South Africa

#ThrowbackThursday: Revisiting a couple of last chance saloons

#ThrowbackThursday: Revisiting a couple of last chance saloons

Join us as we take a gander back at some of our automotive endeavours from days gone by. This week, the time machine takes us to February 21 2016, when we offered an overview of contenders in a segment largely overlooked by consumers. Not much has changed since, sadly, with some of the offerings pictured here having made a quiet exit from the market altogether…

South Africa, like many other global markets, was once a premier space for the large family sedan. Those with a little more mileage on the bodily odometer might recall nameplates such as the Ford Telstar, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Camry and Mazda 626. The Renault Laguna and Citroën C5 proffered Gallic charm to the segment, Peugeot had its hits in the category too.

As the first decade in the noughties progressed, the popularity of the genre began to dwindle. The ascent of the sport-utility vehicle and crossover formats is partly to blame. Perhaps the local penchant for premium brands is also something to consider. It seems that we South Africans feel large saloon ownership is only worthwhile if an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz emblem accompanies proceedings.

While most of the monikers mentioned earlier are now defunct, there are still a handful of offerings in this ambit that occupy a grey area. We opted to survey the field. That these products continue to persist in a market where the popularity of traditional body formats is declining, makes them all moral winners in our book. And with great potential for relative bargains to be scored, given how heavy depreciation hits this niche.

The executive sedans gracing this page are not entry-level enough to be classed as such, nor premium enough to roll with the German Three. Save for the Volvo S60 perhaps. Which is an interesting place to start…

Sexiest of the bunch

In terms of size, the Volvo S60 appears to ape the dimensions of traditional German players like the Audi A4, BMW-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. How many shoppers consider the Swedish car in the same breath? Still, it remains a competent and different expression of executive saloon motoring.

With prices starting at R378,000, the Volvo offers cushy seats, a well-hewn cabin with classy fixtures and a soothing driving character. Donning optional R-Design regalia, it was deemed by our staffers as the sexiest saloon of the bunch. Considering the aggregate age of the staff is 30, it speaks volumes about Volvo’s success in pandering to a more youthful set.

Spacious but humdrum

If sex appeal is what you seek, best steer away from the Honda Accord. Previous generations of the model were to European specifications, but the current version is larger, softer and reflects the tastes of the US market. For those in want of ample space and comfortable straight-line cruising abilities, this is a good thing. Testers praised the note of the V6 in the top-tier model.

Prices range between R434,600 and R613,300, making the Accord the costliest of this bunch.

Value of a Legacy

Ringing in at R559,000, the Subaru Legacy also demands a substantial outlay. There is one derivative, the 3.6 R-S, and it serves meaty performance thanks its six-cylinder engine. The Lineartronic CVT is (possibly) the best of its kind, but we cannot help but think that the Legacy could be even more liveable with a conventional automatic. And like the Honda, it too has morphed in a bid to pander to the US market.

That said, it is a sturdy thing on the road — and the all-wheel traction provides heaps of confidence in the rain.

Close to faultless

Mazda is enjoying great success at present. New models like the 2, 3 and MX-5 gained rampant praise from the public and press. And the 6 (from R342,000) was no different. A revised version is expected in the fourth quarter of 2016, which will hopefully address the shortcomings of the current version. Not that there are many.

The biggest criticism we levelled at the striking sedan was its lazy automatic transmission. Aside from this, build quality is pretty much perfect and it boasts Teutonic levels of refinement. The Mazda exudes a sense that it would easily last two decades of use and abuse.

A real mixed bag

The Ford Fusion (from R367,900) had us a little ambivalent. In the right specification, it certainly looks the part. But in entry-level guise it fades into the periphery, like a nondescript rental car. Apart from that aspirational Aston Martin visage, the most standout feature on our tester was its Car of the Year Finalist livery.

Gripes included a brittle ride quality on the poorer surfaces of our route and an annoying cabin rattle. But praise was heaped upon its 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine, which is both punchy and frugal.

‘Sticks like wors to a braai grid’

And then we have the Volkswagen Passat (from R390,200). The new model is underpinned by the group’s lauded MQB platform, an architecture seemingly beyond reproach. It just goes about its business with impeccable decorum, unfussed by road surface challenges. And in the corners? Well, allow us to steal Sarel van der Merwe’s description from the 1980s commercial for the Passat CLi: “It sticks like boerewors to a braai grid.”

The price is palatable too - for a Volkswagen.

As you would expect, the interior feels bulletproof and the conservative styling approach will undoubtedly stand the test of time.