Top 9 great cars that are overlooked because of their badge
Some brand names carry so much weight, that people are guaranteed to blindly purchase their products even if they are utter rubbish. If you were to fill a bucket with warm excrement and set it on fire, no one would want to buy it off you. But if Mercedes were to stick a three-pointed star onto that very same bucket of tepid faeces, and exuberantly unveil it at the Geneva Motor Show, people would stand in line for the privilege of spending their hard-earned pounds on it. In fact, Merc have been doing that exact trick for years and calling it the G-Wagon.
Equally, if Daihatsu were to come out tomorrow and release a ground-breaking new car which blended Ferrari performance with Rolls Royce luxury, and cost 50 quid, we’d all snigger and go ‘Wouldn’t be seen dead in that!’
More often than not, our car brand prejudices are pretty accurate. But not always. Hidden among the mediocrity are a few hidden gems that, due to the reputation of the badge on their nose, have been criminally overlooked. Our loss…
9. Kia Stinger
The latest great car to fall victim to badge-ism is the new Kia Stinger, AKA the South Korean M3. It is a fizzy, exciting rear-wheel drive sports saloon with ample power and tight handling. It looks cool. It has a cool name. It probably provides 85% of what you get from the equivalent Beemer or Merc, but for half the price. The Stinger deserves to be the car that transforms Kia’s image, but it’ll probably take more than one great car for most of us to forget the decades of dreary, soulless Malaysian guff that preceded it. Nonetheless, it’s a promising sign of things to come.
8. Kia Pro_Cee'd
Imagine being in the meeting where the ham rolls who first came up with the name Cee'd put their noggins together to think up a moniker for the performance model.
‘How about the ‘Xtra Cee'dy’? Or the ‘Cee'd you later’? Wait, no lads I’ve got it…’
The Pro_Cee'd looks good, and has lots of tech as standard, but is found wanting when it comes to excitement and poke. It is a decent car but that doesn’t matter. Because even if it had been the best hot hatch ever made, it would’ve been doomed to miserable failure, thanks to having the single dumbest name ever given to a car. And that, in itself, is almost worth celebrating.
7. Hyundai S Coupe
To a small cult following, the little Hyundai S Coupe is the king of overrated cars. With its generic styling and humble 140bhp engine, you might have to squint to see it at first, but this car is absolutely bursting with personality. Its V6 makes a lovely noise and plenty of low-end torque. It just feels like it’s trying really hard. This makes for a very endearing car, a bit like the skinny underdog in a boxing movie. Sadly, despite its punchy engine and great value, the Hyundai was massively outsold by the Toyota Celica when it released in the early 2000s.
6. Skoda Octavia VRS
Despite there being virtually nothing at all wrong with their cars, Skoda have always slightly struggled to make an impression and really carve out an identity for themselves. The base Octavia is exceptionally practical and user-friendly, but doesn’t exactly turn heads or set trousers on fire.
Enter the Octavia VRS, fitted with the superb 2 litre engine from the Golf GTI. After all, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Sure, it’s not a huge engine for a car that size, but it’s smooth, and eager to please. On top of all that, the interior is a lovely place to be and it’s frugal on petrol. Where is the downside? If we weren’t such badge-ists we’d all drive hot Skodas.
5. Seat Leon Cupra
Being pretty much the only performance car to come out of Spain, you might not expect the Cupra to be anything special. Fortunately, like Skoda, Seat had the good sense to borrow from the big boys. The Cupra takes all that’s good about the Golf GTI and then adds an extra helping of horsepower and surprisingly lovely ride quality. Yet, for absolutely no reason other than a lesser badge, the Leon Cupra is a fair bit cheaper than the Golf and is – in recent years - arguably more interesting to look at. Bueno!
4. Reliant Scimitar
In the world of motoring, the name Reliant is tainted by memories of a certain 3-wheeled death trap which rolled over a lot and, as it turned out, wasn’t much use as a space shuttle either.
And that’s a shame. Because the Reliant Scimitar was an absolute cracker. Boasting cutting-edge features like an even number of wheels and the ability to turn a corner while remaining right side up, the Scimitar was a real trailblazer.
Kidding aside, it was a genuinely iconic piece of design and rival brands’ efforts to mimic it inspired many of the great 60s car designs. You can particularly see a lot of Jensen Interceptor in it, and that’s about the coolest thing you can have in you. Except maybe Denzel Washington.
3. Hyundai i30 N
In the most recent episode of Top Gear, Rory Reid claimed to prefer this car to the current Golf GTI. That’s a bold statement, and I’m not sure many would agree, but to even have its name in a conversation with the Golf - which has been the bar for hot hatchiness for over 40 years – is huge praise for the i30. Then again, it does have an awful lot of power - 270bhp. Only the hyper-hot hatches like the Focus RS and Golf R offer more grunt than that. This is a very serious contender in its fiercely competitive class and is hands down, the best car Hyundai have ever made.
2. Vauxhall VXR8
The uninitiated may be put off by the Vauxhall badge, but if you know, you know that in truth the VXR8 is a Holden Monaro – an Australian-made muscle car. The design brief here is quintessentially Bruce; take a regular old saloon, drop a V8 in it, do burnouts at traffic lights until police come, do donuts around police cars until your tyres explode, get arrested, get released on bail, buy more tyres, refer to step 1. V8 hooliganism on a budget. If you don’t like this car, you’re taking life too seriously.
1. Suzuki Swift Sport
While Suzuki has plenty of pedigree making fun 2 wheeled vehicles, you could be forgiven for having forgotten they even make cars. But if you’re shopping for a fun supermini, the Swift Sport is the critics’ choice. It weighs just over a tonne and has a power-to-weight ratio of 128bhp per ton. These numbers are very close to those of the original hot hatches from decades ago. The swift is oldschool fun, and has that wonderful ability to make any old road exciting. If you drive a C63 Mercedes-AMG, you might get to use 70% of its power briefly on a really good day. With this you can drive on maximum attack all the time without any fear of expensive repair costs or speeding tickets.