The Parkers 2011 advent calendar

  • We've picked the best cars that we've driven this year
  • Get involved with the advent calendar on our Facebook page
  • Is your car on the list? Read on to find out...

So, Christmas is upon us. It's a day of much celebration, copious overeating and an infinite amount of television repeats.

Leading up to this, most people go through the ritual of prying open tiny doors on an overpriced cardboard panel, revealing mildly disappointing treats. Or, as many refer to it, opening an advent calendar.

In an effort to quell any potential disappointment, we came up with our own advent calendar. We've revealed our favourite cars from the year, along with a few reasons as to why we've picked them.

The Range Rover Evoque has taken pride of place at the top of our advent calendar, in part thanks to its head-turning looks.

What was your favourite car of 2011? If you've a moment, why not tell us which car you liked most on our Facebook page.

Have a merry Christmas, and all the best for 2012.

December 25: Range Rover Evoque

In 2007 Land Rover revealed its LRX concept. Although it looked fantastic, there was a feeling that this was just another pie-in-the-sky idea that would look totally different when it eventually got to the production line. When the finished Evoque version was unveiled in 2010, it was a revelation. That's because it was pretty much the same as the concept. Even better, it also turned out to be a joy to drive. It doesn’t get much better than this.

December 24: Ford Focus

Ford sells a shedload of Focuses year-in and year-out and there’s a good reason for that: it’s a very good car. It’s the ultimate all-things-to-all-men and although it doesn’t do one thing fantastically, it just does everything well. This latest iteration is no different. Yes, Ford has slightly dulled down its driver appeal, but it has improved the comfort, the kit levels and the efficiency. Once again, this is the default hatchback that will undoubtedly be right at the pinnacle of the UK’s sales charts for many years to come.

December 23: BMW M5

When BMW launched its 1-Series M Coupe nearly every observer said that it was the ‘best M model ever’, even surpassing the previous and current generation of BMW M3. Then, when the new M5 arrived a few months after that, everyone had to re-assess their thinking. Yes it’s a V8 and not a V10, and it's turbocharged, but don’t hold that against it. This is a seriously impressive performance car, both on the track and off it.

December 22: VW up!

Designed to annoy journalists and punctuation obsessives around the world, Volkswagen's entertainingly titled up! is a compact and clever city car. It's refined, well built and cheap to buy. Despite being a small car it feels like a bigger Volkswagen and features some neat premium finishes and details that really make it stand out. It's got more than enough power to sit on the motorways, and will also do so in relative comfort. Perfect.

December 21: Vauxhall Astra GTC 

An Astra? Really? Take another look. This could be one of the best looking Vauxhalls since time immemorial. The GTC squares up against Volkswagen's popular Scirocco, and boasts engaging handling coupled with a range of engines to suit pretty much every driver. Whether low CO2 emissions or high performance are your requirements, there’s something in the range for everyone. We can’t wait for the hot VXR version to appear.

December 20: MINI Coupe

MINI has set its sights high with the Coupe, looking to take on the likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco and even the Audi TT. You may think that's a little far-fetched, but with its individual looks and good handling it's closer to these rivals than you might think. It handles better than the normal hatchback, while the 211bhp John Cooper Works model is the quickest production MINI ever made. It will go from 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds.

December 19: Jaguar XF 

When the Jaguar XF first broke cover in 2008 it wowed the press with its sleek looks, smooth ride and top-notch interior. This year, along with a mid-life refresh, Jaguar introduced a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine with stop/start technology. The numbers speak for themselves: 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds, CO2 emissions of 137gkm, an average fuel economy of 52.3mpg and a starting price of £30,950. Superb.

December 18: Chevrolet Volt

When it comes to electric cars, there's usually one major issue - range. Chevrolet, looking to offer buyers the benefits of an electric car with the range of a conventional petrol or diesel, released the Volt. It's one of a new generation of cars that use range-extender technology. This means that the car is propelled by electric motors, with a decent-sized battery giving it a range of about 50 miles. When the battery flattens, a small petrol engine functions as a generator to keep the motors turning while recharging the battery. It's a fantastic bit of kit.

December 17: Citroen DS5

While the DS3 was a big success, the DS4 was something of a flop. So, the pressure was on for Citroen’s latest premium attempt - the DS5. Fortunately, the French firm got this one right. It feels like a proper quality product, with some clever touches and excellent finishes, including the bespoke interior only seen in this car. It also looks good on the outside and offers a more intriguing alternative to the likes if the Volkswagen Passat and Vauxhall Insignia. More importantly, it’s good to drive as well.

December 16: Volkswagen Beetle

To be honest we didn’t think the Beetle, in its modern-day guise, was much cop. It was hugely impractical, not great to drive and a bit unreliable. So, when the 2012 model was released, we were pleasantly surprised. Design-wise it’s slicker and more up to date and, as driving machine, it’s well composed. Its boot capacity has been increased by an impressive 44% and there have also been enough changes to the exterior to stop it being a total hairdresser’s car. Which is good.

December 15: Lotus Evora S

Porsche’s Cayman is one of our favourite performance cars in the Parkers office, so a car that has the ability to trump even that excellent piece of German engineering has to be worth a mention. The Evora S combines all the ingredients required for a memorable sports car that you can use daily. The highlight is the chassis. It balances tremendous grip, a supple ride and nimble handling. As a result, the Lotus is lots of fun.

