TopGear Singapore Everyday Specials Vol. 2 - The COTY category winners!

SINGAPORE - It’s not only fabulous supercars that get our attention here at TopGear Singapore. Fact is, we would likely jump on anything with an engine and four wheels, because that is simply how we roll. And while supercars and anything that goes quicker than you can say ‘the quick clown car powerslides past the hazy bog’, do their best work moving your heart and soul; we also like cars that simply do their best work moving you, your stuff, and still… where they have soul, bringing you the desired satisfaction of ownership.

TopGear Singapore Everyday Specials, is our humble tribute to the best everyday cars out there. If you have followed us, you’d have known that the Volkswagen Golf 8 had recently been crowned our overall champ in our second edition of our awards, trumping almost fifty cars in doing what they do best.

So now, allow us to share a little about the cars which have won in their respective categories. Be prepared, cause this is gonna be a long read!

Small SUV
Volkswagen T-Cross

Volkswagen’s B-segment SUV is easy to drive, fits in most smaller spaces, but big on personality and equipment. We liked it so much that we drove the 1.0-litre turbocharged T-Cross up to Cameron Highlands for a holiday, where it performed quite flawlessly. It is also properly fuel efficient, returning 5.4l/100km. 

Interior quality is probably second only to good German autos a class larger, and if you are a big on things digital, the T-Cross will not disappoint, with its customisable driver display and 8-inch gesture-enable infotainment touchscreen. The latter supports (wired) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And to keep mobile devices juiced-up, the T-Cross is equipped with a wireless charging pad, and you also have USB-C ports in-front and at the rear.

Volkswagen has also ensured that their small SUV is as versatile as it can get. Its 385-litre boot can be expanded to 455-litres, simply by rolling the rear passenger seats forward. It also has an adjustable double-floored boot, which is great for moments where taller objects come into play.

Compact Sedan
Škoda Octavia 1.0

The Škoda Octavia Sedan is probably the most practical among its peers, where the Czech brand had seemingly prioritised the passenger compartment beyond most other things in its design brief. 

With COEs going through the roof, Škoda Singapore re-introduced their compact sedan with a Category A-friendly powertrain. The familiar 1.0-litre turbocharged engine is often found within the group’s compact car lineup. And in the Octavia’s case, it has a Mild-Hybrid system, like in the Audi A3 Sedan and Sportback, which provides you with a small electric boost under heavier loads. The MHEV system also contributes significantly to the Octavia’s fuel economy, by allowing you to coast for short distances. All this is matched with a super-responsive 7-speed DSG transmission.

While power has been reduced, as a consolation, the Octavia now comes with LED Matrix headlights, which have cornering lamps. The upgrade is especially useful when navigating some of our darker multi-story carparks. On the inside, the compact Czech sedan not only presents best-in-class cabin space, but it also boasts comfortable-supportive seats. All this, coupled with a suspension, tuned to deliver a softer ride, ensures that roadtrips to the North are going to be a breeze

Additionally, the Octavia is as practical as it is comfortable. There are heaps of storage space… from that ‘Jumbo Box’ nestled between the front seats, to a door mounted bin for your trash. One of our favourite features is a special storage space for a small umbrella in both front doorcards., with its very own drainage. Another Simply Cleaver feature is an ‘Easy Open’ cup holder in the centre console. Just so that you can open a 500ml PET bottle with just one hand.

Matching its large cabin, the Octavia boasts a massive 600-litre boot (50-litres more than the BMW X3), which is easy to load and unload, thanks to a liftback-style tailgate. With the rear seats folded, the Octavia can lug up to 1,555-litres of cargo. Perhaps you can say that it has the best behind in the business.

Compact SUV
Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 is probably one of the best looking Compact SUVs in its class. But beyond just stunning-good looks, it boasts quite exceptional build quality. A recent facelift has kept the CX-5 looking fresh. Together with the facelift, the SUV’s driver dynamics has been further improved, thanks to a few tweaks to the suspension.

As with current-day Mazda cars, the interior of the CX-5’s is a pleasant place to be in. You can find quality touchpoints throughout, combined with clever material use - so good that it can rival cars in a class above.

