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
4WD one-tonner territory, tough sells. The Mazda looks weird. Weird never sells.
Peugeot’s secondgeneration 308, launched in 2015, is a beautiful car in the finest French tradition.
With a suite of fuelefficient turbo engines, both petrol and diesel, plus outstanding roadholding and comfort, tidy handling and very chic sheet metal, it should be on every VW Golf buyer’s test drive list.
Yet the Golf outsells it by almost 16 to one.
The Golf, as you would be aware, has had its reliability issues but Peugeot is in a league of its own. Its reputation as a maker of exceptionally temperamental cars was entrenched by the abysmal 307, built (if not so well) from 2001-09.
Buyers of that car never came back and prospective Peugeotists were scared off. As with its Citroen and Renault compatriots, Peugeot also has a habit of overpricing its cars by completely irrational amounts. Bargains? Non.
Big-ticket European sedans are having a hard time generally, again due to the rise and rise of the SUV, and Jaguar must be disappointed by the lack of interest in its second-generation XF.
A new model is supposed to put a rocket under sales, not send them into reverse, but that’s what’s happened with the XF, a much-improved drive over its predecessor — and, until the new BMW 5 Series gets here in a few months, arguably the pick of the class.
Bland styling, inside and out, may have hurt it.
You can’t say that about the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, though. As sharply tailored and elegant as they come, it also has for now the most-advanced infotainment and semiautonomous driving technology available anywhere.
Yet, while it still does better numbers than its rivals, the 2016 E-Class also took a sales hit of 11 per cent. Benz larded starting prices by about $10,000 at launch, expecting early adopters to be mad keen on the self-driving tech — maybe we’re still not ready for the car to make decisions for us.
Skoda makes rebadged VWs in the Czech Republic. They should be right up any young hipster’s street but the Fabia, Rapid, Octavia and Yeti have always struggled to get on buyers’ radar.
That may be because, until recently, Skodas cost similar money to the real VWs they were cloned from, so people just bought the latter. Still, the Octavia and Superb are fine cars, good value and worth your inspection.
Walk into a BMW showroom and you’ll see the future of motoring, into which BMW poured billions of euros in anticipation that, yes, the time is right and the Era of the Electric Car has arrived. Today.
You’ll first have to weave your way through a heap of shiny new V8-powered X5s and weapons-grade stuff such as the mighty M4 and M5, but eventually you’ll find the disaster that is the i3. BMW’s electric wundermachinen has been a dud, not just here but around the world, since its launch in 2013. Australians bought 92 examples last year.
What went so wrong? The i3 is a work of genius. We said so but you didn’t listen.
Fair enough. The customer is always right. Well, nearly always …