Marques will have to work hard to better last year's cars, writes Calum Gordon
Badge snobs may scoff that it's a poor man's BMW335i, but the Volvo C70 (HK$488,000; top) can whoosh four adults around in as much style and comfort as BMW's luxury drop-top - and save you HK$200,000. It's not as fast off the mark as the autobahn-stormer, but the C70 is a better all-round car for Hong Kong. Sure-footed and comfortable with a slick, ergonomic interior that's fast becoming Volvo's trademark, the C70 delivers a healthy 220-brake horsepower from its 2.5-litre T5 turbo engine, hitting 100km/h in a respectable eight seconds. Volvo is safety obsessed, but has also improved its luxury and refinement. Inside, the C70 is well-sculpted, with an impressive 'floating' centre console, soft leather seats and a tasteful wooden fascia.
The car's curvy, noughties styling looks as good with the roof up as down, which is rare among convertibles. Better still, the C70 has power when you want it to move, making it a perfect Hong Kong daily driver or cool Sunday drop-top.
Scottish designer Ian Callum has done a magnificent job in styling the XKR (HK$1.598 million; bottom), tracing its lineage back to the stunning E-type of the 60s and blending it with an American muscle-car aesthetic, replete with bonnet louvres, aluminium grilles and a quad-pot exhaust.
The 400bhp Jaguar's silver-screen looks are more than matched by its throaty V8 performance. The XKR hits 100km/h in 5.2 seconds, pushing through to 250km/h so urgently and handling with so much poise that it's a worthy challenger to its more expensive arch-rival, the Aston Martin DB9.
It's an exciting drive. In slow traffic, the 32-valve V8's engine note is more honeyed than Winnie-the-Pooh's paws. At cruising speeds a crisper engine note breaks the silence in the refined cabin. Jab harder at the accelerator, and the V8 roars with the urgency of a true thoroughbred.
Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart Version-R
Tweaked and tuned by tuning outfit Ralliart, Mitsubishi's souped-up R (HK$188,000; above right) is a radical departure from its standard hatchback. Mitsubishi's Colt-on-Viagra weighs just 1,140kg and its turbocharged, intercooled 1.5-litre engine pumps out 154bhp at 6,000rpm, with a lot of torque coming on stream through the mid-ranges of the gears. It behaves like a mini-Evo wearing its sensible hat: floor the accelerator and you will be amazed how fast the little car accelerates. There's no turbo lunge, but just a very rapid wind-up to 110km/h that may even make you a little edgy as you hit the red line.
With Recaro bucket seats and a black and red dash, the Colt nods to 1980s hot hatches and is arguably even more fun to drive than a Golf or Peugeot 205 GTi.
Lexus RX 400h
Not just a Lexus RX300 with a new badge, the RX400h (HK$530,000; left) is the first SUV to be given the Toyota Prius treatment.
The old petrol unit has been replaced with a super-efficient petrol-electric hybrid engine that promises impressive performance. If the Prius is an exercise in salving eco-consciences, the RX400h is all about oomph. The big 'soft-roader' can reach 100kmh in 7.6 seconds, with the 3.3-litre engine producing a combined 272bhp.
Better still, the RX400h returns fuel consumption figures (12.34km/litre combined) that blow any contemporary SUV away, and at speeds under 25kmh it runs silently on electric power only, producing almost no emissions.
The RX400h is an easy SUV to drive, with the engine switching seamlessly between its twin fuel sources to give a hushed, cosseted ride. It's a far cry from the Landrover Freelander, which exudes style and dynamism, but its soft, wallowy ride won't disappoint Lexus fans. And the hybrid could wean SUV-lovers off their gas-guzzling four-wheel drives. It's ideal for Lantau and anywhere north of Lion Rock.
Is it a car, is it a van, or is it a house on wheels? Perhaps because it's a combination of all three, the eight-seat Serena (HK$220,800; far left) is Nissan's best-selling MPV in Hong Kong and popular with families and businesses.
The Serena has three rows of seats and five doors - with the large power-sliding side openings proving especially useful for access to the rear. Its flat-floored cabin is airy and bright, too. Nissan's 'FF' set-up (front-wheel drive, flat floor) gives you 10 different seating plans, from 'super walk-through mode' which lets you split the second row of seats apart for easy access front to back - to 'child-friendly mode' that allows you to slide the second and third rows of seats apart to make space for a baby stroller. The two-litre CVT 16-valve engine delivers up to 90 per cent of its torque at just 2,000rpm so the car feels surprisingly punchy in traffic. And with emissions of 176g of CO2 per kilometre, the Serena is pretty kind to the environment - if it's carrying eight people, that is.