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Z-06

Jeremy Clarkson's Car of the Year

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Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Out of nowhere, my car of the year

Clarkson-2009-Corvette-ZR1.jpg

It's been a quiet year for the world's motor industry. There have been no wrecks, nobody drowning; in fact, nothing to laugh at at all. But, hidden in the sea of normality and business as usual, were a couple of gems.

We start with the BMW X6, which must receive my inaugural What Were They Thinking Of award. Have you seen one? No, and I doubt you ever will because in a world that's plagued with recession and run by people who believe the world's polar bears are up at the North Pole sipping pina coladas and slapping on the factor five, it is surely the most inappropriate piece of corporate thinking since Sir Clive Sinclair said: "Yes. The electric slipper. That's what people want . . ."

However, I cannot say the BMW X6 is the worst car of the year, partly because I have not yet driven it and partly because it cannot possibly be worse than the Chrysler Sebring Convertible. Unless it smells of slurry and the radio is jammed on Rap FM.

The Sebring is an extraordinary car. Ugly to behold and hateful to drive, it is not cheap, elegant, comfortable, practical, prestigious, clever, economical, luxurious, well designed, well thought out or, if the rental car I drove in America this year is anything to go by, especially well made either. Perhaps this is why the boss of Chrysler chose to go to Washington in his private jet. He knew that if he used a Sebring, it would break down on the way. Or worse, it would get there and he'd be a laughing stock among his business-mates from Ford and General Motors.

Strangely, however, the Chrysler is not the worst car I drove all year. That accolade rests with the diesel-powered Kia Sedona people carrier.

With the Sebring, you get the impression that the designers and engineers couldn't be bothered to make a good car. With the Sedona you are left with the distinct impression they simply didn't know how.

I cannot conceive of how empty, pointless and lacking in ambition or style your life must be for the Sedona to be a solution. It is like alcohol-free beer, a pointless car-free facsimile of the real thing, and as a result, it can have no place in the life of a sentient being.

The biggest disappointment of the year is a closely fought contest between any number of cars but the winner is Audi's RS 6. It promises much and on a racetrack it delivers a great deal. But to buy a five-seat estate car simply because it's so fluent through Becketts is like going out to buy a pet goldfish and coming home with a horse "because it's so good over the Chair".

The drawbacks you will encounter in real life are too endless. The uncomfortable seating, the weird steering and a very real sense that in a car like this, 572bhp is a lot more than you will ever need. It's said you can't be too beautiful or too rich but you can have too much power. Because one minute you'll be overtaking a lorry and the next you'll go mad and want to invade Poland.

Other disappointments are mostly centred on cars which aren't really as good as others that do broadly the same thing. The Ford Kuga, for instance, is not as good as the Volvo XC60 and the Renault Twingo Renaultsport is not as good as a Fiat 500 Abarth. And then there's the Vauxhall Insignia, which is massively better than the Vectra it replaces. But not quite as good as the Ford Mondeo. And who says: "Right. What I want to buy is the second-best four-door saloon with no badge prestige"? Actually, come to think of it; who wants to buy the best?

My main gripe of the year, though, rests with seat designers who have got it into their heads that we only like leather – there's really nothing wrong with pleblon, especially on a day that's hot or cold, and doubly especially if there are any corners between your house and your place of work.

Worse, though, they seem to think that what we really want are seats in our cars that are less comfortable than those in our kitchens. I know that cod liver oil is good for you. I also know you will go to heaven if you only eat weeds and you spend your evenings embroidering kneelers for the local church. But we are not all vegi-vicars. That is why we don't wear hair shirts and it's why we want the seats in our cars to have a bit of give. Are you listening, Vauxhall? Are you listening, Ford? Go and find yourself an old Renault Fuego Turbo. Check out the bean bags it came with and you'll know what I'm on about.

And now we shall move on to the good stuff from the past 12 months. On television recently, I said the best car from the year was the Caterham R500 but it's important to remember that the criterion we were looking for was very specific. The winner had to do more than you could reasonably expect for the money. The Nissan GT-R was a contender because it costs almost half as much as a Porsche 911 Turbo and yet around the Nürburgring – and such things do matter with cars like this – it is faster. Then you have the VW Scirocco, which costs, as near as makes no difference, the same as the Golf GTI on which it is based. And yet it's so much more desirable. But the winner had to be the little Caterham, which is faster round the Top Gear track than the Bugatti Veyron . . . even though it costs about 30 times less.

However, if you broaden the search engine and look simply for the best car of the year, the Caterham isn't in with a shout because it's ugly and geeky and I wouldn't have one even if the option was the loss of my right testicle.

Best car, then? Hmmm. You cannot discount the Rolls-Royce Phantom drophead because it is exquisite in almost every way. Nor can we ignore the Fiat 500 Abarth because it's just so bouncy and wonderful and so full of enthusiasm. I don't think it would be possible to be in a bad mood while driving this car. And soon there will be a 200bhp version with a spoiler the size of Middlesex on the roof. That'll make the Mini Cooper look like a brogue.

However, the car I've selected wins because it's just such a surprise.

Over the years there have been a great many Corvettes, and none of them, if we're honest, have been any good. Oh, there have been some fast ones and some with great charisma. Mostly, they have been pretty as well. But to drive? No. They were the automotive equivalent of Big Macs. Cheap, plastic and at the right time, and in the right place, sort of just what you want. But like I said. Just no.

And then out of nowhere came the ZR1, which has a supercharged V8 that manages to be both docile and extraordinarily savage all at the same time. I've been trying to think of a dog that pulls off a similar trick, but there isn't one. And anyway, this car is not a dog.

Oh, it's not built very well. After just three days in my care, the boot lock disintegrated and the keyless go system refused to acknowledge the keys were in the car, but I didn't mind because there is simply no other car that looks this good, goes this fast – in a straight line and around corners – and that most of the time bumbles about like a forgetful uncle. And when you throw in the price tag of just £106,690 – lots for a Corvette but modest next to a similarly powerful Ferrari – the case for the defence can sit down and put up its feet knowing that the prosecutor simply has nowhere to go.

It is an epic car and I'm only sad that unless the healthcare and pensions company that makes it can be turned around, it will be the last of the breed.

Indeed, I worry that the next 12 months will bring us many wrecks, many drownings and absolutely nothing to laugh at at all. I shall therefore stop short of wishing you a prosperous new year. Instead, I shall hope that in our new-found poverty, we can still all be happy.

Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Engine: 6162cc, supercharged V8

Power: 638bhp @ 6500rpm

Torque: 604 lb ft @ 3800rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Fuel: 18.8mpg (combined) 355g/km CO2

Acceleration: 0-60mph: 3.4sec

Top speed: 205mph

Price: £106,690

Road tax band: G (£400 a year)

Release date: Out now

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He is a pompass ass...but once in awhile he is funny as hell.

Nice to see the Corvette get a little respect from an American car hater.

IIRC he blew up a C4 from a helecopter....

Chris

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He is a pompass ass...but once in awhile he is funny as hell.

Nice to see the Corvette get a little respect from an American car hater.

IIRC he blew up a C4 from a helecopter....

Chris

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