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New in 2018: Premium market hits high gear

G whizz: Hyundai’s premium brand Genesis launches this year, with the 3 Series-rivalling G70 hitting Australia in the first half of the year.

Key new premium passenger cars hit market this year, but SUV onslaught continues

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Outlook logo29 Jan 2018

By TIM NICHOLSON

AFTER years of growth, some of Australia’s biggest premium car-makers experienced a sales decline in 2017 with the likes of Audi and BMW going backwards for the first time in years.

While some of the smaller players like Alfa Romeo lifted their game on the back of critical new model launches, others such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover hit a sales speed bump last year.

But it doesn’t seem to be slowing any of the manufacturers down with a significant number of passenger cars and SUVs hitting showrooms in 2018.

Premium passenger cars

THE year kicks off with the updated version of BMW’s ground-breaking i3 electric city hatch that will be offered with a sporty i3s variant.

The i3s has an additional 10kW/20Nm compared with the standard variant, lowering the 0-100km/h time by 0.4 seconds to 6.9s, while the driving range drops by 20km to 280km for the spicy version.

Jaguar is hoping to appeal to the anti-SUV brigade with its Sportbrake (wagon) version of its XF large sedan, which will be available in four model grades and compete with BMW’s 5 Series wagon and jacked-up versions of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6 wagons.

Maserati will lob refreshed versions of its Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans before the end of February with the Ghibli ushering in GranLusso and GranSport model grades and a new electric-assisted power steering system that allows for new active safety features.

The model that started it all for Lexus almost 30 years ago, the LS sedan, arrives in fifth-generation guise in April, with the company offering it in F Sport and Sports Luxury grades, as well as a choice of two powertrains including a 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol or 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric hybrid.

Hyundai Motor Group’s new Genesis luxury brand kicks off its Aussie assault in the first half of the year, with the BMW 3 Series-rivalling G70 sedan and the larger G80 – a facelifted version of the Genesis sedan that launched in late 2014 – hitting showrooms.

Genesis is yet to reveal pricing or specification, but the two models are sure to be competitively priced and packed with standard fare to help them gain a foothold in the competitive premium market.

Audi’s all-new A8 limo and the sleek new A7 Sportback arrive in the middle of the year, and while the A8 gains world-first autonomous technology that replaces the driver in moderate freeway traffic, it will not be offered here and in most markets as the tech is not yet legal.

The A7 gains Audi’s new corporate design language, and while the exterior dimensions remain much the same as the outgoing model, interior room has increased.

Unsurprisingly, premium market leader Mercedes-Benz has another bumper year ahead with the refreshed S-Class Coupe and Cabrio in the second quarter followed by all-new A-Class hatchback in the third quarter.

Riding on an all-new platform that has liberated extra shoulder, elbow and headroom, the new-generation A-Class will appeal to tech-savvy buyers with an all-digital instrumentation and infotainment display similar to the one in the E-Class.

While the A-Class will not be revealed until February, it is expected to carry design cues from the new CLS four-door coupe that was uncovered at last year’s Los Angeles motor show and is also due Down Under in the third quarter.

Benz will also launch a mid-life update for its C-Class mid-sizer that is by far its best-selling model in Australia. The refreshed look is yet to be seen, but expect a light makeover, new tech offerings and tweaks to powertrains.

What’s coming

Audi A8 – mid 2018
Audi A7 – mid 2018
BMW i3 update and i3s – Q1
Genesis G70 – H1
Genesis G80 – H1
Jaguar XF Sportbrake – January
Lexus LS500/LS500h – April
Maserati MY18 Ghibli – January
Maserati MY18 Quattroporte – February
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet – Q2
Mercedes-Benz A-Class – Q3
Mercedes-Benz CLS – Q3
Mercedes-Benz C-Class – Q3
Rolls-Royce Dawn Black Badge – 2018

Premium SUVs

THERE is a lot of activity in the premium SUV market in the first quarter with Alfa Romeo’s long-awaited Stelvio landing in dealerships in petrol and diesel guise, ahead of the second-quarter launch of the fire-breathing QV that uses the same 375kW/600Nm 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 as the Giulia QV sedan.

