Com­pact con­flict

It’s the lat­est round in the light­weight di­vi­sion

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News - Stu­art Martin and Neil Dowling

A FULL-SCALE small car pric­ing war is rag­ing with buy­ers the only win­ners.

Nis­san has fired the lat­est salvo with a record low $18,990 sticker on its Pul­sar hatch. In show­rooms next month, the five-door is $1000 un­der not only the sedan but its coun­ter­part of 20 years ago.

The ra­zor-sharp price is a re­sponse to Holden’s $19,490 en­try to its re­vised Cruze range, the low­est price of any Aus­tralian-made car since the late 1980s.

Most main play­ers in the small car seg­ment, which is ex­pected to tally some 250,000 sales this year, now have have sub-$20,000 start­ing point, though this is in­evitably for the low-vol­ume man­ual vari­ant.

The auto op­tion adds up to $3000, then there are on-road charges. Even so, most con­tenders are oth­er­wise fully equipped. Mit­subishi has sharp­ened its Lancer pric­ing with $19,990 drive-away on its Spe­cial Ac­tion Model edi­tion. Based on the en­try 2.0-litre ES, it comes with metal­lic paint in a choice of four colours, 16-inch five-spoke al­loys, Ral­liart front bumper and grille, VRX high­rise boot spoiler and ex­tra bling.

Mit­subishi says its ‘‘ com­pact sedan’’ con­cept will be­come the next Lancer but it could be three years away. That’s bad news for the Ja­panese maker as al­most ev­ery other player has brought in, or is on the verge of, new mod­els.

The rein­tro­duc­tion of an old name has boosted Nis­san to­ward the promised it once en­joyed in the small car mar­ket. It has not looked back since ditch­ing the de­rided Ti­ida name for the old faith­ful Pul­sar ear­lier this year.

The Pul­sar hatch range kicks off at less than $19K for the ST but for not much ex­tra the STL looks to be the bet­ter pack­age. The meat of the range, how­ever be­gins, with the $24,990 ST-S which runs the same 1.6-turbo four as the lon­gawaited SSS ($29,240).

Opel has not both­ered the statis­ti­cians to any great ex­tent but its As­tra range (ex­clud­ing the hot GTC and OPC) gets free on-road costs, dealer de­liv­ery and three years’ sched­uled ser­vic­ing if you buy be­fore the end of June.

Its smaller Corsa sib­ling is $16,990 and the medium In­signia is $39,990, both drive­away and with free on-roads and dealer de­liv­ery but not the ser­vic­ing of­fer.

Suzuki has added the capped price ser­vice pro­gram and a five-year war­ranty to its arse­nal. The guar­an­tee is for fixed ser­vice prices from $199 for the Alto and Swift, al­though Queens­land and north­ern NSW have dif­fer­ent ar­range­ments due to a sep­a­rate dis­tri­bu­tion deal. Even Volk­swa­gen has in­tro­duced capped-price ser­vice on its pas­sen­ger and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles.

The Ger­mans brought the pro­gram in on the Up late last year. It cov­ers six years or 90,000km on al­lVW­pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles sold from Jan­uary 1, 2013. For the Up, main­te­nance starts from $280, the Polo ser­vice prices kick off from $347 and the new Golf 7 ser­vice costs start from $272, down from the pre­vi­ous-gen Golf that starts from $357.

The small-car sec­tor is vir­tu­ally static in sales, up 0.9 per cent year-to-date, but the buyer de­mand for com­pact, fu­el­ef­fi­cient cars means there are no signs of the sec­tor weak­en­ing.

It re­mains the largest in­di­vid­ual seg­ment in terms of vol­ume— more than 22 per cent of the to­tal mar­ket with 62,034 sales so far this year, al­most twice that of light cars, 4WD utes and large and medium SUVs, the next big­gest seg­ments.

Sec­onds out, drive-away: Mit­subishi Lancer starts at $20K and (bot­tom) Opel As­tra is priced from $23K

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