Road Le­gal

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Contents -

SUVs, love them or hate them, these high-rid­ing ve­hi­cles have be­come pretty much the de­fault choice for most buy­ers across the globe, Malaysia in­cluded. Just look at the num­ber of CX-5s, CR-Vs and HR-Vs roam­ing KL’s streets and you’ll know what I mean.

The ap­peal is pretty easy to see. Firstly, they’re of­ten far more prac­ti­cal than the sedans they’re based on. The HR-V is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this. Built off the same plat­form that un­der­pins the City and Jazz, the HR-V is miles ahead of both its sta­ble­mates in in­te­rior space.

There’s also that ‘lifestyle’ aura that hints at a life blessed with out­doorsy ad­ven­ture and fun. A week­end cy­cling en­thu­si­ast, per­haps? Or a trail run­ner who loves to es­cape the ur­ban sprawl and head off into the green fringes of the city for some lib­er­at­ing quiet time. When you drive an SUV, your per­sona in­evitably gets tagged with these sub­con­scious ‘hash­tags’.

They’re great for city driv­ing too. With their lofty driv­ing po­si­tions, they let you lord over the mun­dane sea of city traf­fic at rush hour. The abil­ity to see past the brake lights of the car di­rectly in front of you is some­thing that, once ex­pe­ri­enced, will very likely make you think twice about get­ting back into a low-rid­ing sedan.

The lux­ury play­ers, for the most part, have been re­ally cash­ing in on this SUV craze. Volvo, in par­tic­u­lar, has upped its pro­file in the Malaysian mar­ket in re­cent years thanks to its ex­cel­lent XC90 and, more re­cently, the rather bril­liant XC60. Though note­wor­thy, the Swedes’ of­fer­ings pale in com­par­i­son to the Ger­mans. Col­lec­tively, BMW and Mercedes of­fer Malaysians no less than 12 dif­fer­ent SUV mod­els, rang­ing from the small X1 and GLA to the gar­gan­tuan X6 and GLS.

I’d love to count Audi as part of this Ger­man SUV party, but, to be hon­est, the brand has been on a bit of a lull pe­riod as of late, with the last note­wor­thy launch be­ing its 7-seat Q7. The long-awaited Q5 is nowhere on the radar and the age­ing Q3 is beg­ging to be re­tired and re­placed with the funkier Q2. One can only hope some­one wakes Audi Malaysia out of its slum­ber soon. But I di­gress. Back to the party…

De­spite the plethora of choice, the fo­cus in 2018 has been on three new in­tro­duc­tions to the Malaysian lux­ury SUV mar­ket, the BMW X3, the Volvo XC60 and the Range Rover Ve­lar. These are the cur­rent ‘celebri­ties’ at the pointy end of the SUV mar­ket, hav­ing only been re­cently re­vealed to the Malaysians.

The star is un­doubt­edly the Range Rover Ve­lar. With gor­geous styling and a tech-laden in­te­rior festooned with more LCD screens than a pro­fes­sional gamer’s PC, the Ve­lar was pur­pose-built for the con­nected gen­er­a­tion that has come to ex­pect touch­screens as the de­fault in­ter­face mech­a­nism. The car is noth­ing short of stun­ning and, in the right colour com­bi­na­tion, has the rare abil­ity to seem far more ex­pen­sive than its base price would sug­gest. In other words, it cer­tainly wouldn’t look out of place even when parked next to a Bent­ley Ben­tayga on a ho­tel drive­way.

Some­what less flashy, but a whole lot cheaper – by al­most 200k – is the Volvo XC60. Smaller than the 7-seat XC90 but far more youth­ful in ap­pear­ance, the XC60 is the star of the Volvo stable right now, at least till the XC40 ar­rives.

In a sea of Ger­man or Ger­manic-feel­ing SUVs, the unashamedly Swedish take on the theme is re­fresh­ing. Where other SUVs seem to favour a dis­tinctly Teu­tonic, highly tech­ni­cal in­te­rior and ex­te­rior treat­ment, the Volvo is far less for­mal, a lit­tle more play­ful and with al­most no ‘sporty’ pre­tenses. Peek in­side any mod­ern Volvo and you’ll not see even a hint of ‘car­bon fi­bre’ any­where. Look closely and you’ll even spot lit­tle Swedish flags sewn into the up­hol­stery. That’s some­thing you’d never see in a Ger­man car re­gard­less of brand.

