Bargain Hunting Part 2: Used Cars That Punch Above Their Value

David Foo
1 Feb 2021

Bargain Hunting Part 2: Used Cars That Punch Above Their Value

I would argue that the CR-V, despite losing out on horsepower, employs better use of its torque and power to provide a drive that is more relevant to Singapore’s conditions than that of the Harrier - all for less money.

With January 2021 registering the highest COE prices in the last 12 months across all car categories, the seasonal conversation about used cars is once again becoming a popular one. While brand new car purchases are fairly straightforward purchases, used cars can represent a slightly different challenge, with a myriad of factors affecting its price and value for money. Generally speaking, due to Singapore’s depreciation system, used cars who have just passed their third year are generally good value compared to their identical cars from another production year. In some ways, they represent a best of both worlds situation, as these modern cars today have the ability to feel almost brand new at 3 years of age, yet cost much less to purchase and enjoy much better depreciation rates. As such, for today’s article, we’ll be looking at what are in my opinion, some of the most value for money 3 year old cars (2017 - 2018 registration) that punch above their value. 

Honda Civic 1.6A:

The Honda Civic 1.6A is a compact sedan that sits in the similar segment to the Toyota Altis, Mazda 3, and Subaru Impreza. Some might consider the Civic an odd inclusion in this list. Given that it isn’t the cheapest car in its class, and neither is it the most practical in terms of space and dimensions. In my opinion though, the Honda Civic represents one of the most refined drives in its class. Though running on a naturally aspirated engine just like the rest of its counterparts, the Civic feels lively off the line, and presents itself as a more spritely drive than the others. The Civic’s drive also feels the most well calibrated to urban and city driving, which helps moving in and around town quite a fuss-free and light-hearted affair. Image wise, the Civic is arguably also the most well styled in its class, and presents the freshest exterior with trademark Honda flair. Some camps will argue that the Civic’s styling can be a little “over the top” for a car in this segment, but there is a playfulness and youthfulness that shines through in that regard. Sitting at a depreciation rate of between $9,000 to $10,000 a year, the Civic has the air of a junior athlete, while the others feel like middle aged men that are slightly past their prime. From an image standpoint, it just feels like the Civic offers a better long term value proposition to the table by offering Japanese reliability, without the usual frumpiness of the functional Japanese sedan. In summary, this car offers positive driving dynamics, youthful exuberance, and feels energising to operate - all for the same money you’d pay for much it's much less inspiring counterparts. While Toyota has only introduced turbocharged engines in their lesser known models or JDI models, and Subaru seem to have completely backtracked on turbocharged technologies after what I felt was a success in the Forester XT, Honda are quite different. They are one of the more progressive Japanese automakers, taking pioneering strides in introducing turbocharged technologies to their cars (as seen with the L15B7 1.5 turbo engine that is now also used in the latest generation CRV and Accord). 

Audi A4 2.0TFSI S-Tronic:

In numerous previous articles, I have shared my distinct admiration for the Audi A4, a car that I believe to consistently be, pound for pound, one of the most value for money cars on the market. For starters, the stock 2 litre power-plant that is mated to a brilliantly quick S-tronic dual clutch transmission will easily outrun most of its main competitors in the same price bracket (and even one bracket above). Spend a couple of thousand dollars on the agent approved Revo Stage 1 tune, and the A4 will keep up with cars that sit even two price brackets above - such as a Mercedes-Benz C250) Apart from this key quality, the Audi A4 is also one of the most practical cars in its segment, and of the lowest depreciating (approximately $12,000 + per year). In short, the A4 is very quick, very comfortable when needed, and very practical. Image wise, the Audi brand does admittedly lack behind Mercedes-Benz and BMW ever so slightly, and perhaps just loses out in terms of brand desirability. That said, in most laymen circles, the Audi brand is still regarded as part of the “Big 3” and in my opinion, still offers excellent appeal among non-continental car owners. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - In many ways, the Audi A4 encompasses very Singaporean qualities. The average Singapore desires a few key things in their car such as value for money, brand prestige, comfort, and practicality - all things that the A4 offers in abundance. 

Mini Cooper S Countryman:

Mini has sometimes been viewed as an “all form and no substance” type of car, with many of their offerings being too small to be of any practical use, and too expensive for its size to present any value for money. While all that may somewhat be true, the Mini Cooper S Countryman defies that train of thought. Sharing the same platform as the BMW X1, the Countryman is the largest offering from Mini, and is more practical than most people care to believe. Objectively, the car offers better rear legroom and headroom than most other sedans in its price bracket, and manages to offer decent cargo space as well. In other departments, the Countryman also shines as a wonderfully fun car to drive with really positive driving dynamics, ample performance, and a stock exhaust system that will pop and burble just enough to excite your inner 18 year old. To round it all off, all that goodness I’ve just described comes beautifully wrapped in a package that has no equal - Not because it is the best, but because it is so unique. The exterior styling, while pleasant to me, is ultimately subjective as I do know of people who dislike it. What is less subjective however, is the interior build quality. The countryman has a beautifully adorned cabin that features a console that is very well put together, stitched leather seats that come in the most beautiful shades of brown and oxblood, beautiful airplane-style toggle switches, and a gear selector lever that is one of the stiffest I have felt in any car (this is a good thing to me). For those concerned with reliability, you’ll be glad to know that this generation of Countrymans run an 8 speed Aisin automatic transmission, which means that reliability isn’t expected to be an issue. 

