2018's best new cars

This year is set to deliver a bumper crop of new product. We tick off top hotties among the incoming crowd of SUVs, family cars, utilities, electric vehicles and sports models.


INDUSTRY perception is that, after four years solid growth, new vehicle sales might plateau in 2018.

That’s not a worry. For one, the industry is still running at optimum pace. The majority of the world’s major manufacturers are committed to unleashing a wide variety of fresh product over the next 12 months. There’s no way to u-turn on that strategy.

For another, within the New Zealand scene, even if sales don’t continue to climb the business will still be buoyant.

Close to 160,000 new vehicles were registered here in 2017, a tally that represents growth of about nine percent on 2016, during which 146,753 new vehicles came into the country.

Even if 2018 fails to deliver any further improvement, no-one selling cars will be going hungry. That level of interest is more than enough to keep distributors smiling.

They agree, some of the factors that have driven new car sales over the past 48 months  – such as high net immigration – were beginning to change by the final quarter of last year.

David Crawford, chief executive of the Motor Industry Association, which represents all new car distributors, says even a flat year will be still historically high.

Anyway, as said, the global scene is also running hot enough to give makers confidence to release a wide and varied lineup, with a diversity of engines, bodystyles and technology never seen before; in particular the year will see electrification continue across the board, in almost all passenger vehicle types.

So, anyway, this story lists in alphabetical order some of the impending products we say could be of particular interest.


Alfa Romeo Stelvio

FOUR-cylinder diesel and petrol engines come before mid-year, but the version we think has potential to set the large luxury performance SUV sector on fire is the Quadrifoglio range-topper likely arriving toward year-end.

As cool as the entry versions with the choice of a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine or a 2.2-litre turbodiesel will be, that fire-breathing 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 model to follow is the one that could bring the boldest brio into this sector.

All Stelvios here will employ the Q4 all-wheel-drive architecture (there’s no interest in the rear-drive editions offered elsewhere) and will be stylish and dynamically special. However, the Quadrifoglio will be the one that has the goods to take on the Audi SQ5 and Porsche Macan Turbo. It’s packing the same engine as the hot Giulia QV sedan, in identical 375kW/600Nm format. Nice! Alfa talks of 0-100kmh taking just 3.8 seconds.

FYI, Stelvio is ultimately going to have a bigger brother, expected to be based on the Maserati Levante. Alfa Romeo’s boss says a second big SUV is a recognition of “where consumer preference is going” and the greater profitability these models provide.


Alpine A110

FANCY a high performance mid-engined, all-aluminium coupe … from a reborn French specialist with a special sporting history?

Renault New Zealand’s performance stocks are in for a big rev up with confirmation that we’ll not only see the latest RS Megane but also a comeback car from Alpine, the Renault-run performance marque that has been recently resurrected after 20 years of dormancy.

There’s good reason the l1.8 litre Alpine 110 is cited as a Porsche 718 Cayman rival. It has a turbocharged 185kW four-cylinder engine, gets from 0-100kmh in just 4.5 seconds and tips the scales at 1080kg. It also features a high-quality, driver-focused interior. And overseas’ reports suggest it has deft handling.


Audi Q6 e-tron

AUDI is said to be planning an all-out assault on the premium SUV sector, with eight new high-riding models due to arrive before the end of the decade. The Q6 e-tron is thought to be first of three all-electric SUVs en route; it's due to appear in production form around June.  The production model will look very much like the concept pictured, but the naming convention could yet change. The cost of the battery technology necessary for a 480km-plus range could mean it’ll will almost certainly be more expensive than the Q7, but still very competitive with the likes of the Tesla Model S.



YES, yes, there’s a new X5 on the horizon as well, and obviously it is important given that the current one achieves more than 50 percent of BMW annual volume here regardless that it is a whole generation behind the Five-Series passenger car (and X3) in respect to technical smarts.

