There aren’t many other marketing devices that say as much about the quality and professionalism of your business as the company cars that you and your colleagues drive. Image is key but as well as setting the correct tone, there is a whole raft of criteria that the best business cars take in their stride.
Obviously, leasing rates are as crucial as company car tax implications, insurance premiums and fuel costs. Additionally, space and practicality – enough leg and elbow-room to transport your colleagues and clients in comfort – will be deemed essential by many.
Environmental credentials are also high on the public and the government’s agenda, taxation and congestion charging for almost all vehicles will become more punitive.
The recent demonisation of diesel and the roll-out of the new Worldwide-harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) which is designed to provide more realistic real-world fuel consumption figures will also have a significant impact on company car tax bands.
This begs the question, are we being driven inexorably down the route of full electrification, if so, will the charging infrastructure be able to cope with the exploding demand? Food for thought indeed.
You can already buy electric versions of many cars including the Mini and Volkswagen Golf and if you have the wherewithal, there are plenty of options from the likes of Tesla, Jaguar and BMW. As things stand though, the world’s best-selling electric car is the Nissan Leaf, and there’s a brand-new version for 2018. Thankfully, unlike the original, it no longer looks like a lab experiment gone wrong.
Designed to appeal more to European tastes and built in Sunderland, its contemporary styling ensure it looks far less geeky and much more likely to strike a chord with urbane urbanites.
It’s also more sophisticated to drive, considerably bigger inside, and, perhaps most importantly, capable of much longer distances between plug-ins, offering up to 168 miles on a single charge.
Environmental credentials are high on the public’s and Government’s agenda – taxation and congestion charges will become more punitive.
Charging at home from a 7kW wall box takes eight hours but more impressively, there’s an additional socket that allows you to charge up to 80 per cent from a 50kW motorway supercharger in 40 minutes.
There are very few reciprocating parts under the Leaf’s bonnet, so it is eerily silent and when you lift off the accelerator pedal, you immediately feel the car slowing down. You can increase this effect by pressing the e-pedal button which makes the regenerative braking effect so pronounced you barely have to use the brake pedal.
Press the accelerator pedal firmly in the other direction and despite the Leaf’s near two-tonne kerbweight you’ll instantly elicit hot-hatch levels of performance.
The Leaf’s suspension is also extremely comfortable and well-judged to cope with the questionable quality of our roads. It’s stacked with creature comforts and bristles with the latest safety equipment. It even has a semi-autonomous driving feature linked to the cruise control which will steer and brake for you on motorways, if you keep your hands on the steering wheel.
If you are considering going down the all-electric route but feel it may be beyond your budget then you might consider the Renault Zoe which is, by some distance, the cheapest EV on sale in the UK. Think of it as a Clio-sized five-door hatchback that you plug-in and, fully charged it will give you a claimed range of 160 miles.
The fact that all electric cars suffer range depletion in colder conditions means 100 miles is probably closer to the mark. Obviously, running costs are a major benefit as zero emissions equate to low tax bills and zero congestion fees and each time you charge up your Zoe it will cost just a few pounds.
There’s also plenty of performance on offer, especially around town, where an almost instantaneous power delivery will embarrass many a boy racer away from the traffic lights.
Inside, the plastics are a wee bit on the cheap side, but you get plenty of standard equipment as well as a wall-mounted 7kW charger included in the price.
There are two ways to buy the Zoe. With the cheapest versions you don’t actually own the battery – you lease it separately and the monthly fee varies depending on your annual mileage. The second path is to buy or lease the car and the battery combined but this pushes up the price and, if there are any issues with the battery after the four-year warranty period has expired the expense will be down to you.
If you aren’t convinced that an EV is for you, then there are still plenty of excellent fossil fuel options including perennial favourites like the Fiat 500 and Mini One. Undoubtedly though, this year’s must-have City car is the Volkswagen Up GTI.
