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The BIG car news highlights of 2018

We explore the best car news stories that rocked the automotive world in 2018

It's been a huge year in the world of motoring with countless new releases, many of which demonstrated the industry’s move towards electrification.

Porsche showed us the Mission E, Audi revealed its e-tron, and Jaguar launched the game-changing I-Pace at Geneva which went on to win our coveted Car of the Year award.

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April’s Beijing Motor Show was all about luxury with Mercedes-Maybach showcasing its pure-electric Luxury Vision concept, while Lexus revealed the ES, an executive saloon with its sights set firmly on the BMW 5 Series.

The world of performance cars showed us that internal combustion is far from dead with the new Ferrari 488 Pista, Aston Martin Vantage, and even the Ford Fiesta ST thrilling both on road and on track. McLaren wowed us with three new cars, the superb 600LT, the mind-blowing Senna, named after the legendary F1 star, and the sensational 250mph Speedtail.

A scorching summer brought with it a glorious Goodwood Festival of Speed with Porsche and Land Rover celebrating their 70th anniversaries. BMW revealed the new Z4 at Pebble Beach in California as Audi and Mercedes previewed electric supercar concepts.

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As the leaves began to turn, September saw us celebrating 30 years of Auto Express with our competition to win a unique SEAT Mii. Complete with an exclusive wrap and various bespoke details, it came as no surprise that nearly 1,000 of you entered the prize draw.

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The Paris Motor Show brought perhaps the biggest reveal of the year, with the covers coming off the all-new BMW 3 Series, yet it was Peugeot who stole the show with their retro e-Legend concept car.

The year drew to an end with spy shots of the long-awaited Land Rover Defender, while the company launched the all-new Evoque SUV. Porsche debuted the 2019 911 at the LA Motor Show and Mazda revealed the new 3 hatchback with a revolutionary petrol engine.

With so much going on in 2018, it was often hard to keep up. Thankfully, this list will take you through all of the year’s biggest stories from January to the end of the year.

January

EVs and SUVs star at the year’s first motor show in Detroit, as fresh MINI flies the Union flag

Mega Mercedes G-Class is off-road star of Detroit Motor Show

Traditionally, the Detroit Motor Show kicks off the automotive year. And among the stars of January 2018’s event was the latest Mercedes G-Class, with a new platform promising more comfort and stronger off-road ability.

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It’s longer and wider than its predecessor, but the G-Wagen still retains the boxy shape of the 1979 original. Inside are Range Rover-rivalling levels of luxury, with a new 12.3-inch infotainment screen. Initially, the G-Class will be offered only with a 4.0-litre petrol V8, which will take the 4x4 from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and on to 137mph.

Also on Mercedes’ stand was the CLS saloon, which will rival the Audi A7 and forthcoming BMW 8 Series Gran Coupé, while other Detroit reveals included the new Insight saloon, with Honda confirming hybrid power for the future. Jeep showed a cleaner-looking, higher-tech new Cherokee, and Ferrari confirmed that its first-ever SUV would arrive in 2019.

The Motor City’s own manufacturers, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, also took to the stage. Their most notable debut was Ford’s Bullitt Mustang GT. The special celebrates 50 years of the Steve McQueen blockbuster, and boasts a 453bhp, 529Nm version of the Mustang GT’s 5.0-litre V8.

Facelifted MINI is best of British

Detroit also saw MINI set the hatchback market alight when it peeled the covers from its newly facelifted model.

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Although the brand had previously shown teasers of the revamp, which included Union flag patterns incorporated into the tail-light clusters, it took us by surprise by announcing the feature would be standard on all UK cars; buyers elsewhere would have the option to remove them. The headlamps were also revised, and for the first time in the hatch class these could now be had with adaptive Matrix beam LED lights. Every model also benefits from the Countryman’s 6.5-inch touchscreen.

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A detuned version of the Cooper’s 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine claims 56.5mpg. MINI also introduced a new seven-speed dual-clutch box to the hatch, with JCW models featuring an eight-speed torque-converter auto.

Chinese target Tesla at CES in Vegas

The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show is as much about cars as tech. This year’s highlights included the reveal of Chinese EV brand Byton. Its SUV (above), due in 2019, is set to cost $45,000 (£33,000) and rival Tesla for range and features.