Audi will bolster its electrified model offerings with the plug-in hybrid e-tron version of its Q7 large SUV in quarter one, priced from $139,900 plus on-road costs, which is more than PHEV versions of rivals including the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE500, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90.

Fellow German BMW will lob its X2 compact coupe-crossover early in the year, kicking off with the $55,900 two-wheel-drive petrol sDrive20i, ahead of the anticipated arrival of diesel variants. The urban-focused X2 is a direct rival for the Audi Q2 and competes against the Mini Countryman.

Land Rover is now offering model year 2018 versions of its Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque, while MY2018 Discovery, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport all hit showrooms in March.

Lexus will widen the appeal of its RX large SUV in February with the arrival of the three-row seven-seat RX-L in 450h hybrid and 350 petrol guise. The car-maker already offers the seven-seat LX570 but it is a petrol V8 only and attracts a different buyer to the RX soft-roader.

The LX-rivalling Infiniti QX80 hits our shores in the first half and is likely to build on its small sales numbers with the facelifted version that swaps out the polarising design with a more modern and conventional look.

Jaguar’s E-Pace crossover will fill a gap in its line-up under the F-Pace when it lands in the second quarter with the British car-maker pitching it against the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Audi Q3.

After a lengthy gestation period, Lamborghini will introduce its highly anticipated Urus SUV in the second quarter with the Italian ‘super SUV’ to be powered by a new 478kW/850Nm 4.0-litre V8 that helps propel it from 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds.

The potent 375kW/700Nm Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and its Coupe twin land in the second quarter, and the German car-maker says the hi-po high-rider will be so popular that it might overtake the C63 sedan and wagon as the best-selling AMG in Australia.

Volvo’s XC40 hits the road in April and while the Swedish car-maker is yet to announce pricing, it will likely be positioned to battle the aforementioned premium crossovers such as the X1, GLA, Q3 and their ilk.

The XC40 will be the first Volvo to use the company’s CMA modular vehicle architecture that will underpin the next V40 as well as models from Volvo’s Chinese parent company Geely.

Porsche’s all-new third-generation Cayenne lands mid-year with three petrol powertrains on offer initially – the company has remained quiet on diesel versions – ahead of plug-in hybrid offerings further down the track.

Infiniti will target the Lexus NX, Audi Q5 and BMW X3 with its QX50 crossover that lands in the second half, underpinned by an all-new platform and powered by a variable-compression engine that the company says “combines the power of a 2.0-litre turbocharged gasoline engine with the torque and efficiency of a four-cylinder diesel engine”.

Mercedes’ new G-Class may look the same in images, but a closer inspection of the rugged four-wheel drive at the Detroit motor show highlighted the visual changes. The big German lands in the third quarter and also gains a significant uptick in on-board technology with E-Class-style display screens, as well as more comfort features.

A more potent version of Land Rover’s new Discovery, dubbed the SVX and tuned by Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations unit, hits the road in the fourth quarter, powered by a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine and offering increased off-road capability.

Jaguar heads in different direction this year with the launch if its first EV, the I-Pace crossover, which is expected to have a driving range of 400-500km, with the car-maker rolling out EV chargers at all of its dealerships.

While it is yet to be confirmed, Maserati is expected to reveal a fire-breathing GTS version of its Levante SUV this year, which is rumoured to be powered by a Ferrari-sourced V8.

What’s coming

Alfa Romeo Stelvio – Q1
Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV – Q2
Audi Q7 e-tron – Q1
BMW X2 – March
Infiniti QX50 – H2
Infiniti QX80 – H1
Jaguar E-Pace – March
Jaguar I-Pace – Q4
Land Rover 18MY Discovery Sport – January
Land Rover 18MY Range Rover Evoque – January
Land Rover 18MY Discovery – March
Land Rover 18MY Range Rover Sport – March
Land Rover 18MY Range Rover – March
Land Rover Discovery SVX – Q4
Lamborghini Urus – Q2
Lexus RX350L and 450hL seven-seater – February
Maserati Levante GTS – TBC
Mercedes-Benz G-Class – Q3
Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and GLC63 Coupe – Q2
Porsche Cayenne – mid 2018
Volvo XC40 – April

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