Split the difference: star cars vying for a 142 plate (part one)

In the second year of split registration plates, 142 will on the road from July. But which new models are worth splashing out on?


From July, new cars will display the 142 number plate, as we enter into the second year of the new registration system. Perhaps we’ll be used to it by the time 152 rolls around, but for now it’s still something of a novelty.

Last year, the uptick in sales in July was attributed in large part to preregistrations and padding of the figures. This year should provide a more accurate idea of how the plate-change will affect the motor industry and its sales patterns. Based on the performance of the market in 2014 so far, the majority of the cars registered should be going to paying customers and companies. Here, then, is our top 30 list of cars on the market worthy of your 142 number plate.


Alfa Romeo Giulietta & Mito

To its credit, Alfa has taken care of many of our criticisms of the Golf-challenging Giulietta with a (very) mild facelift. The most significant changes are new seats (much more comfortable and supportive) and more sound-deadening (to drown out the rattle of the noisy diesel engines). It deserves more attention than it gets.

The smaller Mito has likewise been given some mild teaching, but this is the last roll of the dice for these compact, front-drive Alfas. A more premium rear-drive beckons.


Audi TT, A3 & S3 cabriolet, A6 update, S1, A3 e-Tron

Audi’s main introduction for the second half of the year will be the new TT coupe, an icon of the range and entirely renewed for 2014. Now riding on the VW Group’s multifaceted MQB chassis system, expect it to weigh less, go faster and be even more engaging to drive. Convertible and possibly a semi-practical shooting-brake estate versions will follow next year.

This year you’ll also be able to buy a chopped-top version of the A3 and S3. Choose from sensible TDI diesel or TSI petrol engines in the A or the storming 300hp turbo power of the S. A subtle update of the A6 saloon and Avant is also coming, with clever new Matrix LED headlights and hybrid technology – but if it makes it in time to be registered as a 142 car it will be by the skin of its teeth.

The new 230hp S1 quattro – a GTI’d version of the trendy little A1 hatchback (and not the fire-breathing mid-1980s rally car of the same alphanumeric name) – will also be available, and the plugin hybrid A3 e-Tron may also make a lastminute market appearance before the end of the year.


BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, 4 Series Gran Coupe, i8, M3, M4, X3 facelift, X4

It’s going to be a hectic six months for BMW, although one or two of these debuts may slip to beyond January. We’ve already tested the fast and furious M3 and M4, while the 4 Series Gran Coupe is – wait for it – a four-door coupe version of a two-door coupe version of a four-door saloon.

The X4 is a coupe version of the X3, but with the update to the X3, we’d still prefer the more upright, practical model.

Then there are the two most Earth-shattering BMWs of the year – possibly ever. The i8 is a hybrid supercar with Porsche 911 performance but incredibly low emissions thanks to its plugin hybrid module – and you can swish through town on pure electric power. The 2 Series Active Tourer is the most family-oriented BMW yet – a boxy MPV with seats for five and front-wheel drive. The ultimate school-run machine or a niche too far for BMW?


Citroën C4 Cactus & C1

The new C1 is an attractive but entirely conventional small city car, twinned once again with the new Peugeot 108 and the Toyota Aygo. Expect an improved interior and greater fuel economy and emission performance. A quasi-convertible version will have a full-length fabric sunroof.

The C4 Cactus is a different creature, and effectively the first in a line of Citroëns with an new philosophy behind them: no more attempts at being a French Ford.

The Cactus is a tallish sort-of crossover designed to be practical, comfortable and stylish, with a low kerb weight and even lower leasing and running costs. The biggest talking point will be its anti-door-ding Air Bubble – plastic strips that protect the car’s panels like appliqué bubble wrap – but the more serious intent is to create a new brand identity for Citroën, moving it away from sister brand Peugeot and closer to its 2CV and Traction Avant roots.


Fiat 500X, Panda Cross

Is this where the long-awaited Fiat revival kicks off? We’ve been quietly impressed with Fiat of late. It may be long in the tooth, but the 500 is still cute and fun (especially as an Abarth). The Panda is a terrific small car and the 500L, although it isn’t flawless, is a spacious and practical family mover.

Now Fiat is moving into the most successful segment in the industry: the compact crossover. The 500X will rival the likes of the Skoda Yeti and Nissan Qashqai, and if the early glimpses of its attractive shape are anything to go by, it could be the car that finally attracts sceptical Irish buyers back to the Italian brand.

The Panda Cross will be an even more rugged-looking version of the capable Panda 4x4.


Ford Mondeo, Mustang, Focus

Alongside the well overdue arrival of the next Mondeo in November, a major facelift is imminent for the Ford Focus. A cleaner-looking front with the big Aston Martin-style grille and narrower, more piercing headlights will bring the styling into line with recent Ford products, while a revised interior will, Ford hopes, allow the Focus to compete with the VW Golf and the Peugeot 308.

Expect it to have a much slicker integration of Ford’s Sync infotainment system and also to have lower emissions thanks to updated engines and gearboxes.

But the big one is the Mustang. Yes, it’s the latest iteration of Ford’s iconic muscle car. Yes, it will be available in right-hand-drive. And yes, you can have it as a growling V8 or a rev-happy 2.3 EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo.

Ford is also due to reveal the new S-Max and Ka before the end of the year, but not before the plates tick over to 151.


Honda Jazz

Honda’s third-generation Jazz doesn’t look much different to the current car, nor its predecessor, but then why change a winning formula? The Jazz sells strongly around the world, is critically lauded and usually sells at a much higher options-included price than its rivals.

