The Audi A4 1.8, BMW 320i and Mercedes C180 are the awesome threesome that dominate the local motoring landscape. But they are not the be-all and end-all of the junior executive saloon segment. Viable alternatives are available from Saab, Alfa Romeo and Volkswagen.
These cars’ biggest obstacle isn’t their design, driving experience or engineering, which are all either decent or excellent. It’s their lack of brand cachet in the local context. Look beyond their badges and you’ll find three capable cars with genuine substance underneath.
The Saab 9-3, launched in 2002 and facelifted successfully in 2007, is a mainstream model that sells in surprisingly niche numbers, often to existing Saab owners. The reason is actually quite simple: drivers who know Saabs love them to bits, while everybody else just don’t get it, in more ways than one. The 9-3 has a special appeal in the marketplace that might be too special for its own good.
The Alfa Romeo 159 sold as “well” as its Saab rival last year in Singapore, but it deserves to do better than that because the 159 is the most competent product yet from the Fiat affiliate. Best of all, this world-class competence is not at the expense of Alfa’s signature brio, which continues to be rich and thick like an Italian espresso.
The Volkswagen Passat is Germany’s Toyota Camry, but with an extra edge. It offers upmarket amenities and qualities at a mass-market price, effectively making the Passat a Mercedes limousine for the masses. This value-driven vehicle has a clinical precision in its exterior and interior that will delight the executive expecting a cheap German Camry.