The MINI Coupe is a strict two-seater, and is the sportiest model in the MINIrange. It has lower suspension than the standard car for super-sharp handling, and the engines deliver strong performance to match. The curved roof takes its design inspiration from a racing helmet, and while it won't be to all tastes, it means the designers have had to get rid of the rear seats. In their place is a 280-litre boot, which is more than twice the size of the hatchback's. The Coupe is only offered in Cooper, Cooper S and JCW guises. Entry level Cooper models feature a 120bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine while Cooper SD models receive a 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel. Flagship JCW models are powered by a 208bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, and these cars are capable of 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds. Apart from the lack of rear seats, the interior is identical to that of the hatchback, which means it's well built, and has lots of neat retro touches.
Following an update in May 2012, it's hard to find fault with the Hyundai i20, as it beats rivals hands-down for the amount of equipment you get for the money. Prices for basic versions are low, while equipment is generous. Even entry-level models get air-con andelectric windows. Running costs won’t break the bank either, especially for the 1.1 CRDi Blue diesel, which returns 88mpg and is road-tax free. Rivals like the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo look expensive, plus the i20 has Hyundai's excellent five-year warranty.
The Skoda Rapid is a hatchback model with a huge boot designed to take on the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Focus. It's a value car, so the interior quality and comfort aren’t entirely up to the standards offered in more expensive rivals. But considering the entry price tag of £12,900, there really isn’t much else in this class that feels as well-rounded as the Rapid. It may not be the most exciting car in the world but it's certainly a fantastic family choice.
Good to look at and and fun to drive, the SEAT Ibiza ST helps change the view that supermini estate cars are all awkwardly styled and boring to own and drive. But although the sculpted bodywork offers visual appeal, the boot isn’t quite as big as rivals from Skoda and Renault. If practicality is your only concern, then this car won’t be top of your shopping list. Yet if you’re in the market for an estate with a little Spanish style, the ST may just be what you’re looking for.
The Lexus RX450h majors on comfort and quality, offering a quiet drive with high levels of standard equipment. The hybrid system uses a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine and a pair of electric motors. This means that there's plenty of power while offering superb economy, emissions and running costs. Across the range, the interior is luxurious, with enough space for five adults, loads of practical space and room for luggage. The latest facelift has brought a sportier F Sport specification, which is Lexus’ answer to the Audi Q7 S Line Plus 3.0 TDI quattro. The RX 450h is quite expensive, though, which somewhat cancels out any reduced running costs, and its resale value isn’t very strong either.
The Subaru BRZ is one of the best sports cars to go on sale in recent years. It's a rear-wheel drive coupe that doesn't cost the earth to buy and puts the driver at the centre of the action. It is the product of a joint venture with Toyota that has also produced the GT86 – and both cars are good looking, brilliant fun to drive and surprisingly economical. In many ways the BRZ sits in a sector of the market that used to be dominated in the Eighties by affordable coupes like the Toyota Celica and Ford Capri. These days, rivals include the rear-wheel drive Nissan 370Z and front-drive coupes like the Volkswagen Scirocco and Audi TT.
With its desirable Swift supermini, Suzuki proved it could make a small car with character. But while the Alto is cute, it feels bland inside. Suzuki charges more for it than the identical Nissan Pixo (developed alongside it) and in doing so raises expectations of quality and driver appeal. It gets the basics right: the ride is mostly comfy, it's spacious up front and cheap to run. However, the boot is tiny, the driving position doesn’t adjust much, and the top spec is priced against superior rivals like the VW up!
The Korando is SsangYong's first new car in four years, and is pitched as a low-cost rival to the Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage. There is lots of kit – even entry-level cars get air-con, cruise control and rear parking sensors – while you have a choice of front and four-wheel drive. The only engine option is a powerful 2.0-litre diesel. But while the Korando sounds attractive, it has a low-rent feel. Inside are hard, scratchy plastics, and the engine is noisy. Plus, in corners, the Korando isn’t as stable as its rivals.
The Volkswagen Amarok brings the firm's unbeatable image and peerless quality to the double-cab pick-up market. It benefits from the same company car tax breaks as any other contender in this class, but has just as much appeal as a family car as it does as a commercial vehicle. This is mainly down to the space and quality on offer inside. The Amarok is sold only as a double-cab five-seater for now – a single-cab model will follow later – and it stands out with its high-grade materials and solid build quality. As the styling suggests, this car is virtually unstoppable away from the beaten track. The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine comes with a choice of 120bhp or 161bhp outputs, while there are Startline, Trendline and Highline specs. All feature four-wheel drive, to ensure the car can take the roughest terrain in its stride. Massive dimensions make parking a challenge, but once you've got used to how big it feels from behind the wheel, the Amarok is a great deal of fun.
Mercedes knew there was room for improvement with the C-Class, and the latest estate doesn’t disappoint. The interior has been redesigned, with higher-quality materials, a more attractive dash and a slick integrated media screen. Changes outside are more subtle, and include new bumpers and lights. It's still not the most spacious estate, but with a clean new range of direct-injection petrol and diesel engines, all featuring stop-start technology, it's one of the most efficient premium models on the market. It's as comfortable as the C-Class saloon, too, plus has the same wide range of options.