Sleep­ers, awake

Ig­nore the mar­ket trends and hype — there are su­per mod­els in the lower parts of the charts

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - BILL McKIN­NON

IN 2016 Aus­tralians bought 1,178,133 new cars, SUVs and utes. Our mar­ket, re­garded as the most com­pet­i­tive in the world, has more than 50 brands and hun­dreds of mod­els — prob­a­bly more than 1000 if you in­clude ev­ery spec­i­fi­ca­tion and vari­ant within each model’s line-up.

So although our to­tal mar­ket is rel­a­tively small com­pared with the US, where 17.55 mil­lion new cars were sold in 2016, we ef­fec­tively have the world’s big­gest new car show­room.

Up front, un­der the bright lights, are the top-sell­ing su­per­mod­els that make the money. Up the back near the toi­lets, or out in the rain with the trade-ins, are the cars that, for an un­told va­ri­ety of rea­sons, haven’t fired on the sales charts.

Some of these are ac­tu­ally pretty good, bet­ter in some cases than the top sellers — but you’re a tough, fickle crowd. The car com­pa­nies have spent squil­lions try­ing to work out what you like and they still haven’t got a de­fin­i­tive an­swer.

We reckon some cars de­serve a bit more love than they’re get­ting.

Un­til quite re­cently, Ford Aus­tralia didn’t even know how to spell “mar­ket­ing,” so although it had some great cars, de­signed and en­gi­neered by Ford of Europe, hardly any­body knew about them. In the post-Fal­con era, that’s now chang­ing, but the Mon­deo, Kuga and Fo­cus haven’t yet come close to chal­leng­ing the lead­ers in their re­spec­tive classes, de­spite be­ing good value and bet­ter drives than many of their ri­vals. The Mon­deo is a superb large sedan or wagon that’s been ig­nored for years but in 2016 it emerged from the shad­ows to record a 47 per cent sales in­crease. Per­haps those would-be Fal­con buy­ers fi­nally took a Mon­deo for a drive and re­alised how good it is.

It’s a sim­i­lar story with the Fo­cus, which has punchy tur­bocharged en­gines, frontrow-of-the-grid dy­nam­ics and up-to-the-minute safety tech. If you’re think­ing about a Toy­ota Corolla or Hyundai i30, drive a Fo­cus and see what you’re miss­ing. Lots.

An­other Ford with A-grade driv­ing, safety and in­fo­tain­ment cre­den­tials, the Kuga has been re­badged as the Es­cape for 2017, which should im­prove its dis­mal for­tunes in the boom­ing mid-size SUV class. The Kuga name was al­ways a bit dodgy. Women ran for the ex­its as soon as they saw it, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Mazda builds some of the best qual­ity cars on the mar­ket, none more so than the Mazda6, its mid-size sedan and wagon that’s made in Ja­pan. Even at base model level, it’s a beau­ti­fully crafted piece, com­pa­ra­ble with an Audi in ma­te­ri­als, fit and fin­ish, yet sales are go­ing back­wards.

Per­haps, as with the Mon­deo, Subaru’s Lib­erty, VW’s Pas­sat and many other fam­ily-size cars, it’s been run over by the SUV jug­ger­naut.

There’s a wait­ing list for the top-spec Ford Ranger 4WD dou­ble-cab utes, such as the Wild­trak, even with a price push­ing $65,000 on the road. Cashed-up tradies can’t get enough of this truck.

Yet the same ute with a dif­fer­ent suit — the Mazda BT-50 — sells fewer than onethird of the Ford’s num­bers, de­spite be­ing up to $8000 cheaper. OK, so the Mazda misses out on a few safety and in­fo­tain­ment fea­tures but that doesn’t ex­plain it.

The rea­son is much sim­pler. The Ranger looks tough. In

FORD MON­DEO

MAZDA BT-50

BMW i3

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