With choices aplenty the time is ripe to update your ride

By David Linklater

The New Zealand new-car industry enjoyed a bumper year in 2013. That means model launches for 2014 are going full speed ahead: let's take a look at some of the most important and/or interesting new cars coming our way this year.

Peugeot 308
Peugeot 308

SMALL CARS

One of the most important launches for 2014 will be the Mazda3: the third car from the brand to be designed and built around SkyActiv technology and a crucial entrant in a highly competitive market segment.

New Mini arriving 2014
New Mini arriving 2014

We've written a lot about the Three already and even driven it in Australia and New Zealand during evaluation. The New Zealand launch will come next month, with final details on pricing and specification.

This should also be the year of an all-new SkyActiv Mazda2, giving the Japanese maker more presence in the supermini space.

Speaking of which: there's an all-new Honda Jazz on the market in Japan. The styling and versatile interior packaging are familiar, but Honda says great strides have been made in terms of engineering. The petrol-electric model in particular is claimed to be even more thrifty than the current car, yet more driver-focused as well, with a new Sport Hybrid powertrain.

The Peugeot 308 will move into a more sophisticated space later in the year, as a larger, lighter and more quality-focused model is launched. It's new from the ground up and the first Peugeot to ride on the brand's advanced EMP2 platform.

Expect to see the all-new Mini early in 2014, too.

SPORTS UTILITY VEHICLES

The SUV/crossover segment is perhaps the richest in terms of product and it looks set to stay that way, with new models ranging from entry-level to just plain posh.

Ford will finally join the baby-crossover fray with the Fiesta-based EcoSport, a rival for the likes of the Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008.

Honda wants in too, so we'll see a version of the Jazz-based Vezel in the local market before year's end.

Nissan's Qashqai will be replaced by an all-new model. Will it be front-drive-only for our market as before? Perhaps, although a good range of sedans from Nissan (Pulsar/Altima) means Qashqai could aim further afield than the family car market now. Mind you, there's also a new X-Trail (same platform) on the way to fill the four-wheel drive role.

Going up the size and price scale, Jeep's strikingly styled Cherokee will appear this year. Based on a shared unibody platform with Fiat, it'll be more tarmac-focused than the current model - but still not shy about getting its alloys dirty.

Toyota's Highlander has always been a quiet achiever in the sales charts, so expect the all-new model for 2014 to make quite an impact.

Mercedes GLA
Mercedes GLA


In the premium segment, we'll see the BMW X4 (think of it as a miniature X6), a production version of Lexus' outrageous-looking NX concept and of course the eagerly awaited Porsche Macan. Based on the platform of the Audi Q5, the Macan is very much a junior Cayenne and will be available in standard, diesel and high-performance petrol turbo models.

Mercedes-Benz will finally embrace the crossover market with the GLA, a high-riding wagon based on the A-class platform. It will even come in GLA 45 AMG form - revealed for the first time this week.

The ancient Volvo XC90 (now 11 years old) will be finally replaced by an all-new model this year. Details are sketchy, but Volvo says it will pick up many styling cues from the just-unveiled XC Coupe concept. The company has revealed a teaser shot of the headlights and grille from the production car ... but little else at this stage.

LARGE AND LUXURY

Holden poured its heart, soul and millions of dollars into the VF Commodore. But it's Ford that will provide the last hurrah for the traditional Australian "big six", as it launches the updated Falcon (and Territory) that will see it through to the end of local manufacture in 2016. Falcon will go out with a bang: the XR8 version will get an ex-FPV V8 engine.

This year we'll also finally get to see the new Ford Mondeo.

The premium segment will get a lift with the launch of an all-new Mercedes-Benz C-class, albeit not until the end of the year.

The new model looks like a careful evolution of the old, but is lighter and much more advanced, picking up much of the safety technology recently introduced in the E-class and S-class models.

Mercedes-Benz C250
Mercedes-Benz C250


The luxury segment will also get a completely new entrant in 2014 - Hyundai's Genesis sedan. Hyundai is taking luxury motoring very seriously with this car, a large rear-drive model with every conceivable option. It shares nothing with mainstream models and may come with the top 5-litre V8 engine and the world's first 10-speed automatic transmission. What it will cost is guesswork at this stage - but we wouldn't expect much change from $100,000.

SPORTS AND PERFORMANCE

To many, the Subaru WRX and Mazda MX-5 are core models for their respective brands; icons, even.

That makes 2014 an especially big year because new versions of both will be launched.

The WRX is imminent and we know plenty about it already. It's powered by an uprated version of the 2.0-litre turbo engine from the Forester XT and will come with the option of Subaru LinearTronic (SLT) continuously variable transmission. The STI will come later, with a larger 2.5-litre powerplant.

It's the 25th anniversary of the MX-5 this year so the new-generation model - unseen as yet - will be a big deal. It's rear-drive, with a platform to be shared with Alfa Romeo. The styling will embrace Mazda's latest Kodo themes and the little roadster will be built around lightweight, low-friction SkyActiv technology. There's even talk of a low-capacity turbocharged engine.

It must be the year of Japanese performance cars: we'll also see the finished version of Honda's new hybrid NSX, although the car won't start production until 2015.


Jaguar will complete its F Type line-up with the launch of a coupe version this year. Expect the same V6/V8 engine line-up and specification levels as the roadster - although there is also a four-cylinder version on the way, using Ford's EcoBoost engine technology.

And how can we ignore a new BMW M car? The all-new M3 (sedan) and M4 (coupe) will shake things up as they move from the current V8 engine to six-cylinder twin-turbo power.

GREEN CARS

BMW's groundbreaking i8 plug-in hybrid could easily come under the sports/performance category. But it is a fascinating machine because it combines near-supercar character with green credentials and advanced composite construction.

It is, of course, a sister model to the i3 range-extended electric city car. Both of BMW's new i-cars will be launched in New Zealand later this year.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Plug in Hybrid
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Plug in Hybrid

No less fascinating is Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), which brings the latest in green technology to the market in a mainstream package - and at mainstream prices. The PHEV can act as a pure electric vehicle, with range-extender or as a more traditional hybrid, with the petrol engine driving the wheels and battery assistance. Prices will start at $59,990 - just $4000 more than the conventional Outlander VRX.

Little wonder the PHEV is expected to account for 20 per cent of Outlander sales: 2014 could be the year the EV goes mainstream.

- NZ Herald

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