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: HYUNDAI I10
All superminis have relatively boxy styling but this one at least tries to soften the lines. It’s a big car in the metal and the interior is surprisingly good; behind the wheel it feels like a larger – and more expensive – family hatchback. There’s a good specification package on the mid-level model. It also drives surprisingly well. Hyundai’s five-year unlimited mileage warranty offer is a further lure, and the overall package will allow supermini owners to downsize their budgets without having to sacrifice in terms of space or refinement.
Best buy: 1.1-litre Deluxe (€13,495)
TWO TO TEST
VW Up! 5-dr Move Up! 1-litre 75bhp petrol (€13,960) Another Tardis-like city car offering room for four adults and a strong resale value, given the VW badge.
Skoda Citigo 5-dr 1.0 Ambition (€11,675) Best-value city car – and the Skoda badge is really the only difference between it and the Volkswagen.
OUR FAVOURITE: FORD FIESTA
The usual strong Ford traits of sharp steering and a balanced chassis are joined in the Fiesta by handsome looks (which owe more than a small debt to Aston Martin) and a terrific new family of engines in the shape of the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost lineup. Turbo’d 100hp version is the best, but the standard 65hp version is just fine too. The scorching 180hp ST version is the most fun hot hatch around at the moment. Price tag looks a little high compared to some rivals, but high-quality cabin compensates.
Best buy: 1.0 65ps Zetec (€16,650)
TWO TO TEST:
Peugeot 208 1.2 VTI 82hp Access (€15,775) Chic looks and an agile chassis married to a surprisingly powerful engine and high-quality cabin.
Dacia Sandero 1.2 16v 75hp Alternative (€9,990) It’s as basic as motoring gets, but for what you pay it’s not half bad. Surprisingly comfortable and refined.
OUR FAVOURITE: VOLKSWAGEN GOLF
What more can be said about the Golf? It has come so far from the light, simple, angular Giugiaro Mk1, yet it has stayed as close as possible to the core values of that original. The VW badge is vastly more aspirational than once it was, and the Golf’s levels of sophistication have kept pace. The Golf is all about democratising brilliance; honestly, to get a car with a comfier, more refined and higher quality cabin than this, you’re going to have to trade up to a Mercedes. 1.6 TDI diesel is the core engine and is exceptionally economical and tax-friendly, but don’t discount the smooth, revvy and very frugal 1.2 TSI petrol, which saves you €2,000 over an equivalent diesel.
Best buy: 1.6 TDI 105hp Trendline 5-door (€24,395)
TWO TO TEST:
Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC ES (€25,095) A little pricey, and the looks won’t please all, but a terrific diesel engine, good to drive and off-the-clock levels of quality and reliability.
Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost 100hp Zetec (€23,385) The Focus is still one of the best-selling cars around and it’s not hard to see why. 1.0 EcoBoost is sweet but needs effort to get diesel-like economy. Great driving experience.
OUR FAVOURITE: MAZDA 6
Although it is a touch pricey – unlike most rivals, it lacks a lower-priced entry-level 1.6-litre version so far – the big Mazda has an awful lot going for it. Chief amongst those attributes is a sense of style; with its sweeping, voluptuous lines, the 6 could almost pass for a Maserati. That’s not reflected in the slightly dour, black cabin but the quality levels are unimpeachable and there’s excellent space, especially in the back. Aside from some slightly odd steering weighting, there’s lots of good stuff on the dynamic front, too, and the 6 sits stable and secure at high cruising speeds. The 2.2-litre diesel is refined and has lots of grunt but has to be driven carefully if you’re to get anywhere near Mazda’s fuel economy claims.
Best buy: 2.2D 150ps Executive four-door (€29,495)
TWO TO TEST
Ford Mondeo 1.6 TDCI 115ps Graphite (€26,020) It may be on the cusp of being replaced, but the Mondeo is still a class act. The 1.6 is a little short on power but it’s very economical.
Hyundai i40 1.7 CRDI Executive Tourer (€28,995) Best experienced as an estate, Hyundai’s family car is smooth, spacious and tremendously frugal. Five-year unlimited mileage warranty doesn’t hurt, either.
