Where do you begin when trying to summarise arguably the toughest UAE automotive market on record, with Covid-19 forcing the world’s car factories to close from mid-March to mid-May?
Not a single car was sold in the UAE in April as showrooms were forced to stay closed during lockdown, which was replicated in neighbouring countries such as India, as well as across most of Europe and Asia.
Yet globally, more than 350 new models, facelifts and derivatives were still launched during the 10 months that the industry was open, so here are the 20 from 2020 that stood out for being exciting, innovative, much anticipated and / or hinting to an electric future in a distorted year.
Aston Martin DBX
This is Aston's first off-roader, and what a car it is. Designed from a clean sheet of paper, it doesn't compromise on anything, so offers loads of interior space, bespoke levels of comfort and, of course, rapid performance from its 4.0 twin-turbo V8.
Audi's first all-electric car was launched to the world in Abu Dhabi and went on sale this year. It delivers 355 brake horsepower and 561Nm of torque for a top speed of 200 kilometres per hour and zero to 100kph in 6.5 seconds. Select boost mode and for eight seconds you get 402bhp and 660Nm, which cuts the 100kph dash to 5.7 seconds.
A bit of a sleeper among the sometime brash Euro luxury sportsters, the S6's subtle lines hide its impressive performance. A twin-turbo, 2.9 V6 delivers the same 444bhp as the old 4.0 V8 it replaced, but with less fuel and emissions. This is the thinking person's exec-express.
A mid-life update of Bentley's class-leading SUV introduced more than 1,000 modifications to maintain leadership in an expanding sector. With 20,000 units sold globally, it's an unequivocal success and a Middle East favourite, while some visual concerns from the first model have been sorted with this stylish makeover.
Bentley Continental GT
It's been a big year for Bentley for its two biggest models, with the Continental GT getting its first complete overhaul in 15 years. The 2020 model is lighter, stronger and faster thanks to help from sister company Porsche and, together with an important endurance race win in February, has cemented its place as a high-performance tourer.
The important BMWs have always been from the smaller end of the pool with the 3-Series and 4-Series, so a new model is always newsworthy. Despite its many engineering advances, however, all the talk remains centred around that controversial nose. Officially launched, though yet to be seen on our roads, it’s taking a while for people to warm to BMW’s design overhaul.
Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport
In a word, breathtaking, both in a metaphorical and literal sense. As if the quad-turbo, 1500bhp, 8-litre W12 hypercar couldn’t get any faster, Bugatti has trimmed 50 kilograms and shortened up the gear ratios to make its Chiron Pur Sport both lighter and faster in acceleration at the expense of top end. It now “only” does 350kph instead of 420, but gets from zero to 100 in just 2.3 seconds compared to 2.5.
It seems like the big Caddy has been around forever, but completely redesigned and packing new technology, this fifth-generation iteration includes Sport trim for the first time with black chrome and an all-new, first-class interior. On sale at the end of December, the order books are now open.
Chevrolet Corvette C8
They said it would never be done, but Chevrolet is challenging the Italians by making its latest Corvette mid-engined, giving it proportions and handling much closer to Ferrari with performance to match: 2.9 to 100kph from the Z51 makes this the quickest Stingray in history.
Ferrari F8 Spider
The F8 Spider continues a lineage that began with the 308GTS as a topless, mid-mounted, twin-turbo V8 which now produces a mind-bending 720bhp and hits 200kph in 8.2 seconds. It’s almost too fast for the road.
A more elegant option if you want to carry passengers, the Roma uses a different version of the F8’s turbo V8. It harks back to Ferrari’s glory days of the 1960s with models such as the 250GT and is arguably nicest-looking Ferrari in 50 years.
Jeep doesn't do things by halves. The Gladiator looks like it ate a JL Wrangler and tacked it on the end. This beast is enormous and unbelievably capable off-road, as discovered first-hand in a flash flood where it powered through swollen rivers. It has a 620kg payload while a new five-link rear end lets it tow up to 2,720kg.
Land Rover Defender
Arguably the biggest launch of the year, the Defender is an emblem of UAE motoring, so replacing the 72-year-old original was never going to be easy. Fortunately, it handles the dunes better than any Land Rover to date and in more comfort than the previous model.
Maserati Ghibli Hybrid
The news is less about this specific model and more about Maserati's future as it heads down an electrified path starting with the Ghibli. Maserati's USP has been its V8 exhaust note, and that will go as EVs take hold. But for now, this Ghibli has a 48-volt alternator and electric supercharger to back its 2.0 turbo four-cylinder motor.
Unlike the Ferrari Roma, McLaren's GT remains mid-engined with just two seats, so is it really a GT? Well, it has more luggage space than most GTs, provides better balance thanks to its engine being in the centre and was still comfortable after a long day's driving, so that's a yes.
A technological tour de force, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class looks like it will steamroll its competitors again as the benchmark luxury saloon. With its unrivalled comfort, chassis and performance, it adds the latest in connectivity and smart intelligence that will ensure it’s still relevant in 10 years.
Porsche Cayman and Boxster 4.0 GTS
This 4.0 GTS duo launched in February and keeps motoring fun with a six-speed manual and a beefy 395bhp, 4.0-litre, naturally aspirated, flat six-cylinder engine.
Although revealed last year, the 992-gen 911 Carrera didn’t land until this year so it qualifies for this list. The 572bhp Turbo is now also with us, but we’ll stick with the entry Carrera that is still good for 282kph and 3.5 seconds to 100kph.
Another Porsche, but this is the big one: the EV Taycan that has changed the game for luxury electric sports cars. Porsche says more than 50 per cent of its model range will be electrified by 2025.
Like every Rolls-Royce, the new Ghost is big, comfortable and quiet except it's now also lighter, has four-wheel drive and rear-wheel steer. While the rest of the world changes, Rolls-Royce thankfully remains the same, albeit adjusting to a "post opulence" society.