We spend a lot of time covering big, exciting launches here at New Atlas, but there's more to the automotive world than glitzy concept cars and fire-breathing supercars. This year has seen plenty of production cars launched that, although not always staggeringly beautiful or scarily fast, represent huge steps forward – both for their manufacturers and the people who buy them. Read on for our pick of the best "regular" cars launched this year.

Hyundai i30

NEW ATLAS NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT

Upgrade to a Plus subscription today, and read the site without ads.

It's just US$19 a year.

UPGRADE NOW

Hyundai has come a long way from its economy car roots. The new i30 represents a new level for the South Korean company, and should make benchmarks like VW and Mazda very nervous. Penned by ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer, best known for his work on the first Audi TT, it debuts the styling direction which will underpin the next generation of Hyundai.

On the inside, a real focus was placed on using premium materials. It looks good in photos, and the inclusion of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto prove Hyundai isn't playing catchup in the technology stakes, but we'll reserve final judgement until we can have a proper poke around.

Under the skin, the new i30 chassis will serve as the base for the first ever N Performance car, set to go head-to-head with the Golf GTI and Peugeot 308 GTI. Hyundai has been building hype about its first foray into the performance car world for months now, and if the concept car launched in Paris is anything to go by, the faster i30 will be an absolute weapon. Expect pricing for the standard car to start around US$19,000.

BMW 5 Series

Since the E12 launched in 1972, the BMW 5 Series has remained the benchmark luxury saloon. Technology has advanced, fashions have changed, but BMW has always been one step ahead of the game. At least it always was. Even though it's only six years old, the current F50 5 Series has fallen behind the curve, lacking the super-smart semi-autonomous features available on the new Mercedes E-Class and Volvo V90.

In November, the world finally found out how BMW plans to regain its crown. It might look similar to its predecessor, but the seventh-generation 5 Series is a much smarter animal under the skin. The new chassis is longer and wider than before, but BMW has cut 100 kg (220 lb) from the curb weight. Shutters behind the kidney grille help keep the drag coefficient down to just 0.22, too, which will improve efficiency and keep the cabin quiet on the highway.

BMW still puts its reputation on building the Ultimate Driving Machine, but the 5 Series is all about self-driving tech. Not only will it keep pace with the car in front, it will follow lane markings up to 210 km/h (130 mph). If the driver wants to take control, a new chassis and adaptive suspension should help maintain the keen-driving feel that defines the current car. Pricing will start at US$60,900.

Land Rover Discovery

Not content with a practical – but somewhat unappealing looking – Discovery 4, Land Rover used the Paris Motor Show to launch a sexier new take on the legendary four-wheel drive.

Although it looks prettier than before on the outside, Land Rover says the new Discovery sacrifices nothing in terms of practicality. It still has room for seven, and the seats are staggered in height to make sure everyone has a good view out. The third row should even be able to house adults, although you still wouldn't want to be stuck back there for too long.

Seats in the back two rows can be individually folded using a smartphone app, and there are enough USB ports to keep the kids charged up and happy on long road trips. There's room for a full-size iPad in the center console, and storage bins scattered around all the door pockets for snacks and oddments. We wouldn't go so far as saying the new Discovery makes practicality sexy, but it makes a seriously good fist of it. You'll pay upwards of $49,990.

Lexus LC500

The LC500 was initially shown off as a concept, but the public liked it so much, Lexus decided to pull the trigger and put it into production. As you can see, there isn't much to set the production car apart from the concept on the outside. Say what you will about the angular look Lexus has adopted, but you could never accuse the design team of playing it safe.

Power comes from two wildly different powertrains. In keeping with the clean, green focus the brand has adopted, a hybrid will be offered alongside a free-revving V8. The hybrid is hooked up to a complex new gearbox, which adds a four-speed automatic gearbox to the CVT for a more direct feeling.

While there is a hybrid version, our attention is inevitably drawn to the V8, which is hooked up to a ten-speed automatic. Initial reviews suggest Lexus has hit the nail on the head, with a neat blend of ride comfort and outright performance to match the BMW 6 Series. Lexus is yet to announce pricing for the LC500, but expect it to start between $90,000 and $100,000.

Volkswagen Golf Mk7.5

Even though it isn't a brand new car, the Mk7.5 Golf goes further than your average midlife update. Inside, there's an overhauled infotainment system with gesture control and voice input, and the excellent Virtual Cockpit technology debuted in the Audi TT has completed its spread across the entire Volkswagen Group range.

