Economic downturn or not, 2012 promises to be a bumper year for new car launches.
Over the next few days, Autocar.co.uk will highlight the new offerings from each manufacturer and assess each car’s prospects in a market that is becoming increasingly hotly contested.
Today we start with city cars and superminis, two market sectors in which major new launches such as the Fiat Panda and Volkswagen Up are set to make waves during the year ahead.
For the full 18-page run-down of new cars for 2012, don’t miss this week’s Autocar magazine, which is on sale today (4 January).
Citroën C1 facelift
A very mild tweak will freshen the Citroën C1 city car next month, creating breathing space before an all-new C1 arrives in 2013. Scoops of that car suggest a strong step upmarket, with bigger dimensions to close the gap on the C3 supermini and rivals like the 3.6m-long Renault Twingo. This will also make space in the range for a new, back-to-basics hatchback that is due to arrive in 2013-2014 and be positioned between the C1 and C3.
An all-new Fiat Panda hits UK showrooms in April. Read Autocar's first drive of the 2012 Fiat Panda here. Longer than today’s model, at 3.53m overall, it is also taller and wider. A split/sliding rear seat makes the most of the bigger dimensions and the front passenger seat can be folded flat. There will be three petrol engines and a diesel. The petrols are an 875cc, two-cylinder TwinAir putting out 85bhp with a turbo and 65bhp without, and a 69bhp 1.2-litre four. The 75bhp 1.3 Multijet diesel will feature stop-start. An early drive of the new car suggests that it improves on the weakest areas of the old model while retaining its endearing features. Production is switching from Poland to Alfa’s former factory in Naples, which raises quality worries. Prices are tipped to start from about £8500.
Renault Twingo facelift
Nissan Juke-style large, round foglamps spruce up the front of the Renault Twingo this month. Also new is a 900cc, three-cylinder economy engine. Read Autocar's first drive of the 2012 Renault Twingo here. Given the dramatic news about Renault cutting back its model range this year, the revised Twingo needs to be a success.
Not really a car, but the Renault Twizy will spearhead Renault’s EV thrust when it appears in April. See Autocar's video review of the Renault Twizy here. The two-seat commuter will be cheap, starting from £6500, plus £40 per month for the battery. Its performance matches that of a 125cc scooter and the range is claimed to be 60 miles.
Seat returns to the city car segment in May with the all-new Seat Mii, seven years after it dropped the Arosa. Different grille and headlamp details differentiate the Mii from its Skoda and VW clones. Read Autocar's first drive of the 2012 Seat Mii here. The engines will mirror these two’s, with a 1.0-litre, three-pot engine making either 59bhp or 74bhp. There will be three trim levels and two option packs. Prices will start from just under £8k. The five-door version arrives in November.
Skoda’s version of the VW Group city car, the Skoda Citigo, will be launched in the summer, moving the company into a new market segment. Priced from £7k. it is distinguished by a different grille and mild tweaks to the headlamps and rear window shape. In 74bhp guise, the Citigo is fun to drive and well engineered and it fits the bill as an agile city car. Read Autocar's first drive of the Skoda Citigo here. Official economy is 60mpg. The less powerful 59bhp version is little harsher to drive but fuel economy is better, at 62mpg. Inside, the Citigo features a novel, removable mini-tablet device with a five-inch screen that doubles as phone, sat-nav, trip computer and audio controller.
Smart will facelift the ForTwo in the summer and preview the mildly tweaked design at Detroit next week. There will also be a mainstream EV version, with lithium ion batteries, based around the experimental design tested in London last year. Smart is still working on an all-new design for 2013-2014, already teased as a curvy concept at the 2011 Frankfurt show and developed in a new direction by a pick-up concept that’s also due at Detroit.
The distinctive Vauxhall Junior will be revealed late next year, probably at the Paris show in September, although cars won’t be in dealers until February 2013. The premium-priced Junior will be aimed at the Mini and Fiat 500 and will feature an innovative interior with up-to-minute connectivity.
The Volkswagen Group has placed the city car at the cornerstone of a plan to crack its next ginormous global sales target. Fortunately, the all-new model behind the fanfare is really rather good. The manufacturer may have stripped out some of the original concept’s more imaginative features for cost reasons, but it has replaced them with a scaled-down version of its conventional-but-brilliant blueprint. Consequently, the Up is almost everything you could hope for from a modern city car: economical, well finished, refined, comfortable and even affordable. Read our full road test of the Volkswagen Up here. It is short on rascally charm but, as a complete package, it’s all but undeniable. The order book is open now, with first deliveries in March. The five-door will follow in July, as will the robotised manual ‘automatic’.
Audi A1 5dr
An extra pair of doors will boost the A1’s appeal in April. Identical in size and style to the three-door, the Audi A1 five-door is a modest 25kg heavier. Engines mirror the three-door’s, although in the summer a 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel joins the range, boasting 69mpg. Expect a £560 premium over an equivalent three-door.
