For every Ford Ranger or Toyota RAV4 that tops the sales charts, there are myriad vehicles that languish in relative obscurity in Australia.
Some of these vehicles are significantly more popular in other markets and yet barely move the needle here for whatever reason.
This week’s question for the CarExpert team is: which of these vehicles really ought to sell better in Australia?
For this exercise, we’ve looked at vehicles that:
- Currently have a market share of less than four per cent in their respective VFACTS segments
- Were, in their current generation, launched at least two years ago
- Aren’t about to be replaced
That left us with a list of over 60 (!) vehicles, and yet as you’ll see below, not every member of the CarExpert team had a different vehicle.
When Lexus launched in Australia it faced years and years of trying to establish itself against the Germans and, even decades on, the Japanese luxury maker still has not managed to outdo BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
Hyundai’s luxury brand, Genesis, is in a similar boat except it is at the very beginning of its journey and has a long way to go. The difference though, is that Genesis makes some of the absolute best cars in its segments and the GV70 and GV80 are two of my favourite luxury SUVs.
Exceptionally well-priced and appointed, the cars are a step above the Germans in terms of fit and finish and if you love the Bentley-esque look of either, they are a must-drive before you purchase another luxury SUV.
It remains to be seen how long it will take Genesis to become a large contender in the luxury car segment in Australia, but I would suspect that if it can maintain its current technological, design and powertrain advantage, it will overtake Lexus in the next five years once the brand establishment and number of cars on the road has grown substantially.
What I am saying is, go test drive a GV80 if you’re after an X5, GLE and Q7 and come back and tell me if you weren’t incredibly surprised by the quality and luxury.
For me the biggest standout is the Land Rover Discovery.
It feels like one of those vehicles that kind of lost its way in Australia when the design changed so radically. A minor facelift didn’t really fix it either.
It’s the type of SUV that is a jack of all trades and great to drive as well. Let’s hope that Land Rover can sort it out soon!
The Volvo V60 Cross Country is an excellent car, and ticks so many of the boxes mid-sized SUV buyers want ticked.
It has a raised ride, massive boot, and all-wheel drive, but it’s just so much more stylish than a crossover. Sure, Subaru does the Outback and Volkswagen does the Passat Alltrack, but neither of those is nearly as stylish as the Scandinavian special.
Throw in the most comfortable seats fitted to a car on sale in Australia today, a pumping sound system, and a suspension tuned for comfort instead of sportiness, and you’ve got the perfect Grand Tourer.
My god, there’s just so many vehicles that deserve to sell better here in Australia, it seems genuinely unfair to pick just a couple, but here goes. (A couple? You were asked to pick just one! – Ed)
In the more affordable category I can’t get over what an exceptional package the Honda HR-V is. And, as I’ve also shown in our review, it’s not the most expensive in its segment, yet rides and handles brilliantly compared with other makes and models in the same class and gets plenty of good kit to boot.
The fact it’s only a four-seater means it won’t be for everyone, but if you can get over that and the fact it only gets a four-star safety rating (yet comes loaded with active safety features all the same), you’re going to love it.
The Ford Escape is another good-value proposition blessed with good aesthetics, plenty of kit and a great punchy four-cylinder turbo packing good performance.
Any Skoda, too. More interesting than the VW equivalent in my view.
On the prestige side, I’ve been blown away by what Genesis are doing. In particular, the swoopy G80 four-door sedan in Makalu Gray Matte. Forget about Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – the G80 is mostly on another level when it comes to quality, materials and level of detail.
It reminds me of Bentley more than any other make/model – it’s also tens of thousands cheaper than its direct rivals. Not to mention it’s got one of the most refined twin-turbo V6 engines I’ve ever experienced. The paint alone would be a $10,000 option with any other brand in the same league. Genesis charge just $2000 – and it’s the only option.
I’ve also got a soft spot for the Alfa Romeo Giulia – the hi-po Quadrifoglio is such a great car in so many ways from its design to its epic performance.
I think I would have to go the Ford Escape. In particular, the PHEV is very underrated.
In my opinion, the Escape PHEV is the perfect car for those looking to add an electrified vehicle to their garage.
It has large amounts of space, drives great, offers value for money, and Ford actually has them in stock!
It’s really unfortunate that Ford has decided to remove the Escape range from its line-up after 2023.
Quite a few have already talked about the poor reception the Ford Puma and Escape have in Australia, so I won’t go there.
