The duty dodgers
German makers’ mid-size models provide the prestige badge without the top-end tax hit
YOU call that luxury? Not according to the tax man.
These three prestige sedans are exempt from Luxury Car Tax because they are priced below the threshold that adds 33 per cent to every dollar above $63,184.
No wonder Australians are embracing them in record numbers.
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been the secondbest selling medium-size sedan for the past two years — only behind the Toyota Camry — despite costing more than twice the price.
The Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series outsell mid-size sedans from Ford, Honda and Hyundai.
With the arrival this month of the new A4, and the recent update to the 3 Series, it was time to acquaint them with the benchmark of the class — and the 2014 Carsguide Car of the Year — the C-Class.
This might look like the old model but the new A4 has a lighter body, a roomier cabin and a bigger footprint. Conversely, the price has shrunk.
The A4 now starts from $55,500 plus on-road costs, $2000 less than before, despite extra equipment.
This makes it $600 dearer than the cheapest (and lesser equipped) 3 Series — but $5400 cheaper than the C-Class.
Audi was able to undercut Mercedes by such a margin because it has chosen to introduce a 1.4-litre turbo petrol model (versus the 2.0litre turbo in the C-Class).
It’s the smallest engine yet fitted to an A4 sold in Australia, but Audi is not the only one to downsize (the 3 Series on test has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder).
Despite its small heart, the new A4 is a lot of car for the money.
It has technology that can spot aproaching cars and cyclists when parked — warning the driver before opening the door — and automatic emergency braking works at higher speeds than the Benz (85km/h to 70km/h). The 318 doesn’t have AEB.
Unique in this trio, it automatically slams on the brakes if you unintentionally turn into the path of an oncoming car.
It can also sense a rear impact is imminent, and strobe-flash the brake lights to alert the driver of the incoming car.
The interior is a clean and understated design. It has a host of technology (including a digital widescreen for the instrument display) but lacks the luxury feel of the Mercedes.
The same could be said of the A4’s quiet and refined driving manners. The 1.4-litre turbo, a smooth operator, has sufficient power for normal driving.
However, the A4 doesn’t hug the road or soak up bumps in the same way as the BMW or Mercedes.
The 3 Series was once the benchmark of the class but times have changed. Mercedes now sells more than twice as many mid-size sedans as BMW and more than three times as many as Audi.
As BMW designers and engineers work to claw back lost ground with the next generation 3 Series, due in a couple years, the Munich maker has released a midterm update to the car it released in 2012 — and a new cut-price model, from $54,900.
Since October, standard fare has included 18-inch alloy wheels, eight-speed automatic transmission, head-up display, lane change
SERVICE INTERVAL SAFETY ENGINE THIRST DIMENSIONS warning and, as with the test rivals, LED headlights. To make up for not having a rearview camera for so long, BMW has gone one better and made a 360-degree view image standard.
The biggest change, of course, was the introduction of the three-cylinder engine.
It’s the slowest among this trio but nevertheless makes good use of the eight-speed automatic. Short ratios get it away smartly and the taller ratios provide exceptional economy at freeway speeds.
BMW has tweaked the suspension to make it less choppy over bumps and it’s still the benchmark for precise steering feel.
The cabin is starting to look dated, even with $11,000 worth of options BMW added to the evaluation vehicle.
Despite the spruce up, the BMW falls short when standard equipment lists are compared.
PRICE AS TESTED WARRANTY
TRANSMISSION WEIGHT SPARE 0-100KM/H