As March sees the release of the ‘15’-plate registrations, there's a crop of new, smartly-designed cars with the latest technologies arriving in showrooms soon. We asked automotive journalist Farah Alkhalisi to cast her eye over them.
15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: choose a new car.
City cars don’t come more compact and easy to park than the Smart Fortwo. The third-generation version of this tiny two-seater is smoother-riding than its predecessors and comes with a much nicer manual gearbox. Need some more seats? Try its sister model, the four-door Forfour. And if you’re hankering after something hotter, the latest Mini John Cooper Works goes on sale this spring, turbocharged to produce some 228bhp. More mainstream choices come in the shape of new-generation Mazda 2, Hyundai i20, Skoda Fabia models. And the ever-sensible Honda Jazz – a car which consistently tops consumer satisfaction surveys appears – returns with a Mk3 version. For a budget option, a name from the past returns: Vauxhall Viva, now a (very) mini-MPV.
Image: Smart Fortwo and Forfour © Daimler
Time to rethink your local travel habits anyway? If you’re a city-dweller, car clubs and car-sharing schemes are a fast-growing option. These give you on-demand, pay-as-you-go driving, some on a ‘free-floating’ or one-way basis within an area. In London, BMW-backed DriveNow – offering cars including Minis and the electric i3 – has joined nationwide players such as Zipcar; an all-electric vehicle scheme from the operators of the Paris Autolib’ launches later this year.
Small family five-doors are going upmarket: new premium-brand contenders include the sporty Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake and the Infiniti Q30 hatchback. The substantially redesigned Mini Clubman is expected on sale later in the summer, too. This now has four full doors in place of the earlier, oddly asymmetrical, 2+1 layout. Stepping up size-wise, there are imminent new versions of the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and the Skoda Superb (much-loved by caravan-towers) – while real estate-car aficionados will welcome back the rugged four-wheel-drive Subaru Outback.
Image: Mercedes CLA Shooting Brake Class 2 © Daimler
Crossovers and SUVs are this sector’s latest success story, and the Land Rover Discovery Sport (replacing the Freelander) will probably prove popular. The Honda HR-V has turned up to rival the likes of the Nissan Juke, Renault has just announced a high-rider called Kadjar, and Fiat has scaled up its retro styling for its 500X. Phew.
Image: Land Rover Discovery Sport © JaguarLandrover Ltd
Alternatively… Volvo’s upcoming XC90 has been acclaimed for its luxurious-looking, super-comfy and high-tech cabin. The T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid model can do 25 miles in all-electric mode, cutting fuel costs and emissions - and tax too.
Executives, exotica and other indulgences
If you’re out to impress – or simply prioritise performance over practicality – 2015 is a vintage year promising plenty of future classics. In the executive class, the Jaguar XE is everything it should be, the Alfa Romeo Giulia is an elegantly Italian alternative and the all-new Audi A4, coming summertime, is sure to be a safe pair of hands.
Image: Jaguar XE © JaguarLandrover Ltd
On a sportier theme, plenty of coupes and convertibles are coming, from the BMW 2-Series Convertible and M2 to the striking Lexus RC F and rarities like the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider. One of the most eagerly anticipated is the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5, although this won’t arrive in the UK till late summer. Well-heeled supercar fans are spoilt for choice: Ferrari’s due to reveal the successor to the 458 shortly, the Mercedes-AMG GT arrives in April, and McLaren is expected to announce its ‘P13’ Sports Series models to rival the iconic Porsche 911. But if you liked the hybrid-powertrain Honda NSX – only recently seen at the Detroit Auto Show – you’ve already missed out; it’s said to have sold out in right-hand-drive UK specification.
Image: Honda Acura NSX © Honda
Alternatively… Company car tax-related reasons to buy electric are reduced for the 2015/16 financial year with the abolition of the 0% benefit-in-kind banding, but as the backlash builds against diesel, new incentives to electrify may well emerge. For example, the Mercedes-Benz C350 Plug-In Hybrid saloon is a good compromise between zero-emissions capability and longer-distance range.
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