OUR FAVOURITE: FORD B-MAX
While it can’t quite match the style of the Fiesta it’s based on, that’s the price for increased practicality. The B-Max’s massive sliding rear doors, which do away with a central pillar, mean you get terrific access to the rear of the car (and MPVs are ultimately all about the rear seats, aren’t they?) and it’s especially brilliant in tight car parks. Sadly, the brilliant little 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol version has dropped from the price list, so you’ll have to go for the somewhat underwhelming 1.5 TDCI diesel. The new five-year warranty should compensate for that, though.
Best buy: 1.5 TDCI 75ps Titanium (€21,995)
TWO TO TEST:
Opel Meriva 1.3 CDTI 95ps SC (€20,995) It’s the cheapest Meriva and those rear-hinged doors are great for loading and unloading kids. The diesel engine disappoints but there’s a new 1.6 on the way.
Citroen C3 Picasso 1.6HDi 16v 90hp VTR+ (€21,295) At last, a junior MPV with a bit of style. The cabin is a bit messy in its layout but it’s comfy and surprisingly good to drive.
OUR FAVOURITE: CITROËN C4 PICASSO
An MPV is really all about its interior. How spacious, how comfy, how good to travel in. And that’s what makes the new C4 Picasso so good – honestly, the only car with a better interior that we can think of is the Range Rover, which costs five times as much. Quite apart from the whizz-bang digital displays which take care of the instrumentation, there’s lots of space and it’s very comfy and refined. It’s not very dynamic to drive, but it’s better and more sure-footed than you might think. Seven-seat version arrives just in time for the 141 plate.
Best buy: 1.6 e-HDI 115hp VTR+ (€26,995)
TWO TO TEST:
Toyota Verso 2.0 D4D 125hp Aura (€28,450) Built tough to survive the rigours of family life, and that 2.0-litre engine is very economical. Recent updates have really lifted the cabin quality and ambience, too.
Kia Carens 1.7 CRDI EX (€27,790) Feels big, which makes the lack of space in the third row rather puzzling, but it’s good to drive and solidly made, and you can’t argue with the seven-year warranty.
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.
Best buy: 520d M-Sport Touring Auto (€54,750)
TWO TO TEST
Jaguar XF 2.2D Luxury (€50,100) Utterly gorgeous with an excellent engine, and if the underpinnings are a bit aged (leading to a slightly cramped interior), then at least it’s still terrific to drive.
Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI Elegance (€50,340) Big and bluff, with a huge cabin and boot. Built like a tank, in the grand Mercedes tradition too. Not as sexy as a 5 Series or XF, but more practical.
OUR FAVOURITE: MERCEDES-BENZ S-CLASS
Could it really be any other? Some rivals may tilt at the S-Class, and some may actually out-point it in one or two specific areas, but none can hold a candle to its all-round crushing competence. The latest S-Class takes the comfort and patrician styling from previous versions and adds a level of technical innovation that at times takes the breath away. Core 3.0-litre 350 CDI V6 diesel is the best all-rounder but there’s no doubting the headline-grabbing power of the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 AMG 63. There’ll be a super-frugal S500 plugin hybrid soon too. Only gripe? That road-sensing Magic Body Control is only available on the expensive V8 versions. Best buy: S350 CDI Bluetec LWB (€102,225)
TWO TO TEST
Range Rover 3.0 TDV6 Vogue (€137,800) Sure, the S-Class is more luxurious and refined, but can the S-Class cross the Kalahari? Didn’t think so.
Rolls-Royce Ghost 6.6-litre V12 (POA) Stupidly expensive (not much change from €400,000 once you’ve added some options) but wonderfully luxurious and surprisingly fleet of foot to drive.
OUR FAVOURITE: TOYOTA GT86
This is the car that utterly belies Toyota’s reputation for producing nothing but bland, beige appliances. The GT86 eschews big, headline-grabbing power outputs (to the consternation of some critics) in favour of beautifully delicate handling balance and steering so sharp it’ll graze your palms. Oversteering power slides are there for the taking, but only when and if you want them, and it’ll do an easy 35mpg. Rear seats just about useable and Toyota build quality (aided and abetted by Subaru) should see you sliding reliably for many years to come.
