Eight great cars that aren't German

Looking beyond the usual luxury brands from Germany opens up a rich world of fine alternatives


IF YOU'VE only ever aspired to having an MBA - meaning a Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi - then you might be short-changing yourself.

While the three German brands above (and increasingly, Porsche) seem synonymous with luxury in the motoring world, cars from other manufacturers are often just as good, and sometimes even better.

Factor in the premium that German brands charge, and it's easy to see that a simple way to get more motoring for your moolah is to forgo that MBA for something else. These eight non-German cars offer more for less.

Alpine A110

Quite possibly the best sports car you've never heard of, the Alpine A110 is a French take on driving pleasure. The emphasis here is on keeping weight low and well-distributed; the A110 weighs only 1.1 tonnes, and its engine sits behind you, just like in a Formula One racing car.

The light weight means it doesn't need a big engine, nor big brakes, nor huge wheels with fat tyres . . . you get the idea. Despite a modest 252 horsepower from a 1.8 litre engine, the Alpine scampers to 100 kmh in 4.5 seconds, and it dances through corners like a thing alive. Drive it and you'll discover the true meaning of "light speed".

Kia Niro EV

Kia's first electric vehicle (EV) here isn't merely a strong contender in its market, but the best of the bunch. It exemplifies typical EV virtues: smooth, near-silent acceleration and low running costs.

It's also more spacious and comfortable than its main rivals, and can easily exceed 400 km on a full charge - most owners would never have to plug it in more than once a week.

There's a catch, however. Importer Cycle & Carriage doesn't offer test drives, and only sells them on special order. So you'll just have to take it from us: If you want an EV for less than S$200,000, the Kia offers the most go for your dough.

Mazda 3

It's handsome and good to drive, but what really impresses about the new Mazda 3 is its interior. It's modern and clean inside, the cabin materials ooze quality, and the controls have a precision about them.

Every Mazda 3 here also comes with mild hybrid technology that saves a small amount of fuel, but also gives the car a slight boost during acceleration and smoother engine starting.

Similar systems are only found in some Audi and Mercedes models.

DS Automobiles DS 7 Crossback

If the French know one thing, it's how to design luxury goods. Yet, for some reason, the idea hasn't applied to the world of cars. Perhaps DS Automobiles can change that. The upscale division of the Peugeot-Citroën group has tried to distill what makes Louis Vuitton or Chanel great and put it into the DS 7 Crossback.

The result is a handsome car with a sumptuous interior full of fine materials and plenty for the eye to linger on. The DS 7 Crossback is also packed with worthwhile kit, such as massage chairs up front and electrically reclining rear seats.

Turbo engines make every version lively to drive, and the DS 7 also has a suspension system that scans the road with cameras so the shock absorbers can adjust themselves for upcoming bumps. That's an idea that originated in the Mercedes S-Class, which goes to show that though the Germans have sewn up the luxury car market, they don't have a monopoly on cutting edge technology.

Skoda Octavia RS 245

It's arguable if the Octavia belongs on this list since it's a German car in anything but name. Under the bonnet is a more powerful version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI's engine, and the two cars share the same basic structure.

It's not as nimble as a Golf but in typical Skoda fashion the Octavia RS offers stupendous value for money with lots of equipment, an enormous boot, a spacious cabin and a lusty heart with 245 horsepower. If you can find more car than this for S$129,900 with COE, let us know.

Infiniti QX50

If Toyota set out to slay Mercedes with its Lexus division, then you might think of Infiniti as Nissan's answer to BMW. The brand's cars have always had a sporty streak that runs through its product line to this day.

The QX50 is a terrific example. Although it's tuned more for ride comfort than sporty handling, it has a gem of an engine that feels smooth and tireless. The exotic engineering makes the QX50 worth test driving for the engine alone. The technology may be difficult to describe, but it's easy to appreciate from behind the wheel.

Range Rover Sport

A gentle facelift for the Range Rover Sport means it doesn't look radically new, but its cabin now has a sleek dual touchscreen interface and there's a silky smooth new engine under the hood.

It's one of the most advanced engines in existence, with a mild hybrid drive system to cut fuel consumption but add oomph. It also has an electric supercharger for instant boost, and emits 75 per cent fewer particulates (the stuff that makes the haze so awful) than the engine it replaces.

Perhaps more to the point, the new engine produces 400 horsepower, which gives the Range Rover Sport a turn of speed that befits its name.

Volvo V60

Wagons are a rare breed in Singapore, but Volvo tends to do them right. The new V60 is roomy enough to be useful, but doesn't look utilitarian. The range-topping T5 model is even fun to drive, thanks to a brawny engine with 250 horsepower and the reassuring traction of all-wheel drive.

As you'd expect from a Volvo, it's packed with safety systems, and worldwide the V60 tends to outsell its S60 sedan sibling two-to-one. Time to jump on this (band)wagon?

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