'The people have decided that Mercedes, BMW and Audi are no longer top-10 car brands'

Mike Rutherford thinks the 2021 Driver Power survey shows changing attitudes towards premium cars

Opinion - driver power

Looking for the best new phone, laptop, house, holiday, or other essential consumer product in 2021? Then take it from me, the more expensive it is, the better and more satisfying it’s likely to be. There can be no guarantees of course, but the general rule is that the more you pay, the higher the quality of the product you end up with.  

But this is no longer the case with new motor cars. Who says? Not the usual suspects – road test professionals, consumer organisations, or the judges, jurors and executioners like me, who sit on one or more of the panels for the countless car awards programmes around the world. No, it’s the more important real-world consumers – the buyers and owners putting their hands in their pockets in the showrooms and living with the resultant cars – who say so. And they’re saying it now, today, loud and clear, via our two latest Driver Power surveys.

Both perfectly illustrate the point that lower to mid-priced cars are, in the main, better than their more expensive competitors – too many of which don’t meet the wants and needs of consumers. 

Traditional, leading (but not any longer, perhaps) makers from Germany and the UK – the premium car capitals of the world – don’t get a look in among the Top 10 new vehicles to own in 2021. Instead, modest Kia and Skoda (with two entries apiece), Hyundai, Mazda, Toyota, Vauxhall, more upmarket Volvo and increasingly credible SEAT do.

The highest-ranked premium German cars in Driver power – the Audi Q3 and Mercedes A-Class – didn’t even make it into the top 20.  And while MG as a company brings up the bottom of the separate brand rankings this week, the cheapo MG ZS is ranked higher or considerably higher than 14 premium Audis, BMWs and Mercs, plus three borderline-premium VWs. Or in other words, a comparatively downmarket Chinese-British car thrashed countless upmarket German cars. How’s that for a sign of the times, and the possible shape of things to come in the near future? 

The pattern changes slightly when the attention moves away from the 10 best individual cars to the 10 best brands. The humble Asian players – rampant Kia, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi – dominate the top 10 of the manufacturer rankings to an undeniable degree. Porsche, the German sports car specialist (not the same as being a maker of premium saloons, estates, family hatches and city cars) does incredibly well to take the No. 1 slot with so consistently high a set of scores. Tesla makes a welcome appearance, while Volvo and Lexus sneak in, too. But more importantly, so does Jaguar – which I take to mean the firm and badge are liked or loved, despite, like Tesla, owners reporting a rather high fault rate across the marque’s cars.

Yet still, the people have decided that just as the three major premium German car firms no longer make models that go down as well with their owners as we – and they – might expect, Mercedes, BMW and Audi no longer qualify as top-10 car companies. Harsh. But true.

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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