'They live among us – the nuggets of brilliance that South African tyre-kickers keep ignoring,' writes Braam Peens as he lists cars 'nobody buys' in SA.
Cape Town - What does dust sound like at the moment of impact as it settles on an unsold car at a local dealership? Are more people coming to your forecourt to score a free boerie roll but couldn’t be bothered by what’s winking in the showroom behind? And are you moving – somewhat apocalyptically – fewer cars per month than your dealer network has branches?
There’s good news. You can stop blaming the sagging economy, consumer debt or stingy banks: sometimes car-shoppers simply fail to see the sheer brilliance of certain models.
What’s going on? Price considerations aside, March NAAMSA car sales figures reveal a common theme of a lack of consumer education, misinformed preconceptions and ever-evolving needs. On the other hand; sometimes there just are none so blind as those who do not want to see.
1. Audi A7 TDI bi-turbo quattro
If for aesthetics alone, the A7 range has forever polarised opinion since its 2010 introduction. The bi-TDI’s three-litre V6 will murder most hot hatches off the line, as this two-tonne cruise missile tears to 100km/h from standstill in just 5.2 seconds. How is that even possible? Because torque. Torque – and not kilowatts – is what makes cars real-world fast.
Torque provides bottom-end, mid-range and the solution to internet trolls and fake news. Because in the all-wheel drive A7, all 650Nm of it is available from 1450rpm, offering a relentless surge of shove in any gear, at any speed. Sleeper status, space, practicality, economy (6.1l/100km) and Le Mans pedigree, this is probably the most complete performance family car you can buy. Yet only 6 A7’s were bought in March: proof, if ever needed, that the three-box sedan is dying.
2. Mazda MX-5
To the average South African performance enthusiast, speed is the sole determinant in the thrills-per-rand-spent consideration. Therefore the Mazda’s wheezy 118kW and 200km/h top speed is lost on those who fantasise about living their lives one quarter mile at a time.
That’s because the MX-5’s appeal lies in its handling-friendliness: it weighs just 1000kg and is shod with comparatively skinny 205-section rear tyres. Paired with a rev-hungry naturally aspirated two-litre engine and bolt-action rifle-slick manual gearbox, you can fling (and drift) the Mazda like a rag doll: you could only have more fun if you drove it naked (but you really shouldn't). Only ten South Africans took up this challenge in March.
3. Alfa Giulia
With the Alfa launching as recent as January, perhaps a simple lack of public awareness could be seen as extenuating circumstances for its sales performance. The 29 units sold means the Giulia hardly troubled the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 in March.
Not now, and not ever: after decades of near-zero marketing, consistently underwhelming products dogged by a dodgy sales network, whatever passion South Africans once harboured for the Italian four-leaved clover has wilted away. The Germans do a better job of marrying premium to performance and the Alfa’s resale value will no doubt be of the meteor shower variety.
Yet TopGear’s Chris Harris adores the Giulia Quadrifoglio (“If you imagine Ferrari doing a little sports saloon, this would be it”), it laps the TV show’s test track faster than the benchmark BMW M3, yet it’s failed to capture anyone’s imagination.
4. Mazda BT-50
It’s no secret that the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger are, sales-wise, galaxies ahead of their competition. But the latter also an eviller-looking twin, and it’s called the Mazda BT-50. Although the (in many instances cheaper) Mazda is mechanically identical to the Ford (a very good thing), looks-wise it’s also identical to a Lord of the Rings villain (a very bad thing), which goes some way to explain why only 35 found homes last month.
Thinking of it as a poor man’s Ford Ranger doesn’t help, either but the fact is the Mazda is a smart buy.
5. Volkswagen Passat
There’s a lot to like about the new, eighth-gen Passat; not least the fact that the top model has a Golf GTI engine and gearbox. Or that you can trade one of your lesser-used arms and legs in exchange for speccing Audi’s innovative Virtual Cockpit in your Passat. You can see where this is going, and there’ll be hate from Audi for saying this, but in many respects the more-premium-than-before Passat is an A4 wearing a communist’s badge.
At its launch the former VW Group chairman, Martin Winterkorn, hailed the new Passat as “a premium car without the premium price”, which makes it perfect for limousine liberals with a conscience. So theoretically Blade Nzimande should approve, although only 21 other buyers agreed with him in March.
6. Ford Fusion
The Fusion is equipped to the hilt with equipment, including the optional Focus ST engine, but its numbers – along with those of its competitors – reads like a cast credit straight from The Walking Dead: Hyundai Sonata (discontinued), VW Passat (on life support) and Honda Accord (deceased). The damage in March? A street-wise four.
7. Volkswagen Scirocco R
Sure, the Scirocco has been around for seven years, but forever remains the two-door Golf you always wanted. Here’s why: when the Golf 6 R launched in 2011, you could only have it with a pansy, performance-killing all-wheel drive system. Not the Scirocco equivalent. It took all of those 188kW and presented them to you through the front wheels only, for wrist-tugging pleasure of a different kind. Only four people chose to share that pleasure in March.
8. Audi A1
The masses against the classes: the A1 is the posher monopoly capital version of the mechanically identical VW Polo, and an excellently crafted one at that. 78 units retailed seems far from a tragedy, but consider that the people’s Polo sold 1997 units (and the Vivo a further 2383), then suddenly, it is.
9. Volvo V40 Cross Country
Audi used to sell something called an A4 Allroad, and although miles away from a Mercedes Geländewagen for off-roading ability, if you squinted it nonetheless exuded a type of Camel-man weekend warrior appeal. That place has now been taken by the V40 Cross Country. If the small man-syndrome of a balloon payment-purchased 3 Series, C-Class or A4 hurts too much to bear thought, the zen Cross Country offers a credible alternative to the angst-ridden compact executive sedan. Yet only 17 fewer packets of Prozac were sold last month.
10. BMW M140i
It’s depressing, isn’t it? Don’t worry; we’ve left the best for last. BMW doesn’t publish model-specific sales numbers, so it’s hard to tell if they sell one or one thousand of these, but when the M140i went on sale at the end of last year, the speed-hunting public’s silence on what has to be the best hot hatch of 2016 was deafening. So here’s a refresher: three-litre, straight-six, 250kW, 500Nm, rear-wheel drive, a sub-5 second 0-100km/h time, and a R656k price tag. BMW at its best; and the performance bargain of the century. It's a pleasure.