Pass­port to pres­tige

Lack of big dol­lars is no longer a bar­rier to get­ting that de­signer badge

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story -

NOT Too­long ago get­ting into a pres­tige car— es­pe­cially a Euro pres­tige car— for Ja­panese money meant buy­ing used or for­get­ting about it.

But lux­ury car brands are no more im­mune to the lure of new money than fash­ion de­sign­ers, who mar­ket af­ford­able lines to get among buy­ers who are up­wardly mo­bile but not yet quite up to a new C-class or 3 Se­ries.

And just be­cause we’re driv­ing away from tra­di­tional big Aus­tralian fam­ily cars as fast as our im­ported SUVS or hatches will take us, it doesn’t mean we’re spend­ing less on our choices. Volk­swa­gen’s Golf starts at $22,990, but more than half of the Golfs sold are those start­ing above $35,000.

That’s why Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus each have en­trants with sticker prices $20,000 or more un­der the lux­ury car tax (see panel).

The new­est of these is the Mercedes B-class, launched this week. It’s a lar­gish five­door hatch that brings a new level of safety and so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the small ve­hi­cle seg­ment.

To test the no­tion that these newly af­ford­able Euro­peans can ri­val the best Asia has to of­fer, we’re com­par­ing it here to an­other new­comer, one that in its first full month on sale is ex­pected to ex­ceed 1400 sales.

Mazda’s range-top­ping petrol CX-5 SUV, the Grand Tour­ing, comes in at $43,200. The base B-class is $38,950 plus on-road costs.

If it seems we’re com­par­ing ap­ples with or­anges, con­sider that the CX-5 is the most car- like of the com­pact SUVS and the B-class is a com­pact peo­ple and cargo car­rier.

That means it’s at­trac­tive to buy­ers from both the small SUV and small car ranks, not just those with an eye to the tris­tar badge.

The taller rid­ing, all-wheel drive Mazda rep­re­sents the lat­est tech­nol­ogy from Ja­pan. Its 2.0-litre Skyac­tiv-g en­gine is com­pa­ra­ble in terms of power out­put and the in­te­rior fea­tures are classy, though it trails in the safety suite stakes.

FEA­TURES

Buy a Mazda CX-5 Grand Tour­ing and stan­dard gear in­cludes a power driver’s seat, adap­tive xenon head­lamps, front and rear park­ing sen­sors, 10-speaker Bose sound sys­tem and 19-inch rims.

Opt for the B-class and the wheels drop back to 16 inches, mus­cles and not mo­tors move the front seats and six speak­ers are the de­fault set­ting. The flip side is a big­ger sat­nav dis­play with hi-res graph­ics set in a pi­ano-black sur­round that looks like a scaled-down ipad. The dash it­self has air vents bor­rowed from the $470,000 SLS su­per­car and the steer­ing wheel is straight out of the $160,000 CLS parts bin. The seats are more com­fort­able and there’s park­ing as­sis­tance soft­ware to ma­noeu­vre into those tight spa­ces. Both mod­els have enough rear leg and head room to com­fort­ably guard bas­ket­ballers, though the Mazda holds a slight edge here.

Rear seats up, the B-class’s cargo area swal­lows a three­seater pram and a moun­tain bike with them folded down.

OWN­ER­SHIP

The big is­sue when buy­ing your first pres­tige car is whether you can af­ford to drive it.

Leg­end has it that run­ning a Euro­pean-built car costs more than a com­pa­ra­ble Ja­panese or South Korean ve­hi­cle. Let’s break it down.

As­sum­ing an­nual travel of 15,000km, 95RON petrol to be $1.60 and 91RON at $1.50, the B-class will cost $1464 to fuel; the slug on the CX-5 will be $1440 for the­fwd­model or $1552 for the AWD. The of­fi­cial fuel use for the Merc’s 1.6-litre tur­bocharged petrol en­gine is 6.1L/100km us­ing 95RON fuel and for the Mazda 6.4L of 91RON.

As­sum­ing av­er­age an­nual travel of 15,000km, 95RON petrol to be $1.60 and 91RON at $1.50, the B-class will cost $1464 to fuel and the CX-5 $1440.

Ser­vic­ing in­ter­vals on the Merc are now out to 25,000km or 12 months, which­ever come first. Mazda sticks to 10,000km or six months.

In the­ory, then, if Mercedes can cost up to twice as much to ser­vice, these ser­vices will hap­pen half as of­ten.

OP­TIONS

Im­i­ta­tion is the great­est form of flat­tery and Mazda has taken a leaf from the Mercedes’ man­ual to op­tion soft­ware-based safety im­prove­ments as part of pack­aged up­grades.

The "tech pack" is for now only sold with the Grand Tour­ing model. The $1990 spend adds blind spot and lane de­par­ture warn­ing sys­tems and a head­light high beam con­trol sys­tem that au­to­mat­i­cally dims the light for ap­proach­ing driv­ers.

Mercedes has six op­tions pack­ages for the B-class. Load a top-spec model up with them all and the cost can top $60,000.

In­di­vid­u­ally the prices run from $1490-$2990. Two of the more use­ful are the Co­mand pack at $2990 for 12-speaker Har­man Kar­don sound sys­tem with 10GB hard drive, a seven-inch sat­nav screen and re­vers­ing cam­era, and the Driv­ing As­sis­tance pack that adds lane de­par­ture and blind spot warn­ing sys­tems along with adap­tive cruise con­tro for $2490.

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