The underdogs: six excellent – yet overlooked – cars on the local market

There are plenty of new cars for sale in SA that represent exceptional value for money, bundled into a competent package. They get showered with praise, and rightly so. After all, stars deserve to shine brightly. However, there are one or two stars that go unnoticed, hiding their light under an automotive bushel.

We put the spotlight on a handful of these extraordinarily good vehicles, that go largely unnoticed by the South African buying public.

Mazda Mazda2

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The Mazda2 is a joy to throw around in the bends and offers high levels of refinement.

Mazda’s smallest offering is an absolute hoot to drive. The 1,5-litre four-pot is full of character and economical, too. The Hazumi – which retails for R368,900 – is equipped with features one would expect to find in a luxury sedan. The range-topper ships standard with six airbags, lane departure warning, a head-up display, navigation and keyless-go.

The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and exploits the 85 kW/148 Nm of torque nicely. Good looks, a practical cabin and gorgeous detailing seals the deal. The base-model Active offers great value at R275,100.

Mazda CX-5

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Mazda knows a thing or two about interiors, as evidenced by the CX-5. There’s an overriding sense of quality within the cabin.

The CX-5 feels more premium than the price tag would suggest. The base model, 2.0-litre petrol Active kicks off at R455,000. But it’s the halo 2,2DE AWD Akera (R676,100) that steals the show. Mazda’s oil-burner is a revelation. The four-cylinder turbodiesel is wonderfully refined and smooth.

It’s frugal, too – sipping just 5.7 litres/100 km. Aside from a rather intrusive (and annoying) start/stop system, there is very little to dislike about the CX-5 Akera. The stylish exterior is matched by the sophisticated and classy interior. You’d be hard-pressed to find an unpleasant feeling surface. Soft-touch plastics and leather are the order of the day. A full suite of safety and luxury features are standard, including an automatic tailgate.

Hyundai i30N

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Hyundai’s first-ever hot hatch will stir your soul and have you making up excuses to take it out for a drive – it’s wonderful to pilot.

Hyundai – known for their practical hatchbacks and sensible family SUVs – aren’t associated with the hot hatch like other brands. Take VW, for instance. The GTI badge is known across the world and represents attainable performance. When the i30N was launched, many had their doubts. My goodness, were they wrong.

The i30N delivers astonishing performance. Left in its ‘normal’ setting, the Hyundai is happy to potter around town quietly. However, flick it into ‘N’ mode and the i30 comes alive. The steering is precise, offering plenty of feedback. Mated to a brilliant six-speed manual, the 202 kW turbocharged 2,0-litre shoves the i30N down the road with authority, while pops, bangs and crackles fall out of the exhaust.

Kia Grand Sedona

Kia’s Grand Sedona offers warehouse-like space and first-class luxuries.

If you have a large family but don’t fancy driving around in a ubiquitous SUV, there aren’t many choices out there. At the higher end of the market is the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and Volkswagen Calfornia. Both are wonderful to drive – and be driven in. But if you’re hoping to find yourself behind the wheel of a well-equipped example, you’ll need to fork over R1 million plus.

The more utilitarian, commercial Ford Tourneo and Hyundai H1 will both serve the same purpose but won’t match the refinement levels of the aforementioned Germans. That’s where the Kia Grand Sedona comes in. With a starting price of R728,995, the Korean people-carrier offers the best of both worlds – value for money and luxury.

The interior feels solid and the 2,2-litre turbodiesel is hushed and economical. If seven seats aren’t enough for you, Kia will sell you one that seats 11 people in comfort.

Volvo S90 D4 Momentum

The S90 is a masterclass in understated, elegant Swedish design.

The S90 is aimed squarely at the German trio that dominate the executive car class. The 5 Series, A6 and E-Class still govern this segment, leaving the handsome Volvo often ignored. But the S90 has plenty going for it. Good looks aside, the interior is plush and well-equipped. The D4 Momentum, as standard, has automatic LED headlamps, navigation, adaptive cruise control and much more – for just R849,700.

Yes, that’s plenty of money, but consider this. The S90 D4 Momentum costs a whopping R140,000 less than its closest rival (the 520d), and is actually priced closer to the 320d and C220d – smaller sedans that can’t match the Volvo for rolling refinement and interior space. In fact, you could opt for the Inscription trim level, and still save yourself nearly R70,000 over a similarly-engined 5 Series.

Toyota GR Supra

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The Supra shares its 3,0-litre straight-six with numerous BMW models.

To the PlayStation generation, few motoring names are as evocative as ‘Supra’. The Japanese sports car has always followed the classic recipe. Straight-six up front, sleek roofline and rear-wheel drive. The latest model is no different – from the outside, at least. Under the pretty body, the Supra shares plenty of its components with BMWs Z4. Both are built in Austria and utilise the glorious B58 powertrain.

While there are many skin-deep similarities, the Z4 M40i – while thrilling to drive – is more of a boulevard cruiser. The Supra feels like a pure sports car. The Supra feels alert, nimble and spirited. 250 kW and 500 Nm of torque provide a thrilling experience behind the wheel, with the sonorous straight-six egging you on as it emits the most wonderful shriek. At R1,137,900, the Supra is a pricey bit of kit. But with high levels of standard specification, Supra undercuts its German rivals from BMW and Porsche by a considerable margin.

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