If the beginning of 2018 is anything to go by, then it is going to be a fascinating year. And we’re not even talking about politics. Already, we’ve seen the launch of two of the most important models in the South African car market.
The first is the new Volkswagen Polo. Yes, it’s not the epitome of luxury, but the top-selling model in South Africa has upped its game. In fact, it’s now comparable to an older model BMW 7 Series or a Mercedes S-Class. The Polo is smaller, of course, but the technology in the new model shows just how much tech is filtering down from debuting in expensive luxury models.
The other model is not a top-seller, but it sits very much at the top of the automotive hierarchy. We drove the new Rolls-Royce Phantom at its launch in Switzerland in 2017, and now it’s arrived in South Africa for the discerning car owners among us. It is the pinnacle of luxury and craftsmanship; commands respect from anyone who sees it; and has a sense of presence that is unrivalled.
Rolls-Royce is not done though, because in the second half of the year we will see the arrival of its first sports utility vehicle (SUV). It is called the Cullinan, and the company is promising an SUV that can carry its well-heeled occupants from Cape to Cairo in pure luxury. It will be able to cross rivers, deserts, and everything in-between, while its passengers sip on champagne.
Although the Cullinan may very well be the most exclusive SUV to land on our shores this year, it will not be the only one. Lamborghini will bring the world’s first “Super SUV” to the market in the form of the Urus. There’s no hiding the fact that it will share a platform with the Audi Q7, the Bentley Bentayga, and the Porsche Cayenne, but it will be a Lamborghini, the first SUV from the brand since the legendary LM002 brute of a machine in 1986. Unlike the famous LM, it will offer luxury and performance in a package that will also be full of tech.
We mentioned Porsche, and, of course, the new Cayenne is on its way in the middle of the year. Everyone rolled their eyes when Porsche announced it was going to make an SUV, but the Cayenne has become its biggest-selling model. The new one offers more performance and more off-road ability, as well as taking a number of pieces of technology from the latest Panamera.
While we are at it, Ferrari is also working on its own rendition of the SUV genre, in spite of previous claims that it would never do so. It is unlikely to arrive in South Africa in 2018, but we might see it released towards the end of the year, if we are lucky. In the meantime, Maserati has acknowledged that people are not convinced by the Chrysler-engined Levante diesel. So it has decided to bring out the Levante S — complete with a far more inspiring Maserati V8 petrol motor.
Markets such as China are pushing hard for smaller, electric vehicles, but China also has its fair share of people looking for a bit of bigger is better when it comes to their image. Combine this with demand for big SUVs in the US and the Middle East and you get the BMW X7, a massive, seven-seater Bavarian luxo-barge that has already polarised opinions. Love it or hate it, the X7 is on its way to South Africa later this year
Talking of BMW, when it launched the X6 most people averted their eyes in horror, but while it took a while for the rest of the industry to follow Munich’s route, you can expect more SUV coupé models in 2018, including the new X4. Range Rover is also revealing its own three-door coupé version of the Sport in March, although only 999 will be manufactured. Audi will launch its Q8 later this year, as it too tries to get in on the coupé SUV act. Hints from the design team at Jaguar suggest we might also see a Jag coupé concept this year, but for now all we know is that the E-Pace is landing in South Africa in March. That will probably be followed up later in the year by the J-Pace, as the British marque looks to take on the Audi Q7.
Other major SUVs to look out for in 2018 include the new seven-seater Lexus RX-L, and the new Mercedes G-Class. It might not be the only new SUV from Mercedes this year, as a new GLS is likely to be revealed, and there’s also the new GLB, affectionately being referred to as the baby G-Class.
It might look as though we are going to be flooded with SUVs in 2018, but there will be other models too. Aston Martin unveiled its exciting new Vantage late in 2017, and it will arrive in South Africa this year. Ferrari will bring the Portofino, the replacement for the California, in March, and, if we are talking about super sports cars, then let’s not forget that Pagani has arrived in South Africa this year.
And what about that icon of the sports car world, the Porsche 911? You will have to make up your own mind on this one, but the company has been developing the new 911 for the past few years. This year is the company’s 70th anniversary. Join the dots… And while we are speculating, we won’t be surprised if we see the production version of Porsche’s electric Mission E, although it is not likely to go on sale this year, as the company is still preparing the infrastructure required to support it.
The Mission E will be more of a Gran Tourer (GT) sports car though, and we will also see a few more from this genre arrive. Bentley will bring out the new Continental GT, with its very clever rotating infotainment screen and sharper exterior design lines. Mercedes will offer the four-door AMG GT, and we might also see the new BMW 8 Series arrive.
And luxury sedans — remember those? They still exist, and the battle continues between the major German players. Mercedes launched its new S-Class at the beginning of the year and Audi plans to launch its new, tech-laden A8 towards the end of 2018. Still no sign of a new Jaguar XJ, but it has to be close; and Lexus will launch its new LS in the middle of the year.
Other major models to look out for include a pair of superb and stylish new Volvos. The first will be the new XC40 small SUV-crossover, while the extremely popular XC60 will arrive sporting the new family look and feel in the middle of the year. Volkswagen will launch a seven-seater version of its Tiguan, termed the Allspace, and it will also try its hand in the premium market once again with the Arteon four-door coupé. And let’s not forget the final member of the Cayenne-Q7-Bentayga family: Volkswagen will reveal the new Touareg in March and it is very possible we will see it in South Africa before the year is out.
You might have noticed that we have not mentioned the electric vehicles expected in South Africa this year. We will see the updated BMW i3 and the second-generation Nissan Leaf. We will also see… actually, that’s it.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room: Tesla. If you are one of those who paid a $1 000 deposit, you are probably wondering what the heck is going on. So are we. Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised that Tesla Motors would be in South Africa in 2018, but then it all went quiet as Musk focused on rockets. The company is having major issues with production of the new Model 3, and no representatives we’ve spoken to can confirm whether Tesla will hit our shores this year. If it does, then it could signal a major change in the local automotive landscape. And if it doesn’t? Well, there’s always the Nissan Leaf.