The Countryman isn’t exactly cheap to buy, and depreciates similarly to the X1 at between $13,000 to $14,000 per year, but it is important to note that this depreciation compares the 2 litre turbocharged Cooper S countryman to the entry level 3 cylinder X1 sdrive18 - not the more comparable X1 sdrive20, which will be more expensive. Thus, the Countryman still represents good value when compared to its closely related relative. However, it must also be considered that with the amount you’d spend on a Countryman, you could easily afford an Audi A4, or an entry level BMW 318 (F30 model), both of which are very established options in their own right - So where does that leave us? In my opinion, the Countryman is something to seriously consider if you love and appreciate owning something less common and mainstream, and perhaps do not care to be caught up with the prestige comparisons often associated with brands like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. The Mini brand is one that is absolved of this comparison, and is peerless in that regard. While it may not necessarily be immediately associated with prestige in the same way that other mainstream marquee brands are, to me, the Mini brand definitely feels ultra-premium, and in that regard, represents good value for money. 

Honda CR-V 1.5 Turbo:

Family sized SUVs seem to be all the rage nowadays, with younger families with more dynamic lifestyles choosing to go with 5 seater SUVs instead of traditional sedans. While most automakers today have a family sized 5 seater SUV in their lineup, certain makes and models seem to be dominating the field, with the Toyota Harrier being one of the most popular options in this category. Made famous more than 5 years ago by the influx of parallel importers, the Harrier later found new life via a turbocharged version that was offered directly by Borneo Motors. The popularity and demand of the Harrier unfortunately means that these cars hold their value in the used car market, which also means that as a buyer, you are likely to pay a “popularity” premium on the car, shifting its depreciation rates upwards of $12,500 a year, which to me, is too much for a mainstream bread and butter SUV. In fact, this inflated price can be observed across almost all Toyota models (something i am deeply against paying for). 

However, if Japanese reliability is high on your priority list, and you are averse to a continental option, then the Honda CR-V 1.5 Turbo is in my opinion, one of the best alternatives to look at. It offers similar size and practicality to the Harrier, is more interesting (by virtue of the fact that it is less common), has a better depreciation than the Harrier, and perhaps most importantly, runs a more contemporary 1.5 litre turbocharged engine which pushes out 190 BHP. The implications of this engine setup means that the CR-V is likely to provide a more spritely drive in and around town as compared to the Harrier’s naturally aspirated 2.0 litre setup, which is smooth and comfortable, but ultimately a little bit dull. If you put the CR-V up against the turbocharged 2.0L Harrier from Borneo Motors, then perhaps the comparison becomes even more skewed in favour of the CR-V, as the Harrier Turbo depreciates at more than $13,000 a year, compared to the CR-V’s $11,000+ a year. When looking at the two cars, the specification sheet can be deceiving, with the Harrier posting a horsepower figure of 227 BHP compared to the CR-Vs 190BHP. Translated to the real world though, and you will realise that the Harrier does not quite deliver said horsepower figures very convincingly, with the engineers at Toyota adamant about making the car feel as close to a naturally aspirated engine as possible (we also see this with the Lexus IS). The CR-V however, seems to deliver its power in a more authentically turbocharged manner, with the driver able to feel the kick-in of the turbocharger more distinctly. I would argue that the CR-V, despite losing out on horsepower, employs better use of its torque and power to provide a drive that is more relevant to Singapore’s conditions than that of the Harrier - all for less money. 

Mercedes-Benz GLA180:

Car enthusiasts will bash on this choice, based on the general consensus that this generation’s A-Class platform that was used for the A-Class, GLA-Class, and CLA-Class is a platform that is undeserving of the three-pointed star. There is some merit to this cynicism, but one must remember that for every naysayer out there, there are probably two people who purchased one of the above mentioned cars. All three models, while not best-selling, did sell well and were all kept on in the current lineup. The fact remains - The Mercedes-Benz brand is highly desirable, especially in a place like Singapore, where cars cost a lot of money. To the every-day person who knows nothing about car performance or perhaps does not own a car, any Mercedes-Benz is worth talking about. It might sound sad, but the credibility and appeal of the Mercedes-Benz brand cannot be underestimated. As such, the GLA180 makes this list because it represents one of the most affordable ways to own a Mercedes-Benz with a depreciation rate of only $12,000+ a year. For reference, a similarly aged CLA180 would carry a depreciation of $13,000 to $14,000+ a year. 

Though not huge by any standards, the GLA still represents an acceptably sized crossover style compact SUV that would work really nicely for a couple who are yet to have kids, or a young family with young children between 6 to 12 years of age. Rear seating and legroom is fairly limited and would not be ideal for carrying full sized adults for extended periods of time. Design wise, I am of the opinion that the GLA looks great from the back, and is perhaps a little underwhelming from the front. As a crossover, the GLA does suffer from that “jacked up hatchback” look, where it looks a little awkward in the sense where it's too tall to be a hatchback, but too short to be an SUV. This was a problem that plagued the old generation BMW X1 as well. However, appearances are subjective, and there are entire groups of people who love the look of the GLA (I’ve even spotted GLA car groups gathering at Jalan Kayu at night - testament to the following of the GLA). With all that said, the GLA is still a Mercedes-Benz after all, and whatever it lacks in terms of looks, it makes up for with its premium styling. With Mercedes-Benz models typically costing 10% - 20% more and depreciating by $1,000 to $2,000 more a year than their corresponding BMW and Audi counterparts, the GLA does sit in a price bracket that seems to buck that trend, and offers accessibility to one of the most recognisable and esteemed brands on the market. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the GLA is the rich but ugly kid in class, but the GLA certainly shows us that you don’t have to be particularly good looking to look classy and wealthy.

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