December 14: Vauxhall Zafira Tourer

On sale alongside the current Zafira, the new Tourer model is meant to offer a more premium choice among the handful of seven-seaters currently on the market. It’s safe to say that Vauxhall has succeeded with its intentions. The interior is a much nicer place to be and it's even improved on the excellent practicality that the previous model boasted. There’s also a good choice of diesel engines, including a frugal ECOflex option.

December 13: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep's a name that's become synonymous with off-roaders, but in the past few years the quality and appeal of its lineup has fallen. Intent on securing a stronger foothold in the market, the company released an all-new version of its Grand Cherokee. Designed to take on the likes of the Volkswagen Touareg, it comes with lots of equipment and Jeep's trademark off-road capabilities. As you'd hope, it's a vast improvement over the previous generation. Make sure you get the fully-loaded Overland version, though.

December 12: Volkswagen Golf GTI Edition 35

The Edition 35 is a special GTI that celebrates the 35th birthday of the Golf. Packing a 235bhp turbocharged petrol engine, it can accelerate from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds. Besides more power, the Edition 35 also benefits from lower and stiffer suspension. This all makes it great fun to drive, yet it's still suitable as everyday transport. It'll even return an average of around 35mpg, so you shouldn't find its fuel economy too crippling.

December 11: Kia Rio

The latest Rio is a real step forwards for Kia. Although it's not as aggressively styled as the firm’s other hatchback, the Picanto, we appreciate its more refined looks. Longer, lower and wider than the first iteration of Rio, this car has the ability to challenge the likes of the Renault Clio and the Volkswagen Polo. It's generously equipped, drives well and comes with a substantial seven year/100,000 mile warranty.

December 10: Audi A6 Avant

The A6 is a real stalwart in the premium estate car sector, and the newest model has made it more appealing than ever. It's plush, comfortable and benefits from a range of economical and refined engines, including an excellent 3.0-litre V6 diesel. The A6 is a stylish looking car too, further increasing its desirability. We believe that it's one of the best estate cars that money can buy.

December 9: Jaguar XK R-S

It’s taken a few years, but Jaguar finally realised that it was time to release a high-performance version of the XK R. Called the XK R-S, the new car is designed to take on competitors like Porsche's GT3 and the Audi R8. Under the sleek metalwork lies a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 that produces a rather tasty 542bhp. This means it can accelerate from zero to 62mph in just 4.4 seconds. It's also comfortable and handles superbly.

December 8: Suzuki Swift Sport

The Suzuki Swift Sport is a hidden gem of a car. While the previous version was a rip-roaring performance bargain, critics agreed it lacked a little refinement. Happily, things have improved considerably with the new model and it's far easier to live with. The Suzuki hasn't, however, lost any of the fizz that made the last Sport so enjoyable. It comes with an extremely well-balanced chassis and frugal, yet lively, petrol engine. With a list price of around £14,500, this car is a very attractive offering.

December 7: Hyundai i40 Tourer

The i40 marked Hyundai’s first steps in to the highly competitive family estate market. Attempting to take on the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia, the manufacturer had a tough challenge on its hands. However, thanks to some genuinely interesting styling in a somewhat dull end of the market, masses amount of space in the back of the car and the boot and some excellent economical engines, the i40 is a big success.

December 6 : Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

It's fast, fun and guaranteed to grab the attention of passers-by. Chevrolet claims that fifth-generation Camaro is more suitable for European customers, and it's not wrong. The car's comfortable, refined and actually capable of going around corners. Thanks to a punchy 6.2-litre V8, The Chevrolet can slingshot its way from 0-62mph in a suitably rapid 5.4 seconds. It's still only available in left-hand drive, however.

December 5: Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet

The Golf is an excellent car and one we’re very fond of. When you chop the roof off of a car, however, it often loses some of its driver appeal. Fortunately, Volkswagen has managed to avoid this with the Golf Cabriolet. It doesn't lose much of its dynamic ability, and it also boasts a range of good engines. Buyers can pick from choices such as the punchy turbocharged 1.2-litre TSI petrol, or frugal BlueMotion diesels.

December 4: Peugeot 508

The replacement for the 407 is an important car for Peugeot. It takes on a tough market, where most sales go to company car drivers. It’s a good job then that the 508 is relaxing to drive, well built and comfortable. Crucially, lowering CO2 emissions is high on Peugeot’s list of priorities. As a result, road tax and company car tax are fairly low. Combined with economical engines and decent kit levels, the 508 is good value for money.

December 3: Audi Q3

There’s a huge market for small soft-roaders right now, so it was obvious that sooner or later Audi would have to get in on the act. The Q3 is available with either two- or four-wheel drive, and there's a wide range of engines to choose from. The build quality is excellent and it’s a comfortable place to be. It also doesn’t look quite as offensive as some of its rivals. Running costs won't break the bank, either. The most frugal diesel version is claimed to average around 54mpg.

December 2: Kia Picanto

The second generation Picanto is another step forwards for the Korean firm. Benefitting from the distinctive family face, and now available in both three- and five-door guises, the new model builds on what was already an extremely successful recipe. There’s a choice of two highly efficient engines, more interior space and a real progression in terms of build quality too. What’s not to like?

December 1: BMW 1-Series M Coupe

It’s fair to say we were impressed by BMW’s 1-Series M Coupe. If you can forgive the somewhat convoluted name, this special edition M car from the German firm’s performance division has the capacity to blow even the most hardcore enthusiasts’ socks clean off their feet. The combination of rear-wheel-drive, a powerful engine and chassis parts borrowed from the M3 come together in spectacular fashion. This car turns heads and has the capacity to embarrass far more expensive machines.

Parkers Top Tip:

Fancy predicting our car of 2011? If you want to, you can have a guess on our Facebook page.