There are some cars that, despite being very good, aren’t particularly exciting.
On a recent episode of the WhichCar Weekly podcast journalists Dan Gardner, Scott Newman, and Chris Thompson (me, hello!) presented their alternative choices to five popular cars across a range of segments in the Australian new car market.
Dual cab utes, sedans, hatchbacks, and of course SUVs were all dissected in the name of providing Australia’s shopping centre car parks with a bit of diversity.
Of course, this might also reveal to you the reasons why motoring journalists are not automotive product developers or operations managers, because there’s clearly something about these cars that appeals to the rather large segment of buyer who don’t particularly care about how interesting their car is.
Those who do? Read on…
Dual-cab utes: Toyota Hilux
The Toyota Hilux has an unbreakable reputation for being unbreakable, but it’s not the most refined rider or driver in its field.
With a starting price at around the $30k mark, the Musso was Dan’s pick for a Hilux alternative thanks to the fact the top of the range here is not far above the lower end of the Hilux range.
A seven-year warranty and the ability to add plenty of kit without breaking the bank helps, that on top of the fact its standard specifications are nothing to scoff at.
Scott suggested the Ranger simply because he finds it a better ute than the Hilux, though the fact it’s so high up in the sales charts (right next to Hilux actually) means it won’t necessarily be more unique.
Scott could also be fondly remembering the time he thrashed a Ranger Raptor off-road to find out if it could really be called a ‘performance car.’
The Volkswagen Amarok can be expensive, especially compared to the entry-levels of my colleagues’ picks (and even the top of the range Musso), but if you’re looking in the slightly more expensive ute region, the car-like driving and comfort in the Amarok is hard to beat.
Spend up north of $50k, and you’re also given access to a massively torquey 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 in the TDI 550 and 580 variants, an excellent engine.
SUVS: Mitsubishi ASX
The ASX is old. Very old. And while Mitsubishi now has a 10-year warranty on new cars, the absolutely packed SUV segment offers many options.
Dan’s suggestion of a hatchback instead of an SUV comes, much like the next suggestion in line, aimed squarely at buyers of very small SUVs. “You don’t really want an SUV if you buy an ASX,” in that the ASX isn’t very big nor does it have any off-road ability.
The Golf starts in the low-$20k range, is comfortable, well-equipped, and stylish.
Much like Dan, I don’t believe most people who buy SUVs really need an SUV, especially when a car-like wagon will provide the boot space and comfort an SUV affords.
If the higher-riding position of an SUV is really what you’re after, the Hyundai Kona is a much more visually interesting choice.
Scott actually provided an SUV as an alternative, and a good one at that. A well-appointed cabin and interesting exterior styling, as well as solid engine options, make the
Compact hatchbacks: MG 3
The new MG 3 may well be a good car to drive and own (many journalists have not yet had the chance to drive one), but its safety record has some of us questioning its sudden popularity upon its arrival.
Cheaper, safer (according to ANCAP), and with plenty of excellent kit, the Picanto is the most affordable car in the country right now. Even its hot(ish) hatch variant, The GT, sneaks in below the $20k mark, and it’s actually fun to drive.
Dan suggests sprinting to your Holden dealership and buying up one of the last Astras from the showroom floor before the Lion is taken off the front of the building.
Its entry price is just north of $20k, but we reckon you’d have a relatively easy job convincing a dealer to lop a bit off the price for you.
While a VW Polo would be Scott’s (solid) suggestion for those willing to spend up a little more, his rather clever choice of a near-new (still in warranty) used Kia Rio means buyers can have a slightly larger hatchback, take advantage of the long 7-year warranty, and not need to pay full price.
Sedans: Toyota Camry
The Camry being a popular sedan needs no explanation. It’s an excellent car, now arguably better than ever, but it’s also the choice for cabs, fleets, and anyone who seemingly doesn’t care what they drive.
“You can’t buy this car much longer, and the reason for that is that everyone bought Camrys,” Dan says.
All-wheel-drive, a flat Boxer engine, a decent CVT, and plenty of personality.
“You all bought the wrong* car for too long, and now Subaru’s not selling the Liberty anymore.”
*Dan means ‘safe’ because we all know the Camry is a good car…
I decided we need to look to the future a little more seriously, and the hybrid or electric Ionic seems a great place to start for those who aren’t well-heeled enough to pop into a Tesla.
Entry-level pricing is north of the Camry’s, but middle and higher Camry variants start lining up with Ionics, which means there’s likely a big crossover of folks who’d be just as happy in something greener.
It’s French, and it’s a little more premium, so resale and perception of reliability will likely turn a few off, but the ride quality, styling, and interior finish in most modern Peugeots is incredible.
Scott also suggests a Mazda 6 or a Skoda Octavia, both well-built, easy to get around in terms of liability, and both more common and likely easier to own than the 508.
Premium sedans: Mercedes-Benz C-Class
You’re either spending big on a sedan because you want something comfortable and it’s a practical buy, or because you’ve got the cash to spare and it’s a bit of a ‘fun’ purchase… the excellent C-Class dominates this segment.
If your C-Class is on the ‘fun’ side of the ledger, why not go all-out in terms of fun and pick up something that looks menacing, sounds boisterous, and has all the big ‘Murica vibes you could ever want?
Getting into a V8 for less than $70k is getting harder.
Dan suggested the very sensible Kia Stinger, which has variants for practicality and performance, while also being well-equipped and spacious. A seven-year warranty helps.
The Jaguar XE is also on Dan’s list, for something with a little more badge prestige.
Scott keeps it simple with a suggestion to go right for the C-Class’ all-wheel-drive rival. He also adds that looking at a Genesis G70 (on the back of Dan’s Stinger) would provide a fun and quite premium-feeling car on a little more of a budget.
What do you think you’d choose as an alternative to each of these five popular cars? Let us know in the comments below!