Side­liner brands like Peu­geot and Geely may up­set the lead­ing in­cum­bents one day.


WWHENEVER peo­ple ask me which car brand is the best, I would an­swer the ques­tion with a ques­tion. That is, best in what? To which, the per­son with the ques­tion will mut­ter some­thing like “ev­ery­thing – re­li­a­bil­ity, value for money, good re­sale, fuel econ­omy, high equip­ment level”.

Sur­pris­ingly, only a mi­nor­ity will in­clude fac­tors like “fun to drive” or “per­for­mance”. Which says two things: one, Sin­ga­pore­ans are a prag­matic lot; and two, car re­view­ers have got it all wrong (peo­ple don’t re­ally care how a car drives).

In re­sponse, I will al­most al­ways rec­om­mend Toy­ota. After all, I drive one. The brand en­com­passes most of the val­ues peo­ple pro­fess they look for in a car. I say “pro­fess” be­cause they in­vari­ably do not fol­low your rec­om­men­da­tion. They will pick some­thing else, of­ten some­thing with a lower selling price. All the time spent on ex­plain­ing to them how one should as­sess a car with a life cy­cle ap­proach goes out the win­dow.

Why do I rec­om­mend Toy­ota? Well, it’s a no-brainer. The brand has proven it­self over the years to be thor­oughly re­li­able, to of­fer high value, ef­fi­ciency, and for those rea­sons, has a bet­ter re­sale value than its com­peti­tors.

Taxi com­pa­nies and car rental com­pa­nies will at­test to this. Back in the day when Toy­ota had a suit­able taxi model, its cabs were known to be vir­tu­ally in­de­struc­tible. And car rental ex­ec­u­tives will tell you how Toy­otas will just run and run and run with barely any prob­lem.

But is Toy­ota the only brand worth look­ing at? Of course not. Toy­ota cars are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly bor­ing. They lack ex­cite­ment and imag­i­na­tion, and do not rank very high in fun quo­tient. Akio Toy­oda, pres­i­dent of the group, is try­ing to change things, but it takes time. The world is wait­ing ea­gerly for the re­vival of the Supra, but un­til the ac­tual car is out, we can­not gauge how good it is (although all signs point to a promis­ing de­but).

While Toy­ota fights to main­tain its pole po­si­tion, there are a few car brands which have qui­etly emerged from the shad­ows in re­cent years. And they look very in­ter­est­ing in­deed. Peu­geot is one of them. The French com­pany’s 3008 is a de­lec­ta­ble num­ber, of­fer­ing a level of drive­abil­ity, com­fort, re­fine­ment, style and fun which would make the folks at Mu­nich or In­gol­stadt green with envy. The 5008 which fol­lows is an­other win­ner, im­bued with all the pos­i­tive qual­i­ties seen in the 3008. It proves that the 3008 was not a flash in the pan.

It is prob­a­bly too early to say how the French cars would fare in the long run, but with Ja­pan’s Aisin sup­ply­ing the gear­box (a com­po­nent which used to be trou­ble­some in Peu­geots past), I would wa­ger that the mod­ern Pugs are more de­pend­able than their pre­de­ces­sors.

Ford is an­other fringe brand worth a sec­ond look. Its build qual­ity, equip­ment level and price-per­for­mance ra­tio are pretty high. And go­ing by its 1-litre Fi­esta, it knows a thing or two about mak­ing cars which are en­joy­able at the wheel but which do not cost


the earth. The new Mus­tang is proof that it has not lost its old-school mojo, ei­ther.

Geely of China is prob­a­bly a name to keep in mind. Not be­cause it has cars which have blown our minds, but be­cause the com­pany and its leader have made im­por­tant strides in es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as se­ri­ous play­ers on the world au­to­mo­tive stage. Un­der Geely own­er­ship, Swedish mar­que Volvo has flour­ished. Geely’s Lynk & Co is an in­trigu­ing pre­mium brand, even if we have not driven any of its cars. The com­pany has also ac­quired Malaysia’s Pro­ton, and by virtue of that, Lo­tus.

And head of Geely, Li Shufu, has gar­nered 10% of Daim­ler, mak­ing him the sin­gle largest in­de­pen­dent share­holder of the Ger­man group. For sure, Geely is go­ing places.

Geely’s Volvo is clearly on a roll, too. It has been hav­ing a string of win­ners, such as the S90, V90, XC90, XC60 and the newly launched XC40, which a Lynk cross­over will be based on. All these Volvos sport eye-pop­ping de­sign, im­mac­u­late fit and fin­ish, and fan­tas­tic per­for­mance. They also pos­sess a cer­tain re­fresh­ing clev­er­ness which es­capes their ri­vals. Subaru has al­ways had a cult (po­lite term for “tiny”) fol­low­ing, but the new Im­preza im­presses with an amaz­ing chas­sis. It re­sponds to ag­gres­sive in­puts with grace and calm­ness, and will def­i­nitely be suit­able for a more pow­er­ful range of en­gines (and bet­ter trans­mis­sions). Now that Toy­ota has in­creased its stake and in­volve­ment in the com­pany, Subaru’s fu­ture looks even brighter.

Suzuki has had hits and misses in re­cent decades, but the new Swift looks more than promis­ing. And the Swift Sport could be the next hot hatch for those who want fun, per­for­mance, de­pend­abil­ity and value for money. Suzuki also has a knack for mak­ing in­te­ri­ors which are roomy, min­i­mal­is­tic and youth­ful. A lot more zany and in­ter­est­ing than in­te­ri­ors of its Ja­panese


com­pa­tri­ots, for sure. Kia and Hyundai re­main brands which punch above their weight, and Renault con­tin­ues to wow with its value propo­si­tion and high use­abil­ity. The Renault Zoe Long Range elec­tric hatch and Hyundai Ioniq Elec­tric are set to drive elec­tri­fi­ca­tion here. What about the MercedesBenz, BMW, Audi and Lexus of the world? Well, like Toy­ota, they are lead­ers in their own fields, and are likely to con­tinue do­ing more of the same. Which means there are not go­ing to be any big sur­prises from them, ei­ther.

They will con­tinue to have their own fol­low­ing amongst pre­mium car buy­ers, and will go on en­larg­ing their re­spec­tive pools of mass­mar­ket models, too.

There are, how­ever, a few upcoming cars in the lux­ury seg­ment which are in­trigu­ing.

Porsche’s elec­tric Mis­sion E, Jaguar’s bat­tery-pow­ered I-Pace, Lam­borgh­ini’s ex­treme Urus SUV and Roll­sRoyce’s out­ra­geous Cul­li­nan cross­over all fire up the imag­i­na­tion, although not for the ex­act same rea­sons.

Chi­nese au­to­mo­tive tycoon Li Shufu has Volvo (above), Lynk & Co (right), Pro­ton, Lo­tus and 10% of Daim­ler un­der his Geely belt.

Thanks to their lat­est prod­ucts, Subaru and Suzuki have the po­ten­tial to steer out of the shad­ows like Peu­geot and Ford did in re­cent years.

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