The motoring class of 2013: how are they doing so far?

Six months into the 131 registrations, the VW Golf remains, predictably, on top, but what has the car industry in store for us for 132?


Twenty thirteen – the first year of the new registration system – will doubtless be remembered chiefly for being a round of Golf. Volkswagen’s genre-defining hatchback hit the market in all-new Mk VII form this year (actually, early examples were available from late 2012), and has been an instant and somewhat unsurprising hit. Subtle styling, a truly beautiful cabin and frugal petrol and diesel engines have helped push the Golf to the top of the sales charts so far this year.

Mind you, while the Golf was an expected hit, VW does seem to be trying to incite as much internecine warfare between its in-house hatchback brands as possible. The new Audi A3 Sportback, Seat Leon and Skoda Octavia also all launched in the first half of the year, and all are essentially mechanically identical to the Golf. Of the four, the Skoda is the most practical, the Audi the most stylish, the Seat the sharpest to drive and the Golf still, probably, the best all-rounder.

Certainly the Golf has well and truly trounced the other big new launches of 2013 so far. It’s outselling both the new Ford Fiesta and Toyota Auris, quite an achievement when you consider that the new Fiesta is dramatically impressive (especially the hardcore sporting 190bhp ST version), and in fact calls into question the wisdom of spending more on a larger hatchback – such as a Golf. The new Auris has its impressive moments, too – although it hides them behind staid styling and so-so dynamics – but its reputation for reliability and ease of ownership will have given even the mighty Golf a few sleepless nights.

Doing rather well, and without quite so much in the way of the eye-catching discounts we saw in the 2010 scrappage scheme, is the new Renault Clio. Vastly more stylish and classy than its predecessor, the Clio’s only major flaw (its too-cheap-feeling cabin) is outweighed by its comfort and the remarkable fuel economy of the 1.5-litre diesel version. It’s currently outselling the Volkswagen Polo and deserves to – although both are outsold by the rather unlovely Nissan Micra.

While the Clio’s style is doubtlessly winning it much favour, its distant cousin, the Dacia Sandero, is playing rather a different card. Deliberately rather dull-looking, the Sandero is selling on price, pure and simple; a hatchback by Lidl. Considering that it can be bought for the arrestingly low price of €9,990, it’s performing rather less well in the sales charts than we expected. In fact, it’s being outsold at a rate of more than 2:1 by its larger, more expensive stablemate, the Duster SUV. Perhaps buyers at the Sandero’s price level are looking more at the second-hand market?

Having started from a low price base, just as Dacia is currently doing, Kia’s prices have moved markedly upwards recently, but the quality of the Korean cars has pretty well justified their extra cost. A glut of new Kias came our way in the first half of the year: the new seven-seat Carens, the slinky three-door Pro-Cee’d hatch and an updated Sorento SUV. While the Sorento seems to have missed out on the application of gloss that’s so apparent on the other two, there’s no doubt that Kia’s star is continuing to rise.

Oddball launch of the first six months was without question the Opel Adam. Debate continues to rage regarding its name (silly or endearingly simple?), its styling (over-egged or funky?) and its price position (will anyone ever truly accept Opel as a premium-badge maker?). But it does seem to be working. Say what you like about the Adam but it’s outselling some much more established models, even if at a very low level. Interestingly, Opel’s other new car this year, the Mokka mini-SUV, does seem to be finding some sales traction.

While the Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC diesel and updated Skoda Superb 1.6 TDI showed that a mid-size diesel engine really is the key to modern motoring greatness, the latest Mazda6 proved that family saloons don’t have to be plain, and the all-new Toyota RAV4 showed that compact SUVs feel better when they’re rugged.

Once again, the true star players of the year so far came from the premium-badge categories. Sister companies Land Rover and Jaguar blew us all away with the imperious new Range Rover and the ultra-sporty F-Type roadster, while Mercedes finally decided that the E-Class really didn’t need to be that fussy-looking, and went and turned it into a truly handsome car. That, alongside the impressive new A-Class, certainly put the three-pointed star to the fore this year, even though Audi and BMW continue to dominate it in the sales charts. But things might change – or at least the gap might close – with the new registrations.

