Underrated cars that deserve greater success

opinion
Seven vehicles that should be attracting more buyers than they managed in 2019
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There are hundreds of cars out there to choose from, so it’s hardly a shock that many laudable ones don’t sell nearly as well as they deserve to.

Based on 2019’s industry sales figures, here are some of the standouts. They may not necessarily be the very best in class, but they do deserve more sales.


Skoda Fabia

This Czech city car has been around for a few years, and the new-generation Volkswagen Polo is a clear step-change, but the Skoda remains a great-value first car (from $17,490 drive-away with a five-year warranty) that drives well and offers five-star safety.

It also gets autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control as standard, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a punchy little turbo engine, and even comes in a unique wagon body style as an option. You can also get a sporty-looking Monte Carlo derivative.

All of this means that the 645 sales it managed in 2019, equivalent to just 1.1 per cent market share (the Polo outsold it 9:1, and the Toyota Yaris 15:1), were way too low for comfort.


Ford Focus

Ford launched a new-generation Focus hatch and wagon family last year, which was sourced from Germany and billed as a semi-premium offering just like a Volkswagen Golf.

While it lacks the VeeDub's interior tactility and rear multi-link suspension (ST-Line wagon and Active crossover excepted), it offers typically sharp dynamics, a cracking little three-cylinder engine, modern interior tech, and reasonable pricing considering what you get.

Yet Australians only bought 3682 of them last year, equal to 2.4 per cent market share. That ageing Golf that’s due for replacement outsold it 4:1, while the Toyota Corolla outsold it more than 8:1. A shame. May the new ST version help!


Jaguar XE

Does the Jaguar XE outpoint the BMW 3 Series? Not in my view. But its updated interior and clearer variant walk mean it’s a more compelling proposition than ever.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the British sedan still has brilliant handling and steering characteristics, and offers genuine outsider appeal in a segment dominated by understated Germans.

So the fact Jag sold 394 of them here last year, equal to 2.3 per cent market share, seems unduly low. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class outsold it 17:1, the 3 Series by 8:1, and even the (also underrated) Lexus IS outsold it 2:1.


Citroen C5 Aircross

Does anyone even know this car exists? This mid-size SUV launched in July, and yet only 45 were counted as sold. That’s not even 0.1 per cent market share.

This is an offering that we gave 8.3 out of 10 in our first review, which blends striking design and a funky cabin, plentiful equipment, and even reasonable value.

Clearly, it was always going to be a niche proposition against rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan and Mazda CX-5, but surely it’s better than this!


Volkswagen Passat Alltrack

In my opinion, this is the second-best SUV Volkswagen offers locally (after the new Touareg). It’s an affordable alternative to an Audi A6 Allroad with plenty of premium feel.

Its diesel engine offers heaps of poke, its design straddles the line between SUV and wagon nicely, and its interior and driving dynamics are on point.

It’s a bit of a crime that Subaru’s Outback – no slight on this well-considered car – outsold it 25:1 last year, registering 7210 sales compared to the Volkswagen’s paltry 284.


Peugeot Expert

It’s not a surprise that this new French van is overlooked, since tradies take lots of convincing and it’s a new nameplate.

But having recently driven one alongside the top-selling Toyota HiAce, it’s a worthy niche alternative. It has all the latest driver-assistance tech, a standard bulkhead, a really frugal and quiet diesel engine, and decent pricing.

The 100 sales it managed last year equated to 0.5 per cent share, and fellow French van the Renault Trafic (admittedly with a whole year of sales unlike the Peugeot) outgunned it nearly 20:1.


SsangYong Musso

Controversial, yes. It may look gawky, but Korea’s only pick-up offers surprising levels of refinement and interior tech for the price, its in-house diesel engine is unexpectedly strong, and its warranty is seven years.

With a localised suspension tune, cosmetically appealing body add-ons, and a bigger network of dealers all possible, there’s no reason why its sales can’t improve. And they should.

So, expect the Musso and longer-tray Musso XLV’s 545 sales last year (0.3 per cent share, seven times lower than the LDV T60) to grow. If you can overlook the badge and the looks, it’s better than you might think.