It’s no secret that Korean car manufacturers have taken huge strides in recent years to encourage us to buy their cars and they have been hugely successful in doing so. Hyundai and Kia currently enjoy a market share in the UK of around 3% (Hyundai potentially slightly ahead) and with regular new model launches, advertising and sponsorship almost everywhere you turn and a lot to shout about over European, Japanese and US brands in terms of spec and warranties, the surge in Korean-made vehicles on our roads shows little sign of abating.
I recently changed my car and whilst I must confess to being impressed with much of the Korean styling on offer (the Hyundai Coupe was always appealing and the Veloster in particular stands out to me now as an interesting looking car), I was rarely at risk of opening the driver’s door and even less likely to try out the seating position, adjust the mirror and test the handling. Granted, I was not looking for a new car so in a couple of years, when the current models make their way to the used car garages that I frequent all too often, it might be a different story. But this time, I was always going to buy European and by European, I of course mean German.
Regardless of the badge on the front and despite many compelling arguments to look elsewhere, there’s something about the look and feel of a German car that makes me think it’s the one I should have. Somehow I’ve been convinced that when it comes to the world on four-wheels, German is a byword for quality and that whatever else might be on offer, it simply won’t be as good. I’ve owned Italian, French, Japanese and American cars and they’ve all had their plus points but they’ve never quite stood up to the Germans who seem to do just about everything right. Whether it’s Mercedes, BMW, Audi or Volkswagen, the design balances practicality with style, the handling is firm but responsive, the reliability is there for all to see, the efficiency is good and all things considered, I’d argue that the price offers value for money.
But there must be more to it. Most mainstream car manufacturers, and right now especially those from Korea, offer reliable, economical, stylish, fully-loaded and well priced cars so why am I not tempted? Why do I revert to the assumption that German is best?
Perhaps it’s that the price that is a little bit higher and creates an air of the aspirational whilst not being so high as to appear unreachable. Maybe it’s that the quality inside goes beyond plastic dials and switches using brushed aluminium and faux-leather to suggest some semblance of sophistication.
Maybe, but in my eyes the answer is that the alternatives simply do not have the heritage, history and longevity of the German brands and with that comes a reputation and trust that allied to reliability, performance and everything else that the brand stands for, is hard to beat. Granted, heritage is not reserved only for the German manufacturers and many others will appear at classic car shows every weekend but can Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Ford, Renault and Peugeot really offer the same complete package? I would argue not.
So returning to the Korean brands, and why I continue to walk past them, each time thinking “looks good, where are the BMW’s?” I think it boils down to the heritage and breeding. Perhaps, if they can consistently maintain the level of quality and the styling stands up to the test of time so that in years to come we’re talking about the Coupe and the Veloster in the same terms as the mark I Golf, the Mercedes SL or the BMW 3-series, then maybe I’ll stop and take a closer look at a Korean car. And maybe even open the door …