Hell with a factory driver at the wheel.
While the July runs set an impressive 7:03.45 lap time, the team went back to the track in September to give it one more shot at beating the Huracan. Unfortunately, several mishaps and crashes took both of the ACR hopefuls out of the competition. In the end, the car set a 7:01.3 time. If you wonder if this is a record too, fear not: it is. With that time the Viper ACR became the fastest American, rear wheel drive, and manual transmission car to lap the track.
In late September, Porsche had enough of Lamborghini flaunting the record and brought out the big guns. With a time of 6:47.25 the 911 GT2 RS brought the King of the Ring title back to the motherland. Thankfully, this was a straight-up production car record with no odd specifics.
Finally, in November Jaguar gave us what might be the most absurd record of the year. Running a time of 7:21.23 the XE SV Project 8 took home the title of four-door sedan prototype with production-intent.
As with every year, 2018 promises even more ‘Ring record attempts no matter how specific they might be. We’ll still think they’re pointless though.
What Once Was Old Is New Again
While some manufacturers were out setting top speed records or trying to conquer the ‘Ring, others were hard at work at bringing back some classic metal with modern updates.
In March, French company Alpine gave us its updated version of the A110. With styling cues right out of the ’60s, the A110 captured the essence of the original. However, unlike some other retro cars from the past, Alpine made sure to make it suitably modern.
Like its forefather, the updated A110 uses a Renault engine. It’s a little bigger this time around at 1.8-liters, but it packs way more of a punch. The classic A110 made 140hp in its highest trim; this new version though nearly doubles that with 250 ponies.
In July, Pagani brought back the Zonda for what might seem like the thousandth time. It really is the car that won’t give up the ghost – hence the name Fantasma. Unfortunately, Zonda fans shouldn’t get their hopes up on a full-scale return of the hypercar. The Fantasma is a one-off spiritual ressurection of a wrecked 2005 Zonda F.
With September rolling around, we were hit with another resurrection of TVR – the company that (thankfully) refuses to stay dead.
With the newest iteration of the Griffith, we got a look at what might be the first TVR not out to actively kill you. Don’t get us wrong though, it still holds many of the quirky things that make any TVR great.
Both the exterior and interior take inspiration from the Griffith of old. With strange styling, a mish-mash of things from the parts bin, and an exhaust in the wrong place it embodies the TVR spirit.
Where the Griffith shines is its powerplant. Using a 5.0-liter Coyote engine out of a Mustang the TVR is good for 500hp. This pushes it to 60 in under four seconds and a top speed that’s over 200mph. The best part is due to the reliability of the Ford engine, you’ll be able to achieve those performance numbers without ending up on fire.
Finally, we have what might be one of the most stunning cars of the year in the newest Singer 911. With colors and styling directly from the 1970s, it’s a blast from the past with all the modern performance you’d ever want.
That performance is nothing short of epic either. Working with the F1 team Williams, Singer developed a powerful 500hp 4.0-liter flat six to sit at the heart of the beast. It even maintained the air-cooled properties of the 911 for that extra bit of retro flair (and an almighty yowl).
The Evolution of the Sports Car
While slightly less over-the-top than the dedicated track cars, 2017 also saw plenty of activity in the junior leagues. Between ever more race-influenced sports cars, and the continued line-blurring that defines modern GTs, it was a year for the extrovert and the modest alike.
Falling firmly in the former category, the Ford GT hit showrooms in January to kick off 2017 with a bang. Once June rolled around, Jaguar gave us an unlikely track star with its XE SV Project 8. Running a beastly 5.0-liter V8 with a whopping 592 hp with an aero package built for downforce it’s the ultimate sports sedan — or we guess the next step up; a hyper sedan?
In July, Porsche showcased the most powerful street-legal 911 ever to roll out of Stuttgart with the GT2 RS. This cover star of Forza Motorsports 7 comes with a 3.8-liter flat six with two turbos. The number of ponies in the stable? A massive 700. This pushes the GT2 RS to 60 in just 2.7 seconds and to a top speed of 211mph.
Finally, in November the world got a taste of next-generation ZR1 Corvette. With a new LT5 engine sporting a big supercharger, the new ZR1 is the most powerful Corvette ever. With 755hp and 715lb-ft of torque, it’s also the first Vette to eclipse the 200mph barrier. Clearly, GM wasn’t messing around.
However, even with all this power it still comes in second on the list of the most powerful American vehicles. Number one? That belongs to the frankly ridiculous Dodge Demon.
700hp isn’t the exclusive domain of two-seaters anymore, either. In January, Bentley gave us our first look at the updated Continental in the Supersport trim. It’s the most boy-racer of the Conti range, but it still looks demure next to the Demon or Vette.
At the peak of summer, Ferrari bestowed upon us the new California replacement, the Portofino. Running an updated version of the 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8, the Portofino packs a punch. With 592hp the car gets 40 more ponies than its predecessor. A top speed of “more than 199mph” and a 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds also give it a boost over the California.
