CarBuyer ranks the best drivers’ cars in Singapore that ring in under the S$200k with COE range
Why you should trust us:
CarBuyer.com.sg is the online version of CarBuyer Singapore, which is currently the only homegrown car magazine on newsstands here and has been in circulation since 1997, pointing out the good, bad, and ugly of Singapore’s car market.
What makes these cars ‘the best’? :
Cars here have been tested and voted on by CarBuyer’s editorial team. We have a combined experience of more than 70 years in the industry and have tested thousands of cars. In short, you can rely on us to tell you what’s worth your time and dollars – and what’s not.
SINGAPORE — If you take nothing else away from the start of 2020, it’s that life is short and freedom is precious. The cars on this list are an acknowledgement of that.
We’ve compiled a list of fun cars for keen drivers because who’s to say you can’t have your share of pleasure behind the wheel even if you haven’t got the cash to blow on a Porsche or Ferrari?
These cars are the ones we think have the greatest smile potential for less than S$200,000 with Certificate Of Entitlement (COE) — in some cases significantly less.
There are some usual suspects, such as Honda’s brilliant Civic Type R (above) or the ebullient Mini John Cooper Works, but we recognise that not everyone can get by with cars as heavily focused on fun above all else, so we’ve also included a number of practical choices here.
We’ll also assuming that you’re reading this list because you’re a driving enthusiast (as opposed to a car enthusiast), and what you treasure are things like deft handling, a sparkling engine or some ineffable quality that puts a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel.
In other words, things that please you – instead of your neighbours, friends and family.
Until that Porsche 911 Carrera is in your garage, here are the best drivers’ cars in Singapore for less than S$200,000 with COE. And this being a more wide open category than usual, we’ve also included four other to consider outside of the top three!
Price from S$154,999 without COE (May 2020)
Read our full review of the Honda Civic Type R
Honda made it a point to include two things at the press launch for the Civic Type R in Germany: a track session and quiet stretch of autobahn. We duly took the Civic past 270km/h on the latter, where the car was happy to sit at high speeds for ages.
As for our seven laps on the Eurospeedway Lausitzring, the Honda was a marvel. “With high-geared steering and front-end grip that can’t be broken, it whips into corners with no hesitation, like a shark that’s suddenly spotted a drowning turkey,” we wrote.
“If you’ve overcooked it there’s the tiniest hint of understeer, but you can dial things back a little by easing up on the throttle and exploiting the car’s easy adjustability to trim your line.”
Every one of its wings, scoops and little flick-ups is there for a purpose, and one of its three tailpipes actually sucks air in — to cancel out some unpleasant boominess.
Its 320 horsepower turbo engine, breathtaking mechanical traction, killer brakes and active suspension mean the Civic is more heavily engineered than you might have expected (the classic Type R recipe is more about subtracting weight and adding revviness).
But there’s no arguing with the breathtaking result, which is a car that feels built for the track, but also one that won’t make your ears bleed on the way there.
When launched it duly came with the crown of “world’s fastest front wheel-drive car around the Nürburgring”, thanks to a laptime there of 7 minutes, 43.8 seconds — faster than a properly exotic machine like the 2009 Audi R8 V10 FSI. At this price level (S$154,999 without COE), it’s ultra rare to find something this speedy.
It says something that the Type R only comes with three pedals, too. And that something is: “For keen drivers only”.
Price from S$162,999 with COE (May 2020)
Read our review of the Kia Stinger 2.0 GT Line here
If Kia’s Stinger has a distinctly European flavour to it, that’s no accident. Its designer Gregory Guillaume told us he drew inspiration from the Maserati Ghibli of the 1970s, back then a shark-nosed coupe.
Like the 4 Series Gran Coupe mentioned above, the Stinger has a bonnet bonnet, wide stance and low, swooping roofline, only it’s 19cm longer. More to the point, the 2.0 GT-Line is also a front engine, rear-drive design that hits 100km/h in 6 seconds flat.
Although the steering isn’t particularly sharp, the handling is excellent and foolproof, thanks to a low centre of gravity and a suspension set-up that perfectly walks the line between comfort and fine body control. Like the classic Maserati that inspired it, the Stinger is a car meant to gobble up long distances with little effort, and it feels it.
The striking design carries over into the interior, too, where the cockpit makes the driver feel special by focusing the controls around him (or her), while little design flourishes like the stylish gearlever add a sense of occasion.
Meanwhile, the cabin quality makes you wonder when Kias became this good. One thing’s for sure, the Stinger is listed at S$161,999 and you won’t feel like you overpaid at that price.
And if the Stinger feels like a properly engineered car, that’s because it is. Apparently, every European market Kia has to do 480 laps of the fearsome Nurgurbring circuit at a pace within 95 percent of its best laptime. The Stinger’s engineers made sure it did twice that distance, which is apparently equivalent to 300,000km of street use. Given how it drives, we’re sure none of the test pilots complained.