The frisky one-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine may only generate 115hp but its revvy character gives the VW Up real character, making it a fun thing to drive even just meandering up the High Street.
As you might expect from a sporty little motor, the ride can feel a bit unforgiving at lower speeds, but the steering and the controls are surprisingly delicate, making it ideal for zipping in and out of traffic and elbowing your way into tight parking spots.
Inside, the cabin exudes retro chic with a GTI badged leather sports steering wheel and gear shift, body-coloured door panels and iconic tartan seats.
Like all Ups, the GTI is almost as wide as it is long, so it’s surprisingly roomy inside and because plenty of light spills in through its large side windows, the cabin never feels gloomy or claustrophobic.
Topping these assets off is the GTI’s incredible affordability. Along with its surprisingly low list price, a claimed 58.9mpg and a lowly group 17 insurance will make it an exceptionally persuasive inducement for younger employees.
The exponential rise of the SUV shows no sign of relenting, so it’s hardly surprising that every manufacturer bent on a sustainable future is frantically launching more and more of these gentrified off-roaders. Of course, most SUVs are simply jacked-up, stylised hatchbacks that would baulk at the first sign of a pair of wellingtons. That doesn’t make them any less desirable, and currently, many of the models best suited to the urban jungle are coming from the Volkswagen group. The Seat Arona, Volkswagen T-ROC and Audi Q2 are effectively the same car, sharing many mechanical components. They’re all good to drive and each exudes a tangible sense of high-quality engineering. Compact enough to be driven and parked in crowded city streets, they also feel securely planted and extremely civilised at higher speeds, so tackling longer motorway journeys is an absolute breeze.
This level of civility is complemented by scrupulous attention to ergonomic excellence. Alongside good all-round visibility, a decent sized boot and plenty of interior space, a wide range of seating and steering wheel adjustments ensures an exceptionally comfortable perch for drivers, regardless of their shape or size.
Up to the minute infotainment systems, with screens featuring pin-sharp graphics and intuitive accessibility, alongside the latest mobile phone mirroring connectivity are also included. Perhaps the most obvious showroom differentiator is the quality and design of the various model’s interiors.
Not surprisingly, the pricier Audi gets the swankier quality plastics and more lustrous fixtures and fittings, but the Volkswagen and Seat are far from shabby.
Prices range from around £16.5K for the entry 1.0-litre 3-cylinder Seat to a tad over £30K for the all-singing and dancing 2.0TDI Quattro version of the Audi Q2. Bearing in mind that Seat’s star is in the ascendancy, we’d probably save the premium and opt for the Spanish brand.
If you feel you’ve had a particularly good year then you could do worse than treat yourself to a BMW 5 Series. Yes, there are some fine alternatives from Audi and Mercedes, but the BMW is still the class leader in this image-obsessed sector.
As well as offering a magnificent blend of comfort, dynamic prowess and unbridled luxury, the 5 Series is available with a wide range of smooth, powerful engines. You may be tempted but there’s no need to be seduced by the more potent versions.
The 520d’s 2.0-litre diesel engine is linked to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox and the combination is so flexible and so cultured, you’ll rarely, if ever, feel short-changed in the performance or the refinement departments. The additional pay off comes in the guise of an official combined fuel consumption figure of 72.4mpg and 102g/km of CO2, which equate to very attractive BIK rates. Inside, the 5 series cabin provides exceptional head, leg and elbow-room for four to travel in limo like luxury and it remains so quiet at motorway speeds you’ll think the cabin is hermetically sealed.
Work commitments are also taken care of, as BMW is the first company to work with Microsoft Office 365. Specify this level of connectivity, and as well as scanning your diary and plotting appropriate routes into the sat-nav, the system will automatically keep you abreast of traffic developments and even suggest an earlier departure time to ensure you make that vital meeting.
The new cars coming on line can do so much more than look cute in a branded sticker job. They can reflect your brand values, demonstrate your green credentials, give confidence to your clients and pride to your staff.
So choose well and drive safely!