As we close the year 2019, let’s take a look back at some of the cars that left a good impression on us. The criteria is quite simple – cars that exceeded our expectations.
We are not just talking about performance, but cars that did what they are designed to do exceedingly well. So if a humble entry level budget car was found to be way ahead of its closest competitor, it deserves to be on the list.
Note that the list is sorted alphabetically.
Ford Ranger WildTrak
A pick-up truck shouldn’t ride and drive this well. Even when judged by today’s very high standards for a pick-up truck, the Ford Ranger WildTrak deserves to be in another class altogether.
Put it this way, the Ford Ranger WildTrak is the pick-up truck that the Mercedes-Benz X-Class should have been. Thankfully Mercedes-Benz Malaysia was wise enough to not bother with that terrible product.
With 213 PS, the Ford Ranger WildTrak is a proper performance truck that still offers a high level of go anywhere capability. Flash floods? Pfft.
Inside, it’s quieter than even a Honda CR-V, while materials are better than a Nissan X-Trail, but we were even more impressed by the sound system.
Honda HR-V Hybrid
Don’t let the hybrid designation fool you. The Honda HR-V Hybrid drives better than any of its B-segment rivals, better than even the larger 2.0-litre engine capacity Mazda CX-3.
Forget about the HR-V RS. If the missus insists on having a taller riding practical car but at the same time driving excitement is important to you, the HR-V Hybrid with its instantaneous torque delivery is what you want.
On the move, the instantaneous torque boost from the electric motor makes the HR-V Hybrid feels a lot more powerful than its 152 PS and 190 Nm suggests.
Best of all, it’s still the most practical and most spacious in its class. Best of both worlds? Almost. We still can’t overlook the poor infotainment though.
Mazda CX-5 Turbo
It has an interior that feels more expensive than a Mercedes-Benz GLC 200, packs over 30 PS more power and 100 Nm more torque than the base model GLC, is better equipped, but nearly RM 100k cheaper. What more do you want?
Remember that you don’t even get keyless entry or 360-degree camera in the GLC 200.
But it’s not just about power figures or value for money. Few other SUVs make you feel one with the car as well as the Mazda. No other SUV on this side of the quarter million Ringgit mark comes close to matching the CX-5 Turbo. It’s that good.
Despite its size it's not as spacious inside as a Honda CR-V but are you a keen driver or are you someone else's driver?
Expensive price tag is not a prerequisite to be included on this list. The new 2019 Proton Saga has, in our opinion, executed one of the most impressive improvements on an aging platform.
It’s amazing how the new Hyundai-sourced, old-tech 4-speed automatic transmission, and the sum of many smaller improvements have erased the previous Saga's rubbish driving character.
Fuel efficiency is not synonymous with the Saga but it should be now. On highways, the new Saga now averages a ridiculously low 5-litre plus per 100 km. Even if its fuel consumption in urban driving is still poor (averaging high 7 litres plus per 100 km, easily), it’s still mighty impressive overall.
More importantly, the Saga now drives far better than its archrival the Perodua Bezza. At highway speeds, the Saga handles like it’s a car from one segment above – solidly planted with a supple ride, it doesn’t drive like a budget car at all.
The denim-like material fabric seats are lovely and you wouldn’t believe the surprisingly good sound system has just 4 speakers.
Some bugs remain. Ambient lighting is nonexistent at the rear seats and the cabin light shines on your eyes rather than the cabin. Infotainment’s user interface is poor, but will we choose this over a Perodua Bezza? Hell yes.
Unless you are talking about a WRX, the bread and butter (I rather call it rice and vege) Subaru SUVs are not known for their superior engines, novel ‘boxer’ cylinder arrangements aside.
Subarus are known to have tiny boots and cramped cabins that are noisy too. Not so with the latest generation Subaru Forester.
Riding on an all-new Subaru Global Platform and a new direct injection engine that drives a lot better than the numbers suggests, the latest Subaru Forester is in many ways better than the default choice of many SUV shoppers - the Honda CR-V.
For one, the Subaru Forester is a lot quieter – again not something you would expect a Subaru to excel in. The interior is very spacious. Still not as big as a Honda CR-V but certainly bigger than a Mazda CX-5, or even a Proton X70.
Few will believe this, which is a shame but it is true. The Toyota Camry is now the new benchmark in ride and handling for family sedans. No, the Mazda 6 no longer has the right to that title.
Criticisms against its ‘old’ engine are exaggerated. Yes, it could have been better. The Mazda 6’s 2.5-litre sounds nicer but the tweaked 184 PS/235 Nm 2AR-FE engine is still plenty fast enough, and the linear power delivery is lovely.
The new generation of Toyota’s electric power assisted steering tuning is now the best in the industry, so is its ride. It’s more comfortable, quieter and handles better than even a Mercedes-Benz C200. Even the driver’s seat are better sculpted and offer better support.
Of course, badge snobs will dismiss it simply because of archaic impressions formed based from past Camry models. The Toyota Camry is a sports sedan that old brains set in their ways will refuse to acknowledge.
For those who are open to adapting to a new world order, the Camry is a car that you don’t mind driving out for yet another tuition class/swimming lessons run for your kids. It makes mundane journeys an intimate experience between you and the car.
Toyota GR Supra
Yes it carries BMW VIN plates and has a BMW interior. But put it this way, Toyota has built a better BMW than BMW themselves. Sacrilegious? Only if you can’t look beyond the badge.
The evidence? Does BMW Malaysia sell the Z4 with six cylinders? Is the Z4, irrespective of whatever engine it comes with, the product of BMW’s best and brightest? We all know the answer.
For BMW, the Z4 is just another convertible, a product to plug the gap in their line-up, a product that sits in a diminishing segment but yet at the same time, BMW is not quite ready to abandon the segment yet and thus needed Toyota to share the development cost with.
For Toyota, the GR Supra is a car that big boss Akio Toyoda wants to build very badly, but needs to partner with BMW to make the economics work. They gave it their best.
There are subtle differences between the motivation of BMW and Toyota, and it shows. To an enthusiast driver, the difference is like day and night.
Just because two master chefs cook using the same ingredients doesn’t mean that their food will taste the same. Likewise with the Toyota GR Supra and BMW Z4.
Toyota has taken BMW parts, simmered their own magic, and made it more engaging car to drive. The Toyota Supra is the most driver’s centric, most fun to drive BMW in recent times. It’s the BMW than the old school team at Munich, had they remain in charge, would have built.