Best buy: GT86 2.0 (€41,085)
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BMW 420d M-Sport (€58,780) Initially looks and feels too much like just-another-3-Series-variant, but actually so much more and a serious grower.
Porsche Cayman 2.7 PDK (€69,795) Astonishingly deft handling, Le Mans soundtrack engine and rock-solid build. Two-seat-only layout is the only compromise.
OUR FAVOURITE: MERCEDES-BENZ SL
The SL line stretches all the way back to 1955 and has provided an almost unbroken string of motoring greats. The current incarnation is surprisingly understated, mostly because it allowed the bigger, faster SLS AMG Gullwing to take all the show-off headlines. The quieter, more rounded SL is possibly the better car, though. It’s a touch big and soft to be an out-and-out sports car, but is surprisingly good fun to chuck around, while the folding steel roof makes it refined and comfy on a long cross-continental jog. AMG version is the most exciting, 350 V6 a little underfed, 4.7-litre V8 turbo SL500 the best compromise.
Best buy: SL500 (€196,915)
TWO TO TEST
BMW 640d Gran Coupe M-Sport (€108,810) Four-door coupe shape is gorgeous and the triple-turbo 313hp 3.0-litre diesel has titanic thrust.
Audi A7 3.0 TDI 313hp Quattro (€82,690) The bargain of the bunch, but fab to look at, genuinely practical and with rocket-boosted performance.
OUR FAVOURITE: JAGUAR F-TYPE
There are some problems with the F-Type. It’s very expensive for a start, and the tiny, shallow boot is just a bad joke. And it’s probably about to be overshadowed by its own hard-top coupe brother. But, all you need is to find a quiet stretch of road and pin the throttle to the firewall, and suddenly the F-Type comes together. The 500hp V8 is staggeringly quick, but you don’t need anything more than the 380hp supercharged V6 S version. Then what you have is the one of the most enjoyable cars around, a car that can make you laugh out loud with the way it snarls and pops as you shift gears and which makes a spectacularly exciting companion on the right road. Its rather like an old-school TVR, only one made with Jaguar’s quality and attention to detail. Brilliant, in other words.
Best buy: F-Type V6 S (€125,250)
TWO TO TEST
Porsche Boxster 2.7 PDK (€67,351) If anything, the basic Boxster is even sweeter to drive than its Cayman cousin, and it has the advantage of unlimited headroom on a sunny day.
Mazda MX-5 2.0 Roadster-Coupe Sports Tech (€32,995) That we can even mention an MX-5 in the same breath as a €67k Boxster and a €125k F-Type tells you everything you need to know.
OUR FAVOURITE: PORSCHE 911
There is some argument over whether the Porsche 911 counts as a true supercar or is really just a coupe with attitude. To which questioning we merely say, try the following. Nail the throttle of a Carrera S with the optional Powerkit, or the full-fat 560hp 911 Turbo S, and feel the incredible forward thrust, combined with that hard, metallic yowl at 4,000rpm that has been the signature of every flat-six Porsche since the 1960s. Then try and tell us the 911 isn’t a proper supercar. The basic 3.4-litre Carrera model is lovely, but is frankly undone by the cheaper – and equally gorgeous – Cayman. So you’ll need to upgrade to the 3.8-litre Carrera S, preferably with the optional Powerkit that boosts the grunt to a fantastic 450hp. With that much power you’ll be needing the Carrera 4’s all-wheel-drive traction, and then you have an astonishingly capable, surprisingly practical, all-weather, all-seasons high performance cocktail. Brilliant.
Best buy: 3.8 Carrera S 4S PDK Coupe (€160,990)
TWO TO TEST
Ferrari 458 Italia (POA) Low, angular, red and loud. Yup, it’s a Ferrari but it’s a surprisingly useable one with genuine long-haul comfort.
Audi R8 V10 5.2 FSI Quattro (€222,500) Ageing a bit now, but combination of super-friendly 4WD chassis and bellowing Lamborghini-derived V10 engine is still intoxicating.