Instead, let’s take a squiz at the Honda Accord. Designed to take on the Camry in the battle to be America’s favourite sedan, the Accord is arguably a better car in terms of handling, ride, and interior and exterior design.
Thanks in part to the Camry’s popularity for fleets, taxis, and rentals, the Toyota had a healthy lead in the US of around 100,000 units per year during the pandemic (roughly 300,000 to 200,000). This gap widened to almost 150,000 cars in 2022 (295,201 to 154,612), partially due to the Accord’s generational change over.
In those same years in Australia, the Accord has managed sales of just 165, 90, and 96, while the Camry recorded 13,727, 13,081, and 9538.
Why? Yes, in Australia you probably can’t go to an outhouse without tripping over a Toyota dealership, and there’s the legacy of Camry’s long local production run, but it’s mainly down to pricing.
The Accord is available in one top-shelf spec priced between $57,000 and $60,000 depending on drivetrain, where the Camry can be had for as little as $36,000. Even just comparing the Accord Hybrid to the top-spec Camry SL Hybrid, the Accord has a roughly $7000 premium. For reference, in America the Accord typically wears a $1000 premium over a similarly-specced Camry.
It seems only Aussies who cling to the notion that Honda are the “Japanese BMW” are willing to stump up the dollarbucks for the Accord.
Imagine withdrawing from the mid-sized SUV segment, the highest-volume segment in Australia, in 2023.
That’s exactly what Ford Australia is doing, and without giving a clear reason why. Supply is at least partially to blame, but Ford Australia has long struggled to gain traction in the mid-sized SUV segment despite having a genuinely good product.
The current Escape could use some finessing, but it makes a strong case for itself in a particularly crowded segment thanks to its gutsy turbo-four engine, its quite resolved plug-in hybrid option, and its competitive dynamics, packaging and technology.
The idea for this week’s question actually came after I drove a Ford Puma again for the first time in a while.
It’s very rare that I get into a small SUV and think, “Gee, I could actually see myself owning this”, and yet the Puma always has me thinking just that.
I’ve had more fun fanging this along Mount Glorious Road than more expensive, more powerful vehicles. It’s easily the most enjoyable vehicle to drive in the light and small SUV segments, even if it has only 92kW to play with from its turbo three-pot.
Runners-up include the Hyundai Palisade, which I find both stylish and well-packaged, and the Genesis G80, which offers a stylish and comprehensively equipped alternative to its European rivals.
If I had to pick my favourite underdog new car currently on sale I’d have to go for the Volkswagen Passat Alltrack. It currently holds a teeny 0.3 per cent market share of VFACTS’ Large SUV segment.
This choice should really come as no surprise given how I’m infatuated with the Subaru Outback XT.
The Passat Alltrack has an absolutely massive boot, and is arguably more practical and sexy than the Tiguan Allspace for example.
I’m also a huge fan of the familiar, yet dated 2.0-litre ‘162TSI’ turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, seven-speed dual-clutch, and all-wheel drive set-up. It’d be nice if Volkswagen Australia still offered a diesel version though.
I understand Volkswagen has been struggling with component shortages over the past few years, but there’s no escaping the fact the Tiguan Allspace currently outsells the Passat Alltrack almost 19 times over.
If we don’t get behind this lifted wagon soon I wouldn’t be surprised if it leaves Australian shores.
It’s a constant bugbear of mine that we have so much choice in Australia yet the buying public tends to follow trends and neglect some figurative diamonds in the rough – of which there are many.
The car I really think deserves to sell better is the Ford Puma, and I call this out above a litany of others because of how significant the compact SUV segments are right now.
Often when brands spawn crossovers off of passenger car platforms, it comes at the expense of performance and dynamic engagement. While the Fiesta is a little pocket rocket, the Puma really keeps that core DNA.
The Ford Puma is the best-handling little SUV out there, no ifs or buts. And we don’t even get the go-fast Puma ST in Australia – c’mon Ford, give us that little green meanie!
It’s also pretty solid value in a world where prices continue to rise; nabbing the entry-level Puma FWD (from $30,840) with the $990 Park Pack gets you a tech-laden little SUV with a punchy three-cylinder engine and class-leading dynamics for under $37,000 on the road.
Special mentions go to the VW Passat Alltrack and Volvo V60 Cross Country – we need to keep these crossover wagons alive.