Buyers' Guide: NZ’s most popular used imports
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When it comes to buying a new set of wheels, many Kiwis look no further than the used import market. Offering a wide variety of makes and models from the likes of Singapore, Australia, the United Kingdom and, more commonly, Japan, these vehicles are often great value for money.
For those who aren’t in the know, a Japanese secondhand import is a car originally sold new on to the Japanese domestic market, then imported secondhand into New Zealand. Because the Japanese road safety tests are so tough, Japanese consumers sell their cars while they are still relatively new, leaving us with what feels like a never-ending stream of imports.
Despite year-to-date 2018 import figures dropping 7 per cent from 2017, they still make up the majority of passenger vehicle registrations, at 59 per cent of overall registrations. With more than 100,000 used imports here this year, we thought we would share the top five.
1. Mazda Axela - (4960 imports)
If you’ve been outside this year, chances are you’ve seen plenty of the popular Mazda compact. The naming Axela is a combination of “accelerate and excellent”, yet you won’t find that badge on a NZ new model — we call it the Mazda3.
The first generation of these models began in 2003 as a replacement of the long-running 323 and Familia range. In 2014 the Mazda3/Axela became Mazda’s fastest-selling vehicle, with cumulative sales of over 4 million units. As for engine size, the Axela was produced in Japan in 1.5, 2.0 and 2.3-litre, ranging from 87kW to the larger 126kW. In 2014 the Mazda3 stood tall and won the NZ Car of the Year.
2. Suzuki Swift (4652 imports)
Coming in a close second, the Suzuki Swift — there’s no hidden meaning behind this name. First launched in 2000, the Suzuki Swift didn’t really take off till 2004 when a new design quickly attracted fans. Cute, small and affordable, it’s easy to see why the Swift would make a great first car.
Engine displacements of 1.3 and 1.5-litre are available, both with a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. At motorway speeds the smaller 1.2 variant may feel slightly underpowered but aside from this, the vehicle has great handling and ride quality for its size.
3. Nissan Tiida (4415 imports)
The name “Tiida” is from the Okinawan language and means “sun”, continuing the naming tradition that started in 1966 with the Nissan Sunny. Sharing the same platform as the French Renault Clio, the Tiida was first produced in 2004, available as a five-door hatchback or four-door sedan.
It remains an importer favourite and for good reason. You get the economy of a hatch and they feel great on the road. Engines include a 1.5 or 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine; the larger can be coupled to a six-speed manual transmission. Nissan also released a Nismo S-Tune Package which included tweaks to its exterior, interior and suspension.
4. Toyota Corolla (3992 imports)
With 44 million Toyota Corollas sold worldwide, it’s no surprise to see this model in the top 5. The name Corolla is part of Toyota’s naming tradition of using names derived from the Toyota Crown for sedans; “corolla” is Latin for “small crown”.
Now in its 12th generation, the Corolla is available in hatch, sedan and wagon varieties. Although the Corolla has been New Zealand’s best-selling passenger car for years on end, it has never won NZ Car of the Year.
5. Mazda Demio (3967 imports)
The name “Demio” is derived from the Latin “meus” which shows possession; in many Romance languages it has become “mio.” Kiwis call this one a Mazda2. It was launched in 1996 and was crowned NZ Car of the Year in 2007 and even World Car of the Year in 2008. Known for its economy, it has 1.3 and 1.5-litre engine variants, paired to either a CVT automatic, four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual.