We often overlooked how much progress today’s automotive technology have made. It wasn’t very long ago that any car with over 100 PS of power and accelerates from 0-100 km/h in under 10 seconds is considered impressive.
The original hot hatch, the Volkswagen Golf GTI made headlines with its 110 PS and a 0-100 km/h time of 9.6 seconds.
Today’s nondescript family cars offer performance that thirty years ago, was the domain of sports cars, even if the specifications don’t suggest anything remotely exciting.
Here’s a list of cars that’s very practical for family hauling duties, and still deliver an engaging drive, listed in no particular order.
Honda HR-V Hybrid
From RM 120,800
(monthly repayment RM 1,260)*
The Honda HR-V Hybrid doesn’t look like much but it actually makes more power than the supposedly sportier BMW 118i (F20), whose 1.5-litre turbocharged engine makes 136 PS versus the Honda HR-V Hybrid’s 152 PS (combined output, engine and electric motor).
Forget about the HR-V RS. If driving engagement is what you seek, the Honda HR-V Hybrid is the better choice.
The 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is snappy quick and offers a very direct feel. The added electric motor’s torque boost (190 Nm in total) gives the direct injection engine a very responsive, deep reserve of on-demand torque character.
The improved suspension also maintains a comfortable ride while yet offering good body control.
Thanks to Ultra Seats, the Honda HR-V's cabin also swallows more cargo than some SUVs from one class higher, never mind its same class rivals. It’s a good family car for keen drivers, even if the infotainment is disappointing.
From RM 139,788
(monthly repayment RM 1,450)*
<With 156 PS and 196 Nm, it's quick enough. It also comes with EyeSight, which adds autonomous emergency braking.
Being a Subaru, it will also last long enough for you to pass it down to your kids, assuming you don’t skimp on maintenance.
It better to drive than the Honda CR-V, and it’s a lot quieter too.
Why is the Mazda CX-5 not on the list? That's because the Mazda CX-5's cabin is too tight inside for its class. While the Mazda's interior is certainly more expensive than any of its peers, and it drives very well too especially the CX-5 Turbo, but practical cabins are not Mazda's forte.
The Subaru Forester has a far more practical interior, with a bigger cabin, bigger boot and more useable utility bins.
And being a Subaru, the Forester is also a little bit more special than the sea of Honda CR-Vs and Mazda CX-5s on our roads.
Comfortable, reasonably spacious, handles twisty roads very well. What more does a keen driver want?
Just because you have a kid on the way, doesn't mean that you need 7-seater or a fuel guzzling SUV. There are many sedans that are just as practical, and burn less fuel, offer a more comfortable ride and drives better than SUVs/MPVs - mainly because it's lower and thus have less lateral motion.
If you want to set yourself apart from the SUV-driving aunties and uncles in your neigbourhood, get a sedan, or a hatchback.
The Honda Civic is a properly youthful looking sedan for young drivers. Its low ride height makes gives a sporty driving position and it’s not something for people with aching joints. Its certainly not a car for those who aren’t fit.
Inside, it’s more spacious that any of its same class rivals, with ample cubby holes and a deep centre console box, The huge 519 litres boot is low and wide, which makes loading easier than an SUV. Being a sedan, there is also no concern about opening the boot in tight spaces.
It’s also the most powerful in its class, with 173 PS of power and 220 Nm of torque.
The new Honda Civic with Sensing and LaneWatch is supposed to be launched this year, but like many things related to the government, there have been serious delays in obtaining the necessary price approvals.
From RM 196,88
(monthly repayment RM 2,040)*
Surprised that the stereotypical uncle’s car is on the list? You have to drive the latest Toyota Camry to understand why.
Ignore the chatter from folks who comment more than they drive, the Toyota Camry is now a driver’s car, better than anything else in its class, including the Mazda 6, at least in terms striking a better balance between agility and comfort. Stereotypes are hard to change, but it's important to stay up to date.
Why the Mazda 6 isn’t on the list? The Mazda 6 is actually more agile, with a sharper steering but for longer distance drives, the Camry felt calmer, yet maintaining a high level of driver engagement.
But what tilts our decision to the Toyota Camry’s favour is its more spacious interior, which if you are looking for a family car, is more important than the Mazda 6’s prettier and more expensive looking interior. The Camry’s taller roofline also makes it better suited for family duties.
The Toyota Camry also comes with more safety features and driving aids, adaptive cruise control included.
Kia Grand Carnival
From RM 159,888
(monthly repayment RM 1,600)*
When it comes to MPVs, there is nothing else more practical than a Nissan Serena. In fact, if you are a parent, you should be looking towards vehicles with sliding doors, because it makes the task of loading and strapping toddlers into their child seats so much easier.
With sliding doors, your baby might also grow up smarter, since you will be less likely to bump the poor baby’s head against the door frame.
As practical as the Nissan Serena is, not many can accept its styling and mini bus-like driving dynamics.
The Kia Grand Carnival is the solution to that. It drives very much like a regular sedan, and still comes with sliding doors.
With 200 PS and 440 Nm from a 2.2-litre turbo diesel, it’s no slouch either. The only problem is that the Kia Grand Carnival designed mainly for the American market – it’s longer and wider than even a Toyota Alphard/Vellfire.
In Malaysia, this means that parking the Kia Grand Carnival requires more precision, since there’s no 360-degree camera (but it has a regular reverse camera).
*monthly repayments calculated based on a 9-year tenure, 2.7% interest rate