Our cars of the year
As new-car buyers prepare to make their final choices before the 141-registered fleet arrives, next month, the Motors team pick their favourites in each category, from city runaround to aspirational supercar
OUR FAVOURITE: FORD S-MAX
Another Ford that’s on the cusp of being renewed (its replacement was shown in concept form at the Frankfurt motor show this year) but which is still at the very top of its game. Old it may be (first launched in 2006) but the S-Max remains one of the very few MPVs that’s as pleasing to drive as it is useful at carrying people and luggage. Rearmost seats are a little tight (kids only if it’s a long journey) but the rest of the cabin is spacious, airy and very comfortable. 2.0 TDCI 140hp diesel engine now scores a much-improved Band B2 tax rating, so it’s the one to go for.
Best buy: 2.0 TDCI 140ps Zetec (€32,891)
TWO TO TEST
Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI S 7S 115 (€38,995) Big, massively spacious and with sliding side doors that make unloading in tight spaces a doddle. High quality but not as sharp to drive as the S-Max.
Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8 CRD Touring (€48,015) For a hair under €50,000 you too can feel like a candidate in The Apprentice. Ludicrous CO2 figures but enormous, versatile cabin and lots of comfort.
OUR FAVOURITE: SKODA YETI
The Yeti may well be the most all-round versatile vehicle since the original Land Rover. It’s compact enough to be easy to park and swing around town in, spacious enough that it almost qualifies as an MPV (especially with those slide, fold, tilt and remove rear seats) and yet rugged enough that, equipped with optional four-wheel drive, it can bash through mud and over rocks like a proper 4x4. The fact that it also has a comfy, high-quality cabin and has a Band A-rated 1.6 TDI Greenline model is just the icing on the crossover cake.
Best buy: 1.6 TDI CR Ambition Greenline (€26,360)
TWO TO TEST
Nissan Qashqai (from €24,495) The original of the species has now been updated with a slick new look inside and out. Full pricing TBA but old reliable 1.5 dCi diesel will probably remain the best buy.
Peugeot 2008 1.6 HDI 92 Allure (€23,495) A 208 with a loft conversion, the 2008 bats above its weight with a high-quality cabin, decent chassis and lots of standard equipment.
OUR FAVOURITE: HYUNDAI SANTA FE
The Santa Fe is not just another solid class entry from Hyundai, and not just another sign that the Korean car industry is well poised to overtake the rest of the world. It’s a car so good that it actually operates well above its station. You could easily see buyers choosing a Santa Fe, with its punchy 2.2-litre diesel, its high-quality cabin and its enjoyably brash American looks, above a much more expensive BMW, Mercedes or Audi. There’s no fantastic innovation on show; it’s just superbly well rounded.
Best buy: 2.2 CRDi Executive 4WD (€43,245)
TWO TO TEST
Honda CR-V 1.67 i-DTEC ES Sport 2WD (€37,495) The new CR-V suffers a little from a too-plain cabin, but the 1.6 diesel is brilliant and it’s a lot of car for this money and that 119g/km CO2 rating.
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI Quattro 177bhp SE (€48,400) Slickly styled inside and out, excellent dynamic balance and surprisingly economical. Hard to beat, really.
OUR FAVOURITE: BMW X5
The new X5 (actually, it still incorporates some of the old one underneath) is a perfect illustration of evolution. The first generation established the breed of big, luxurious, sharp-handling 4x4s, the second extended its reach with more variants and seven seats; and this, the third generation more or less perfects the recipe. The X5’s brilliance lies not just in its engines (the new 245hp 3.0-litre straight-six diesel is the pick of the litter, although there is a more affordable rear-drive 2.0-litre coming soon) or its chassis, which is remarkably well balanced for such a big, heavy car, but also in its cabin. Some full-on luxury cars don’t have interiors as pleasing as this. Pricey it may be, but most definitely class-leading.
Best buy: 3.0 xDrive 30d SE (€78,600)
TWO TO TEST
Range Rover Sport 3.0 TDV6 HSE (€82,880) So good-looking it’s positively sexy, brilliant to drive and now with (optionally) seven seats.
Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD Limited (€64,940) Some crude cabin trim apart, the big Jeep is a convincing cut-price rival to the likes of the X5 and Range Rover.
OUR FAVOURITE: MERCEDES-BENZ A-CLASS
Gone is the quirky, clever, upright original A-Class. In its place has come something much more conventional. With conventionality has come, though, a little bit of brilliance. The A-Class can’t quite match the slinky looks of its cousin, the CLA, but it punches back with a much better driving experience (the CLA’s ride is too rough-edged) and it’s more practical than you’d think. The rear seats may look cramped (and it’sdark back there) but they’re more spacious than they seem, and the 180 CDI diesel has remarkable fuel economy. Shape is a touch colour-sensitive so choose carefully.
Best buy: A180 CDI Style (€29,350)
TWO TO TEST
Mini 1.6 16v Cooper (€24,320) An all-new Mini arrives for 2014, but if it can match the handling brio and sheer fun of the outgoing car, it’ll be doing well. We especially like the oddball (but useful) Clubman estate.
Volvo V40 1.6 D2 115PS Special Edition (€26,995) Not as thrusting as its German rivals, but gorgeous inside and out, and new Special Edition has lots of extra kit.
OUR FAVOURITE: AUDI A3 SALOON
Now, hang on. The A3’s a hatchback, right? It should be in the previous category, shouldn’t it? Well, yes and no. This is, specifically, the four-door version and while it’s technically cheaper and smaller than the other cars in this class, it actually makes for a better sporting saloon than the rest. Why? Because it’s actually compact, and isn’t as bloated as its larger rivals. Space in the back is surprisingly good, and the cabin is asimpressive as the handling. Prices start at just under €30,000, but you’ll have to spend more to get one that feels suitably equipped.
Best buy: 2.0 TDI SE (€32,860)
TWO TO TEST
BMW 320d EfficientDynamics Auto (€40,204) Slick handling, gorgeous cabin and much more space than you’d think. Engine a touch noisy, though.
Volvo S60 D4 181hp SE (€36,995) Handsome S60 is smooth to drive and super-safe. New D4 diesel is the best oil-burner in the class.
OUR FAVOURITE: BMW 5 SERIES
A predictable choice? Perhaps, but there are valid reasons for that. BMW’s mid-size saloon has defined this class of car for decades now and the current version, just updated, is at the peak of its game. Whereas previous Series’ made you compromise between handling, ride and cabin space, the current one manages to deftly balance all requirements, and the hyper-efficient 520d can do all that at 60mpg. Best experienced as an even more handsome (and practical) Tourer, and the sexy-looking M-Sport pack is an absolute must-have. Savagely fast 560hp M5 is still the benchmark super-saloon.