Priced from S$170,888 with COE (May 2020)
Read our review of the Mini John Cooper Works here
If you attend a Mini press launch, a fun drinking game to play is to take a swig every time someone from the company says “go-kart handling”. The John Cooper Works hatch actually lives up to that description, and is as playful as a car can be, with a price tag that starts at S$173,888 with COE.
The basic recipe is pretty straightforward: compact hatch, brawny engine, tweaked suspension and brakes. If you’ve wondered what makes a JCW, and who this John Cooper dude is, read this story.
In this case a 2.0-litre turbo sends 231 horsepower to the front wheels, which is good for 100km/h in 6.1 seconds — quick enough to feel fast but not frightening.
The chassis conjures plenty of grip from the standard comfort-oriented tyres, while the Mini dances and jigs its way around corners in a playfully agile way.
The downsides are obvious: it’s a four seater (though it can accept six-footers in the back) and the boot is tiny. Still, you buy a car like this not for its size, but the size of the grin it gives the driver.
The only thing crazier than a JCW is the 306hp JCW GP – here’s the next one coming to Singapore
While BMW is on a product offensive that is seeing it launch new models willy-nilly, don’t forget its older cars. The current 4 Series Gran Coupe shows you why. It may not have the heavily digital cockpit or connectivity found in the brand’s newest models, but it embodies what made BMW great in the first place: driving pleasure.
The 420i is composed of the classic elements that create a good drivers’ car. It’s balanced and low-slung, and the punchy engine drives the rear wheels. A low centre of gravity makes it feel supremely surefooted around corners, and there’s a remarkable precision and alertness to the steering that isn’t there in some of the newer BMWs.
Counting against the car is its age. BMW gave it a facelift in 2017, but the current 4 Series Gran Coupe (model code F36 if you’re a BMW nerd) came out in 2014.
When the new model appears, keep an eye out for run-out pricing for the 420i that could see it discounted from the current S$199,888 (prices include COE unless we say otherwise). Maybe you’ll score a bargain as well as a classic at the same time.
Read our reviews of the Mazda MX-5 RF and MX-5 manual
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the purest expressions of driving pleasure, since as a two-seat drop-top roadster its focus isn’t on going fast, carrying people or luggage, or anything extraneous.
It’s an experience very much centered around you and the car – Mazda’s the company that boasts of making its cars with the driver and machine as one (jinba ittai) after all. It’s the sort of machine that can bring a smile to a wheel-person’s face in any situation, and while it’s focused on driving pleasure, it also isn’t crazy-sporty like a Lotus Exige, still has a decent amount of creature comforts, and rides comfortably.
We’d rank it higher on the drive experience alone, but the fact remains you can carry only one passenger with you, and it has a tiny boot.
Note: Mazda Singapore says currently only the RF model is available.
Read the full review of the Skoda Octavia RS 245 here
Among all the cars here, the Skoda Octavia is arguably the biggest bargain. For S$131,900 with COE, you get a five-door, five-seat body that happens to offer plenty of cabin room and an enormous boot, loads of standard equipment, and a 245 horsepower engine that punts the whole lot to 100km/h in only 6.6 seconds.
The front-drive Octavia comes with a limited slip differential, so when you boot it out of corners the muscular engine doesn’t turn one of the front tyres into expensive blue smoke. Instead you can feel it help the Skoda fight the tendency to run wide, which is what usually happens with grunty cars that send all their power to the front wheels.
It looks the part of a fun car, too, thanks to a subtle but aggressive bodykit, a rear spoiler, the blacked-out grille and wing mirrors, and tidy 18-inch wheels. Inside, you get a sculpted steering wheel, RS badging and red stitching everywhere, along with suede-covered seats that grip the body properly for all that hard cornering you’ll be doing.
For this amount of money, there simply isn’t anything else that can do it all the way this Skoda can.
Read our review of the Hyundai i30 N here
Another Korean car engineered in Europe, the i30 is a credible VW Golf fighter to begin with, and in hotted-up N spec it’s a roaring spitfire of a car. To get the most out of the package you’ll want the Performance trim, which adds 25hp (for 275hp total) and an electronically-controlled front diff — along with a hefty S$20,000 price hike to S$160,999, at which point you’re in Stinger territory.
Read our review of the VW Golf GTI here
Well, why not? The quintessential hot hatch does it all, with lively handling, an effervescent engine and an exciting personality. 100km/h flashes up in just 6.4 seconds.
The Golf manages comfort, too, and strikes a terrific balance between being a car you want to drive all day, and one that you actually can.
For S$163,900 the GTI satisfies a huge number of motoring requirements, apart from size, and while the more powerful Golf R blasts to 100km/h in only 4.6 seconds, it somehow feels more grown up in personality, besides costing S$26,000 more.
Thing is, there’s a new Golf and new Golf GTI on the way, perhaps arriving in Singapore in 2021 (below). It’s highly digital, though, so it’s an open question as to whether it will capture the essence of a traditional GTI.