Dogs & Lemons: The Top 10 New Cars You Should Definitely Not Buy
Below are the top 10 cars you should should absolutely, unequivocally not buy. Not under any circumstances. Not in a blue moon. Not even when there’s permafrost in Hell
Let’s spot the dogs
Australia’s 60-odd automotive brands try to justify why each of the 300 cars on sale today are not just adequate, but allegedly excellent. Even the ones that bark, and scratch and sniff each other’s arses. So, as Elizabeth Regina the Second would say, let’s release the hounds.
There's a massive difference between the marketing spin and the reality - it's a kind of confidence trick, like the elephant in the room. The car companies selling the worst cars are aware - painfully aware - that these vehicles are both dogs and lemons. Yet they will happily sell you one of these third-rate cars and wait patiently for you to discover its inherent deficiencies.
Let's make sure that doesn't happen. Scratch these dogs from your short list, and you're that much more certain to buy a good car instead.
TOP 10 DOG & LEMON CARS TO AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
You can buy a brand new car for under $15 grand - sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. You get that new car smell, and the full factory warranty, but there is a point where buying a used car makes more sense - and $15,000 is that point. Economic rationalism kicks in here. Anything that costs $15,000 or less brand new is going to be eclipsed by a two-year-old used car costing $15 grand. It’s that simple.
So, your Suzuki Alto, your Nissan Micra, your Mitsubishi Mirage - interesting as they are, you’ll be better served by a used car. Often the range of some cheap car spans the $15,000 pricepoint. Take the Kia Rio - always on special driveaway under $15k. That entry-level Rio - with an asthmatic 1.4-litre engine and clunky four-speed auto is hardly a definitive good buy. But the upmarket Rio with a 1.6 and six-speed auto, and all the fruit, it’s a great little car. What a difference another four or five grand ultimately makes. If it’s brand new and $15,000 or less, it’s barking. Don’t buy it.
All South Korean Holdens
Holden right now is like watching Air Crash Investigation in the seconds before someone in First Class accidentally hits the ‘wings fall off’ button. This once-great Australian icon is on the cusp of becoming the country’s third major South Korean car importer - the one without the five-year warranty. The one that’s had no money to invest in R&D for the past five years. The one that comes from the factory that was so on the nose around the world - Daewoo - that GM had to drive a stake through the heart of the brand, and change its name.
Slapping the lion badge on these cheap, under-done imports is the last nail in the Holden coffin. Holden is already shedding customers faster than they drop kilos on The Biggest Loser. If you buy a Barina, a Barina Spark, a Captiva, a Malibu or a Trax, you are making a monumental mistake. Holden’s entire South Korean import inventory does not measure up against the competition.
Anything With the Audi 2.0 TFSI Engine
Anything with the Audi 2.0 TFSI engine. This engine - the ‘T’ stands for ‘turbocharged’ and the ‘FSI’ stands for ‘fuel stratified injection’ - it’s a direct-injected turbo. Everything in engineering is a compromise. And in their zeal to achieve fuel efficiency through reducing internal resistance, the Vorsprung durch technophiles at Audi managed to compromise fundamental engine integrity.
See, the rings and the valve guides need to separate the lubricating oil and the combustion chamber. If you go nuts reducing friction inside an engine, it starts drinking oil like a sailor on shore leave, because it leaks past the rings and valve guides. That’s exactly what the 2.0 TFSI engine has a global reputation for doing. And the fix? Wait for the low engine oil warning light, and add a litre of engine oil. That’s a premium ownership experience right there, don’t you think? Now: rather than just say ‘hey, we got the balance wrong, and we’re gunna fix it, which you could absolutely respect, Audi says ‘move on, nothing for you to see here, this is just normal engine operation’. Really? Kia and Hyundai manage to build turbo, direct injection engines that don’t consume any oil. Go figure. This is a fascinating window into the mindset of a company that puts its reputation ahead of its integrity.
The Ford Territory is the ageing relative on life support, with the doctor is late for that last, fateful consultation. The priest and the fat lady are in the wings. Everything about the Territory screams ‘too little, too late’. It was launched 10 years ago, and since then, Ford has invested 90 per cent of bugger-all in substantive upgrades. All they’ve really done is tweak its hair and makeup a couple of times.
So, buying a Territory is like buying a 10-year-old car with new-car smell. They added a diesel in 2011 - an engine of convenience, an outdated Land Rover / Jaguar powerplant discovered loitering in a far-flung corner of the Ford empire long after its use-by date had expired. The third seating row is a joke, and the Territory is both a reliability and resale value basket case. Do yourself a favour and buy a Hyundai Santa Fe instead. To see why, watch this related video.
From the Polo to the Amarok, Volkswagen has profound quality problems - this is the great secret of the brand first popularised by Adolf Hitler. Basically Volkswagen has growing pains - although it’s the customers feeling it. Sales have leapt ahead off the back of the company’s over-arching objective: which is to be the world’s number one carmaker by 2018.
In Australia in just 10 years from 2004 to 2013 inclusive, Volkswagen sales skyrocketed - up from 8400 in 2004 to almost 55,000 in 2013. That’s better than a six-fold increase, and it’s mainly off the back of an aggressive roll-out of new product aimed at achieving Objective One: World Domination. What a pity the engineering fundamentals just aren’t right. So, it’s like this: if you’re happy with your Volkswagen, you’re likely to be a very happy camper indeed. But if it lets you down you’re likely to be profoundly unhappy. Partly because the problem could be solution-resistant, partly because the parts could take forever to get here, and partly because the dealer network and the company generally are renowned for not really giving a toss about you. Rather than admit the problems and work with you, their strategy is to protect the brand by denying any problem exists. To be fair, all car companies have problems. So, in a sense, buying any car is like playing Russian roulette with reliability. Only, when you buy a Volkswagen, there are so many more bullets loaded into so many more chambers, that the odds of decorating the wall get a lot shorter. But it’s your choice to buy one. It’s not as if anyone’s actually holding a gun at your head.
