SINGAPORE - In a year where entire industries have been sent reeling, car sales, sputtering in the first half of the year, remain relatively buoyant - thanks largely to the vehicle quota system.
The system, in place since 1990, is best known for placing a cap on sales with certificates of entitlement (COE), but it also prevents sales from falling through the floor in bad times.
Because like it or not, motorists are more likely than not to replace their vehicle when its COE expires. This replacement demand is keeping the market afloat, despite a nascent trend of people choosing to extend the lifespan of their car's COE by paying a prevailing quota premium.
Those who continue to replace their cars with new ones should take comfort in the fact that the cost of a COE, even at current levels, is only about a quarter of the entire lifetime cost of owning a mass-market family sedan.
Hence, COE going up or down by $1,000, $2,000 or even $5,000 has negligible impact on a motorist's expenditure over 10 years.
As always, the appetite for a spanking new car is healthy. This year, some 40 new models were launched here, down from more than 50 in normal years.
If you are in the market for one, here is The Straits Times' annual Best Buys guide - which has run for over 30 years - to help you decide.
The Toyota Supra may appear as a rebadged hardtop version of the BMW Z4. But the car bearing the revered Supra name is actually a more capable and engaging driver's car.
The one to get is the 3-litre inline-six version ($279,888) with 340hp and 500Nm of torque and a century sprint of 4.3 seconds.
If there is a car which can outshine a Ferrari, it is usually a topless Ferrari. The F8 Spider ($1,098,000 without COE) spins a web of intrigue and excitement. How can a metallic roof disappear into such a small space between the engine and the seats?
If you are looking for the ultimate convertible, look no further.
The 118i (from $151,888) is a front-engined BMW powered by a modest a 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine. That makes it a rarity. The car feels zesty, engaging and surefooted. Indeed, it stands tall among its stablemates which have bigger engines with more cylinders and which are rear-wheel-driven.
The Mini E ($154,888) has several things which make it a winner - it is compact, and has low centre of gravity and the immediacy of an electric drivetrain. But because of its exceedingly firm ride, it is a bigger winner for younger drivers.
The Opel Corsa ($95,500) may be a rebadged Peugeot 208, but it rules the roost in the subcompact hatchback segment since the new 208 is not here. An eager beaver for sure, and one full of premium amenities. It, too, has an extremely firm ride and sensitive brakes.
The Toyota Prius+ ($130,888) is a petrol-electric seven-seater which replaces the popular Wish. Like the Wish, it has a compact footprint, making it easy to operate in densely built-up Singapore. It is competitively priced, making it a viable successor to the retired Wish. And its hybrid drivetrain makes it an economical people mover.
Peugeot's 5008 (from $122,888 for the 1.2-litre) is also an attractive MPV. It packs plenty of versatility, plus unmatched driveability - a rarity among multi-seaters here. Its chassis is beautifully tuned, dishing out top-notch ride comfort.
For wagon shoppers, the Audi A6 Avant 2.0 ($242,900) offers buckets of utility, a generous helping of style and the comfort of a big premium cruiser.
On the other end of the size spectrum is the Mini One Clubman ($145,888), which is about the smallest wagon you can buy. What it lacks in real estate, it makes up for in style and presence. Definitely the coolest wagon around.
If refinement, comfort and value rank high on your list, then the Lexus ES250 (from $221,800) is the ride for you. It outshines many luxury contenders in space, smoothness and design, yet is priced more competitively than any of them.
Who says executive cars should be staid? The Kia Stinger (from $163,999 for the 2-litre) is a bruiser of a cruiser which satisfies the need for performance as utility. The Straits Times Car of the Year (COTY) 2018 also delivers a huge dollop of X-factor missing in so many cars these days. The variant to get is the 3.3-litre ($213,999), of course.
The Skoda Superb 2.0 ($136,900) has exquisite ride quality, adequate modern amenities and hard-to-match value. In its price bracket, nothing else has as much rear legroom. This well-equipped saloon is now powered by a 2-litre B-cycle engine which gives it better efficiency.
As far as driving pleasure goes, the BMW 318i Sport ($203,888) is the last word in this segment. It may be the entry-level 3, but has the sweetest blend of power, refinement and driveability among its siblings. If you have always wanted a 3-series, this is the one to get.
The Mazda 3 (from $97,888) wins hands down in this segment. Its mix of superb build quality, elegant styling and thoughtful packaging makes it the most compelling compact saloon you can buy.
