Best buys of 2018: Pick of the crop from ST-Torque

PHOTOS: AUDI, DAVID TING, KAH MOTOR, ONG WEE JIN, ST FILE, TOYOTA MOTORS

The definitive car-buying guide for all budgets

For motorists, uncharacteriscally weak certificate of entitlement (COE) prices probably rank fairly high among events which shaped 2018.

Despite a shrinking COE supply, and a zero-growth quota policy, premiums have been heading south since the start of the year.

From hovering between $45,000 and $50,000 last year, the mainstay Category A premium (for cars up to 1,600cc) slipped to an eight-year low of $25,000 in July.

After half-hearted rebounds, it sank back to $25,000 last month, dipped slightly further this month and ended the year at $25,501.

What accounts for the weak prices?

Observers have pointed to an oversupply of relatively new used cars on the market, thanks to an aggressive fleet expansion plan by private-hire company Uber, which has since left the market.

Others have cited the new Vehicular Emissions Scheme, which kicked in in July. It raised the cost of many cars and even rendered some - mostly parallel imports - unviable. This crimped the ability of sellers to bid for COEs.

Yet, there is a suspicion that Singaporeans are beginning to fall out of love with the automobile. There is, of course, no hard evidence to prove or disprove this.

But one thing is for certain - a growing number of car owners are extending the lifespan of their cars. Last year's number was higher than 2016's and this year's number looks likely to exceed last year's.

This clearly has reduced replacement demand. But it may also show that Singaporeans are still in love with their cars - just that they are staying with one car for a much longer time than before.

If, however, you are in the market for a new car, here is our annual Best Buys guide to help you with your shopping.

• Prices include COE unless stated and are correct at the time of writing.


COUPE/CONVERTIBLE

Audi's new and sexy-looking RS5 (above) is a good mix of four-seat practicality and heady driving pleasure. The two-door is now powered by a 2.9-litre turbo V6 , instead of a normally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8. That has helped bring its price to around $380,000 - down from around half a million dollars.

A British two-seater with a long bonnet, a taut silhouette and big wheels is still magical. And Jaguar's F-Type 2.0 (above, from $325,999) makes owning such a car less painful too, because you do not have to worry about the lofty road tax and fuel costs associated with its 5-litre predecessor.

The smaller-engined car is still spirited enough to keep most drivers happy. What is more, a topless variant - with more immediate access to its booming soundtrack - is also available.


HATCHBACK

If you are looking for a hot hatch which ticks all the boxes, check out the new Renault Megane RS (photo 1, $163,999). It has sizzling good looks, a race-oriented cockpit and a suite of gauges and recorders to make life in the fast lane a bit more interesting.

A more mainstream choice would be the Hyundai i30, which delivers German-beating build and drive qualities, at a significantly lower price (photo 2, from $109,999).

In this city, there is much to be said for a subcompact with agility and manoeuvrability. The new Suzuki Swift (photo 3, from $71,900) delivers those and more - including a cheerful disposition, well-equipped and ergonomically laid-out cockpit and incredible value.


SPORT UTILITY VEHICLE/ CROSSOVER

There are plenty of picks here, as usual. In the premium compact segment, the BMW X2 (photo 1, from $165,888) is the one with the most show and go. It actually handles more like a hot hatch than a crossover.

In the subcompact department, the Hyundai Kona (photo 2, from $80,999) is an excellent choice. It is available as a 1-litre manual or a 1.6-litre automatic, both in a range of cheerful colours.

Volvo's smallest crossover, the XC40 (photo 3, from $165,000), has a bold design to go with its clever cabin. Despite its size, it is as attractive as its bigger siblings in terms of completeness.

Another family option is the Subaru Forester. Long known for its ruggedness and solid handling, the new model (photo 4, from $107,800) has an exquisite chassis and a modern cockpit.

If you want more space, the Skoda Kodiaq (photo 5, $146,900) is the best multi-seat SUV you can buy. The stylish Czech car has German-build quality, plenty of room and a host of innovative and useful features, and is completely pleasant at the wheel.

Despite being a relatively old model, the Peugeot 3008 (photo 6, $141,999) still stands shoulder to shoulder against all the other products mentioned here. There is good reason this incredible car almost became the Straits Times Car of the Year last year (it lost the title to the Lexus LC500 by two points).


SPORTS CAR

The Lexus LC500 (photo 1, from $565,800), last year's Straits Times Car of the Year, is still attractive. It offers a blend of refinement, build quality and comfort. And it looks like a million bucks, too.