Alfa Romeo Mito TwinAir
It will be a quiet year for Alfa, with just a single new model: the Alfa Romeo Mito TwinAir, powered by an 85bhp, two-cylinder TwinAir. Alfa’s DNA button dispenses with the Sport setting for the economy-minded TwinAir, which covers the 0-62mph sprint in 12.5sec. Expect to see the car in April.
The bargain-basement £7k Dacia Sandero five-door will arrive in dealers at the end of 2012. Built in India, where right-hand-drive Dacias are assembled for the home market, it promises to win through with value for money in a tough economic year.
Ford Fiesta facelift
In October there will be a mild tweak for Ford’s excellent supermini. The current iteration of the Ford Fiesta will be four years old this autumn.
Kia Rio 3dr
Expect a conventional three-door version of the Rio rather than a rakishly different design compared with the five-door. Prices will start at £9995 for the entry point into Kia’s supermini range. The car is due to land this month.
The British-designed and engineered MG 3 will mark another step towards the rehabilitation of MG, now under Chinese control. Power comes from a 107bhp 1.5-litre engine and it is expected to go on sale in December. Read our first drive of the MG 3.
It looks as though the much-anticipated third generation of the BMW Mini won’t be on sale until 2013, although there’s a strong possibility of a Paris show debut in the autumn, possibly with a thinly disguised concept.
Mini Special Editions
With Olympic fever in full swing this coming summer, official sponsor BMW will launch the 2012 Edition with Olympic graphics. Also set to arrive this year is the £42k ‘Inspired by Goodwood’ Mini, featuring Rolls-Royce-standard trim. Production of the plush Mini will be limited to 1000 examples.
Based on the Global Small Concept and expected in the summer, the new Colt is Thai built and features a 3.74m-long footprint, placing it between a city car and supermini in size. Low CO2 is the focus of the 1.0 and 1.2-litre engines as Mitsubishi targets a 50 per cent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2020.
Peugeot describes the new 208 as the “most ambitious specification overhaul” ever made to one of its road cars. Read more about the new Peugeot 208 here. Shorter and lower than the 207, Peugeot’s new supermini is also lighter. New engines are frugal 1.0 and 1.2 VTi petrol units, plus five diesels. The most efficient 1.0 is claimed to deliver 65mpg and 99g/km. Due in August.
A vital launch for Renault UK, which will prune its range drastically in February. Regardless, an all-new Clio will grab headlines at the Paris show in the autumn. About the same size as today’s car, the Clio will be available as a five-door only. Under the skin is a new platform, which Renault says is unrelated to the lacklustre Nissan Micra’s underpinnings. The key new engine is a 110bhp turbocharged 1.2 four. The Renaultsport Clio follows in 2013-2014, with a five-door bodyshell, Renault says. A replacement for the ST estate hasn’t been confirmed for production yet. Read more about the new Renault Clio here.
Renault Zoe EV
Due to be revealed at the Geneva show, the £14k Zoe is Renault’s third EV launch of 2012. Read our first drive review of the Renault Zoe EV here. Slated for a 100-mile range and top speed of 84mph, it is likely to be the most popular model, combining a conventional four-seat hatch cabin with attractive looks.
Seat Ibiza facelift
A mild cosmetic tweak for the three-door and five-door hatch versions of the Seat Ibiza is planned for spring, with the ST estate getting the changes a few months later in the summer.
Using the same platform as Skoda’s Lauretta, the new Toledo will offer a roomy boot and keen pricing, just like the first Toledo did in the mid-1990s. Styling will be influenced by the IBL concept and the car is expected in October.
The Fabia-based Skoda Lauretta will slot under the Octavia to offer a five-seat saloon priced at supermini money. The Mission L concept from Frankfurt is 80 per cent the finished car, Autocar has been told, and the final version is anticipated in September.
Suzuki Swift Sport
It may not be the first contender that springs to mind, but the Suzuki Swift Sport is definitely worth a test drive if you’re out for a keenly priced and genuinely entertaining hot hatchback over the next 12 months. Read Autocar's first drive review of the Suzuki Swift Sport The car goes on sale in the UK this month, priced from £14,500. The headline figures imply modest driver reward — 0-62mph in 8.7sec from a 134bhp 1.6-litre engine — but the reality is very different. Its power to weight is 128bhp per tonne, almost the same as the original Peugeot 205 GTI — and it isn’t so dissimilar dynamically, either. Not the most powerful, most desirable or fastest driver’s cars on the market right now, but without doubt the most zesty, characterful and fun.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Based on Prius componentry, the Yaris hybrid will feature a 1.5-litre petrol engine and the promise of sub-85g/km CO2 and close to 90mpg. It won’t be cheap, though. Expect a starting price of about £16k when it goes on sale in June. Read Autocar's first drive review of the Toyota Yaris Hybrid.
Next: new cars for 2012, part two – family cars and MPVs