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COTY 2015: Premium Exec, MPV and SUV tussle

POSTED BY Dinesh Appavu ON 13 November 2015

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In this instalment of the category reviews for the New Straits Times – Maybank Car of the Year 2015 Awards, we take a look at the last of the executive car categories before stepping into MPV and SUV territory that look set for a fierce showdown once again.

The last of the sedan-shaped category is the Premium Executive Car group that is populated by five nominees this year; chief amongst which is the popular and favourite to take the win, the Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid.

Introducing the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid here was a shrewd move by Mercedes-Benz Malaysia as it made full use of the EEV incentives under the third NAP, allowing it to be priced as the most affordable E-Class variant but be equipped with the same bells and whistles as the range-topping E400. Needless to say, buyers could not get enough of it.

The underdog in the category would be the new Audi A6 that manages to elevate the premium feel expected of the segment but its pricing would be a stumbling block in taking down the Mercedes-Benz.

Making up the numbers are the Hyundai Genesis; the marque’s first shot at this segment in Malaysia, the Infiniti Q70 and the facelifted Lexus ES. The Infiniti is a throwback to the classic, fuss-free luxury Japanese sedans but could be faulted for being a 56k modem in a Unifi world with its lack of gizmos that seem to define this segment now.

Completing the category is the Lexus that would appear to be a little outclassed in this segment but it does represent the most affordable entry into this segment although that is reflected in its equipment list. Nonetheless, the ES was always more about being chauffeured in rather than driving.

Last year, the MPV category was won by the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso BlueHDI. The French MPV blew the judges away with its futuristic interior, myriad of features and especially its clean-diesel turbocharged engine.

This year, its petrol-powered sibling was launched and is pitted against a simpler but more practical peer; the Nissan Serena S-Hybrid CKD.

The Serena was given a facelift together with the launch of the locally-assembled variant and although cosmetic in nature, still proved to be a popular buy courtesy of its full seven-seater capability and the flexible seating arrangement.

Without its excellent clean-diesel mill, the Citroen loses some of its appeal as it is classified as a 5+2 and lacks the flexible seating arrangement of the Nissan.

Making it a threesome is the new Chery Maxime, the replacement of the popular Easter.

Bringing this week’s review to a conclusion is the SUV 4X2 category that comprises four nominees.

Seeing that the most challenging environments modern SUVs encounter is a shopping mall car park, the 4X2 drivetrain makes sense for urban SUV owners and was the primary reason behind the split of the SUV category last year based on drivetrain configuration.

The Honda CR-V is an evergreen choice in the SUV segment but its chief fault was in its electronically-controlled permanent 4X4 drivetrain that led to complaints about fuel efficiency. Honda Malaysia finally addressed that with the introduction of a 2WD variant that should prove to keep it as one of the most popular choices for an SUV.

Kia took a page out of that book as well with the launch of the Sportage 2WD to complement its 4WD sibling that also suffered from poor fuel consumption due to the unnecessary extra wheels being driven.

Nissan and its new X-Trail in 2WD configuration is among the favourites in this category as its previous generations proved to be popular with the masses.

The final nominee, and one that would first appear to be out of place, is the Isuzu MU-X 2WD. Being the only body-on-frame build here allows it the distinction of being the only “genuine” SUV although that would come at the expense of comfort. Nonetheless, it is a full seven-seater and its diesel engine is renowned for its fuel efficiency.