Whoever said the 21st century’s increasingly intense focus on efficiency and environment would kill the sports car didn’t count on the tenacity of car companies. Brands like Mazda, Toyota, Subaru, Renault, Volkswagen and others have demonstrated that you can have your sports car cake and look after the environment too, with a range of front-drive hatchbacks, rear-drive sports coupes and all-wheel drive scorchers that deliver greater performance from less fuel than ever before.
Don’t think for a minute that you need to spend big to get something fast and frugal; far from it! The little VW Polo GTI launched in 2018 is priced from just $30,990 and can scoot to 100km/h in less than 7 seconds. And carry five people. And sips just 6.1L/100km. And did we mention it’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive? Even better for us fast greenies, 2019 is shaping as an bigger year in the Bang for your Buck automotive realm with the Ford Fiesta, all-electric Nissan Leaf, and a more efficient beloved Mazda 3 among the headline acts.
Significance: An all-new iteration of Audi’s gateway hatchback.
Price range: $30-40K
Rivals: Mini Cooper, Fiat 500
Due Date: March/April 2019
Spun-off from the new Volkswagen Polo’s platform, Audi’s box-fresh second-generation A1 city hatch promises to inject a great deal more sophistication into the bottom end of the German brand’s product portfolio. Now measuring over four metres long it’s physically bigger than before, but a range of new powertrains – including a 1.5-litre turbo four with cylinder deactivation – move the mechanical game along as well.
Inside there’s a greater sense of maturity in the cabin furnishings, plus plenty of infotainment tech.
Significance: The Fiesta returns for another generation – but only as a hot hatch
Price range: $28K-$30K
Rivals: Volkswagen Polo GTI, Suzuki Swift Sport, Renault Clio RS
Due Date: Second quarter 2019
The Fiesta has long been a dynamic darling of the compact hatch set, and Ford will be cranking up the athletic ability of its next-generation Fiesta next year with the Fiesta ST hot hatch.
However, the ST will be the only way you’ll get to put a new-gen Fiesta in your driveway, for Ford Australia has declined to bring lesser models in the range to local showrooms due to unfavourable exchange rates putting the squeeze on pricing.
As for the ST, we’ve already driven it and declared it to be one of the best hot hatch options at its expected high-$20K price point. Expect to see it land sometime in the second quarter.
Hyundai i30 N Fastback
Significance: The only way you can buy an i30 that isn’t a hatchback
Price range: $40,000
Rivals: Subaru WRX, Renault Megane RS, Honda Civic Type R
Due Date: Unknown
While some overseas markets enjoy the ability to buy an i30 in a more mature ‘four-door coupe’ bodystyle, Hyundai Australia says the i30 Fastback is not coming our way… unless you spend big on the high-performance N variant.
Fatter profit margins at the circa-$40K mark mean the European-built i30 N Fastback actually makes economic sense for Hyundai to sell in cost-sensitive Australia, even though lesser variants aren’t. For buyers looking at the existing i30 N, the impending option of a grown-up looking Fastback may prove quite alluring, especially as it retains all of the go-fast mechanicals of its hatchback brother.
Exact launch timing has yet to be settled, but the i30 N Fastback’s price should only wear a very modest premium over that of the hatch.
Significance: Mazda’s evergreen and much-loved all-rounder returns in its fourth generation
Price: $22,000 (estimate)
Rivals: Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato, Volkswagen Golf
Due: June (approx.)
In the middle of the year Mazda Australia will change over its popular Mazda 3 range with an all-new generation hatch and sedan, and while local details such as range structure and pricing are still far from ironed out, the design of the new 3 shows that Mazda’s mainstay small car is set to be a real looker. The hatch and sedan will be quite visually distinct from the B-pillar rearward – certainly more so than the current generation – and the local powertrain line-up is likely to include Mazda’s innovative and ultra-efficient SkyActiv-X supercharged compression-ignition engine.
Significance: Suzuki goes back to the future to revive its mini 4x4’s iconic styling and serious off-road cred.
Price range: $27,000 - $29,500 (estimated)
Due date: February 2018
Rivals: Jeep Compass Trailhawk, Jeep Wrangler
It has questionable road manners and safety, but if initial reaction is any guide the new Jimny will be one of the most popular releases of 2019. The boxy fourth-generation Jimny retains its ladder-frame chassis, live front and rear axles and dual-range transmission that’s still activated by a proper lever. But there a few modern touches including a large infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android auto connectivity. It will also come with a more powerful 1.5-litre petrol engine (up from 1.3L) petrol four-cylinder engine with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.
Significance: Nissan’s all-electric hatch returns
Price range: $50-60K
Rivals: Hyundai Ioniq EV, BMW i3
Due Date: March 2019
The Nissan Leaf electric car will return for its second generation in March, following the same format (and built on the same architecture) as its predecessor, but packing in greater energy storage and more power than before. The styling has also been dialled back to take the Leaf in a more conservative direction, and there’s a greater emphasis on driver-assistance technology, giving the new Leaf some limited self-driving capabilities.
Car-to-grid charging technology also unlocks some interesting new avenues for the Leaf, potentially making it a part of an interconnected smart power grid and giving it the ability to passively earn its owner money while it’s parked. Try doing that with a combustion-engined vehicle!