In the same vein, the Honda NSX (photo 2, $928,999 without COE) is a supercar with a petrol-electric powertrain. On the road, it is even rarer than the Lexus LC.

But if it is an old-fashioned big-capacity, multi-cylinder experience you want, nothing comes close to the Audi R8 V10 Spyder (photo 3, $837,080). The hardtop has an edge on the track, while the Spyder enhances everything else this rarefied Audi delivers. Namely, drama, drama and drama.

For uniqueness and the allure of a brand associated with the shaken-not-stirred set, there is the Aston Martin Vantage (photo 4, $699,000 without COE). The car embodies a rare purity in motion and sound.


EXECUTIVE

If refinement and comfort rank high on your list of priorities, then look no further than the Lexus ES (photo 1, from $208,800). This car outguns many luxury contenders in space and smoothness, yet is priced more competitively than any of them.

A more unconventional choice would be the Kia Stinger (photo 2, from $157,999). The Straits Times Car of the Year 2018 is a game-changer, delivering the excitement of a well-honed coupe, the practicality of an executive sedan and the purposefulness of a grand tourer - not to mention a good helping of X-factor missing in so many cars these days. Who says an executive car has to be straitlaced?


COMPACT EXECUTIVE

The Skoda Superb (above, from $119,900) has exquisite ride quality, adequate modern amenities and hard-to-match value. With that combo, it is so far ahead of its rivals in this segment that it deserves solo mention here.


LUXURY

This rarefied range is quite varied these days and no longer confined to the usual limousines.

In the Lexus LS (photo 1, from $408,800), you get uncompromised quality in a sportily designed package. While the car may not be as cushy as its early predecessors, it is still a paragon of comfort - not only in the way it moves, but also how it facilitates ingress and egress.

Four-door coupes like the Audi A7 3.0 quattro (photo 2, $360,500) and Mercedes-Benz CLS350 (photo 3, from $336,888) have established themselves as viable luxury options. The Audi will please those who want performance, ride comfort and versatility, while the Merc leans slightly towards those who want to arrive in style.

Those who want everything should consider the BMW M5 (photo 4, $486,888), a car which has limousine qualities, sports car credentials and the ability to toggle between the two at the touch of a button.

An outlier in this segment would be the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (photo 5, $378,000). This 510hp, 2.9-litre biturbo V6 racer disguised as a sedan is a viable alternative to the Maserati Ghibli. On a few counts, it is also more entertaining and engaging.

on either ends of the price spectrum. In between these two is the Audi RS4 Avant (photo 6, $362,280), which easily stands out as the most enjoyable ride for the driving enthusiast.


MULTI-PURPOSE VEHICLE/WAGON

The Toyota Prius+ (photo 1, $114,988) is a competent seven-seater with plenty going for it. It has a compact footprint, making it easy to operate in Singapore's built-up environment. The fuel-efficient hybridis competitively priced , making it a viable replacement for the retired Wish.

Renault's Grand Scenic (photo 2, $115,999) comes close. It offers more space, more glass area and almost as much frugality in the form of 1.5-litre turbodiesel, which is one of the very few diesels which are still commercially viable here.

Peugeot's 5008 (photo 3, from $129,999) is also a winner. 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.

Among wagons, the Hyundai i30 Wagon (photo 4, $99,999) and Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo (photo 5, from $398,388 without COE) are top choices


COMPACT SALOON

The Kia Cerato (photo 1, from $72,999) is a family-friendly car with a slew of upmarket features. These include ventilated front seats with memory settings, wireless smartphone-charging and Apple CarPlay. It looks pretty cool too.

The big body-small engine formula works well in Singapore. But for the longest time, that recipe has been at the expense of driveability. Not so for the Skoda Octavia (photo 2, from $84,900), which has a 1-litre turbocharged engine and the biggest boot in its class. Like all Skodas, the Octavia is chock-full of useful features and offers plenty of bang for the buck.

Despite being a newcomer to electrification, Hyundai has done a decent job with the Ioniq Electric (photo 3, from $125,999) - which is why it is among the 10 best cars of 2018. And unlike many electric models, the Ioniq Electric's power consumption and road tax are pretty low - a feat not to be sniffed at.

Life is short, so have fun while you still can. If you enjoy driving, the Audi S4 (photo 4, $294,180) is quite the ticket. The car offers almost all the pulse-raising performance of its rarefied RS4 sibling, and at a considerably lower price tag. But it does have a relatively big 3-litre engine, which is slightly larger than the RS4's power plant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2018, with the headline 'Pick of the crop'. Print Edition | Subscribe