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Small family cars: Toyota - Volkswagen

  • New cars coming in 2012
  • Small family cars to MPVs revealed today
  • More throughout the week
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Toyota Prius
What is it? Face-lifted hybrid range gains a new plug-in version
Price from 21,500 (est)
On sale March

Toyotas updated Prius has a sharper look with reshaped bumpers and grilles, new light lenses and new daytime running lights and more high-tech kit than ever. A new centre console incorporates Toyotas Touch entertainment system. This includes a touch-screen display, Bluetooth and, on higher-spec Touch & Go Plus versions, sat-nav and Google search.

Big news for July is the arrival of a plug-in version that can run on electric power alone for up to 14 miles. Toyota is aiming for CO2 emissions of 49g/km and an average of 135mpg.

Vauxhall Ampera
What is it? Our Green Car of 2011
Price1 33,995 (28,995 with Government grant)
On sale April

Vauxhalls Ampera seems to have been around for ages, but its not actually on sale until April.

The battery for its electric motor can be recharged from a three-pin socket, and a petrol engine generates power for the electric motor on longer journeys.

The Amperas official CO2 figure of 40g/km is less than half that of conventional eco-superminis, but theres no compromise to the driving experience. The 148bhp electric motor gives instantaneous pick-up and a smooth, relaxing drive. It can run on battery power for up to 50 miles, the petrol tank extending that range to up to 310 miles. Its refined, too, with little mechanical, wind or road noise.

The only major downside is the 33,995 price. A maximum 5000 Government grant cuts this, though, and there are big savings on running costs.

VW Beetle
What is it? Sharper-styled retro hatch
Price from 15,000 (est)
On sale Spring

Volkswagens new Beetle is still easily recognisable as a pastiche of the original model, but it sits on Golf underpinnings and gets some of VWs more recent engines.

The range will be launched with a choice of two petrol engines: a 103bhp 1.2 or a 158bhp 1.4. A 65mpg 1.6-litre diesel is due in the summer.

The new car is much more sporty to drive than its predecessor, and it stays commendably flat when cornering. The steering isnt as rewarding, though; it needs to be more involving on an open road. The ride on the hot 197bhp model that we tested was firm at low speeds, too, although cheaper models will get a simpler suspension set-up.

Refinement is good, and theres a bigger boot, but the cabins freshened look is let down by cheap materials. Its a decent car, but will continue to rely on charm to find buyers.