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Other show highlights included Hyundai’s Nexo production hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle, plus Kia’s all-electric Niro SUV concept. This would later become the e-Niro.

DVSA announces MoT fault and failure restructure

Early on in the year, Auto Express exclusively revealed that the MoT test was due to have a significant shake-up in May. We explained how new Minor, Major and Dangerous fault categories would be introduced; issues deemed Major and Dangerous would prompt an automatic failure, while Minor faults would act as a more serious version of an advisory notice.

We also revealed how diesel cars would be submitted to strict new assessments, with testers failing vehicles that emit “visible smoke of any colour” during metered checks. Inspections checking for evidence of tampering with diesel particulate filters were also introduced, as were new checks on AdBlue systems, daytime running lights, brake pads and discs, propshafts and bumpers.

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The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said the new MoT tests would “help motorists do the right thing – i.e. not drive away from a garage” if their car had a significant fault. However, the RAC claimed that rather than tests being “black and white”, the new system “creates the potential for confusion”.

New petrol car emissions on the rise

Our sister site BuyaCar.co.uk found the average amount of CO2 emitted by new cars had risen for the first time in 14 years, as buyers switched from diesel to petrol.

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Government figures showed an average of 121.1g/km over the first 10 months of 2017 – on course to exceed the previous year’s 120.3g/km. This turned out to be accurate, with 2017’s full figures showing average CO2 emissions of 121.04g/km.

January in numbers

  • • £500 - Overspend on petrol: Research revealed that drivers can pay up to £500 more for fuel each year, depending on where they fill up.

     

  • • £33million - Daily insurance claims: Figures showed car insurers paid out an average of £33 million a day in 2016, with customer premiums hitting record highs.

     

  • • 1.4million - Attending re-training courses: A record 1.4 million drivers attend re-training courses in 2016, the latest official stats revealed, generating £54million for police in the process.

     

February

Posh new hatch and a Ferrari for the track hint at exciting times ahead as the days get longer

New A-Class is go 

February was a big month for Mercedes, with the German company taking the wraps off its all-new A-Class hatchback. Teaser shots of the model suggested it was going to have a radical new interior and Mercedes certainly delivered on the promise.

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Essentially lifting the interior from the S-Class and E-Class saloons, the A-Class now features a free-standing instrument panel that’s split into two high-definition screens.

The A-Class also comes with class-leading artificial-intelligence software that learns your favourite settings over time and picks up new words when drivers use the Voice Command system. Augmented-reality navigation that overlays instructions on top of live video footage from the front camera was another highlight we picked up during the car’s launch.

The Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and VW Golf rival is now bigger on the outside, and this translates into more room inside and a larger boot. At launch there were three engine options: two petrols and a 1.5-litre A 180 d capable of 68.9mpg.

We’ve now been promised a hot Mercedes-AMG A 45, while a warm A 35 was unleashed at the Paris Motor Show in the autumn.

Ferrari unveils track-focussed 488 Pista

Ferrari started its year by revealing the 488 Pista – a track-focused version of the mid-engined 488. Maranello’s engineers tuned the car’s 3.9-litre V8 to a huge 710bhp – 48bhp more than the 488 GTB – and 770Nm of torque, making it the brand’s most powerful V8 ever. The word Pista in Italian means track, and gave us a pretty good idea of where owners are intended to enjoy the car the most.

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Developed closely with Ferrari’s racing arm, the 488 Pista uses titanium conrods, carbon-fibre intake plenums and Inconel exhaust from the 488 Challenge race car. The Pista weighs 90kg less than the normal 488, and boasts improved aerodynamics. New front and rear diffusers and underbody vortex generators help improve downforce by 20 per cent. Later in the year, we got behind the wheel at the company’s Fiorano test track and were left very impressed indeed.

Mild-hybrid tech marks out A6

We saw the first official images of the new Audi A6 in February. And we also learned that the executive saloon would offer 48V mild-hybrid tech across its range.

Based on the same platform as the A8 flagship limousine, the A6 looks sleeker and more athletic than before, thanks to a lower stance and roofline. Meanwhile, the interior shares its technology and layout with the A8 and the A7 Sportback.