Where its European counterparts have chosen forced-induction, the CX-5’s smooth-linear delivery has become quite a rarity. However, you make do with a more down-to-earth 165hp and 213Nm, produced by its Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre NA engine. One of the engine’s advantages is its high 13.0:1 compression ratio, which produces a more complete combustion, translating to improved efficiency. Mazda bucked the trend of going with CVTs, as used by its Japanese equivalents, and instead opted for a 6-speed automatic, which to us, coupled with that NA engine, feels pleasurable to drive.

If we have one complaint, the CX-5 could be an even better car, if it were to be equipped with the more powerful 2.5-litre NA engine in Singapore. Pity our road tax system.

Premium Compact SUV
BMW X1 sDrive16i

The BMW X1 returns, bringing with it improved interior quality and increased road presence. With COEs going through the roof, the good people at BMW Singapore reintroduced the new X1 as a Category A car. A huge kudos to that! The sDrive16i SAV is powered by the brand’s smallest available engine here - a 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder that produces 122hp and 230Nm, which is decent for a place like urban Singapore.

If we are going to be trim-specific, the xLine is in our books, the best X1 to buy; simply because it rides on a more comfortable suspension, making it simply a good daily driver. On the inside, the X1’s dashboard emulates the one found in the larger all-electric iX. This includes a floating centre console, and a miniaturised version of the iX’s one-piece panel, which houses both the driver display and infotainment touchscreen. The latter is powered by the brand’s current voice-activated Operating System 8, which is arguably among the best the industry has to offer. 

While the new X1’s head and leg space is near-identical to its predecessor, the U11 X1’s boot at 540-litres, is significantly larger (just 10-litres shy of the BMW X3’s). To make more cargo room, the X1’s rear seats can be rolled forward just like its 2 Series Active Tourer sibling. 

So if you are looking for a premium SUV, with a need for full-on practicality, here is one specially “tuned” for Singapore.

Premium Compact Sedan
Audi A3 Sedan 1.0 MHEV

It was only in the third-generation, did Audi first introduce a sedan in its A3 line-up. A huge part of the previous A3 Sedan’s success, we feel, was that it did look very much like the more grown-up A4. Audi attempted to replicate the formula with the current A3 Sedan, this time, with an efficient 1.5-litre MHEV powertrain. But like in the case of the Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Octavia, where when initially launched, all three were Category B COE cars (by output). In a time of rising COEs, Audi re-introduced the A3 Sedan with a more price-and-COE-compatable Category A COE-friendly powertrain. On the inside, the A3 Sedan feels well put-together, and where proof of money spent, can be seen in quality interior materials.

The compact Audi sedan is quite ideal for those who want that premium badge, but do not want premium fuel costs. The 1.0-litre turbocharged engine, which is paired with a 48V Mild Hybrid system, delivers pretty superb fuel efficiency, and still provides adequate grunt. 

TheA3’s fuel efficiency and its qualifying for a lower road tax bracket, won us over.

Check out the time we did Hatyai in the hatchback version of the car!

Junior Executive Sedan
BMW 318i

When BMW first brought us the seventh-generation (G20) 3 Series, there was talk that the car had grown a little too big for the driving enthusiast. But the reason we feel, was not to have it clash with the 2 Series Gran Coupe. However, we think that even so, the 3 still handles like a dream. Stick it into a turn, ply on some right foot, and you would know why this is one of the best Junior Executive sedans out there.

A recent middle-of-life revamp brings with it a few exterior tweaks, but more important to owners, the 3 also receives a redesigned dashboard, which now houses both the infotainment touchscreen and driver display within a near singular panel. The well-received Operating System 7, has made way for the more advanced Operating System 8 firmware, which is loaded with new features, further improving the overall ownership experience.

The best thing we feel about this iteration of the base 3 Series, was BMW opting for a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, as opposed to the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder which powered the previous car. Over here, owners benefit from lesser vibrations, and of-course, we prefer the way a four-cylinder delivers its drive.

