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Sales losers we love! Brilliant alternatives to the popular Subaru XV, Ford Mustang, Mercedes-Benz GLC and BMW 3 Series that deserve more success

Popular models become that way as there's often something special about them to lure buyers in, yet great alternatives do exist.

Not everybody wants to drive what everybody else drives. It’s human nature to want something different, something better, something cooler.

So, while we wholeheartedly endorse the Subaru XV, Ford Mustang, Mercedes-Benz GLC and BMW 3 Series, each has a rival that – for whatever reason – isn’t as popular, celebrated or even barely acknowledged in one or two cases.

Yet each of these Plan B vehicles are A-grade in many ways, and can often be picked up or haggled down for a song – especially if there’s a long waiting list on your more-popular Plan A model everybody’s lining up for.

So, open your mind before you open that cheque book, because here are four fabulous sales laggards we love.

1. PLAN A: Subaru XV 2.0i AWD (from $29,240) Vs PLAN B: Ford Focus Active (from $30,490)

The Focus Active is visibly indistinguishable from the regular hatch. The Focus Active is visibly indistinguishable from the regular hatch.

It’s easy to see why the Subaru XV is such a perennial favourite: sporty good looks, compact proportions and a cosy, appealing cabin that’s perfect as a second car or urban runabout. Truly, it’s an Impreza in quality active wear that looks a million dollars.

The Focus Active, on the other hand, is the wallflower amongst crossovers, barely managing a few hundred sales this year against almost 6000 XVs.

Visibly virtually indistinguishable from the regular (Aussie-penned) hatch despite gaining 34mm-extra ground clearance, more rugged alloys and two extra driving modes – Trail and Slippery – the front-wheel-drive Active really comes into its own from behind the wheel. Frugal yet fiery, a 134kW/240Nm 1.5-litre three-pot turbo-petrol provides punchy performance, while the brilliantly tuned chassis ably melds agility, control and comfort, making it a real driver’s machine.  

The dash lacks pizazz, but there’s room aplenty, the seats are great, the boot massive (easily eclipsing the XV’s) and – for the money – equipment levels are bang-on. As with most Fords, the Active shines brightest away from the showroom.

2. PLAN A: Ford Mustang GT Fastback (from $64,190) Vs PLAN B: Kia Stinger GT (from $60,990)

The Kia transcends its four-door coupe-esque packaging with plenty of space. The Kia transcends its four-door coupe-esque packaging with plenty of space.

What can we say about America’s most beloved automotive icon? The Mustang may look thuggish and if it’s driven like it’s been stolen, the speed and soundtrack of the 339kW/556Nm 5.0-litre V8 – especially with the manual – are thrilling, but there’s also unexpected sophistication in the delicacy of the GT’s chassis.

Much of that is true, too, for the Stinger (1405 sales versus the Ford’s 2174 year-to-date), especially in the GT with its thundering 272kW/510Nm 3.3-litre V6 twin-turbo and superb rear-wheel-drive set-up.

Yet, despite aggressively slinky styling and low ‘n cosy seating, the Kia transcends its four-door coupe-esque packaging with plenty of space, five-door practicality and a high degree of refinement, making it terrifically useable as an everyday family liftback proposition. Remember, much of the Stinger’s underpinnings are shared with the Genesis G70 luxury sedan.

We often fantasise what a four-door Mustang would be like (c’mon, Ford, just do it!). Lucky for us, brave, crazy Kia has delivered precisely that dream. A modern Falcon GT – but with a seven-year warranty. How can you lose?

3. PLAN A: Mercedes-Benz GLC 200 (from $70,300) Vs PLAN B: Peugeot 3008 GT-Line (from $47,990)

The 3008 is evidence that Peugeot is back and in great form. The 3008 is evidence that Peugeot is back and in great form.

Fun fact: the GLC was the bestselling Mercedes-Benz globally in 2019. That’s hardly surprising, given the German mid-size SUV combines handsome design, a spacious and luxurious cabin, leading safety cred, powerful engine choices and pleasingly car-like dynamics – as long as you option up adaptive dampers or air suspension. Which you should.

In Australia, GLC Wagon and Coupe sales have exceed 4700 sales so far in 2020, towering over the fine but somewhat forgotten 3008’s circa-700 units year-to-year. Which is a mystery, since the Peugeot is that rare thing – a gracefully styled SUV with an equally beautiful interior, including a dashboard presentation to shame most luxury brands.

Throw in decent levels of space and equipment, a large cargo area, a pair of gutsy turbo engine choices, enjoyable steering and a plush, quiet ride, and the front-wheel-drive 3008 is further evidence that Peugeot is back and in great form.

If only more people knew how special this premium SUV really is. By the way, if you need more room, much the same also applies to the stretched, 5+2-seater 5008 version.

4. PLAN A: BMW 330i (from $74,900) Vs PLAN B: MY21 Jaguar XE P300 R-Dynamic Black AWD (from $69,990 driveaway)

Jaguar hopes the 2021 XE's vastly improved multimedia, keener pricing and new AWD configuration will help it win new buyers. Jaguar hopes the 2021 XE's vastly improved multimedia, keener pricing and new AWD configuration will help it win new buyers.

Make no mistake. The latest BMW 3 Series is a comeback for the legendary German sports sedan of epic proportions, simultaneously moving the genre on for technology, safety and refinement while harking back to its driver’s car roots. And nowhere is that clearer than in the athletic 330i. What a machine!

That said, some industry observers think it was the Jaguar XE of 2015 that was the Bavarian brand’s wake-up call, since the British upstart showed up every one of its contemporaries in terms of driver involvement, suspension discipline and overall refinement. Not that sales reflect this: so far in 2020, under 200 have sold compared to nearly 2400 3 Series.

2020's Series II facelift addressed some of the XE’s drab cabin and dodgy touchscreen issues, while the MY21 P300 R-Dynamic AWD – with its hearty 2.0-litre turbo performance and upgraded equipment – adds another sphere of capability thanks to a major multimedia system overhaul as well as newly adopted all-wheel-drive security.

This generation XE still punches well above its weight.