Volvo scales down with V60 estate

Audi isn’t the only car to share cabin trim and tech across its range; we saw the same when Volvo unveiled its V60 in February. Based on the Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA) that underpins the larger V90 and the XC60, the small estate comes in at 300mm shorter than the V90 estate.

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With Volvo announcing that it’s moving to hybrid powertrains by 2019, the V60 will eventually come with two plug-in options.

Peugeot 508 sharpens up its act

This month also saw the arrival of the new 508. Touted as a ‘fastback’, Peugeot’s latest family car ditched its predecessor’s dull styling in favour of sharp lines, clever LED lights and a stylish cabin packed with tech.

It now rivals everything from the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo to the BMW 4 Series and Volkswagen Arteon. For next year, Peugeot is aiming to add a plug-in version of the 508 to its line-up.

Latest Santa Fe joins the space race

SUVs continue to be big business in the UK, and to keep up with new rivals such as the Skoda Kodiaq, Hyundai launched a new version of its seven-seat Santa Fe in February.

Borrowing styling cues from the smaller Kona SUV, the longer and wider Santa Fe was said to deliver class-leading levels of space. However, as before, the only engine set for the UK was a 2.2-litre diesel updated to meet the tougher WLTP emissions standards. Hyundai has since hinted that a hybrid version is on the cards, though, while buyers still get to choose between two and four-wheel drive.

SUV leads Cupra brand

SEAT made the decision in February to turn its performance arm, Cupra, into a standalone sub-brand with its own logo and headquarters. The outfit is now run under SEAT Sport, which also looks after the company’s World Touring Car programme. Interestingly, the first car to get the Cupra treatment isn’t a Leon or an Ibiza, but the Ateca SUV.

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It gets a 296bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo, seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto, 4Drive all-wheel drive and adaptive suspension. It’ll be followed by various other SEAT models, and we learned Cupra is also preparing to make its own standalone vehicle.

Smart studs in road-safety bid

Officials announced a tech upgrade to parts of the UK’s motorway network, with ‘intelligent’ airport-style road studs set to help improve safety at a busy junction. Highways England targeted Switch Island on Merseyside – where the M57 and M58 meet – by synchronising studs with traffic lights. When lights go green, the studs – visible from 900 metres away – illuminate, guiding traffic into the correct lane.

Equal rights for our feline friends

A survey by our sister title Carbuyer called for equal rights for cats on the road. Drivers are currently obliged to tell the police if their car strikes a dog, but not if they hit a feline.

A total of 59 per cent of Carbuyer users taking part in the poll supported the idea that drivers should report run-over cats. Animal rights campaigner Mandy Lowe said the law as it stands means pet owners “never get the closure they deserve”.

February in numbers

  • • 9,050 - Drink-drive casualties: Latest figures revealed there were 9,050 drink-drive casualties in the UK in 2016 – the highest on record since 2012, and a seven per cent increase on 2015.

     

  • • £1.58billion - Council parking revenue: Councils made £1.58billion from parking operations during the whole of 2017, new figures showed, generating a ‘surplus’ of £819million in the process.

     

  • • 1,024 - Children banned: Official stats revealed that over 1,000 children were banned from driving in the whole of 2017, even though they weren’t allowed behind the wheel in the first place.

     

March

British manufacturers unveil their stunning EVs as the growing pace of electrification dominates the annual Geneva Motor Show

Jaguar’s I-Pace EV wows Geneva crowds

March saw the automotive world turn to Geneva, where the annual motor show always generates big news.

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Arguably the largest story to come out of the Swiss event was the reveal of the new Jaguar I-Pace, a car that marks the British brand’s first foray into full electrification.

The arrival of the I-Pace also meant that, for the first time, Tesla would have a premium rival in the EV market – something that surely didn’t go unnoticed at its Palo Alto HQ in California.

The I-Pace’s styling is still unmistakably Jaguar, with hints of the E-Pace and F-Pace to be found, while its chief designer, Ian Callum, told us he also incorporated elements of the C-X75 supercar that never made it to production.

Powered by a 90kWh battery and two electric motors, the I-Pace can do a claimed 300 miles on a single charge. Together, the electric motors – one on the front axle and the other on the rear – produce 395bhp and 696Nm of torque, which is enough to send the 2.1-tonne car from 0-62mph in only 4.5 seconds.

