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Showing blog posts for Infiniti
Top 10 Series: Niche Dwellers
Freelance Contributing Writer
03 August 2010
It's the year 2000 and you're a road tester at a car mag. Peugeot has recently unveiled its new 307 and, oh look, they're giving you one to try for a week. What's more, you also happen to have a Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, Citroen Xsara and Vauxhall Astra at your disposal. So you line them up together to see which is best. Wonderful.
Fast forward ten years, and BMW has launched its new 5-Series GT. And would you look at that, they've lent you one to review. You want to do a comparison test, but here comes the snag. What on earth do you compare it with? It's a hatchback for starters, and a tall one at that, so testing it feature-for-feature alongside regular executive saloonery would be like testing a weasel against a domestic cat. An MPV, then? Well, the GT is big and practical, granted, but it also has a sloping roofline and only five seats. So it’s going to be whipped on the practicality front by your average people-mover. Here, then, is a car that doesn’t really fit into any specific category.
Nowadays, of course, this kind of thing is as common as a Ferrari-branded baseball cap. Every other car launch is greeted by questions such as “What the hell is it?”, “How many bootlids did you say it has?”, and “What’s wrong with my 5-Series Touring?”.
But while it’s easy to be cynical, some of these awkwardly-marketed products have a point, and are definitely worth a look over more conventional rivals. Here, then, is a run-down of ten of the best niche cars you can buy:
1. Daihatsu Materia
Like a supermini but taller and wider, and clearly designed using a box as inspiration. This means it's got plenty of space inside and has more character than Kermit the Frog after a tube of blue Smarties. It won't set your hair on fire with its performance, nor will it have you lapping roundabouts with a manic grin on your face, but that's not really the point is it?
A masterpiece. When Ford axed its old Galaxy, they replaced it with two cars: a new, bigger and plusher Galaxy, and this, which finds itself somewhere between its bigger brother and the C-Max in terms of size. It comfortably seats seven plus their luggage, yet manages to be sporty and (whisper it) desirable too. Recently facelifted and still the best MPV you can buy by a country mile.
While the ubiquitous Smart can sometimes seem a little too compromised to really work, the little iQ has the tiny footprint thing nailed to a T. The thing is, even though it's only 2mm long, it's actually as wide as a Focus so you don't feel like you're going down the M1 in a tumble-dryer. The boys at Toyota have put some real thought into the interior too, so despite its meagre length, it can fit three adults quite easily. The only downsides are a slightly rubbish dashboard and a high list price.
Shorter than your little finger but still seats three
4. Infiniti EX
The luxury branch of Nissan is still a relative novelty in Britain; that alone is no reason to avoid it - especially when it makes cars like the EX. Billed as a crossover to rival the likes of BMW's X1 and the Lexus RX, it's more interesting than either and a hell of a looker while it's at it. Sadly it's only available in petrol guise at the moment (though that's the same 3.7-litre V6 as you'll find in the 370Z). Have no fear, however - there's a diesel on the way...
EX: More desirable than an X1?
Is it a supermini? Is it a family hatch? Is it an MPV? Well, it's all of those things actually. Or maybe it's none. Whatever, the A-Class was a very different animal to anything we'd seen before when the first generation hit dealerships back in 1997, and it remains pretty unique to this day. Its innovative 'sandwich floor' means that it's roughly a million times more spacious than a 1-Series, despite being the size of your shoe, and the quality's much better on the latest one. We have to applaud the three-pointed star for not giving us an A3 clone; rumours have it, however, that the next A-Class will ditch the special floor and become just that. Shame.
Not so long ago, Nissan was turning out the dreary Primera and Almera. Those models have been consigned to the history books, though, as the Japanese marque sets its sights on becoming the king of the crossover. The funky Juke has just replaced the Micra, but it all started a few years back with the Qashqai. Offering 4x4 looks in a footprint no larger than a Focus, it became a hit overnight and Nissan hasn’t looked back since. The Qashqai +2 gains two more seats but loses a bit of style in the process.
S-Max: Ford's Masterpiece
In much the same vain as the Qashqai, the 3008 gives you rugged looks and a raised ride height, but without the traditional off-roader thirstiness or the danger of having eggs thrown at you in Salisbury town centre. The styling is divisive – I think it’s a pleasing shape but you might equally consider it worthy of the Room 101 treatment. Whatever you think, the 3008’s trump card is its interior, which is an unexpected concoction of plush materials and – get this – Audi R8 styling.
It showed a lot of guts on Kia’s part to put the Soul into production, as it’s the kind of car that can break a company’s reputation if mucked up. Happily, the jacked-up supermini resulting from the Koreans’ endeavours is really rather good. Part of its appeal lies in the opportunity for personalisation – you can have the roof tattooed for goodness’ sake – but it also packs a punch when it comes to practicality and user-friendliness. Quite why anyone would buy a Rio with this next to it on the showroom floor is beyond me.
9. Skoda Yeti
What is it with Skoda’s naming strategy? They call their executive car ‘Superb’, which is pretty much the definition of making a rod for your own back, and then they go and name their crossover after something supposedly abominable. No matter though, the Yeti is a clever little thing, combining cheeky-yet-tough styling with practicality and economy. Get the 1.2-litre petrol with two-wheel-drive and you’ll have yourself a gem.
10. Ariel Atom
Ok, so the Atom probably doesn’t really count as a ‘niche’ product in the usual sense of the word, but who cares? It does 0-60 faster than you can say ‘Aaaaaah’, goes onto a top speed of 140mph, and yet has no bodywork to speak of. And is road legal. Mental.
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