Yet even if the next X5 continues to sell as well as the current one, we think BMW here will be eager to push just as hard with the X7; SUVs of all sizes are selling well but there is considerable local appetite for something the marque is finally now offering: A fully-kitted seven-seater SUV. The X7 is certainly set to raise the bar; the range-topper is expected to be fitted with parts from its near-twin, the forthcoming Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV. Big engines will be the order of the day including a V12 in top-spec models. BMW NZ is talking of the X7 being a 2019 offer, but don’t be surprised if they manage to slip some by next December as a example of extra Xmas cheer.


Ford Mustang

THIS is the first big update for the new-gen Pony Car that every Blue-blooded Kiwi muscle machine fan has been keen to buy into over the past 24 months.

The refresh is timely but will be an intriguing test of loyalty: Even though the current model certainly demands improvement, it would be remarkable if it spurs anything like a repeat of the buying frenzy that has occurred with the current one. Indeed, the fact that what we have now will be thoroughly outdated might not matter: Old is good in Mustang circles.

The factory is already building the improved car but isn’t ready to send out right-hand-drive product until after June, a situation that means the current car will go soon, thus leaving an empty spot in the showroom for some time.

The update is patently ‘lite’ in respect to the styling - the front and rear lights have been altered and that’s about it – and cabin changes are also modest, though the infotainment system has been given a refresh. But, hey, you don't mess with a legend, right?

The mechanical revision is more expansive: The 5.0-litre V8 becomes a touch more potent (whereas that ‘sissy’ 2.3-litre EcoBoost drops in output, though Ford reckons you won’t be able to tell). Biggest single change is for the automatic gearbox: The six-speed has been dropped for a 10-speed.


Holden Commodore

THE first totally new Commodore since … well, the very first Commodore: A return to four-cylinder powerplants, first use of front-wheel-drive, first four-wheel-drive since the Aventura wagon, first diesel, a swing back not just to Opel roots (but also, this time, Opel build) …

So much is going to be so different, but that’s no bad thing: The market has changed considerably and Commodore has had to move with the times to maintain credibility. Hence why the range this time includes another AWD elevated wagon; when customers are showing far more interest in SUVs and crossovers than in trad passenger cars, it does no harm to now have a Subaru Outback equivalent.

We’ve seen the styling (smart) and had a full disclosure on the technical side (clever) of this car already and, because Australia has released individual model pricing and specifications already, probably have pretty good insight into how Holden NZ is going to play its hand, regardless that it won’t release stickers or derivative choices until much closer to public availability in

We also know that NZ will have fewer variants than the ‘home’ country and expect that, even if the V6 VXR gains plenty of attention for being the top dog, the soft-roader edition – and those base four-cylinders – will be far more crucial.

On that note, what chance for Commodore? Sales have been in decline for years and that the outgoing VF departed as the country’s best-selling large sedan isn’t saying much; volume-wise it still only captured under 3000 units a year, with a fair chunk going to NZ Police, who have committed to the new car. So, yeah, it needs to hit the ground running.


Jaguar i-Pace

BACK in the 1980s, Britain’s biggest contribution to EV-dom was a battery-powered single person tricycle, the Sinclair C5.

Three decades on, there’s the Jaguar i-Pace. C5s were a flop, but are quite collectible now. The i-Pace will also assuredly be a landmark, but stands good chance of also being a sales success. Jaguar under Tata is a re-energised brand and the leaping cat’s first electric car is a serious, very well-sorted proposition.

We’re not talking about a city-centric runabout. Jaguar vows the i-Pace is for serious drivers intending on taking serious driving missions: It’s a “long-distance sprinter” with a almost 500kms’ range, a 0-100kmh time of around four seconds and a total power output of around 294kW. It’ll be distinctively styled, because it won’t have to accommodate a bulky engine – something that should allow for generous interior space, overseas’ reports say. It won’t come cheap, but if you’re to wow … well, what better?


Kia Stinger

SURELY no ‘winning’ car has endured a more troubled start to local market introduction ?

