Unsung car heroes that really are hidden gems

Mark Gallivan unearths some hidden car gems that are buried in the Irish sales charts from 2019 but really are worth a second look.

Buried deep within the Irish car sales charts for 2019 are some forgotten new car gems. Sadly, for these unsung heroes they are frequently bypassed for the more obvious car choices. You’ll probably know these cars yourself.

Take a scroll down because they hold their own against rivals and compensate with a personality that matches the very best in their segment. It may have been a while since you actually spotted one yet it’s still worth considering them as dealers may be keen to do a good deal due to low sales.

I’ve picked three cars that deserve more attention than their sales suggest. Not because they are better than the class establishment but do almost everything as well by offering comparable value, comfort, safety and in one case intangible desirability.

2020 Suzuki Swift from €15,480 (187 cars sold in 2019)

Red Suzuki Swift beside sea.

The peppy Suzuki Swift sold 187 units during 2019. Whereas, the slightly more expensive Skoda Fabia managed a whopping 1,133 in the same year. Think baby Fabia and you’ll be treated to a solidly built car that’s stress-free, refined but still lacks that extra missing ingredient of driving sparkle. If that sees you settling for the Skoda but secretly yearning for some supermini fun then Suzuki would like a quiet word.

Straight out of the blocks the Mark 4 Suzuki Swift is one of the more likeable superminis on sale. Not a class best by any means it still holds enough charm like a flawed Alfa Romeo being average inside but surprisingly feisty to drive.

In the Swift range you can choose between the 1.0-litre Boosterjet, 1.2-litre Dualjet or the intriguing SVHS Mild Hybrid. Unusual exterior design touches like the Saab 99-esque wrap around windscreen and the now trademark c-pillar treatment marks it out from the rest. There is good standard safety equipment including ABS, driver/passenger front side curtain airbags, Isofix, tyre pressure monitor and side-impact protection beams. Laid bare, the performance stats may look underwhelming with a 0-100km/h in 10.6 seconds and 111bhp. But the Swift zips and whizzes around chiefly because of the kerb weight that’s as low as 890kg. Engaging and fun, the swifty Swift has a lot going for it. Try one before you fall for the obvious rivals.

You’ll like: Fun to drive. Tall dimensions gives good space for four. Low weight aids handling. Smart looking.

You’ll grumble: Euro NCAP 3 Star Safety rating disappointing. Cabin level quality lags rivals.

2020 Volkswagen Touareg from €66,895 (111 new cars sold in 2019)

Volkswagen Toureg in silver.

So much then, for our advice. When we, the Irish motoring press voted the Volkswagen Touareg as the Irish Large Crossover of the Year 2019 you obviously took notice for a split second and went back to scrolling through your smartphones.

Rivals like the more expensive BMW X5 sold 341 in 2019. That’s a lot of money when neither of these as cheap to buy or run in the first place. Launched in 2018 the third-gen of VW’s flagship SUV range has been the unfair sleeper and gets bypassed for rivals including Volvo’s XC90 which even grasped an impressible 302 sales for itself.

Take heart, the buying public’s sniffy opinion of the excellent Volkswagen Touareg is your golden opportunity and priced at €66,895. If you want a BMW X5 then expect to pay far more. Still a maximum five-seater SUV it has had a full 106kg shaved off the previous generation SUV and yet the boot space increases to 810 litres with rear seats upright. By using all sorts of sorcery like adjustable roll bars and all-wheel steering the Touareg will impress with a deftness that belies its size.

A big VW diesel-only SUV it has no PHEV, Hybrid or EV option. You just get four diesels with 231bhp or 286bhp and four-wheel-drive and that’s your lot. Actually, that’s not so. The Touareg looks have aged well, like an elder statesman, and now one of the best proportioned SUVs on sale. Now, step inside.

The VW Touareg’s Innovation Cockpit is a triumph and a masterful execution of the seemingly impossible by condensing a multitude of functionality into two large beautifully imagines screens. VW has thrown about as much technology into the Touareg at this price level as is possible – LED matrix headlight, Night Vision using a thermal camera, Roadwork Lane Assist that provides autonomous driving up to 60kms, trailer assist, 360 cameras and a driver’s head-up display. Pleasing, satisfying, stately and now a steal vehicle in the posh SUV category. Don’t ignore the VW Touareg as you are missing one of the best SUVs out there.

You’ll like: Good value. A properly quality offering. Stunning cabin display. Practical. Pleasing diving refinement. Guaranteed rarity. Looks like a proper workhorse.

You’ll grumble: Is the VW badge posh enough? No Hybrid powertrain.

2020 FIAT 500 from €13,895 (132 new cars sold in 2019)

A patel blue FIAT 500 in a driveway.

If the thought of actually buying a FIAT 500 brand spanking new sends you into a spin the reasoning behind this recommendation holds a degree of water. During 2019 I tested nearly everything. Though of all the cars that came and went it was the FIAT 500C that I remembered fondly. Oddly, the year before it was another FIAT – the 124 Spider – that was so endearing.

Certainly beaten by most rivals and patchy in some areas, the little 500 majors in value without scrubbing out the charm and all from €13,895 for the 500 Pop. That rises to the Lounge or Sport trim 500s. If you think your Mini is a small car then you should take a 500 for a test drive. Where the Mini looks and feels bloated the little 500’s 3,572mm long/1,627mm wide footprint is a godsend in car parks.

Few cars utilise their space as well as the FIAT and stays true to the Alec Issigonis mantra of a tiny car providing space for four. The 500 is available with a 875cc TwinAir or 1.2-litre engine across the range. Just 69nhp and 105bhp and 12.9 seconds to reach 100 km/h may sound appalling but remember the 500 weighs 865kg and achieves 4.7 l/100km (60mph combined). There are few things the 500 likes more than being driven with intent. Do that and the fun factor increases as the speeds get higher. Standard equipment includes a 7” U Connect radio with LED daytime running lights and 7 airbags.

As an affordable new car for the graduating student or simply a first new car the FIAT 500 is brimming with personality and a pleasing Italian charm. Of course, it’s not perfect. A 3 Star Euro NCAP is a poor result. Yet drop your preconceptions about buying a FIAT and the car’s good nature and low running costs will see you form a close bond with it like few cars I can think of. There will be plenty of time to grow up down the road.

You’ll like: Cheery experience. Tall seating position gives good visibility. Peppy engine. Park anywhere capability. Affordability.

You’ll grumble: Poor 3 Star Euro NCAP/66 percent adult occupant protection. Rear seats a struggle for adults.

Published: 15 January, 2019