The tech-heavy makeover extends to a range of semi-autonomous driver assist systems. A radar sensor hidden behind the Volkswagen badge means the new Golf can keep its lane and stay with stop-start traffic up to 60 km/h (37 mph) with no driver input. When the driver is in control, the car will sense if they fall asleep and, if a gentle nudge doesn't wake them, will gently pull the car to a stop in its lane.

Power comes from a refreshed range of engines, headlined by a new four-cylinder petrol dubbed TSI Evo. It makes 110 kW (148 hp) of power, and peak 250 Nm (184 lb.ft) of torque is available from just 1,500 rpm. Cylinder deactivation helps it return a claimed 4.9 l/100 km (57.6 mpg) on the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC). Pricing will start around $20,000.

Volvo V90

In a world fast being overrun by luxury four-wheel drives, it was high time for a hero to step up and make the estate cool again. Thankfully, Volvo wasn't willing to let the staple of its brand, the practical wagon, die without a fight. Quite a bit slinkier than the classic Swedish boxes-on-wheels, it proves the V90 proves the wagon still has a pulse.

Like the S90 it shares a platform with, the V90 is designed to deliver stress-free motoring. Volvo has dropped all pretense of sportiness, and instead focused on creating a car able to comfortable cart a family and all their junk for hours on end. A panoramic sunroof lets lots of light into cabin, which is finished in gorgeous tan leather and boasts a vertically-oriented touchscreen with Apple CarPlay.

As you'd expect of a Volvo, the V90 is loaded with all the safety equipment you could ever need. It will take care of steering, braking and acceleration up to 130 km/h (80 mph) and, if the driver ends up careening towards a ditch, prepares the seat belts and cabin to minimize the impact on passengers. The V90 starts at $56,295.

Kia Rio

Not content to let Hyundai steal all the spotlight, the Kia Rio signals a plan to challenge the Japanese and German class leaders. The brand has developed a clear design language since Peter Schreyer joined the team, and the Rio is one of the most attractive takes on the formula yet.

Huge strides have been made inside, too, where the hard black plastics of the old model have been replaced by soft touch materials and a new focus on premium design. A free-standing touchscreen handles infotainment, and the center console is angled towards the driver like it is in a classic BMW. It all looks good, but we'll have to poke around in person before passing final judgement. Pricing for the Rio will start at $16,345.

Mercedes E-Class

After months of drip-feeding information about its new E-Class, Mercedes finally launched its new midsize saloon at the Detroit Auto Show in January, where it quickly became clear the S-Class is no longer the boss in the three-pointed star range. The E-Class is absolutely loaded with self-driving smarts, led by a Drive Pilot system able to steer, accelerate and brake up to 210 km/h (130 mph).

Volvo has traditionally been known as the brand most concerned with safety, but Mercedes has an impressive list of world-first safety features in its history as well. The W213 E-Class may not be the first car to come with ABS or traction control, but it uses seat bolsters to push passengers away from an impending side-impact collision, and blasts pink noise at occupants to protect their ears from the potentially harmful noises caused by accidents.

Passengers will be able to enjoy a gorgeous business class cabin. The traditional dials are gone, replaced by a widescreen display that can be changed based on drive mode. Even better, all this tech is also available in Estate and All Terrain body styles. Pricing starts at $52,150.

Audi A5

Based on the A4 launched last year, the new Audi A5 is proof that square-edged teutonic design needn't be boring. Along with its very, very pretty face, the new A5 is much lighter than the car it replaces, and promises to deliver a much sharper drive than before as well.

Even though it's pretty on the outside, the most impressive element of the A5 is probably its interior. Like the sedan it's based on, the car has a sweeping dashboard and neatly arranged climate controls, but the star of the show is still the high-res Virtual Cockpit stolen from the TT. Pricing on the A5 will start at $42,150.

Ford Fiesta

In its current guise, the Ford Fiesta has been around for eight years, making it old news in the competitive world of compacts. Even though it handles well, modern buyers are more interested in easy connectivity and cabin space – boxes Ford has tried to tick with the new seventh-generation Fiesta, launched in Cologne last month.

To our eyes, the evolutionary styling is a bit boring, sticking too closely to the formula set by its predecessor. We're presuming the theory was if it ain't broke don't fix it, but a bit more excitement would have been nice. It's a very different story inside, where the button-heavy center console of the old car has been replaced with a slick new touchscreen.

Power will come from a range of downsized EcoBoost engines, and there are now four distinct trim levels available, starting with crowd-pleasing Titanium and extending up to premium-wannabe Vignale spec. Pricing hasn't been released for the Fiesta, but it start at the same $13,000 as the current model.

Check out all of the cars on this list in our 2016 production car photo gallery, and let us know your pick for car of the year in the comments below.

View gallery - 78 images