4 cars praised in reviews but sold poorly – Fiesta, Picanto, Kizashi, Stinger
CY Foong · Nov 27, 2021 01:00 PM
Car reviews just like the ones published here can in a way influence whether said car is good or bad. However, while they make good reference points to consumers, the general consumer would still prefer buying one that isn't unfamiliar.
Besides, the cars that we review are normally given to us for a few days so we can’t tell you how it is in the long run unless it’s a long-termer like our very own Cik Tiva.
Some of the cars we review leave quite an impact on us that we simply feel reluctant to hand back the keys. Despite the heaps of praises the car receives, this doesn’t necessarily mean they become an immediate hit on the streets.
After all, there are other factors at play when buying a car and being showered with positive buzzwords from a car reviewer is not convincing enough to some. These 4 models stand out the most and while they are generally good, we’ll also go deeper into why they turned out as flops.
Ford was once highly sought after in Malaysia back in the 1980s and before. While the Escorts and Cortinas were mostly appreciated by older Malaysians, the slightly more youthful among us would recall the greatness that is the Ford Laser.
For many car buyers, the Laser represented a rebellious side that was different from the standard Corollas and Sunnys. Sadly, Ford’s passenger car market took a nosedive in the 1990s and 2000s and the Blue Oval would eventually pull out of the market in 2008.
Sime Darby Auto Connexion (SDAC) took over distribution and sales that same year. Two years later in 2010, the Ford Fiesta would make its local debut and would spark a brief revival of Ford’s glory days.
Pricing for the B-segment hatchback was attractive with 3 variants available starting from RM 69,888 to RM 82,888. The design was modern and funky and the dashboard reminded one of a Nokia or Motorola handphone which was still a thing back in 2010.
The reviews were hot too with the ride and handling being praised for its good damping and wonderful body control. It was so hot that a few members of the media even booked one after reviewing it.
Later on, the turbocharged 1.0-litre EcoBoost and the especially hot ST variants were added to the Fiesta's line-up.
Initially, sales of the Fiesta sounded promising with 500 bookings made prior to the official launch. Though those numbers were taken in Klang Valley, Ford (and SDAC) still had reason to celebrate a fiesta.
Unfortunately, the little Ford began to unravel some major issues down the line. Some included a jerky gearbox especially for the 1.5-litre variants that were equipped with Ford’s PowerShift dual-clutch transmission which became more apparent in stop-start traffic.
There’s also SDAC’s poor aftersales service and parts taking too long to arrive. Said parts are also more expensive than mainstream Japanese cars which is a price to pay for buying a non-mainstream brand.
However, those issues were nothing compared to the issue of the engine’s reliability. Some owners have reported their Fiestas suddenly losing power and stopping in the middle of the road. Some fault lies in the transmission while others with the engine’s timing belt but regardless, this was enough to scare away potential buyers.
In the end, SDAC decided not to bring the next-gen Fiesta into Malaysia. The Blue Oval is once again only reduced to selling the Ranger (and in case you forgot, the Everest) with no plans of passenger cars returning to the market.
Kia Picanto (JA)
Challenging Perodua in the affordable car market in Malaysia is tough. Hyundai attempted twice with the Inokom Atos and the i10 which ended with mixed results but Kia actually produced a winner with the Picanto.
Initially sold as a Kia and rebadged twice as a Naza, the first-gen Picanto would mature itself into the second-gen TA which while a brilliant used car choice is nothing compared to its successor and our choice for this list.
Introduced in January 2018, the Kia Picanto JA was more than just another Korean rival trying to put a hold on Perodua’s dominance. It was a superbly-packaged city car that was priced below RM 50,000.
Despite its price, the Picanto doesn’t feel like a cheap car to be in with reviewers commending its quality and equipment which are leaps ahead of the Myvi, let alone the Axia.
Standard on the Picanto is an infotainment unit with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 6 audio speakers, a reverse camera, automatic headlights, 6 airbags, and all-round disc brakes. Later on, Naza Kia (RIP) introduced the GT Line which added leather seats, a body kit, and a sunroof. All for less than RM 60k.
The praises continued with the Picanto’s powertrain which was only available with a 1.25-litre MPI engine (84 PS/122 Nm) that was hooked to a 4-speed automatic gearbox. Surprisingly, this combination works in the tiny Korean’s favour with a perky and responsive acceleration.
Chuck it in the corners and the Picanto feels like a fun little amusement ride. Having driven one, I can attest to it being quite like a modern-day Kelisa.
As much as reviewers harped on the Picanto’s quality, fun handling, and generous equipment, Malaysians, in general, didn’t want to fork out RM 50k for what was essentially a small city car.
The pricing placed the Picanto closer to the bigger Perodua Myvi 1.3 Premium X variant which started at RM 48,300. Though the King lacked some equipment (4 airbags, Bluetooth audio), most Malaysians prefer getting more space for their ringgit.
The Picanto’s tiny space made it a hard sell for many buyers and there’s also Perodua’s more affordable reliability. While the Picanto felt more solid everywhere you touched, the Myvi’s basic quality isn’t of concern when all it would provide was transport.