Speak­ing of the Ger­mans, BMW re­cently un­leashed its new X3 here. Sold with a sin­gle en­gine and trim op­tion here, it’s specced in BMW’s ‘Lux­ury Line’ trim, which, sur­pris­ingly for BMW, es­chews the usual racy M-Sport treat­ment for some­thing more gen­teel, with pol­ished wood trim and lots of chrome be­ing the or­der of the day.

But, to be hon­est, if I were in the mar­ket for a sub-400k lux­ury SUV – the usual cross­over point for most buy­ers as they tran­si­tion from their C-Classes and 3-Series to some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent – I’d prob­a­bly rule out these three stars for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

Firstly, the XC60. Of the three, I’d say it’s prob­a­bly the nicest, most well-equipped SUV cur­rently on Malaysian soil. The lengthy list of stan­dard equip­ment, the full suite of ac­tive and pas­sive safety sys­tems and the fact that it’s avail­able as a fuel-sip­ping plugin hy­brid pretty much guar­an­tees its suc­cess. Priced at just a smidgen over RM340k also makes it quite an ap­peal­ing buy, though, if you’re like me and live in a con­do­minium with no home-charg­ing avail­able, the plugin hy­brid fea­tures of the XC60 re­ally don’t make much sense.

Volvo Malaysia’s ridicu­lously lim­ited colour choices for the car also irk me a fair bit. Black, white, sil­ver, grey and brown. For a car this well-styled, none of the colours on of­fer re­ally does its shape jus­tice. For a bloke who baulks at spend­ing RM50 on a Uniqlo shirt if it doesn’t come in a shade I fancy, spend­ing six fig­ures on a car with five shades of yawn is not some­thing you’d see me do any­time soon.

The Range Rover Ve­lar, on the other hand, I’d rule out sim­ply for its eye-wa­ter­ing price tag. For a car not much larger than an X3, it’s al­most un­fath­omable why Land Rover Malaysia would price it at over half a mil­lion Ring­git. Mind you, for that price, you don’t even get ba­sic ac­tive safety sys­tems like Au­ton­o­mous Emer­gency Brak­ing (‘AEB’), some­thing that’s stan­dard on far cheaper city run­abouts like the Myvi. And that’s a sin that, un­for­tu­nately, BMW has cho­sen to per­pet­u­ate. For all its glitz and glam­our, from its multi-colour am­bi­ent light­ing to its fully dig­i­tal in­stru­ment clus­ter and its touch­screen iDrive, the X3 lacks AEB or any form of ac­tive safety sys­tem you have the right to ex­pect in a RM300k+ lux­ury car.

For those rea­sons alone, if I were in the mar­ket for a sub-RM400k lux­ury SUV, I’d still grav­i­tate to­ward the Mercedes show­room and grab my­self a GLC250. Sure, it’s not the lat­est kid on the block any­more, hav­ing been on the mar­ket for over two years, its in­te­rior is well due for an up­date (com­ing in 2019), but on fea­tures and price it’s prob­a­bly still the best SUV in this seg­ment thanks to its well-cho­sen mix of fea­tures. No­tably, it comes stan­dard with a plethora of mod­ern safety sys­tems like AEB, cross­wind as­sist, at­ten­tion as­sist and Mercedes’s in­no­va­tive ‘Pre-Safe’ col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion sys­tem. And yes, be­fore you ask, you can in­deed have it in more than five shades of bore­dom.

Proof that old is of­ten gold, the most se­nior player in the lux­ury SUV mar­ket is prob­a­bly still, by quite a good mar­gin, the best pick of the bunch.

But, to be hon­est, if I were in the mar­ket for a sub-400k lux­ury SUV – the usual cross­over point for most buy­ers as they tran­si­tion from their C-Classes and 3-Series to some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent – I’d prob­a­bly rule out these three stars for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

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