You hardly need be told that the Stinger is the most promising car Kia has ever created. And it’s quite probably the most talked-about model it has ever offered locally. And, yet, it’s still largely invisible.

Limited consignment count was always going to be a challenge, but one that has been accentuated by apparent production delays. Just a handful of cars are in New Zealand now, most being demonstrators, though a couple have found actual owners. But the first fully saleable shipment is not here for at least another month.

The scenario has scuppered any big-time PR build up or launch programme like those that have obviously worked so well in other places – just look at Australia to see what sort of raa-raa this car really deserves. Indeed, Kia NZ has abandoned plans for a media launch and there's just one car on the national press drive programme. 

Hey, it’s still going to be a winner, right? It’s already great for brand image and the early owner I know (a real rev head and also, as it happens, the dad of a famous racing driver – no, not the one signed on to rally for Hyundai) is certainly impressed.

Stinger provides a big test of the theory about how Kiwis hold a special place in their hearts for performance rear-drive sedans now that the Falcadores have gone. Kia NZ’s decision to bring in just one out of three available V6 editions (plus a single four-cylinder), both in top-dollar formats, suggests both circumspection and intent to extract big buck buyers.

Still, we’ve driven a Stinger, admittedly nothing more than a quick once-around-the-block in a dealer demo (which we wanted to test, but the distributor said no) and immediately got what this car is about. Though straight away we agreed on what overseas’ commentators have said: It demands a fruitier exhaust.


Lamborghini Urus

FASHIONISTA SUVs that you know will never touch dirt … yup, we’ve seen a few over the years. But we’ve never anything like the Urus: The most flamboyant not-rock-hopper yet also promises to be the fastest. Powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine with 478kW, it will do 0-100km in a staggering 3.6 seconds and hit a top speed of just over 300kmh. Allowing it to claim, at least for now, the title of world’s fastest SUV.

Its eye-catching styling cleverly conceals the fact that it is the fourth SUV to be launched Volkswagen’s MLB platform following the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga and Porsche Cayenne.

Lamborghini’s boss, Stefano Domenicali, claims the Urus is ‘a true Lamborghini in terms of design, performance, driving dynamics, emotion’ though as it is also well over half a tonne heavier than any Lamborghini sports car, is the first to use turbochargers and the first to have five doors it's also a bit different to anything previous. 

Still, SUVs are hot here and the high-end soft-roader sector is still charging along. Local brand boss Greg Brinck says the full 2018 allocation here has already been spoken for. First customer cars, at $339,000 a pop precluding options, are due in July-August. 


Nissan Leaf

THE Nissan Leaf is one of the best-selling electric cars of all time; 300,000 produced over seven years. A big hit in New Zealand, too, though with a twist:. Here it’s the best-selling used import EV of all time. The preference for pre-owned product has been so strong that it pushed the NZ-new product out of the market. Oops.

On the positive side, those seven-year-old ex-Japan imports have put a lot of Kiwis onto the electric highway. On the other hand, they’ve damaged our expectations of what an EV should provide and at what cost. Sorry folks, but an ex-Fukushima hand-down is NOT setting the best example of either.

Undoubtedly, the new Leaf will be expensive. But, then, it’ll be a lot more of everything else, too, so we hope Nissan NZ decides to reclaim its territory rather than continue abdicating responsibility to independents who don’t offer technical back-up and cannot rival a distributor level of customer satisfaction.

The new Mk2 looks like being a winner; it is really a start again. Bigger, much better styled (actually, simply styled), safer and smarter, with advanced autonomous functions. It also features an ‘e-Pedal’, which Nissan claims will allow you to drive with only the accelerator, as taking your foot off this will slow the car to a complete stop, charging the batteries as it does so

In respect to driving: You get a better chassis, more sizzle and a superior range: 360kms on a charge to start, with a 500km model to follow.

