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New in 2018: Passenger cars pump the brakes

Holdin' on: Following the demise of Australian car manufacturing, Holden will release the imported ZB Commodore that is a rebadged but locally tuned version of the Opel Insignia.

Passenger car releases slow this year as traditional segment keeps shrinking

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Outlook logo29 Jan 2018

FOR the first time ever last year, passenger cars were outsold by family-friendly SUVs, and this same result is expected again in 2018.

Since Holden and Toyota's Australian manufacturing operations ceased in October following Ford's closure the year before, the stage has been set for high-riding wagons to continue dominating their traditional counterparts.

That being said, with 450,012 registrations in 2017, the market for passenger cars is still alive and well, but some launches scheduled for 2018 will help determine if this ongoing sales decline can be reversed – particularly in the post-local manufacturing era.

Micro and light cars

IT LOOKS like 2018 will be another quiet year for the shrinking micro and light car segments, particularly for the smaller of the two with not one micro car launching this year.

Nevertheless, in the second quarter the light-car class will see MG roll out an automatic option for its MG3 hatch, which has made do with a five-speed manual gearbox since its launch around three years ago. The British-Chinese car-maker has also promised to improve upon the current model’s three-star ANCAP safety rating, but it is unknown if such upgrades will be introduced alongside the new transmission.

The Volkswagen Polo will enter its sixth generation in March when the light hatch range becomes five-door only after the car-maker decided not to import three-door variants. A mature design is teamed with the latest infotainment and safety technologies to help it better compete against its rivals.

GTI fans will have to wait a little longer for the hotter version of the Polo, which is set to lob in the third quarter. True to its name, the pint-sized pocket rocket takes its 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine from its Golf GTI big brother, making 147kW of power in this application.

However, the Polo GTI will not be alone as GoAuto understands that Ford is preparing to launch the new-generation Fiesta ST at some stage this year. While not confirmed, the Blue Oval is expected to opt against importing the regular Fiesta line-up and will instead bring in the 149kW ST flagship only.

These two hot hatches will not be alone as Suzuki pips them to the post with its warmed-up Swift Sport in January. Entering its third generation, the Sport picks up turbo power for the first time, making 103kW and 230Nm from a 1.4-litre Boosterjet four-cylinder engine.

What’s coming

MG3 automatic – Q2
Suzuki Swift Sport – January
VW Polo – March
VW Polo GTI – Q3

Small cars

THERE will be a handful of releases in the still-dominant small-car segment in 2018, including a pair of electrified cars and a new version of an important volume-seller.

A three-door Golf GTI Original will join the spicy Golf range in February, with the price of entry to the GTI range dropping below $40,000 and marking the first time a Mk7 Golf GTI has been offered as a three-door.

Kia’s Cerato small car will be replaced with a new model that will again be offered in sedan and hatchback body styles. The former will arrive in March or April while the latter is set for a second-half local debut.

The new Cerato sedan was revealed at this month’s Detroit motor show in US-market Forte guise, complete with design cues from the Stinger performance sedan.

Hyundai’s first model from its N tuning arm, the Golf GTI-baiting i30 N, will arrive in the first half of the year, punching out either 184kW or 202kW through the front wheels from its turbocharged 2.0-litre mill.

Sporting a three-pronged line-up, the Hyundai Ioniq will be available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure-electric form when it arrives around the middle of the year. The Korean brand will be hoping that its alternative-power small hatch takes the fight up to the Toyota Prius.

Similar aspirations will be held by Nissan for its Leaf that enters showrooms in the fourth quarter. All-new for its second generation, the Leaf has been lighting up the sales charts in native Japan, mainly due to its improved 400km driving range and focus on ProPilot autonomous technologies.

Following the release of the all-new Megane in October 2016, Renault will finally bring the Megane RS hot hatch to Australian shores in 2018, with a muscular 205kW/390Nm coming from its new 1.8-litre turbo-petrol four-pot.

Additionally, the next-generation Ford Focus is expected to break cover at the Geneva motor show in March, with a local launch before the year’s end anticipated, although this could push back to early 2019.

What’s coming

Hyundai Ioniq – June/July
Hyundai i30 N - H1
Kia Cerato sedan – March/April
Kia Cerato hatch – H2
Nissan Leaf – Q4
Renault Megane RS – 2018
VW Golf GTI Original – February

Mid-size cars and people-movers

DESPITE declining sales in recent years, a number of important mid-size models will arrive in 2018, with one of the biggest launches of the year occurring next month.

The Holden Commodore transitions from an Australian-designed and -built large car to a German-built but locally tuned mid-sizer when it lobs in February.

Holden has been aggressive with the new Commodore’s positioning, with pricing running from $33,690 to $55,990 plus on-road costs.

It will be offered in liftback, Sportwagon and Tourer variants and features seriously boosted equipment levels to enable it to compete against the likes of the new Toyota Camry.

Speaking of which, the just-launched Camry range will be expanded with a new variant at some stage this year. The now full-line importer is not saying what to expect, but a performance-honed variant and/or newly configured special edition are on the cards.

The facelifted Mazda6 sedan and wagon will hit showrooms in the second half, and while the fresh styling is not a dramatic departure from the current model, all the attention will be on its CX-9-sourced 170kW/420Nm 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine.

Mazda has also made significant improvements to the Mazda6’s interior, with the Japanese car-maker pitching it further upmarket as it looks to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Subaru will give its current-generation Liberty and Outback a tweak next month, which will mark their second round of updates since launching just over three years ago. Official details are under wraps but it is likely that the new 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine from the upgraded Levorg will find its way into both line-ups.

Honda has given its Odyssey people-mover a tickle this month, headlined by the inclusion of Honda Sensing driver-assist technologies for the flagship VTi-L variant. The range-topper has also picked up revisions to its exterior styling and interior trim, while visual changes for the base VTi will be limited to its front fascia. Pricing will swell by $1100 and $380 respectively.

The Kia Carnival will also receive an update in 2018, with the refreshed people-mover to lob around the middle of this year. Three years into its lifecycle, the seven-seater is expected to get a further boost to its safety and technology levels.

In what is shaping up to be a big year for Kia, the South Korean brand also revealed a facelifted version of its Optima mid-size sedan in its home market last week (where it is sold as the K5) ahead of an Australian release in the second quarter.

What’s coming

Holden Commodore – February
Honda Odyssey – January
Kia Carnival – June/July
Kia Optima – Q2
Mazda6 – H2
Subaru Liberty – February
Subaru Outback – February
Toyota Camry variant – TBC

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