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Dude, where are our cars? From the Holden Caprice and Ford Territory to the bargain-basement Suzuki Alto and sexy Honda CR-Z coupe, the car segments that have virtually or totally disappeared over the past decade

The booming popularity of SUVs means that there are fewer model choices for new-car buyers in 2022 compared to a decade ago.

Australians used to be spoiled for choice.

Just 10 years ago, the number of different types of cars available was staggering compared to today. There was real variety in the look, shape and size of vehicles on offer. At one point during the 2010s, there were more makes and models sold here than almost anywhere else in the world.

So, what happened? 

For starters, SUVs started to outsell passenger cars for the first time, forcing carmakers to abandon segments they’ve operated for years and sometimes decades in, to keep up with consumer preferences. The demise of Australian full-vehicle manufacturing, fluctuating economic fortunes and, most recently, a global pandemic further drove nails into the coffins of many once-popular classes of cars.

The resulting homogenisation of today’s auto industry is quite sad, really.

Without further ado then, here are several types of cars (and even one SUV) we’re really, really missing right now.

Sub-$14K driveaway bargains: EXTINCT

Were they really that cheap? Yes!

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of the late 2000s, a wave of sub-$14,000-driveaway bargains washed over Australian consumers, with some very inconsistent results.

Some, like the Suzuki Alto, Mitsubishi Mirage (yes, the same one you can still just buy new today) and Holden Barina Spark, felt, drove and rode as cheaply as their low prices suggested, so were best relegated as car-rental fodder.

Others, though, were brilliantly conceived and so well worth considering, including the Nissan Micra, Fiat 500 Pop (remember when that was slashed to $13,990-driveaway?) and ­– from 2015 ­– the Kia Picanto and madly-underrated Suzuki Celerio.

Big inexpensive luxury limos: EXTINCT

In 2013, you could buy a circa-5.2-metre Holden WN Caprice with Mercedes-Benz S-Class levels of interior space, loads of luxury features, dynamic local engineering that made it uniquely suitable to our harsh roads and a $5K V8 option, all from under $55,000. Or, if you like, one-quarter of what the German luxury equivalents were asking.

It was the last of a peculiarly Australian species of one-upmanship, being everyman-enough to be based on the humble family sedan, yet just different enough so envious/jealous neighbours could clock that you’ve moved up in the pecking order.

One-time marketing geniuses Ford popularised the concept with the XR Falcon-based ZA Fairlane in 1967, to dizzying success, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that Holden finally surpassed the Blue Oval on the sales charts with the Commodore-based Statesman/Caprice duo. Chrysler had also tried but failed, with the locally-made Valiant-derived VIP (1969) and Chrysler by Chrysler (1971).

Ford pulled the plug on Fairlane production in 2007, leaving the WM/WN Caprice to fly the Australian luxury limo flag solo, aided by US police department export contracts as the Chevrolet Caprice PPV, until the factory doors closed forever in 2017.

Even the loaded final Caprice V with a Corvette’s V8 cost only $61,490. That’s a hell of a lot of car for the money in anybody’s language. What a loss.

Cheap coupes: ENDANGERED

In 2014 Australians could buy a new Mini One Hatch and Hyundai Veloster from under $25K, a Honda CR-Z, Kia Pro_cee’d GT, VW Beetle and Toyota 86 from around $30K, and even the offbeat Mini Paceman from $34K. That money barely buys you a Toyota Yaris hybrid nowadays.

Today, only the Mini Cooper Hatch survives, from nearly $38K, while the Toyota 86 replacement, the GR 86, is also likely to nudge $40K like its Subaru BRZ twin when the lauded Japanese coupe finally lands later this year.

What’s the deal with the dearth of coupes, then? Australians just aren’t interested in them. They are considered too low, too cramped and too impractical for SUV-softened buyers, while ­– as with most fashion statements – many go out of style too quickly. Remember how ultra-cool then rapidly uncool the New Beetle became as the 2000s wore on?

What’s more, many brands charge much more for the smaller SUV coupes that are proliferating. Along with good taste, most lack the sleek style and dynamic flair of proper car-based coupes. 

Long live the Mini, GR86, BRZ and Mazda MX-5 RF.

Affordable non-truck-based RWD family SUVs: EXTINCT

This might sound like an irrelevant niche within a niche, but the fact is, for a dozen years from 2004, the popular Ford Territory offered a globally unique combination of SUV packaging virtues (including a high-riding position) and rear-wheel drive (RWD) sports-sedan levels of handling/refinement.

That’s because the Australian-designed and engineered Territory was based on the equally indigenous BA/BF/FG series Falcon sedan; in contrast, most rivals like the Toyota Kluger and Holden Captiva were derived from mid-sized front-wheel drive sedans, or built on cruder truck platforms, such as the Toyota Prado and Isuzu MU-X.

It was thus regarded as one of the best-driving as well as riding SUVs on the planet, and certainly the equal of luxury alternatives like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz ML/GLE-Class of the time. High praise indeed.

History records that RWD consistently outsold AWD in Territory, speaking volumes of the former configuration’s appeal to Australians seeking a well-priced family SUV that was designed for local conditions. The base SZ Territory TX RWD MkII with the 4.0-litre I6 petrol engine started from just $36,990 when released in 2014, which today would barely get you the smaller Toyota RAV4 GX 2.0L FWD. A Jaguar/Land Rover-sourced 2.7-litre V6 turbo-diesel could also be had for just over $40K.

The only comparable monocoque-bodied RWD family SUV was the Jeep Grand Cherokee, in sole base Laredo 2WD specification from $44,000, underlining the big Ford’s exceptional value. The latter was discontinued in 2019, three years after Ford shut-up Australian production and killed the Territory line-up.

Unless Ford decides to import the latest (U265) sixth-gen Explorer from the USA, which is radically different to previous iterations by having a longitudinal engine placement and RWD/AWD just like the Territory did, then this attainable configuration that proved so attractive to Aussie family car buyers a decade ago won’t likely come back any time soon.

Byron Mathioudakis
Contributing Journalist
Byron started his motoring journalism career when he joined John Mellor in 1997 before becoming a freelance motoring writer two years later. He wrote for several motoring publications and was ABC...
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