Think of them as the Daniel Ricciardos, Valterri Bottas’ and Hulkenbergs of this world. Or, if you don’t follow F1, picture them as any number of YouTube or talent show sensations that just needed a stage to shine on. These are cars that just given a chance, could delver more smiles per mile than more popular ones in the playground. So in no particular order, I present to you, my top 5.
Volvo have always been like that talented child star or comedian that were so good at what they did, they got trapped in their own success, chosen for the same role over and over again. But give them a chance to perform outside the box, and they can really be so much more than the stereotype––much in the same way that Robin Williams eventually became more acclaimed for his dramatic roles than he ever was for comedy, and Neal Patrick Harris became more popular than Doogie Howser.
The XC60 rides and handles every bit as good, if not better, than its European rivals, but has a keen pricing advantage. Also, there’s that incredible 2.0 liter 240hp Ecoboost engine that is also found in the luxurious Range Rover Evoque, that for some reason, is never communicated.
Throw this together with an 8-speed gearbox, sharper and more direct steering, plus the segment’s first pedestrian detection safety system and city stop function that prevents low speed accidents by braking for you, and you have enough best in class features to make it an extremely smart choice.
2. Peugeot 508
What? Exactly. But when was the last one you tried one?
I took this out for a week and everywhere I went, people looked it over and said, “I’d still go for a 5 series or an E class,” not knowing that price wise, it is similar to a Camry. Plus it’s a diesel. And a very thrifty one at that.
Like Volvo, Peugeots are understated European luxury cars that just get the job done. Inside, it is a little bare, but there’s no mistaking it for European. If you’re after more oomph and panache, just throw a few more coins for the more powerful GT version, because even if the equipment levels don’t convince you, a quick stab of the throttle will torque you into it.
The only reservations I get from folks is: “What about parts and service?” So far, I haven’t heard any complaints. But the more reassuring news is, Asian Carmakers Corporation have a ton of money invested in this brand locally, and as new players, are still in the courting phase. This means they are bending over backwards in service and after-sales, and probably explains how they can afford to have their pricing as aggressive as Cedric Lee.
3. Kia Carens
I’m surprised I don’t see more of these on the roads. Perhaps it is trapped in a segment where Innova writes the rules, but if you are willing to step out of the weight class, this is a pound for pound champion.
Dimensions alone will tell you it is not quite an Innova, but as a compact MPV with seven seats, it comes with the most refined and thrifty diesel engines on the market today. It offers a very car-like ride and drive, and even the entry level model comes with all sorts of goodies like start stop button, Bluetooth audio, three different settings for the steering feel, while a little more cash gets you a panoramic sunroof, paddle shifters and full leather trim.
4. Lexus IS350
I struggled to include this on the list. I really did. You see, the problem is, if everyone gets in on the secret, this may no longer be the best bang for your buck sports sedan in the country and may create a waiting list longer than a new J Co donut branch.
Sit inside and you’re welcomed into an interior and instrument display that could have been plucked straight out of an LFA. It is one of the most involving driving positions and engaging cockpits out there. And it needs to be. Because with over 300hp being poured into the rear wheels through an incredibly snappy 8-speed direct shift transmission with paddle shifters, the IS F sport delivers a rewarding driving experience that its competitors would need to charge you double to match.
Lexus have always built exceptional cars. It is only recently that they have learned to engineer emotional ones. But keep it between us for a while. At least until I can afford one.
5. Chevrolet Spin
Another one that had to try and play with the big boys. It takes a mighty big pair of ball bearings to stand up to the Avanza, but that is precisely what the this little Chevy dared to do this year. But with the marketing budget the size of the Avanza’s tire valve caps, the Spin always faced an uphill climb ahead.
But if you’re after an honest, no-frills work horse that just gets the job done with as little fuss as possible, then you really need look no further than this clever little AUV. It features 23 different seating configurations and more storage spaces and compartments than a Swiss Army knife. There is a higher end 1.5 liter version, but I chose the diesel because of its incredible fuel consumption and the fact that it is the only one in its class.
6. The Jaguar XF 2.2 diesel
Yep, I never thought I’d see a Jag here either. Until I found out that I could get what is essentially a 5 series rival for roughly the same price as a 320D. Then the ball game changed.
Officially, it is listed at over way over 4M, but between you and I, with the new Jag XE that is coming out, you could get yourself the deal of the decade if you play your cards right. Just don’t say it was me who let the cat out of the bag.