Finally, in November we got the highly anticipated Aston Martin Vantage complete with a rather loud shade of green. When Aston teased us with the Vantage clad in prototype camo in August, we could hardly wait to see the finished product. Once the sheet was pulled back, it met all our expectations and more.
The Vulcan-inspired styling and smooth lines gave the car a fresh, modern look. Not everyone was immediately in love with it though. On the forums, we saw a stark split between those who admired it and those who loathed it.
You won’t find many complaints about the 503hp 4.0-liter, AMG-sourced V8 however. And we can’t wait to see the race car on tracks across the globe next year.
Electrify All the Things!
Not everyone was out chasing meaningless records though. Several companies took the opportunity in 2017 to show off their electrification plans or reveal new fully electric cars.
At the forefront of this electric revolution is none other than madman Elon Musk and Tesla. Besides getting ready to shoot his personal car into space, Musk gave the world the Model 3, the insane next-gen Roadster, and a partially nuclear blast-proof semi truck in 2017.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Musk though. With huge production bottlenecks for the Model 3 and allegations of horrific work conditions, it made for a rollercoaster of a year for Musk. Despite the issues, Musk continues to put the electric car in the spotlight. Assuming Tesla stays afloat, 2018 will hold even more surprises from the brand. Whether it’ll follow through though is another story.
Tesla wasn’t alone in its charge though. In June, Volvo revealed that its Polestar tuning arm would split off into its own company focusing on performance electric cars. If the first model, the 600hp twin-charged, dual-electric-motor Polestar 1, is any indication, we’re certainly on board.
Then, the following month Volvo said models starting in 2019 would get an optional electrified powertrain. After the Volvo announcement, it seems like the entire auto industry went a bit electrification mad.
In June, Aston Martin told of plans to create its first electric car called the RapidE, due in 2019. Not to be outdone, Mercedes-AMG jumped onboard the electric hype train too. In September, Jaguar joined in the fun. Starting in 2020 all new Jags, along with Land Rover, will have an electrification option.
To support its electrification efforts, Jaguar also unveiled its new FIA series for the electric I-Pace. Even with an odd choice in vehicles, it marked an important moment in motorsports — or whatever the electric equivalent is. The eTrophy is the first FIA-endorsed series based on a production electric car.
Finally, in October, GM shared its ambitious plan to release 20 electric vehicles by 2023. It’s a lofty goal for sure. However, with GM pushing the electric car boundary among large-scale automakers, they should hit the goal.
It’s not surprising so many companies are ramping up their electrification plans. With countries like France, Britain, Norway, and India mulling over the possibility of banning gas vehicles, it’s only a matter of time before EVs dominate new models.
Autonomous Cars Level Up
Where there’s electrification, there’s autonomous cars. The self-driving cars dominated the headlines — even if Mazda found 71% don’t want them.
Audi led the way with autonomy in 2017 and took it to another level — literally. With the release of the new A8, Audi brought the world its first Level 3 autonomous vehicle.
What this means is the A8 can operate without any need for the driver to monitor it. There are two catches: first, there must be a barrier between it and oncoming traffic; second, it’s limited to 37mph. Still, in theory, this means the A8 can take care of a traffic jam for you. The A7 that debuted in October strangely forgoes the Level 3 stuff, though it offers a handy self-parking option for those tight urban spots.
In another first for autonomous tech, the self-driving car had its first recorded accident on public roads. In November the Navya Autonomous Shuttle was looking forward to shuttling people around Las Vegas when it got up close and personal with a semi truck. While the accident was the fault of the semi driver, it did call into question the safety of autonomous cars. Thankfully, everyone walked away without injury and the Navya lived to work another day.
2018 will see more advancements in the autonomous realm. It’s only a matter of time before a Level 4 vehicle takes to the streets.
Pour Some 10W-40 Over the Curb for These Fallen Comrades
While 2017 gave us some truly amazing new cars, we also said goodbye to a few fantastic ones. Thankfully a majority of the cars that are now dead and gone won’t leave us crying in the corner.
Probably the saddest loss this past year is the Dodge Viper. In a world of increasing safety, emission, and fuel economy regulations the Viper and its aging design no longer worked. The snarling V10, leg-burning exhaust pipes, and interior parts from an economy car will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Another sort of American car bit the dust as well — the Chevy SS. As it was never promoted heavily it’s little surprise no one really bought them. However, a proper V8 sports sedan from the good old USA was something impressive.
Besides the slow sales in the US, the SS also met its end due to another major loss — the entire Australian automotive industry.
Thankfully, the rest of the losses this year aren’t nearly as gut-wrenching. We mean, how many people even knew Mitsubishi still made the Lancer? And who can be sad about the termination of the Nissan Juke — the world’s most awkward-looking car?
Happy New Year!