Buyers of small family cars have never had so much choice. No longer relegated to hatchbacks, the market has expanded rapidly in recent years to include ever-popular crossovers and practical four-door coupés.
A decision over which model to plump for is likely to be even harder to make in 2013 with new class entrants such as the Vauxhall Mokka and Suzuki S-Cross making an appearance. The Mercedes CLA will also be a seductively styled new entrant at the premium end of the market.
For those on more modest budgets, the Dacia Duster will provide family-friendly transport with a hint of off-road ability for as little as £8,995. Here is our guide to what is coming when.
Mercedes CLA, Summer
Melding edgy styling with a luxury finish and a sleek, compact saloon body, the CLA is designed to turn the heads of younger car buyers as Mercedes shifts further away from its former staid image.
Having levered open a new niche with the CLS, the Stuttgart car firm will be hoping that the CLA can repeat the sales success it has enjoyed with the larger swoopy four-door saloon.
The Concept Style Coupé (CSC) shown at last year’s Beijing motor show previewed the sporty, CLS-inspired styling direction that Mercedes is taking with the CLA.
According to company chiefs, the production model — which we’ll see at the Detroit show later this month — is a few millimetres taller and narrower than the concept. Apart from that, the CLA remains faithful the CSC, with external tweaks limited to different door mirrors and headlamp styling.
The CLA is underpinned by Mercedes’ new front-wheel drive MFA platform, seen so far on the A-class and B-class. The BMW 3-series is being targeted as the new car’s dynamic benchmark.
The CLA will slot below the C-class in Merc’s product line-up in terms of price and features offered. However, the CSC show car suggested that Mercedes’ new entry-level saloon will be 47mm longer, a considerable 121mm wider and 47mm lower than the C-class saloon. It has a 2699mm wheelbase, which is 59mm shorter than the C-class’s but the same as the A-class’s.
The CLA will offer the choice of standard front-wheel drive or optional four-wheel drive, although it hasn’t yet been confirmed whether the all-wheel-drive versions will reach the UK in right-hand-drive form. Gearboxes will include a standard six-speed manual and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as an option.
After the standard car has been launched, expect to see a Shooting Brake variant, a four-wheel-drive version and an AMG-tuned sister car to the A-class-derived A45. The AMG version is tipped to appear at the Frankfurt motor show in September.
The CLA is expected to enter production in June and go on sale in the UK a few months later, with prices starting at around £21,000.
Renault Clio SUV, June
Renault will make a late arrival at the compact SUV party with a Clio-based offering derived from the Nissan Juke platform. The as-yet-unnamed car will blend Clio styling with elements of the Renault Captur concept seen at the Geneva motor show in 2011.
The SUV’s engine range is likely to mirror that of the new, fourth-generation Clio hatch, meaning a normally aspirated 74bhp 1.2, turbocharged 89bhp 0.9 and turbocharged 118bhp 1.2 petrols will be offered, and an 89bhp 1.5 as the staple diesel.
Fiat 500L, March
Fiat is continuing to develop a ‘500 family’. The 500L lays the chic styling of Fiat’s supermini over modified Punto underpinnings, with a starting price of £14,000-£15,000 anticipated. The arrival of the 500L in February will precede a seven-seat version (codenamed 500XL) in September, a rugged 500L Trekking by the end of the year and, in 2014, a rival to the Mini Countryman dubbed 500X.
Vauxhall Mokka, January
Deliveries of Vauxhall’s compact SUV have already started, although most customers will take ownership of theirs during the next few weeks. Crucially, almost all of the cars destined for private hands will have the suspension and steering upgrades specific to the UK, improvements carried out by the manufacturer after Autocar highlighted the dynamic shortcomings of the European-spec Mokka we tested.
Seat Leon SC, July
Seat plans a mighty Leon push for the year ahead, broadening the model range to include three-door and estate variants for the first time alongside the five-door already on sale.
The front end of the three-door, based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform, is lower and wider than that of the five-door. It will have a shorter wheelbase and a more sweeping roofline than the five-door, too. Seat says it will be “very close” to the striking IBE concept (right) from the 2010 Geneva show.
Standard versions of the three-door and estate will be unveiled at the Geneva show in March. High-performance Cupra and Cupra R versions of both body styles will follow.
Kia Soul, Winter
The first-generation Soul helped to enhance Kia’s growing reputation as a maker of appealing and distinctive cars. Kia is unlikely to tinker with the eye-catching exterior too dramatically for the all-new version. Spy photos of a disguised Soul testing in Europe recently show a five-door car of similar proportions. The interior is being overhauled for a more upmarket feel. Kia has confirmed a full-electric version for 2014.
Suzuki S-Cross, Autumn
Suzuki’s C-segment crossover is touted as a rival to the Nissan Qashqai and will combine sporty 4x4 performance with spacious load-lugging capability. First seen in concept form at Paris last year, the S-Cross is built on a new platform that may later spawn a bigger SUV. The S-Cross is part of a product offensive that aims to launch a new or updated Suzuki model in Europe each year for the next three or four years.
Nissan Leaf facelift, April
The first European versions of Nissan’s revised all-electric contender will roll off the production line in Sunderland during the spring.
The new Leaf has already gone on sale in Japan, and that version shows the kind of improvements we can expect to get, including a weight saving of about 80kg, more boot space and an increased battery range.
A new entry-level version with a stripped-down specification is regarded as a likely addition to the line-up, and it is hoped that domestic production will enable Nissan to sell the car for a lower price.
Dacia Duster, January
This is the year in which Dacia aims to plant its size nine firmly up the posterior of the new car market with its headline-grabbing low prices, cheap deposits and strict no-haggle policy. Along with the Sandero supermini, the Indian-made Duster is leading the Renault-owned brand’s all-new UK assault.
The compact crossover is available in two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive and with a choice of a 108bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine or 84bhp and 104bhp 1.5-litre diesels. With the most basic model starting at £8995, it’s little surprise that Dacia reported strong pre-orders for it. Deliveries started yesterday (1 January).
One for 2014: Mini
The third-generation Mini will take the brand into more family-friendly territory than ever before by offering an even wider range of models and body styles. Following the staple three-door hatch due this year will be no fewer than nine spin-offs, including a new interpretation of the Clubman estate and Mini’s take on the MPV, which could wear a ‘Traveller’ badge.