The most popular car type in the UK, the small car market is due to accommodate some game-changing new models in 2013. Dacia has launched the UK’s cheapest new car in the form of the Sandero, available from £5,995. At the other end of the scale is the Volkswagen XL1, which is expected to retail with a six-figure price tag thanks to its futuristic looks and advanced hybrid drivetrain.
The new year will also see class stalwarts the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio compete against newcomers like the Vauxhall Adam and Nissan Note. It’s certainly an exciting year to be in the market for a new compact hatch. Here is our guide to what is coming when.
Dacia Sandero, January
So, £5995, or £69 a month (plus deposit): whichever way you look at it, the new Dacia Sandero is nothing if not cheap to buy or lease, as long as you’re prepared to buy it in no-frills spec with black bumpers and UN-issue white paintwork.
But as anyone knows, cheap can often bring compromises and disappointments. The real headline that should be attached to the Sandero and its high-riding crossover brother, the Stepway, is not its price, but the fact that it can deliver a semblance of quality to go with it.
Stay at entry-level prices and you’re in the sweet spot of the range. Based on our early driving experiences in Europe, the Sandero is reasonably comfortable, reasonably refined, reasonably economical and even reasonably engaging to drive. The sum of which makes it a more than reasonable purchase proposition — again, provided you’re paying something close to the entry-level price. We say embrace the Sandero’s stripped-back charm and buy it in the certainty that you’ll be having the last laugh, no matter what the pavement snobs might say.
Move up the spec sheet, however, and the inkling that you might be getting a bargain begins to fade. As ever in life, you get pretty much what you pay for, and what appears to be a more than acceptable minimum standard can soon leave you wondering whether you wouldn’t be better off with an equivalent Kia, Hyundai or perhaps Chevrolet instead.
The same reasonable underpinnings remain, but as the equipment and trim loads up to the point where it becomes a car that carries a price into five figures, the Sandero is fighting its rivals (and, by our early reckoning, mostly losing) in terms of all-round accomplishment and kit generosity.
For the canny buyer, though, this narrow line between fine and too far is also part of the Sandero’s appeal. Anyone in the know (that’s you, if you’re paying attention) has an opportunity to buy a car that fits these austere times perfectly. So much so, in fact, that plenty of rival manufacturers are queuing up to follow Dacia’s lead.
I reckon that you won’t just be buying a car; you’ll also be part of one of the biggest shake-ups the car industry has seen in quite some time.
Renault Clio, February
It wouldn’t be too dramatic to say that Renault needs the Clio to be a commercial success if the company is to prosper again. And from our first impressions in the Clio Mk4, Renault should be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Clio Mk4 moves away from the stodgy sophistication of the Mk3 model and back towards the chic looks and fun dynamics of the first two generations.
The real star is the new 0.9-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine. It seamlessly blends zesty turbocharged performance with four-cylinder-like low-speed refinement. The fun-to-drive traits of the engine are carried over to the ride, handling and steering, too. It all bodes well for the Renaultsport version.
Vauxhall Adam, March
An interesting car, the Adam. And not just for its name and looks. It’s entering the style-led area of the city car segment dominated by the Mini and Fiat 500, but whereas that pair trade on their heritage, the Adam has no such predecessor to reference.
Instead, it’s being pitched on its seemingly endless customisation options. Our tests of early examples revealed a car that lacks the dynamic competency to match its style, which can’t be said of the Mini and 500.
BMW i3, Winter
Think of the BMW i-car sub-brand as a way for BMW to focus on extreme economy in the same way that BMW M focuses on extreme performance. The i3, a five-door electric hatchback with a range-extender option, is the launch model for the sub-brand and will be followed in 2014 by the i8 sports car.
A wealth of new weight-saving tech, including its carbonfibre-reinforced plastic body construction, could eventually filter through to BMW’s mainstream models.
Nissan Note, September
The British-built Note will switch from a high-riding hatchback to a more conventional supermini in its second generation. The styling of the new model will stay close to last year’s acclaimed Invitation concept car, and extensive testing is taking place on UK roads to ensure it’s a competent dynamic proposition.
With Nissan repositioning the current dowdy Micra as a budget car, the Note will become its default Fiesta fighter.
Volkswagen XL1, Winter
The XL1 is perhaps the most interesting small car set to be launched this year. A radically powered and futuristically styled two-seater first seen as a concept car in 2010, the XL1 will be without peer or precedent.
It weighs just 795kg and has a drag coefficient about two and a half times better than a contemporary Golf’s. Power comes from a compact hybrid drivetrain. It can travel for up to 22 miles using the 26bhp electric motor and battery, and when charge is depleted a small 47bhp two-cylinder engine kicks in. Combined economy is rated at a startling 313mpg and CO2 emissions are just 24g/km. Production will be strictly limited and the price is likely to be pushing supercar territory.
MG 3, Autumn
The MG 6 is selling in tiny numbers, so the addition of the MG 3 supermini to the range is much needed. Final assembly is tipped to take place in Britain, allowing the 3 to be pushed as a British-built product.
However, it looks like it’ll need all the help it can get initially, because just one engine — a 1.5-litre petrol unit — is set to be offered in the line-up.
Renault Zoe, Summer
If electric cars are ever going to take off in the UK, it will be the Zoe that’s responsible. The Nissan Leaf and the Renault Fluence and Twizy haven’t really troubled the scorers, but the Zoe supermini’s blend of great looks, a low purchase price (£13,650) and an operating range that’s longer than most (130 miles) gives it the best chance yet of success.
Ford Fiesta, January
Britain’s best-selling car has a new look for 2013, and new engines to go with it. The more bulbous front end may not be to all tastes, but the addition of the excellent 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine surely will be to buyers of small cars.
The first tests of the engine in the Fiesta revealed it to combine all that’s good about a small petrol engine with the best bits of a diesel. Don’t expect the Fiesta to be knocked off its lofty sales perch as a result.
One for 2014: Vauxhall Corsa
A new Corsa is due, but not until 2014. It could be previewed at a 2013 show, though. Expect sharp, Astra GTC-inspired looks, a new range of highly efficient, downsized engines, a continuation of this supermini’s fine dynamics and a lighter body.