Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Rimac: The best cars that I drove in 2022

The ability to deliver from behind the wheel what their aesthetics promise from the exterior 


ONE thing I love about my job is the variety of vehicles that come my way. One week, I’ll be driving a stoplight-yellow Porsche up a mountain highway; the next, I’ll be crab-walking an electric Hummer in Arizona desert. 

The good ones all have certain things in common: The ability to deliver from behind the wheel what their aesthetics promise from the exterior — and the ability to do that at a fair price within their competitive set. This year proved delightfully diverse. 

Here are the best of what I drove — and why — in several categories. 

Sports Car: Ferrari 296 GTB 

I’m a sucker for a historic reference, so I was probably already halfway gone when I got behind the wheel of the Ferrari 296 GTB last March in Seville, Spain. This was the first time Ferrari had put a V6 engine in a production car since it stopped making the painfully stylish mid-engine Dino in 1976. The 296 GTB has some great performance numbers: Its hybrid engine achieves 819hp and gets to 62mph in 2.9 seconds. 

Top speed is 205 mph. The 296 GTB is even faster around Ferrari’s test track in Fiorino, Italy, than the US$1.5 million (RM6.65 million) LaFerrari. 

The 296 GTB’s hybrid engine achieves 819hp and gets to 62mph in 2.9 seconds (Source: Ferrari)

But it will also suit those who would like to drive it off-track, even daily. You can toggle through drive modes to help accommodate surface conditions; the front splitter will easily clear divots and dips in the road; and the seats and chassis are less stiff than what we’ve come to expect in Ferrari supercars such as the half-million-dollar SF90 Stradale. 

Back when it debuted in the 1970s, the Dino was an entry-level afterthought in Ferrari’s portfolio. With those performance numbers and a starting price of US$318,000, the 296 GTB is not entry-level. But it still beats the Lamborghini Aventadors, which have roughly the same numbers but cost an additional several hundred thousand dollars. For what it’s worth, original Dino prices routinely brush US$500,000 to US$600,000 on these days. The way I see it, the 296 GTB is practically a steal. 

Sedan: Rolls-Royce Phantom II 

I love how unapologetic this car is, and I love Rolls-Royce for making it. The Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II is the longest-running nameplate of the 116-year-old brand. Promoters say it represents the quietest and most luxurious a car can be when pricing is no object, and Phantom II just about lives up to that promise. It boasts a 563hp V12 engine, 12 mpg in the city and a price tag that, for most buyers, will approach US$700,000. Still with me? Great. Because if you can get past those figures, you’re in for a treat. 

More than a car, Phantom II represents an entire lifestyle. This year, Phantom II offers new headlamps with 820 tiny bezel-cut stars surrounding them, new wheel options and a slightly shifted grille, but its main focus is on letting clients do even more to make the car feel like their own. (That’s where the astronomical price tag comes in: Hand-hewn woods, sumptuous wools and specially-made silks aren’t cheap, especially when you want them coloured to your own exact specifications.) 

Even normal-ish things here cost a lot: Up-lighting on the Spirit of Ecstasy (US$4,950), elevated footrests (US$6,325), a rear theatre (US$14,525), refrigerated Champagne cooler (US$3,500), 22-inch forged black disc wheels (US$13,000) and picnic tables covered in wood veneer of your choosing (US$4,100) are some of the more conventional options. 

Unapologetic, indeed. But as I wrote in my review, you won’t just feel special when riding inside the Phantom’s vault-like confines; you’ll feel superior. 

SUV: Audi Q4 e-Tron 

It’s difficult to make a midsize family SUV interesting, let alone memorable. They often remind me of a Labrador retriever: Reliable, stable, safe and kind of interchangeable. So, it’s unique to drive a car in this category that I can even remember four months later. I’m still thinking about the Audi Q4 e-Tron, and not just because of how proud it made Audi’s designers. Audi’s new EV Q4 comes in two forms: The Q4 e-Tron has a more traditional rear end shaped like a softly rounded rectangle and the Q4 e-Tron Sportback has a sportier (sleeker) rear roofline. 

They both get 241 miles of driving range and can do zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds, with a top speed of 112 mph. Driving range in both is 265 miles per charge under the best conditions. The Sportback costs roughly US$3,000 more. 

The Audi Q4 e-Tron Sportback has a sportier (sleeker) rear roofline (Source: Audi)

The Q4 e-Tron drives as sure-footedly and strongly as any car in the excellent e-Tron line-up. But the attention paid to the interior setup and build quality make it feel superior to the electric SUVs from Tesla and Cadillac. A healthy mix of touchscreens, 

buttons and knobs give it a futuristic yet familiar feel. Bottle holders are set flush to the inside of each door; sideview mirrors are shifted to allow greater sightlines around the front and sides of the vehicle. There are ample headroom and legroom in the back and a generous 54.4 cu ft of storage in the rear with the seats folded flat. It basically feels as if the world’s parents sat down and made a list of the things they wanted in an electric SUV in 2022, and Audi obliged. 

Priced at US$48,800, less than the comparable Q5 Sportback, the Q4 e-Tron bodes well for future EVs from Audi. 

Convertible: Mercedes-AMG SL 

This year brought another modern take on a famous historic model, the Mercedes-Benz SL. (You know the one: It’s in half the driveways in such upper-middle-class neighbourhoods as Silverlake in Los Angeles, and in plenty of holiday ads — including, most recently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s holiday ad, which shows her driving a white one. I owned a 1988 560 SL, so I was very curious to see how the newfangled Mercedes-AMG SL version — yes, they all are convertibles — would compare. 

It shares no components with its predecessors; all they have in common is the name. But this doesn’t bother me. My original SL was lucky to maintain an 80 mph cruising speed on the highway. I had to actively rein in the new one. It comes with a V8 bi-turbo engine that gets 577hp with 590 lbs ft of torque. It has a zero-to-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of roughly 200 mph. As I wrote in my review, the SL exhibits thrilling torque, stability and balance, thanks in part to a new AMG-developed architecture, a complex composite chassis that maximises rigidity and a first-ever AMG-tuned all-wheel drive. It drives splendidly. 

The new SL has two back seats and comes only with a soft top that deploys in 15 seconds. (The original offers a removable hardtop but no rear seats.) Total trunk space tops out at less than eight cu ft, about enough to hold a golf bag and a duffel bag — perfect for a holiday retreat. Pricing starts at US$137,400, about what you’d spend on a competitor such as the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. 

Hypercar: Rimac Nevera 

Pure electric hypercars, while technically real, are still sort of hypothetical. Only a very few have been made. It’s impossible to know exactly how many, since these companies don’t have to release production numbers, but safe to say there are fewer than 100 in customer hands worldwide. I’ve driven a couple of them and eagerly anticipate more. 

The best of the lot is the Rimac Nevera, the 1,914hp beast that just broke the record for fastest EV on the planet. (Top speed: 256 mph and zero to 60 mph takes 1.85 seconds.) It costs US$2.1 million. It looks like something you’d want to drive to Las Vegas during the Formula 1 peak next year, with all your high school enemies watching you arrive. It’s the opposite of a necessity. 

The Rimac Nevera does accomplish an important task: Exciting us all about what electric power can do. Better yet, in founder Mate Rimac and partial owner Porsche, it has the stalwart, steady leadership and powerful backing it needs to ensure its long-term viability and success. I look forward to what comes next. — Bloomberg 

This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition