We round out the waltz with a look back on a detonating landmass.
Given its situation in the midst of the North Atlantic, perched upon a massive faultline, it’s hardly surprising that Iceland is utterly defined by its landscape. The least densely populated country in Europe, it is perhaps best known for its geothermal and seismic activity, much of which falls into the category of visually dramatic but relatively harmless (from a safe distance). However, Iceland’s landmass is not to be trifled with. In 2010 the Nordic country made the front pages when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, spewing massive quantities of volcanic ash thousands of miles into the atmosphere.
As the giant ash cloud migrated across the Atlantic, air traffic across Europe became paralysed, with thousands of travellers stranded over the Easter period, when huge numbers of people would normally have been flying; the worst disruption since the second world war. Two years on from the financial crisis, and with the after effects still being felt, public purses constrained and austerity being the byword, Europe was plunged into further chaos.
Yet this period was also notable for a sharp rise of luxury car sales, so the announcement in 2010 of the one millionth Range Rover built since production began 40 years earlier was less of a shock than perhaps it might otherwise have been.
Anniversaries, but also departures: 2010 marked the deaths of veteran former Team Lotus manager, Peter Warr, controversial racing driver and team principal, Tom Walkinshaw, and Royden (Roy) Axe, Design Director at Chrysler UK and latterly, Rover Group were announced over the course of the year. Births too of course, with a broad array of new car debuts, some of which were in receipt of the DTW treatment – the remainder languish below.
Audi arrived to the upmarket supermini fray in 2010, debuting the Polo-based A1. Largely a reskin along contemporary (Tornado) lines, the A1 looked more contrived and Mini-like in silhouette and detail than its VAG stablemate, but gaping grille aside was nevertheless decently executed. The cabin was more assured, with quality mouldings and switchgear said to have been sourced from further up the model hierarchy. Amid those for whom only the four rings of Ingolstadt would suffice, the A1 (in its myriad of derivations) was heaven sent – the less insecure probably shopped elsewhere.
At the other end of the range, Audi also debuted the A7 Sportback. Essentially, Ingolstadt’s answer to Mercedes’ CLS, intended to appeal to the owner-driver who wanted the heft and opulence of an A8 without the somewhat po-faced aura which tended to come with with these Germanic luxury flagships. Favoured with a well-honed chassis and a strong range of engines, the A7 was well regarded, if witheringly expensive, but more significantly carried the not inconsequential mantle of being the last unambivalently attractive design from Audi before it all went South.
Timing is everything in life, and for BMW, the advent of the 2010 5-Series was fortuitous. Just as Mercedes had taken an ill-advised stylistic detour with the (W212) E-Class, the Vierzylinder re-entered the visual mainstream with the resolutely by the numbers F10 series. With the sector for the taking (Audi was habitually an also-ran here) Munich quickly assumed the driver’s seat. A return to form said some – a disappointing reversal others, but the sales numbers told the real story. A nailed on class leader, but like so many of its ilk, a somewhat soul-less one.
Designed and engineered wholly by the AMG division, the (C197) Mercedes SLS was intended to recall the famous 300 SL from 1954, especially in its adoption of the original’s gullwing doors. The body design by Mark Fetherston was nicely proportioned, if lacking a certain finesse, as indeed was the cabin, which certainly didn’t look the money, well wrought as it undoubtedly was. Like much of Mercedes’ output at this time, the SLS was probably better to drive than it looked, but despite its want-for-nothing specification, it landed somewhat wide of the mark. File under vanity project.
The Drive Sexy era was over; embattled and heavily indebted, Peugeot was looking to claw its way back to relevance after its pre-Millennial misfire. 2010’s 508 model was part of a new family of designs featuring a renewed sobriety of line and an attempt to emotionally reconnect with the Peugeot buyer of old. A bit of a curate’s egg this one, and probably best viewed from a safe distance, but it was a significant move in the right direction.
The first generation Volkswagen Touareg, while being an entirely marque appropriate SUV, seemed largely to exist in order to provide a platform for Audi and Porsche to make their own, more profitable versions. The second generation model made its debut in 2010; this time, one couldn’t escape the sense that the requirements of Zuffenhausen played a greater role in its creation than before. Still the most sensible of the trio – to own and to behold – albeit, given Wolfsburg’s roundel on the nose, probably the least depreciation-proof.
Once a generation, General Motors has a collective rush of blood to the head and forgets that it is in the business of cynically making money. Stung by the success of Toyota’s Prius, the Chevrolet division (under the auspices of a certain R. Lutz) developed a series plug-in hybrid rival. The Volt as launched in 2010 was an impressive machine, but neither the buying public understood it, nor did GM really adequately attempt to explain it, or market it in any meaningful way. Furthermore, GM’s name was dirt in the wake of its government bail-out, which certainly didn’t help either – nor indeed did a man called Musk.
Meanwhile, Nissan got a jump on everyone, introducing a fully electrified five-seater for which few excuses were required. The first mainstream, affordable, dedicated electric car from a major carmaker, the Leaf arrived on the market a good two years before Tesla’s far more expensive Model S became available. The Nissan’s mix of a conventional silhouette with added oddness at the extremities was something of an acquired taste and with a viable range which by contemporary standards was on the modest side probably acted as a barrier for many, but Nissan (and its Renault partner) really did the heavy lifting in popularising the everyday EV.
The fallout from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption had an airline industry, having just started to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, once again facing hundreds of millions in lost revenue, given that their planes couldn’t fly. Tourism and business travel was also grievously affected in an oddly prescient rehearsal for the current desolate state of affairs. Acts of God, or simply a mutating virus, we take mother nature for granted at our peril.