Served up on a 132 plate
And that’s largely down to the arrival of the CLA. Based on the A-Class – virtually a rival for the C-Class in terms of practicality, and achingly desirable – Mercedes’ all-new coupe saloon is without doubt going to be one of the major stars of the second half of the year. It launches on the Irish market with just a couple of weeks to go to the new registration plate’s arrival and, on sheer want-one factor, it’s already topping the class.

Certainly, it’s more desirable than BMW’s 3 Series GT, which arrives in July but which we’d rather wasn’t coming at all. Perhaps if we switch off the lights and turn down the telly, it’ll think we’re not here.

At least the first spy pics of BMW’s 2014 2 Series coupe shows it will have a proper CLA rival shortly, while the incredibly slinky new 4 Series (neé 3 Series Coupe) will arrive in the autumn.

Audi, meanwhile, will be taking on the CLA directly with the handsome new A3 Saloon – yet another Golf offshoot, and one which will unquestionably appeal to four-door-hungry Irish buyers. Quite apart from rivalling BMW and Mercedes, though, we reckon that the A3 will actually steal sales from the hugely successful A4 saloon. Audi says it won’t, but put the two side by side and compare the prices and see for yourself.

Alfa Romeo, long isolated from the three-way German premium battle, might begin something of a comeback later this year. The small, light and exciting 4C mid-engined sportscar should be with us by the autumn, and of rather more interest in a practical sense will be a facelifted Giulietta hatchback. A measly three Giuliettas have been registered so far this year, so hopefully an update will give Alfa’s hatch more of the recognition it deserves.

Fiat itself will have the new 500L mini-MPV to flog, and if it’s hardly pretty, then at least it’s very spacious inside. Fiat-owned Jeep also has a (controversially) distinctive new Cherokee SUV to launch, but that may not make it to Ireland before the 141 plate arrives in January.

Definitely arriving before that is the Seat Leon SC, the three-door coupe version of the very impressive Leon hatch. It’s a shame it can’t quite match the rival Opel Astra GTC Coupe for looks, but it’s impressive to drive and well priced, so should help bolster Seat’s recent Irish sales renaissance.

Peugeot, which has just launched a much-anticipated new 208 GTI here, will finally get a crack at the burgeoning compact crossover market with the new 2008 when it arrives here shortly. It will be going up against a fellow French faux-by-four in the (rather stylish) shape of the Renault Captur, but while the Renault has the edge on looks, the Peugeot is probably the better performer. Will either tear fashion-conscious SUV buyers away from the likes of the Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman, though?

Both Nissan and Mini have had a quiet start to the year (with just the sporty version of the Juke, the Nismo, and the inexplicable Mini Paceman coupe to show for their efforts), but as we roll towards 2014, we’ll see rather more excitement from both brands.

Nissan will have the classy, and more hatchback-like Note mini-MPV ready to roll before the close of the year, and before Christmas we should also have seen a glimpse of its new five-door hatchback Golf competitor (don’t call it the new Almera) and – of greater import – a look ahead to a second-generation Qashqai. Mini, meanwhile, will be revealing the all-new . . . Mini. For the first time since 2000, the core Mini hatchback will be new from the ground up, and will be available, for the first time in history, with five doors.

We praised Porsche to the rafters for its utterly brilliant roadster-and-coupe pair, the Boxster and Cayman, earlier this year. But in the winter of 2013, the Stuttgart company will embark on yet another gamble: a compact SUV. Given the staggering sales success of the larger Cayenne, you might think it no gamble at all, but the new Macan will be Audi Q5-based, and some buyers may struggle with the concept of a small Porsche 4x4, especially one that will eventually be available with a four-cylinder diesel engine.

Before December, we’ll also get hold of the new Suzuki SX4, the Skoda Octavia vRS, the new Subaru Forester, the Range Rover Sport, an all-new Lexus IS (no diesel this time around – just hybrid), a new Mazda 3 hatchback, a facelifted BMW 5 Series and the groundbreaking BMW i3 electric car, a new Citroen C4 Picasso, the Opel Cascada convertible and the Toyota Auris Touring estate.

But then, we’ll also have more variants of the Volkswagen Golf: the GTI, an 85g/km BlueMotion diesel, the sport diesel GTD and the estate. Which means that the sales results of the 132 plate will very likely look rather similar to those of 131.

The more things change . . .

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