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