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The cutting-edge Jag starred on a brief drive ahead of the launch, and it wouldn’t be long before we’d be able to deliver a full verdict – crucial with our annual New Car Awards just a few months away.

Bold show car leads Lagonda EV plan

Jaguar wasn’t the only British company making waves in Geneva. Aston Martin’s reborn sub-marque, Lagonda – which aims to be the “first luxury brand exclusively driven by zero-emission powertrain tech” – unveiled its first vehicle. The Vision Concept pointed to an autonomous all-wheel-drive limousine, with space for four adults.

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Bosses claimed the car will do more than 400 miles on a single charge, and could be fully topped up from flat in just 15 minutes. Lagonda said the car will feature level-four autonomy, with a steering wheel that not only retracts, but can also switch from left to right-hand drive at the press of a button. Production is set for 2023, with Aston Martin president and CEO Andy Palmer saying: “We see no limits for the Lagonda brand. It will be a brand for those who are anything but happy with the status quo.”

Porsche plugs in bold electric ‘estate’

If it wasn’t clear by now, electrification was the theme at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, with Porsche another manufacturer rolling out a battery-powered concept.

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The Mission E Cross Turismo is an all-electric, all-wheel-drive estate with four doors, four seats, raised suspension and subtle body cladding. In effect, it’s a shooting brake version of the first battery-powered Porsche, the pure-electric Taycan saloon due next year.

Since its unveiling, bosses have confirmed that the Mission E Cross Turismo will go into production, and reach showrooms by 2020. The company has promised upwards of 600bhp, and a range of 310 miles from a single charge.

Corolla name back on Toyota hatch

Geneva also saw the unveiling of the new Toyota Auris, although the brand has since confirmed the car will be called the Corolla.

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It revives a name that’s decades old, yet the VW Golf rival is built on Toyota’s New Generation Architecture platform and is fresh from the ground up. It will only feature new hybrid tech, with no diesels offered, as the brand prepares to ditch the fuel. Saloon and estate versions are to follow, too.

MPs propose makers fund clean air

An “unprecedented” report from four Select Committees concluded that car makers should have to pay into a clean air fund to offset diesel pollution.

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The Government was called on to introduce a Clean Air Act to “improve existing legislation and enshrine the right to clean air in UK law”. The call was made by MPs on the Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, Transport and Environment, plus Food and Rural Affairs Committees.

Research suggests that air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths a year and costs the economy £20billion.

Corsa GSi takes over hot VXR’s crown

Vauxhall discontinued the high-performance VXR version of its Corsa supermini in 2018. But it filled the gap for hot hatch fans with a new GSi model.

Setting the Corsa GSi apart is a bodykit, with a VXR-style honeycomb front grille and rear spoiler. It’s powered by a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine with 148bhp and 220Nm of torque, taking the GSi from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds and on to 126mph. Vauxhall also upgraded the suspension and brakes to help it stand out against its rivals.

New Touareg SUV is a hi-tech treat

An all-new Volkswagen Touareg arrived in March this year as well. The latest version now features the same platform as the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga.

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It comes with VW’s eye-catching new Innovision infotainment set-up, comprising a 15-inch display plus a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. From launch, a 3.0-litre diesel is available, although VW is set to introduce a plug-in hybrid down the line.

March in numbers

  • • 39 per cent - Drop in phone penalties: Number of motorists caught using a mobile phone while driving fell by 39 per cent from 49,694 in 2016 to 30,470 in 2017, after fines and points doubled.

     

  • • 109 - Driving instructor investigations: DVSA crackdown on inappropriate relationships between driving instructors and students saw 109 tutors investigated by the agency between April 2016 and March 2017.

     

  • • 4.3million - Road signs: Department for Transport figures showed there are 4.3million road signs in the UK, with most of them considered to be “entirely superfluous”.

     

Review of the Year 2018

• Review of the Year 2018: index• The BIG car new highlights of 2018 • The big car quiz of the year 2018• Head-to-head: the best car group tests of 2018• A year in pictures: our best car photos of 2018• Why our cars are stars: best long-term tests of 2018• Inside the world of cars: best motoring features of 2018• Best car videos 2018: watch our video highlights• Motorsport review 2018: from Formula 1 to Formula E• Amazing moments: our years in cars 2018

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