Sleep­ers, awake

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

The Courier-Mail - Cars Guide - - Cover Story - bill.mckin­non@news.com.au 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

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 …

JAGUAR XF

PEU­GEOT 308

VW PAS­SAT

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