A special launch edition called 2.ZERO comes equipped with ProPilot autonomous driving technology, 17-inch wheels, front and rear heated seats, as well as a seven-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Then there's the NISMO performance edition, pictured here on its debut at the 2017 Tokyo motor show. Grrrr.



Skoda Karoq

THE car that will drive Skoda New Zealand’s push into the crucial compact sports utility sector will be on sale locally soon.In addition to being more substantial and more adept than its current equivalent, the likeable but clearly dated Yeti, the car also stands out as being the first Skoda to get the VW Group’s digital instrument panel, designed to prioritise driving data or a range of additional information, including navigation instructions, a gear indicator or traffic sign information.

Derived, like the Motoring Writers’ Guild NZ COTY winning Kodiaq, off the VW Group MQB platform, the Karoq is a lot larger than the Yeti. Length of 4382mm long is a 160mm enhancement that will cure the Yeti’s issue of tight rear legroom  and it is 50mm wider, at 1841mm. The wheelbase is 60mm longer too, at 2638mm in front-wheel-drive and 2630mm for four-wheel-drive models. 

The boot capacity grows too, up to 521 litres if the rear seats are fixed, and 1630 litres if they’re folded down. Capacities with VarioFlex, which allows all three of the rear seats to be slide as one or individually, or removed altogether, range from 421 litres if legroom for all three rear passengers is prioritised and 588 litres if boot space is maximised when the seats are in situ, to 1810 litres with the second row removed entirely.

Features shared with Kodiaq include LED ambient lighting that can offers a choice of 10 colours, puddle lights that illuminate the area around the door during entry and exit, full-LED headlights and fog lights, and an electric tailgate that can be operated by waving your foot below the rear bumper.

Safety equipment includes blind spot detection, rear-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and traffic sign recognition, though only the highest-spec model appears to have all of these as standard.


Tesla Model 3

THERE’S a theory going around that the recent reveal of Tesla’s new electric semi- truck and second-generation Roadster sports car (an Easter egg which burst out of the truck’s trailer during the unveiling) was all an elaborate smokescreen to obscure a worrisome fact.

As money-losing company facing high cash burn, Tesla needs the Model 3; to say that it is critical to Tesla’s long-term success is almost understatement. This is a money-losing company facing significant cash burn. The Model 3 is seen as being the most affordable of this breakout American brand’s fare to date. The only one capable of transforming the niche automaker to a mass producer amid a sea of rivals entering the nascent electric vehicle market.

Kiwis are included in the half a million customer who have, since the model’s announcement in 2016, put down deposits for this mid-sized sedan. Talk in the past suggested we would be served from this year, hence the car’s inclusion.

Is that going to happen? We’d hope so, but who can say? It hardly seems a reassurance when Elon Musk sums up the significant manufacturing challenges that have hampered this car’s rollout as a “production hell”. Tesla last week claimed most of the issues have been resolved, yet not only is it still elusive about a start of large scale build, but is also now saying that even after that, it will initially only manage 2500 units a week – half the volume it was promising this time last year. As is, just 1550 cars are out there, all Stateside, all with company-aligned people.

It’s not a good start for a car that could still make big waves.


Toyota Supra

SPOILER alert: If this car does arrive before Xmas, it’ll only be for corporate show and tell, with Toyota saying that actual customer deliveries are not going to occur until 2019. We hope Toyota New Zealand will make the effort to bring in an early display car – it’s a great flag waver that we could see pulling duty as the pace car for Toyota Racing Series (which until now has used Lexus performance models in that role).

The model that marks the return of the Supra name after a 15-year absence isn’t entirely a Toyota product - it’s being developed in conjunction with the 2018 BMW Z4 – and very likely won’t be sold as a Toyota, either. The talk is that it’ll be – and try not to snigger, please -  a Gazoo; named after the brand’s racing division. 

There will be no chance of confusing the Z4 and the Supra; even though they have common underpinnings the BMW is a roadster and the Japanese car is a coupe. It’s also thought Toyota will offer it with a petrol-electric hybrid setup.