The current 1.2 and 1.4 petrol engines will be updated and reworked, and a hybrid option will be offered once again, in spite of Honda cancelling its slow-selling Insight and CR-Z hybrids. A diesel version may also be available, using the Civic’s highly praised 1.6 iDTEC engine, but that will be something of a minority interest. Of greater significance is the fact the chassis under the Jazz will go on to form the basis of the Honda Vezel, its first compact SUV and a rival for the Nissan Juke. It goes on sale in 2015.


Hyundai i20

Hyundai’s all-new Fiesta-sized hatchback has an unenviable task ahead of it. Not only must it take on the hordes of competitive small cars already on the market (Fiesta, Peugeot 208, VW Polo, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris etc), but it also has to take up the baton of Hyundai’s hugely successful model range and carry it forward in a year when the Korean brand is releasing little else new to the market. A tough call, but given Hyundai’s recent efforts, we would be surprised if the new i20 falls short.

We should also see signs before the end of the year of the new ix25 compact crossover; an all-new ix35; and possibly the luxurious rear-drive Genesis saloon in right-hand-drive. But don’t expect to see any of those with a 142 plate. The i20 probably won’t either make it to Ireland this year either, but it will get a first public outing at the Paris motor show in September.


Jaguar F-Type Coupe, XE saloon

Building on the dramatic success of Jaguar’s F-Type roadster is the beautiful F-Type Coupe (hard-tops are always better-looking than cabrios). If anything, the coupe is even better to drive than its rip-snorting rag-top brother, yet is slightly cheaper. That’s unless you go for the top-of-the-range F-Type R Coupe with its meaty supercharged 550hp V8 engine.

Much more critical to Jaguar’s commercial future is the new XE saloon, which is set to take on the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class from the end of this year. It will get its first outing at the Paris motor show in autumn, but it’ll be a tight squeeze to get one on to a forecourt with a 142-plate. Get your order in early though – we suspect there may be a waiting list for this one.


Jeep Cherokee

It’s a significant year for Jeep as it gears up to more than double its worldwide sales from about 800,000 to north of two million to become one of the strongest brands in the Fiat-Chrysler group. Given the global appetite for SUVs, that’s perhaps the most sensible pillar of Fiat-Chrysler’s future plans but it’s still a big ask.

The first big gun to be wheeled out is the new Cherokee – controversial at the front, copycat at the rear and unfashionably rugged and off-road underneath. Will buyers take to either the styling or the almost unnecessary off-road capability?


Kia Soul, Rio, Optima

Kia has just launched the new funky-shaped Soul on to the Irish market, and it will be hoping the new model makes more of a dent in Ireland than the last one. On the basis of styling, comfort, space and refinement it deserves to, but Irish buyers are a notoriously conservative lot so may once again fail to take to the Soul’s conceptual looks.

More conservative but still quite impressive are the Rio supermini and the Optima saloon, both of which be tweaked later this year.


Land Rover Discovery Sport, Range Rover Evoque, Range Rover & Range Rover Sport Hybrids.

The all-new Discovery Sport, which will replace the current Freelander, won’t make an appearance until the Paris motor show in autumn, but definitely here in time for a 142 plate is the updated Range Rover Evoque.

It’s much the same on the outside, but underneath is the option of a nine-speed (yes, nine) automatic gearbox, which improves the emissions and fuel consumption figures over those of the current six-speed auto model.

The hybrid versions of the Range Rover and Range Rover sport are equally impressive at trimming emissions, down to 169g/km compared to the 199g/km of the standard 3.0-litre V6 diesel. They’ll both be hugely expensive though.


Lexus NX & RC

Two key new models for Lexus are on their way this year as the Japanese luxury car maker finally starts to expand beyond its traditional saloons and large SUVs.

The NX is a compact crossover SUV that will compete with the likes of the Range Rover Evoque and Audi Q5. It will come in two forms: a hybrid using the same 2.5-litre petrol engine and battery stack as the current IS300h saloon; and a new 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, Lexus’s first such unit. No diesel version – at least not yet.

The RC is lower and sexier, a 2+2 coupe based on the IS saloon and taking on the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5. Again, the standard model will be a hybrid based on the IS300h drivetrain, but there will also be a petrol V8 RC-F to take on the new BMW M3 and M4.


Mazda 2, 3 1.5 SkyActiv D

Mazda’s big car for 2014 is a small one: the new 2. Revealed in concept form at the Geneva motor show earlier this year, the production model will be revealed in Paris before an on-sale date of November, assuming s no delays.

Expect the striking styling of the concept to be a carried over and a super-frugal version of Mazda’s SkyActiv petrol engine line-up to be the key model. Mazda’s first down-sized SkyActiv diesel engine should also be revealed later this year when the impressive new 3 hatch and saloon get a 1.5-litre version of the current 2.2-litre engine.


Mercedes-Benz C-Class, B-Class, S-Class Coupe, AMG GT

The new C-Class will be critical for Mercedes this year. Just gone on sale in Ireland, this is a chance for Merc’s compact saloon to finally move out from the shadow of its great rival, the BMW 3 Series. All the early indicators are that it has what it takes to meet its rival from Munich head on: a mixture of styling from the sporty CLA and patrician S-Class, a terrific interior, and lots of tax-friendly low-CO2 models.

The B-Class, which was launched two years ago, gets an update later this year with some styling and engine tweaks, while the rather beautiful S-Class coupe (neé CL) will also be revealed before the end of the year.

The somewhat sexier AMG GT will replace the current Gullwing SLS AMG with a smaller, lighter, more agile machine designed to be a rival to the evergreen Porsche 911.


Story continues: Click here for part two

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