The value proposition

(Top and Above) The Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 is considered by many as one of the best estates money can buy in 2012. Pictures: Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Sunday, January 22, 2012

FOR some weird reason there aren't many station wagons that are available for sale in Brunei.

At least you probably would have a hard time getting one in the showroom unless it had already been pre-ordered and the said buyer had decided to suddenly drop their interest in purchasing the vehicle.

Funnily enough though having spoken to family, friends, acquaintances that are looking for a more practical vehicle to ferry their children in, I'm surprised that not many are even considering estate cars. Which seems to be at odds with the practicality that they offer.

Maybe it has to do with the roots of station wagons being working utility vehicles, and for a long time it remained to be the case here in Brunei Darussalam.

In other parts of the world, Europe especially, the station wagon has actually managed to transcend beyond its industrial beginnings, much like how the utility truck or "Ute" in Australia has done.

A small number of forward thinking individuals in the country saw the appeal of the wagon as a family vehicle, and I'm not talking about getting a white goods car and converting it into the family run about. In the 1990s there had been a few select vehicles that had arrived with a wagon body on it, but it has been a really long time before cars of their kind have begun to once again arrive on these shores, because they never really get showcased in showrooms around the country.

I'm talking about some very really classy cars, that still retain more functionality than an average saloon, and do a very good job of looking good. It's really odd that they don't have a far greater presence here in Brunei, because many of the more popular continental brands have a wagon body option for a specific model or car range.

In fact most car manufacturers have a model or range that has the wagon body as an option. Audi have the "Avant" designation for their A4 and A6 range, meanwhile BMW go with "Touring", Mercedes Benz have gone with "Estate". Toyota have wagon options for their vehicles, Subaru and Mazda too, and so too does Hyundai with its more recent Sonata wagon, which looks exceptionally great.

To the East, Japan and Korea have gone to town in producing some of the best MPVs that are available to Brunei and the rest of the world. It isn't really an area that gets talked about much, as it isn't exactly as mass market as saloons and SUVs, but MPVs don't need to be boring and stiff. They just need to be spiced out the right way, and none more so than the recently launched Nissan Elgrand and the Toyota Alphard and Vellfire which have great big stonking engines and plush interiors.

Yes these MPVs could be considered expensive, yet they're comfortable and can carry as many people if not more than some SUVs that are on the market. There is also the Honda Odyssey which provides a more car-like drive, courtesy of not being as tall as the Toyota and Nissan alternatives. While it may not be as luxurious as its counterparts from Japan, you wouldn't exactly call it a spartan vehicle by any means. Korea have the Kia Carens, and Hyundai the even bigger H1, as the answer to ferrying people and luggage around.

American car makers have even bigger cars, and while they are probably more colossal than any that you would find from Europe, their size betrays they're usability. American cars are not suited for some of Brunei's roads for the sole reason that they can be really small and what you'd usually find fits two small vehicles either side at best won't accommodate more than one decent-sized American car.

So what exactly is reason for a dearth of handsome continental estates in Brunei Darussalam?

I believe it is the SUV that has been the stumbling black for estates blossoming in Brunei. They sit taller and afford a much broader view of the road, something that seems trivial but actually plays a significant part in vehicle feel and driving experience. They feel more robust (most likely a placebo effect of sitting in that higher position) and possibly larger than a normal saloon or estate vehicle, despite having the same amount if not less cargo carrying capacity to an estate.

Then when it comes to the price, and having to pay more for an estate compared to a saloon, it would usually mean buyers on a strict budget would shy away completely from the extra practicality, while those who have the flexibility or more disposable income would find that the SUV, with its ability to go offroad or tackle rough weather, a far better value proposition than a sleek and handsome-looking estate for the school run and grocery shopping duties.

So there in lies the problem, do you go and buy that lovely estate, with luggage and cargo lugging ability, or do you buy an SUV for more or less the same money, that can do the same and a bit more?

Well, I'm happy to report that I've seen more Mercedes Benz Estates, in the form of the E and C Class, here in Brunei over the last year. There aren't many BMW touring sightings, sadly. The A4 has been an exceptional performer for Audi and its Avant one of the bread and butter choices for estates abroad they have yet to really make a mark here in Brunei. Hopefully that will change with the arrival of the new A6 and the future Audi models.

If it was my decision? A simple formula to the "which-would-you-rather equation" ... SUV over MPV, but not before estate. The Brunei Times

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