You need to scratch from your 4WD Ute buying short list any pick-up that's not a Ford Ranger, a Mazda BT-50 or a Holden Colorado. It really is that simple. If you want a contemporary complement of 4WD ute goodies and current engineering best practice: let's call that a five star ANCAP safety rating, six-speed auto transmission and 3.5-tonne tow capacity, plus an engine with more than 400 Newton-metres, only the Mazda, Ford and Holden tick all the boxes. Everything else, at the time of writing, scratches and barks and licks its ... well, you get the idea.
The current Hilux is yesterday's hero, frankly - and none of the others were ever even that. This is not about opinion - objective criteria leads you inevitably to choosing one of these three. The Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, and Isuzu D-Max just don’t measure up.
Range Rover Evoque
Land Rover says, quote: the “Range Rover Evoque can take anything the city can throw at it”. Anything … except of course crashing. It’s not very good at that. Independent Australian crash testing authority ANCAP says, of the Evoque, quote “protection from serious chest injury was marginal for the driver.” ANCAP added, quote: “the bonnet provided predominantly poor protection in the areas likely to be struck by a pedestrian’s head”.
The Range Rover Evoque didn’t even qualify for five stars. After the first crash test it was immediately a five-star scratching - scoring only 12.39 out of 16 in the offset frontal crash test. (You need 12.5 to qualify for five stars.) A Hyundai i30 gets 15.35 out of 16 in the same test, and it’s about a quarter of the price. If you’re buying a premium car, you expect the gold standard on safety. It’s that simple. And here, Range Rover Evoque does not deliver. This is what happens when you get Victoria Beckham to design a car. It’s like getting Kim Kardashian to sit in the big chair at Mission Control. When that happens, the moonshot is guaranteed to go bad; you just know it. So: you could buy this ‘Kim Kardashian’ of Range Rovers … or a vehicle that will actually protect you properly in a crash.
Holden Commodore & Ford Falcon
The jury has returned its verdict here. Sales are a train-wreck in slow motion.
Depreciation is a disaster. Billions of taxpayer dollars - your money, which could have built roads, funded the health system, taken better care of pensioners, or been put to many other productive uses - has been squandered propping up failing factories owned by companies about as Australian as McDonald’s. These cars are a national disgrace - and they have not kept pace with the rest of the market on objective criteria. They’ve been blown into the weeds on value, build quality and reliability. The factories will close. The money’s been blown. The cars are antiques. They’re the 50-year-old soccer mom who hasn’t yet learned that hot pants and a halter top don’t turn mutton into lamb. Buying a Commodore or a Falcon is a joke. Go for a drive in a Mazda6 - that’s what a real family car feels like.
All Sub-$100k BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes & Audis
Premium German cars really are outstanding … provided you spend more than about $100,000. Below that, well, they’re a marketing con. And below $50,000 you really have to ask yourself what ‘premium’ actually means - because equivalent Japanese cars don’t just beat them, they drop thermobaric bombs. Direct hits.
If you analyze a $50,000 premium German car objectively, on measurable criteria, a Japanese car at the same pricepoint just makes it look like someone left the tumble drier on overnight in Dresden. Again. So, if you want a Bavarian Money Waster, the four rings or that much-vaunted three-pointed star, go nuts - provided you can drop $100,000 on the deal. Below that you’re just a badge bunny, and you’ll be sitting on a milk crate, wondering if you should have ticked the box for the optional steering wheel and pedals. Even the dealer will think you’re a loser, at $50k. German cars under $100,000 are a way too anemic in both the Vorsprung and the technik departments. They’re not the ultimate driving machines. And they’re not even engineered as well as Japanese cars. You can see exactly how this plays out in both of these related videos.
Occam’s Razor says: if it barks, if it scratches, if it gnaws on bones and if it takes a whizz on a fire hydrant … you’d better not step in it. It’s something like that. And the leader of this pack of automotive marketplace ‘don’t buy’ dogs is without doubt the Holden Cruze - voted car most likely to catch fire, all around the world.
Even if it doesn't do that, the Cruze is beset on all sides by the inequities of underdone engineering and fundamentally flawed build quality. It’s the car designed and built to keep on letting you down, over and over. If it doesn’t turn into a charred and smoking wreck at the roadside, the transmission might fail, or the engine ECU could fry itself, or a driveshaft might break. That’s always fun. Or any one of a dozen other things could go horribly and expensively wrong.
The Holden Cruze is exhibit A for what happens when a major, global car company drops the ball, goes bankrupt, slashes its R&D budget, hastily adapts a dog of a brand - Daewoo - then slaps on a Holden badge and says "she'll be right, mate". Only, it won't. Exchange the chronic pain of Cruze ownership for something else: buy a Mazda3 or a Hyundai i30 instead. The Holden Cruze is the worst mainstream car on Australian roads, by a country mile. It’s the automotive equivalent of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and if you buy one, it will boil your bunny.
That’s got the dogs on one side and the short-list on the other. And most probably a tsunami of hate mail in the inbox. I always enjoy that. Tell me what you think in the comments section below.