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  • Writer's pictureAsh Habib

My Top 5 Under Appreciated Cars

These days we tend to take things for granted. In our ever increasing pace of life, we tend to notice only the extremely good, or extremely bad things that occur. It's a facet of human nature, it's how we've survived as a species thus far. However, our nature hasn't caught up to the point of appreciating things that while they may not be extraordinary in themselves, are always there. Obviously I'm talking about cars, so today we're going to take a look at my Top 5 under appreciated cars.

2003-2008 Toyota Corolla

2003 Toyota Corolla

The quintessential "beige" car. Besides actually being available in beige, the Corolla has been long derided for being boring to drive, not engaging, basically a percocet on four wheels. The Corolla has been dismissed and disrespected in every way possible, by everyone who's had an opinion on vehicles.

Here's the thing though, often people involved in sharing their opinions on vehicles are gluttons for punishment in the name of driver engagement. You'll see us driving German vehicles that require constant attention, or driving sports cars in winter because we require a certain feedback and control from our vehicles that the average person just doesn't care about.

It's for this reason when people often ask me what car I'd buy in their situation, I advise them that my wants and needs are vastly different, and what would make me happy and satisfied would likely be tortuous to them.

Back to the Corolla then. When you're looking for a first car as a teenager or young adult most likely, everyone wants something brand new and exciting. It's understandable; you have this newfound freedom, and expressing it to the max is what you want to do, because it would be wasting this newfound power if you didn't, right?

Unless you're getting your first vehicle in your 30s, there are several things that are most likely going to happen to you:

1) You're going to get in an accident. You hit a bunch of garbage cans, back out a bit too far, or slightly misjudge your vehicle position. It happens. You know what's worse than getting in your first accident? Getting in your first accident in a brand new car. Even in minor accidents, you can basically taste the value of your car dropping from having that blemish on it's record. Ask someone who got rear ended on the way to work 11 days after driving his brand new car off the lot (Not that I'd know who that is...).

2) You're not going to maintain it like you should. Getting your first car is one of those milestones in life, but it carries a certain responsibility. Oil changes, tire rotations, and making sure there's gas in the car is honestly where most people draw the line at taking care of their cars. Life is busy enough without having to worry about anything more sometimes.

3) It's going to get dinged. Similar to getting in an accident, there's nothing more heart wrenching than walking out of the grocery store, only to see a crease in your door, placed by your lovely vehicle neighbor, who of course didn't leave their information. This one isn't an if, but a when.

With a used Corolla, it's like all of these things have been accounted for. Besides being one of the lowest maintenance and highest reliability cars in modern history, it's also one of the highest production vehicles in the world, making repairs and spare parts availability a breeze. It's for these reasons, that a used Corolla should be on the shopping list for everyone's first car. Because when you need it most, it's just going to work, and that's what we all want, even if it's just "boring and beige".

2000-2004 Ford Focus

2000 Ford Focus ZX3

In the early 2000s, small cars were largely defined by either being cheap and disposable (Kia Rio, Chevrolet Cavalier), or boring (Toyota Corolla). They were a means of practical, no frills transportation, but they weren't exactly defined as fun or luxurious. If you wanted a small car, and wanted to step up to something special, you might be willing to shell out the extra cash and get a VW Golf.

All of that changed in 1999 with the introduction of the Ford Focus. With groundbreaking for its time styling, and a chassis that was far and away better than any compact car on earth at the time, the Focus took the world by storm. It became the world's best selling car that year, and was a darling of the automotive world.

For the 2002 model year, Ford even introduced an SVT version with some more power, and handling and cosmetic mods as the sport compact craze was soaring in popularity at the time. The Focus was so good at the time, the SVT version tied the Ferrari Enzo supercar in slalom testing. For reference, the Enzo was $650 000US, the Focus SVT started at $18 000.

As time went on though, Ford got complacent. In 2005, they merely reskinned the existing Focus, making it uglier, instead of getting the updated model that Europe and other parts of the world got. In 2008, they did it again, and the focus remained minimally changed up until 2011 when the 2012 Focus was introduced.

8 years is a long time in the automotive world, and by that time, the Focus had lost most of the respect it earned when it was launched. But for those first few years, you were able to have your cake and eat it too.

Dodge Caravan

Minivan. Some people break out into hives just saying the word. In the 70s and 80s, the station wagon was the family transport of choice, and because of this, became the de facto car of uncool. All of that changed in November 1983 when the Caravan was introduced for 1984.

People quickly took to the Caravan for it's practical packaging, and relatively low cost. Other companies took notice, and soon most major brands had a minivan offering. Through the 80s and 90s, the Minivan usurped the station wagon's position of being the uncool, family car.

Throughout the 90s, other brands such as Honda and Toyota started offering more upscale takes on the minivan with the Odyssey and Previa (later Sienna), which started getting praise for the practicality and combining it with their more reliable engines.

However, these brands quickly started leveraging their reputation for reliability into getting people to pay significantly more for their vehicle. Even today, the Odyssey and Sienna both start around 35K CDN vs. 25K CDN for the Caravan.

In fact, a fully loaded Caravan with every dealer option selected is about 41K CDN, only a few thousand more than the base models offered by Toyota and Honda. Minivans are supposed to be practical, affordable, and flexible family transport, and a lot of companies have lost sight of that.

If you have a young, growing family, skip the SUV, and get a Caravan. For less than 30K, you have all the space and practicality you need, the Stow N Go seating flexibility will be more than welcome, and you won't worry as much about kid mess and cheerios lodged into places since with the money you've saved, you can go to the spa while your van is being detailed.

Suzuki Kizashi

Sigh. Sometimes it's just too little, too late. I think that's certainly the case here. Most people reading this have never heard of the Kizashi, and that's the problem. A good looking, great handling, midsize sedan should have been a surefire hit. And honestly, under any other brand, it would have been.

The problem with the Kizashi was that it was a Suzuki in North America. At the time, Suzuki had almost no vehicle lineup left in North America. And a mainstream brand can't survive with one good model with limited dealer support. A few years after it's introduction, Suzuki had all but disappeared from the North American vehicle space.

It's really sad, because if you updated the technology to more modern standards and put almost any other brand badge on it, I think this vehicle would still be a hit today. It put other manufacturers on notice that vehicle dynamics are still important, and I think many of them took that to note when updating their offerings.

Mazda CX-5

Sometimes things go unappreciated simply because people are unaware of their existence. I believe the Mazda CX-5 is one of these things. Mazda has been fairly successful as of late in Canada, and I'm glad for that, however, it's very rare that cars get designed specifically for Canada. We just don't have the population to support companies developing models specifically for us. So, in order for something to be truly successful, it needs to do well in the US.

Right now, the compact crossover segment is the fastest growing and has been for a number of years. Consumers are shying away from cars as they want an elevated seating position, and more utility, consumers vanity has lead them away from wagons and minivans, so the crossover has taken over.

I think the lack of awareness and a smaller dealer network in the US is what's truly holding Mazda back at the moment, especially the CX-5. Everyone for better or worse has heard of or seen a Miata, but many people don't know that the company that makes the world's best selling roadster also sells the best compact crossover on the market currently.

The CX-5 is the best looking, best driving, and has the best interior of any mainstream compact crossover. You'd have to go up to the Porsche Macan to get something better. For 2019, Mazda has even introduced the option of a 2.5 litre turbo engine as well. People should be throwing parades, but instead they're going to keep buying CRVs and RAV4s instead.

Thanks for reading, and if you or someone you know are in the market for a vehicle, please consider using Ash Habib Automotive Consulting to help you with purchasing your next vehicle!

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