Besides, it was also targeted at first-time buyers or those who lived in the city. Unless they want something that really stood out and could afford to pay for the pricey spare parts, it’s not really a choice that many fresh grads would want, what with their meagre pay. Hence, they go for the perceived safer route which is the Big P.
Another reason for the Kia Picanto's failure in Malaysia is Naza Kia itself. The city car was launched at a period when its glory days were very well behind. Thus, the Picanto saw very little promotion which in turn saw fewer buyers.
Eventually, Naza Kia would announce that it was no longer offering the Picanto in Malaysia in March 2020 along with other non-SUV models. Naza would separate itself from Kia entirely in the first half of 2021 with distribution transferred to Bermaz Auto’s Dinamikjaya Motors Sdn Bhd. Whether the Picanto is set to make a return remains unknown.
For the next two entries, their sales failures aren’t restricted to only Malaysia but rather the global market. First up on the block is yet another Kia model, the Stinger, and like many eccentric automotive decisions, it started as a concept.
At the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, Kia unveiled the GT Concept and it was a surprise to many journalists and attendants. Given the strong response, Kia decided to greenlight the concept for production and brought in ex-BMW M Vice President of Engineering, Albert Biermann to develop its grand tourer.
The production version of the Stinger was launched at the 2017 North American International Auto Show with its Malaysian debut arriving 2 years later. Naza Kia brought in two engine variants into the country, the 2.0 T-GDIGT-Line (251 PS/353 Nm) and the 3.3 V6 GT (365 PS/510 Nm). Both engines were paired to an 8-speed automatic that drove the rear wheel.
As Kia’s own answer to the fast-paced German performance sedans, it definitely delivers with a strong performance, agile handling, and a genuinely enjoyable drive. It’s interesting and quirky enough that Doug "Quirks and Features" DeMuro even bought one.
What went wrong?
Kia wanted to compete against the Germans in their own game with a performance grand tourer but it backfired. There’s nothing wrong with the Stinger but it’s shunned merely for one reason – the badge.
Though Kia’s current model line-up are some of the prettiest and the quality is on par with a premium brand, it is still seen as a budget brand in most markets. Models like the Rio, Sorento, and Carnival make sense and offer great value to buyers.
However, the Kia Stinger is baffling to most regular buyers who might scoff at paying RM 240,000 for a Kia no matter how good the reviewers praise it. For most buyers, they could simply top up a few grand for a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Though the 3ers and C-Classes that were close to the price range were base models with either less powerful engines or equipped with fewer features than the Stinger, it’s the image of the brand that played a huge role. The Stinger was well thought out, even in execution, but if it were given a premium badge instead, it might sell more units.
Mention Suzuki and the first car that pops into your head is either a small hatchback (Swift Sport) or a small SUV (Jimny). In fact, you can’t spell small without the letter ‘S’ and that is essentially what the Japanese brand is famous for.
In 2009 though, Suzuki would introduce a model that was intended to lead the company into a whole new direction. It’s even hinted in the name itself – Kizashi means an omen or a sign of something great coming in Japanese.
The Kizashi was Suzuki’s first non-compact model in years and was in fact a D-segment sedan despite its C-segment-like proportions. It was launched in Malaysia in 2012, fully imported from Japan and came with two variants – SDLX (from RM 147,888) and Sport (from RM 158,188).
Both trims were powered by a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine (176 PS/230 Nm) and paired to a CVT automatic gearbox with 6 ratios. The local-spec Kizashi was quite generous in equipment with 6 airbags, electric seats, front/rear parking sensors, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and auto-levelling HID headlamps with washer available as standard.
From a design standpoint, the Kizashi is quite possibly the most beautiful-looking sedan in its class, be it C- or D-segment. The muscular and compact proportions are nothing short of show-stopping and even today, seeing one on the road is a literal head-turner for me.
As for driving the Kizashi, reviewers noted how sensational it was especially in the handling department. Unsurprising then since it was launched at a period when Suzuki was finding some footing following the launch of the ZC21-generation Swift.
Just like the Kia Stinger, the issue with the Kizashi’s failure was the brand’s image. Despite the praises for its design and driving dynamics, Suzuki’s large sedan was largely ignored by buyers.
In Malaysia’s case, the brand was known for its hatchbacks and SUVs, so when the Kizashi was introduced, buyers simply ignored it. Suzuki Malaysia Automobile (SMA) which were Suzuki’s distributor before that agreement with Proton might call this a D-segment sedan but its proportion was just a tad longer than a C-segment sedan.
Compounded with Suzuki’s lack of dealers and you’ll see why the Kizashi was quite a forgotten car despite all of its charms. It’s not a purist’s car unlike say, a Swift Sport but the Kizashi was the best proof of a supposed regular car lauded by the media but ignored by everyone else.
Outside of Malaysia, the international media also showered the Kizashi with praise though so few people bought one and that included India where Suzuki was king. In the end, Suzuki pulled the plug on its flagship in 2016 and has only remained committed with compact cars ever since.
In the end, praise doesn’t necessarily lead to guaranteed sales success as the sheer lack of awareness of these models attest. Some were unpopular in Malaysia due to the disadvantages the distributors received for being an imported model while others were simply lacking the appeal.
However, we will consider these cars to be winners for giving us nothing but smiles and being so unexpected in our brief but memorable time behind the wheel.