- BMW M6
M stands for monster here. The M5’s 5.0-litre engine gives the M6 507bhp, 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and a limited maximum of 155mph. Derestricted, BMW confirms it’ll do 200mph+. For £70,000, it’s serious competition for the slower, less powerful Porsche 911 Carrera S. Through corners it can generate over 1g of lateral force, the F1-style SMG gearbox shifts ratios three times faster than an eye blink, and a carbon fibre roof cuts weight just where its needed. It stops as well as it goes too, from 62mph in 36 metres, 50% less than the Highway Code says. It goes on sale towards the end of the year and may just be another BMW M car that sets new standards for the rest.
- Volkswagen Passat
The first sexy VW saloon? Next summer’s all-new Passat looks, on first evidence, to be a car set to strike fear into Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 407 and Renault Laguna rivals. Significantly larger than today’s model, the new Passat is mounted on a stretched, widened version of the latest Golf platform, which brings with it the advance of four-link independent rear suspension. With body stiffness up nearly 60%, big advances in ride and handling are promised, for both front-and four-wheel-drive variants. Engines will be familiar to VW drivers, with the 140bhp 2.0-litre TDI the likely best-seller. Class firsts? An electronic handbrake and two-zone draught-free climate control are not exciting but useful – giving it substance as well as style. Oh, and expect to see the radical radiator grill on every new VW in time.
- Mercedes ML
One of the first ‘premium SUVs’ back in the 1990s, an M-Class new from the ground up is launched next summer, promising to be a huge advance over today’s stylish but disappointing model. With all the traditional ML cues plus a lithe, sporty new look, it’s launched at the Detroit Auto Show early next year – which should give time for people to take in all the features it offers. Such as seven-speed automatics, 4-ETS running gear, air suspension, PRE-SAFE accident-sensing safety gear; it’s a breathless array of kit, pulled along by a new range of engines. Mercedes is particularly boastful of its new 224bhp V6 diesel, and rumours of V8 and V12 diesels sounds tasty, too.
- Aston Martin V8 Vantage
The British company’s third model line is launched in the summer, and it’s one of the most ‘affordable’ Astons ever. Sure, £70,000 is still not cheap, but it takes the company into direct competition with Porsche’s 911 range, which is seen as this car’s arch-rival. The 4.3-litre V8 punches out 400bhp, easily exceeding the latest 997 911s, and the DB9-derived rear-drive chassis is likely to provide well-honed thrills. Many have commented that it looks like the DB9 and Vanquish, but in the metal it’s likely to prove much more muscular, lithe and distinctive. Better order now if you want one any time soon.
- Bugatti Veyron
This insane supercar is almost certainly the last of its type. It’s hard enough to justify this insanely powerful two-seater as it is, and VW has sunk so much money into it, few will be willing to take it on. The numbers make an unbeatable Top Trumps hand; W16 8.0-litre engine (yes, that’s 16 cylinders – two mated narrow-angle V8s), 1001PS (987bhp), a 252mph top speed and 0-60mph in 3.0 seconds. It’ll certainly need its four-wheel-drive chassis. The 300 or so owners are guaranteed one of the most perfectly-finished cars in the world, and even the chance to drive flat-out on closed roads in Dubai. It’s been so long in development, could it possibly be anything other than brilliant to drive? You’d hope so, for 1.2 million Euros.
- BMW 3 Series
Surely the biggest story of 2005? The 3 Series is BMW’s most important car, and the German company know it can’t afford to get it wrong. So the flame surfacing has been toned down, i-Drive made optional, and engineers have worked through the night for years in honing the way it drives. Basically, it’ll be a radical visual proposition until you get used to it, but from behind the wheel should be the BMW we know and love. Engines are derived from today’s units, with V8 stormers on the cards, but for March’s launch we’ve got our eyes on the 258bhp 3.0-litre petrol. Already seen in the 6 Series, 155mph and 0-60mph sounds thrilling – and it’s not even the fastest 3 due! Prices, just announced, start at £21,090 for the 320i; Audi and Mercedes must already be concerned.
- Noble M14
It was the star of the 2004 British Motor Show, and finally hits the roads this year. Ferrari F430, watch out. The amazing Noble M14 is the sexiest model yet from the Leicestershire company, with curves and lines that prove founder Lee Noble learned a trick or two from his work developing McLaren’s F1. The Jaguar-derived 3.0-litre V6 has twin turbos to produce 400bhp, with 60mph taking 4.3 seconds and 190mph achievable flat-out. The chassis is light and race-bred; Lee Noble himself has driven an M14 GT car in races throughout 2004, to hone the road version to perfection. For £75,000, it’s sure to be some car – await the headlines this summer.
- Peugeot 1007
Peugeot’s city car is the most innovative the class has yet seen. Why? Twin electric sliding doors which zip back electrically, allowing four passengers to enter freely. They’re a winner in tight parking spaces and are the car’s key selling feature. Related to sister company Citroen’s C2, engines are the familiar mix of 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrol and diesel units, while semi-auto gearbox technology debuts for the first time in a Peugeot. And if the swish interior isn’t distinctive enough, changeable interior trims allow a degree of personalisation. An interesting concept, and we’ll see if it works in reality by early 2005.
- Range Rover Sport
Smaller, faster and cheaper than its famous sister car, the Rang Rover Sport looks to have it all. When it hits showrooms in the spring, with prices starting at £35,000, expect disorderly queues to form, as it’ll be the most lusted-for SUV of all. Between the flared front wheelarches nestles a 385bhp Jaguar V8, good for 140mph and 60mph in around 7 seconds; there’s also a V6 Jaguar diesel, should fuel economy be an issue. Interestingly, it’s not based on the larger Range Rover platform, but that of the new Discovery – boosted by ‘Dynamic Response’, electronics that make it stiffer, sportier, sharper, with manoeuvrability aided by a shorter wheelbase. The concept was called ‘Stormer’; this certainly looks like one.
- Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch 3dr
You’ll see this on the roads for the first time and not believe it’s a production reality. The Astra Sport Hatch carries over most of the cues seen on the ‘GST’ concept car, and adds a unique option of its own; the Panorama windscreen, extending from bonnet to B-pillar with no cross-member or other obstructions. Simply a huge expanse of glass, created using a special new bonding process. The effect is like nothing else – the designer says only flying matches it – but while it’s optional, the rest of the car should impress as standard too. We like the five-door models already, and look forward to 200bhp versions of this model. We’ll drive them in March, in readiness for an early summer UK launch.