While it may appear modestly endowed in the power department, its engine is willing and refined. Like in the 318i, this makes hard revving an easy thing to do.
The Toyota Corolla Altis may seem boring because of its sheer population. But if you are looking for an all-rounder with dependability, it is still the gold standard. The Hybrid ($121,888) is the best pick as it offers the best efficiency.
Elsewhere, nothing stands out from the crowd like the Hyundai Avante (from $99,999 for S model), the second runner-up in this year's ST COTY awards. The new Avante is strikingly handsome, if a tad fastidious. Its interior is impressively laid out, with a suite of digital instrumentation and well-tailored trim. It has plenty of modern driving aids, too.
The budget pick in this grouping has to be the Honda City (from $93,999). The new City is a perkier drive than its predecessor, substantially more youthful in its styling, and packs enough modern features to please young drivers.
Sport utility vehicle/crossover
For fun on a shoestring, the Suzuki Jimny ($101,900) is a choice pick in this segment. With this pint-sized multi-terrain vehicle with an irresistable design and a unique driving behaviour, there is never a dull moment.
A slightly bigger and more urbane alternative to the Jimny is the Kia Stonic (from $88,999). In fact, this car may even qualify as a hatchback because it is quite low-slung for a crossover. It has a slew of modern features, a pleasing design and a hard-to-beat price.
The Kicks is the funkiest Nissan in town. Firstly, it is a hybrid with a twist - its wheels are powered solely by an electric motor, while a small petrol engine acts as a genertor to keep its battery charged. The interior of the Premium Plus variant ($104,800) has a stunning orange-black trim which goes well with its orange paintwork.
If you want an outdoorsy version of the Mazda 3, meet the Mazda CX-30 (from $112,888). A finalist in this year's ST COTY, it stands out for being well-built, clutter-free and thoroughly easy to live with.
Among small Mercedes-Benz models, the GLA200 Progressive ($184,888) bucks the trend by being surprisingly peachy on the go. The car is right-sized for its modest powertrain and its interior is contemporary yet unpretentious.
There are three electric gems in this segment.
The Chinese-made MG ZS EV (from $110,888) is the cheapest battery-powered crossover here, and yet stands tall among Japanese and Korean cars in its price bracket in terms of build quality.
The e-tron ($377,500) is a futuristic Audi Q car - an absolutely painless introduction to the world of electrification.
And the Jaguar I-Pace ($381,999) - the first SUV to truly marry electrification with luxury and which clinched the ST COTY 2019 title - pips the far costlier Tesla Model X in a recent comparative review (bit.ly/34hnxV6).
The grand-daddy of SUVs is the new Land Rover Defender ($323,999 for New Edition 3.0) - the runner-up in this year's ST COTY. It is a bigger, more luxurious and urbane version of its workhorse predecessor. Powered by a 3-litre twincharged inline-6 making 400hp and 550Nm of torque, the giant sprints to 100kmh in 6.1 seconds. Thirsty, but satisfying.
You don't have to even drive the facelifted Mercedes-Benz E200 Exclusive ($280,888) to know it deserves to be listed here. The unblemished pedigree of the E goes back a long way and this modernised version is acknowledgment that towkays are getting younger.
For something grander, take a look at the BMW 840i Gran Coupe ($487,888). This coupe-like four-door is bigger than the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Audi A7 Sportback, its two closest competitors. It distinguishes itself by being more engaging at the wheel and by having the plushiest interior.
The pick of the crop is clearly the Porsche Taycan 4S ($485,988 without COE), an electric four-door grand tourer with sportscar-like performance. This year's ST COTY, the Taycan is revolutionary in execution, yet comfortingly familiar. Whether you seek electrification or luxury, there is nothing quite like it.
The McLaren GT ($959,000 without COE) is the friendliest supercar today. It catapults to 100kmh in 3.2 seconds and onto a peak velocity of 326kmh. Yet, it is effortless to pilot across a wide range of speeds - so much so that you can use it as a daily drive. And believe it or not, it even has enough stowage for a full-size golf set.
A little less extravagant but just as alluring is the evergreen Porsche 911. The Carrera 4S ($584,088 without COE) is a fine variant which blasts to 100kmh in 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 306kmh. In between, it offers an uncommon blend of fatigue-free motoring and hardnosed handling.
Lastly, the Lexus LC500 ($530,800) is a sports car for those who want to trade edginess for cushiness. This polished grand tourer delivers unrivalled comfort among beefy two-doors, yet is sporty enough to keep you entertained on each and every journey.
Prices include COE unless stated and are correct at press time.