Junior Executive SUV

BMW’s Junior Executive SUV we feel, checks all the right boxes. It strikes the right balance on how much tech you need within, and also how well sorted its suspension and handling is. 

A facelift over a year ago adds a Mild-Hybrid assistance, which provides a small boost, and small improvements in fuel efficiency. BMW has also equipped the base 20i car with their xDrive drivetrain, making an already good handling base X3 even better.

While it still retains the previous Operating System 7 infotainment interface, the touchscreen’s real estate has grown to 12.3-inches. The rest of the X3’s interior largely remains the same, which is already very good. From a well-sorted passenger compartment, where it seats four in comfort, to its large 550-litre boot, which features a double floor.

Nuff said.

Family-sized SUVs
KIA Sorento Hybrid

For a second time running, KIA’s compact family-sized Sorento wins an Everyday Specials award. Primarily, its powertrain was the feature that won us over. The 1.6-litre turbocharged Smartstream G engine is matched with a hybrid system, bringing together the benefits of instant off-the-line response like an EV would, and high torque on the go, like how a turbocharged engine should. The result is a decently responsive drive, while still returning good fuel efficiency.

While it is an occasional seven-seat SUV, KIA made sure that third row passengers do not feel like they are sitting in what seems like an afterthought; since air-conditioning is available for all rows. It is also equipped with a good amount of active safety and convenience features, which comes close to matching those found in luxury makes. Most notable of these is its adaptive Smart Cruise Control (which includes Lane Following Assist).

Compact EV

We took a while to come to a decision on this one, as it was a tough fight between the MG4 hatchback and the BYD Atto 3 SUV. We know that the BYD is equipped with a very good infotainment system, while the MG4 has very good driver dynamics.

In the end, we were sold by the part where the MG electric hatchback loves its corners. It brings with it a sort of driving confidence, almost like that there is a little bit of Volkswagen Golf living in it. And if you are a keen driver like us, you would appreciate a car that wants to be driven.

At the time of writing this MG is now offering a tuned-down version of their hatchback, making it a more sensible Category A EV.

Small EV
MG ZS Trophy

MG’s smallest electric SUV received a middle-of-life facelift, so it still looks as fresh as its class competition. And like the competition, the MG ZS has a comparable list of driver assistance and safety features, which makes driving much easier and safer. 

And then there are some advantages… which include slightly more power and torque than the Peugeot e-2008 and Opel Mokka-e, and therefore slightly better off-the-line performance. Adding to this, the MG ZS also has slightly better cargo capacity. Small wins if you were to ask me.

But the biggest win it has over the French and German cousin cars, is its noticeably lower price point. 

Check out the review of the Category B version of the winner of our Small EV award.

Premium EV
Volvo XC40 Recharge

Perhaps one of the most underrated premium electric SUVs out there. The Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric Twin Motor also has what is probably one of the longest names too. The Volvo XC40 is already a familiar sight, since it has been around for a while. A few years later, this electric version arrived, and it is probably Volvo’s best EV in our books.

By class, it might sit in the same pen as the Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1 and the Audi Q3 German trio, but when it comes to sheer straight-line performance, the fully-electric Volvo XC40, with its 408hp and 660Nm, almost has enough buzz to stay on the tail of the AMG 45 S-badged version of the GLA (well, until 180km/h that is)… quite impressive if you were to ask me. Perhaps the Volvo’s only downside here is that it only manages around 300km from full charge.

As with current Volvo cars, the interior quality of the XC40 Recharge is hard to match. We like that there are no fancy materials here, but everything feels like it is built to last. Volvo, like its sister brand, Polestar, are equipped with Google-powered voice-activated infotainment systems. The infotainment system supports Android Auto, unfortunately for users of that fruit phone, there is no Apple CarPlay available.

It is a practical car too, since its boot can be easily split into two separate areas, with its built-in cargo divider. There is also a sizable “frunk”, which means that you could in-essence, transport breakfast, lunch and dinner, without mixing them.

So… there you have it! These are the best cars we have tested for the second volume of TopGear Singapore’s Everyday Specials!

But if you have missed it all, click here to see all the cars entered!

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