2016’s five most underrated cars
Thursday Five: cars that we should appreciate a little bit more
It’s very difficult for manufacturers to make a bad car these days. There are that many different intricate little regulations for products to meet, that many media organizations crafting comparisons, and that many shared platforms in existence that everything that gets squeezed out inadvertedly ends up pretty similar.
But all that does is help emphasize things like the way a car is marketed and the direction in which consumer perception falls. And quite often that can see certain cars fall under the radar, labelled a certain way for reasons seemingly unknown.
So for today’s Thursday Five, here are five cars that don’t really get the accolades they deserve in the public eye.
Subaru Impreza WRX
Photo / Matthew Hansen
The current Impreza WRX doesn’t enjoy the same pedestal treatment as past generations. It was never hooned through the wood on a world stage by Colin McRae or Possum Bourne, and it currently wears its most conservative design ever. Some would call it ‘grown up’, but others would say it looks like a Corolla.
But it’s still the athlete it always was, despite the beige onesie. What needs to be understood is that Subaru needs to sell these things en masse, and they’ll (sadly) sell more of them if they come in a more relatable dress. And let’s be honest, every time someone buys this over an equivalent five-door econobox, it’s a win for the motoring enthusiast.
The STI will exist for decades to come for those of us who want a car that shouts, but the WRX is still a player.
Photo / Ted Baghurst
BMW’s new M2 is a very popular and lovable thing — and you know that. So why’s it on the list? It’s on the list because I don’t think we quite rate it high enough.
The baby of the Bavarian marque’s M Division, the M2 is a sort-of successor to the much loved 1M Coupé. But for many, it’s the closest thing to a modern equivalent of the M3 nameplate’s E30–E46 heyday.
The last few generations of the M3 as well as the current M4 have fallen foul of motoring purists, who deem them to be too technology focused (me? I’d still take one … ). But you can’t really criticize BMW in that instance, because they’re just following convention and doing what their rivals at Mercedes-Benz and Audi are doing with their performance flagships.
But the M2 is different. To cut down some of the costs, the M2 skips over much of the tech in the M4, and that oddly enough helps produce what’s arguably the best drivers car in the M line-up. That is a huge, huge accomplishment from one of BMWs smallest cars.
Holden VF Commodore
Car culture lore is capable of all sorts of things. On one end of the scale, it can make cars into something more that can touch the soul. On the other, it can be used as an excuse to be a bit of a jerk.
The Holden Commodore (and to a similar degree the Ford Falcon) are a case in point. In isolation they’re good cars, but when injected onto roads in Australia and New Zealand, a particular segment of the car world frowns upon you.
Negativity tends to come in the shape of questions over whether you’re a mullet-wearing bogan, putting away cans of Jim Beam in world-record time. But there’s also a general inconsiderate vibe that sees people wondering if you’re a bit simple. Like you only made the purchase because you don’t comprehend that Europe do the whole large-rear-wheel-drive-car thing so much better.
Not only is that a silly way to think, it’s also a subjective point — some publications that do rate the Commodore and Falcon as potential world-beaters. And several of those publications, like Motor Trend, are even overseas-based, making those arguments even more compelling. This is a world-class car.
Photo / Ted Baghurst
While the WRX loses internet points for looking bland, the i3 loses its points for looking weird.
It’s strange really. You don’t need to fig very deep to find people who complain that every car designed this side of the millennium looks exactly the same. You’d think therefore that something that looks completely different and crazy would get praised, but alas.
I guess in some respects, designing something that looks like nothing else on the road deserves a bit of stick. The current Toyota Prius, for example. But, the i3’s quirk is one I want to bear hug each and every time one silently skips past me on the road. In the same way that pugs are fundamentally hideous, but somehow still get labelled cute.
What makes the i3 great is that it lives and dies by its premise of 'saving the planet'. Bolstering its fully electric drivetrain and zero emissions are things like the use of recycled materials and hemp inside and carbon-fibre reinforced plastic outside.
Sure it's not a cheap car, but it's a car with a lot of soul.
Pretty much the whole Kia range
Photo / Ted Baghurst
The whole 'Korean cars have come a long way since they were an automotive punchline in the ’90s' line of dialogue is a tired overused cliché. But, like most tired overused clichés, it's also entirely true.
Hyundai and Kia have both been hitting some incredible marks with their cars in recent years, but Kia's current range in particular strikes a chord with just about everyone in the Driven office. The big boy Sorento is a handsome and well rounded member of its class, the Optima continues to out-style and out-price its opposition, the Rio is one of the few supermini's I'll happily recommend to anyone, and the Sportage is on its way to being a market leader — even with a frog-like appearance that initially divided the office.
Of course, none of these statements should surprise anyone given the meteoric rise in quality of cars from both Hyundai and Kia in recent years. But you'd be surprised by how many people still don't believe the cliché.