A lit­tle lux­ury

It’s the smart spend in ev­ery sense — a pres­tige badge in a small but per­fectly formed shape

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - Paul Pot­tinger

THE WAY we look at new cars changes from to­day. A gen­uinely new class hasn’t emerged since the 1990s when the first ex­am­ples ap­peared of the com­pact SUV that most car-hunt­ing fam­i­lies now at least con­sider.

March in­tro­duces a new seg­ment. For the first time ev­ery pres­tige brand has a fully equipped lux­ury model on the mar­ket priced at $35,000. So, too, this week does pres­tige-priced Volvo.

In April Volk­swa­gen re­leases its Mark VII Golf. By year’s end some 40 per cent of its sales will be ver­sions priced from that $35K mark. In May, Audi — which al­ready sells a re-skinnedVWPolo — pro­duces for the first time an A3 that prom­ises to be more than a Golf in a nicer suit (even if it looks all too much like the un­la­mented out­go­ing model).

The new pres­tige com­pact class com­prises le­git lux­ury cars, at the fore­front of their re­spec­tive badges’ foray to con­quer new buy­ers. That’s the buyer who would oth­er­wise spend $35K on a mid­dling equipped Mazda CX-5, a Toy­ota Camry or or any one of sev­eral per­fectly re­spectable prod­ucts from stal­wart fam­ily brands; a buyer who might once have bought a Com­modore or Fal­con.

Ban­ish mem­o­ries of Benz shop­ping trol­leys that top­pled dur­ing han­dling tests or ba­sic BMWs so un­der­pow­ered as to en­dan­ger oc­cu­pants. The new wave brings so­phis­ti­ca­tion not pre­vi­ously seen at this price point.

Benz’s A-Class — the best hatch­back of any type, our re­viewer ar­gues — has the ca­pac­ity to park it­self. BMW’s 1 Se­ries — the best han­dling model from a brand noted for dy­namic cars — uses the same eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion as a $300,000 7 Se­ries limou­sine.

Volvo’s V40, the safest car crashed by Euro­pean au­thor­i­ties, has a front airbag to cush­ion pedes­tri­ans. The A3 fits the world’s best in­te­ri­ors to the un­der­pin­nings shared with VW. The CT200h from Lexus is the only af­ford­able com­pact hy­brid.

What’s more, though they are clas­si­fied as small cars, all seat five peo­ple (in the rear of the 1 Se­ries they’d want to be short peo­ple) and have cargo space at least ap­proach­ing that of most com­pact SUVs.

And given that we buy some 20,000 small cars a month, quan­tity has long since been sup­planted by qual­ity on our new car shop­ping cri­te­ria.

This is why the high and mighty brands are de­scend­ing to this level. It’s all very well win­ning the bat­tle of the $350,000 su­per sedans but $35K is where the ma­jor­ity of fam­ily buy­ers are, and they have no short­age of choice.

The down­ward foray by the pres­tige play­ers makes that choice harder and wider. And when the likes of Mazda are faced by Mercedes, buy­ers are the win­ners.

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