A larger car to lift the Kia brand and a 'better-than-Baleno' model from Suzuki are newcomers to challenge top-selling European models.
Manufacturers are introducing new derivatives and increasing specifications in the battle to win sales ahead of the all-new plate to be introduced in September.
Kia launches two new models this month. The Magentis flagship saloon, replacing the Clarus, moves the South Korean carmaker slightly upmarket.
This has been partly achieved by offering only the 2.5 V6 version in the UK, leaving the 2-litre for other markets. Magentis is based on the platform developed for the Sonata by Hyundai, Kia's parent group.
Giving about the same amount of interior space as a Ford Mondeo, the £12,995 Magentis LX has aircon, ABS, alloys, twin airbags and CD player. The £15,995 SE adds climate control, side airbags, leather, cruise control and a tiptronic-style automatic transmission. The new Mentor competes on price with cars like the Vauxhall Astra, although it is longer than the Vectra. The L version is £8,995 and gets twin airbags, power steering, central locking and four electric windows. The £10,200 LX gains ABS, aircon and electric mirrors.
Suzuki's Ford Focus-sized Liana ('life in a new age') is a more serious attempt to break into the small family car market than the Baleno that preceded it. Available only as a 5dr, it gets a 102bhp 1.6 engine in two trim levels. The GL, at £9,995, has twin airbags, power steering, electric windows and mirrors. The £11,495 GLX adds aircon, side airbags, ABS, alloys and CD player.
Alfa Romeo has announced a “weighted 1% pan-European price increase”. Some prices remain unchanged, others rise by nearly 5%, although they are coupled with an increase in specification. Base model 1.6 and 1.8-litre 156 saloons and estates now get alloys as standard with prices starting at £14,520. The 3dr 1.6-litre 147 rises above £13,000 with a £280 increase to £13,175, though few other 147s are affected. All V6 166 get 17-inch alloys as standard.
BMW has released prices for its new 3 Series Compact, which will be on sale from mid-August. Initially available as a four-cylinder 316ti or six-cylinder 325ti SE, 318ti and 320td models follow in September. The entry-level 316ti is priced from £16,280, and the 325ti SE starts at £22,610.
Audi's A3 range starts at £14,590 for the A3 1.6, with the 1.8 T Sport quattro costing £20,895, and the range-topping S3 Quattro retailing for £24,770.
Peugeot has revived two long-running tags for its latest special editions. Costing £6,495, the 106 Independence 1.1-litre 3dr has a manual sunroof, metallic paint, special seat trim and tinted glass. A year's free insurance is included. The 206 Look, from £8,695, features aircon, CD player, power steering and metallic paint, plus sports seats and silver-grey instrument dials. Powered by a 1.1-litre engine, the 206 Look is available as a 3dr and 5dr. The 206 1.1 LX, in comparison, is £8,940, and does not offer aircon or a CD player. Peugeot has also launched a diesel version of its 406 Coupe. Costing £2,300 more than the 2-litre petrol models, prices start at £22,295 for the S and £24,995 for the SE. Prices for the Partner Combi, Peugeot's version of the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, are £9,095 for the 1.4 and £9,360 for the 1.9-diesel, a touch higher than the Citroen equivalents. Peugeot is offering a four-speed automatic on the 1.6-litre, 110bhp 206 coupe cabriolet which is priced at £15,380. Equipment includes aircon, radio/CD, electric windows, sports front seats and powered folding metal roof.
Jeep is to launch a special edition Wrangler, the 60th Anniversary model. Costing £15,995, the 174bhp 4-litre six-cylinder model features body-coloured wheel arch flares, 16-inch alloys and special badging and floor mats. Other key equipment includes twin airbags, tinted windows, stereo system and a folding soft-top roof.
Volvo has announced prices for its new diesel models. The D5 five-cylinder commonrail engine produces 163bhp, and offers a 130mph top speed. Available in the S60, V70 and S80, prices start at £20,750 for the S60 D5 S. The S80 D5 S costs £22,340, and the V70 costs £23,960.
Mazda's revised 323 and MX-5 models went on sale with no price rises. The 323 features an all-new engine line-up, including 1.3, 1.6, 2.0 petrol and 2-litre turbodiesel units. There is also a new grille and bonnet. Prices start at £10,780 for the 323 1.3 LXi, rising to £14,995 for the 323 Sport 2-litre. The MX-5 also features new engines, a revised interior and, for the first time, automatic and six-speed manual gearboxes. Prices start at £14,995 – Toyota's rival MR2 1.8-litre VVT-i costs £17,980, with MG Rover's MGF range starting at £15,500 for the 1.6-litre.
VW has expanded its turbodiesel range in the Golf and Bora. The 115bhp PD models now have 130bhp engines for a £275 premium. The Golf GT TDI PD 130 costs £16,055 for the 3dr. The 90bhp TDI versions remain until 2002 when they are replaced by the 100bhp PD. To fill the gap, the 110bhp TDI is reintroduced in a wide range of models, offering a saving of £685 over the new 130PD models. VW has added a six-speed gearbox to the £12,980 Lupo GTi at no extra cost. There is also no price increase for the Polo Match (from £9,615), which gains aircon, previously an £860 option.
The estate version of the Citroen C5 is now on sale. The 17-derivative range starts at £15,595 for the 1.8 SX, with diesels from £16,270 for the 2.0HDi 90 SX – the prices represent a £1,000 premium over the hatchback. A new entry-level 2-litre 90bhp turbodiesel, priced £15,270, is also launched, saving £780 over the 110bhp.
Mitsubishi is introducing a commercial version of its Shogun 4x4. Based on the 3dr Classic, the Shogun CV uses a 3.2-litre diesel engine, offering 162bhp and a combined economy of 29.1mpg. Standard equipment includes selectable 4x4, ABS, twin airbags, electric windows, central locking and a stereo; aircon is optional. The list price is £17,995.