Looking back at the world of cars in 2017
It’s tough to argue that 2017 won’t go down as a memorable year for a variety of reasons.
From announcements that appeared to spell the beginning of the end for diesel cars to big manufacturers pinning their futures on electric, it’s an interesting time for the industry. And there were more changes in the UK – with car tax costing more for most of us and speeding fines increasing.
But the things we all love – exciting new cars – were aplenty too. Here we look back at the year that was.
Both the UK and France announced they are banning diesel cars
In an announcement that signalled a sea of change in the way the motor industry is headed, both the UK and France announced that they will ban the sale of new diesel cars by 2040 in a bid to clean up the atmosphere. It might be two decades away, but it means we are going to see a major shift in the coming years.
It came at the same time as Volvo became the first major carmaker to announce that, by 2019, every model it launches will have an electric motor. That, too, was something of a landmark – the end of cars that only have internal combustion power. So, the future is electric, or at least it’s hybrid-powered.
This year saw many manufacturers announce their electric future, too. Mercedes says it plans to sell electric cars in the future and they’ll be branded as EQ models. The firm has already unveiled its EQ concept SUV and is rumoured to be showing off a hatchback at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Production won’t be far off – likely 2019.
BMW is going all out, too. In July it said: “The company has announced that all brands and model series can be electrified, with a full-electric or plug-in hybrid drivetrain being offered in addition to the combustion engine option, “Additional electrified models will be brought to market in the coming years and beyond 2020, the company’s next generation vehicle architecture will enable further fully-electric vehicles.” It’s also said that the new fully electric MINI will go into production in 2019 – at the plant in Oxford – meaning that the range will include electric, petrol, diesel and a plug-in hybrid.
Even the performance brands are on board, with Porsche progressing its use of electricity further from its 918 hybrid supercar. The Porsche Mission E is set to be in production in the next few years, with prototypes built and summer testing being done before harsh winter testing gets under way.
Tesla, meanwhile – the firm that was there on the ground floor when it came to building sporty electric cars with a decent range – continues its development apace with the Model X and Model 3 complementing its ground-breaking Model S.
The big new cars of the year
Aston Martin V8 Vantage: It might have taken Aston a good 12 years to replace the Vantage, but it’s been worth the wait. Aside from a serious restyling, the new car gets Aston’s potent new alloy, 4-litre twin-turbo V8 engine. Aston says it’s positioned for 50:50 weight distribution and develops 510ps. It’s good for 60mph in 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 195mph.
Audi A8: Who does premium luxury better than Audi? Nobody, if the A8 is taken as your benchmark. Audi’s flagship is its most high-tech car ever. Chief among that is self-driving tech, which, where permitted, essentially sees the car pilot itself up to 37mph. It has the option of petrol or diesel power as well as a hybrid.
BMW X3: The German manufacturer pioneered the mid-size SUV segment with the original X3 in 2004 and, 1.5 million sales later, the third generation is now here. It’s based on the same platform as the 5 Series and power comes from a 2.0 diesel, 3.0 diesel and 3.0 petrol. That one gets 355bhp. Nice.
Hyundai i30 N: The firm’s first high-performance car, the i30 N is the first model in the N line-up and it has been developed at the Nürburgring, with the ‘N’ apparently symbolising a chicane. It gets a four-cylinder 2.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol with 275PS and 353Nm of torque. It also gets electronic limited slip differential, electronically control suspension, rev-matching, launch control, high-performance tyres, a lap timer and more.
Jaguar XE Project 8: A bit of a tasty one from Jaguar Special Vehicle Operations. It’s the most powerful road-going car that it’s ever built and it’s based on its baby saloon. They’ve packed a 592bhp supercharged V8 into it, good for 62mph in a mere 3.3 seconds. It’ll get to 200mph and only 300 are being made.
VW T-Roc: In urban traffic or on long trips, VW says that the new T-Roc “combines the superiority of an SUV with the agility of a sporty, compact model. It gets turbocharged petrol engines from a 1.0-litre with 93bhp to a 148bhp 1.5 with cylinder shutdown tech. There’s also a 1.6-litre diesel and a 2.0-litre diesel with power up to 197bhp.
McLaren Senna: Ending the year on a high, McLaren broke cover on its latest Ultimate Series car this month. The firm says it’s its most extreme road car yet, bearing the name of legendary McLaren F1 driver Ayrton Senna. It’s the lightest McLaren road car since the F1 25 years ago and is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, the company’s most powerful road engine yet, with a whopping 789bhp. Savage performance can be expected from the mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive motor, which will be limited to 500 units at £750,000 each.
A major change to car tax came in
There was a radical overhaul of car tax – officially known as Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) – and it was bad news for most drivers. The changes applied to new cars bought on or after April 1, 2017. For years the tax bands were heavily weighted on carbon emissions, with manufacturers continually striving to get CO2 grams per kilometre down as low as possible – with those below 100g/km costing nothing to tax and cars in the low 100s costing very little. But from April 1 only electric and hydrogen-powered cars were exempt – all others will pay a flat £140 a year.
So, a new car emitting 99g/km now costs £120 in the first year and £140 a year thereafter. Cars emitting 131g/km are taxed £200 instead of £130. Motors putting out 151g/km are charged £500 instead of £180, while those emitting 171g/km pay £800 instead of £295 and those emitting 191g/km pay £1,200 instead of £490. Those emitting more than 255g/km are clobbered even more – from £1,100 to £2,000. Those are all first year figures only, remember. Another little fly in the ointment is for those buying luxury vehicles that cost more than £40,000, which now cost £450 a year in years 2-6 thanks to a £310 surcharge. Even if they are electric owners still have to stump up the £310. Likewise a luxury diesel is hammered for £450 when they are free of charge at the moment.
And owners of everyday cars considered ‘green’ before will also get hit hard. However, some owners of gas-guzzlers will actually be better off over time. Although they will be clobbered in year one, after that they pay the flat £140 like everybody else. The changes had an effect on the new car market – with March sales before the changes came in spiking, while sales in subsequent months tailed off.
Speeding fines got bigger
It all started with a Sentencing Council consultation in 2016 that put forward the argument that the existing guidelines didn’t consider the potential harm of speeding to the British public. That changed this year and, while maximum fines for motorway offences remain at £2,500 and £1,000 for other roads, drivers going well above the speed limit now face fines that start from 150 per cent of their weekly income, rather than 100 per cent.
This is all about the most serious offenders. If someone, for example, is caught doing 101mph or more on a 70mph road they will fit into the higher bracket.
Motorists continue to face points or disqualification as well. The Sentencing Council said the move aims to ensure there is a "clear increase in penalty as the seriousness of offending increases".
Fines are determined in categories - a Band A fine is 50% of someone's weekly income, Band B is 100% and Band C is 150%. The changes came in on April 24.