Max without tax

There’s no need to spend big — or take a hit from the gov­ern­ment — to get a pre­mium badge

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - BILL McKIN­NON

THE def­i­ni­tion of lux­ury car has changed dra­mat­i­cally in the past decade.

The Gov­ern­ment treats a car as a lux­ury item — and slugs the buyer 33 cents in the dol­lar — if it costs more than $64,132. The irony is that just about any­body who buys a Toy­ota Prado, for ex­am­ple, is also pay­ing LCT.

But the good news is that there are plenty of cars with lux­ury badges that limbo well un­der­neath that fig­ure.

If you’re happy for your lux­ury fix to come in a small pack­age, you can get an Audi A1 for $28,600. A lit­tle more gets you an Alfa Romeo Gi­uli­etta, while a BMW or MercedesBenz badge can be had from less than $40,000.

It doesn’t stop there. You can get fam­ily sedans and SUVs that are the right side of the lux­ury car tax. And if your choice is a fuel miser, a higher LCT thresh­old of $75,526 ap­plies to cars claim­ing fuel con­sump­tion of 7.0L/100km or less.

Can you af­ford a lux­ury badge and avoid LCT? Sure. As the late, great Kerry Packer said, “Any­body in the coun­try who does not min­imise his tax wants his head read.” Here are some of the best ways to do so.

HATCHBACKS

AUDI A3 SPORTBACK The range starts at $35,900 for the 1.0 TFSI. Its mod­est 1.0-litre three-cylin­der turbo, in com­bi­na­tion with a quick­shift­ing seven-speed du­al­clutch auto, pro­vides sur­pris­ingly good per­for­mance.

In­side, there’s cloth trim and most of the lux­ury good­ies are op­tional.

If you want to splurge, you can spend up to $62,900 for the S3 hatch, which runs a 2.0-litre turbo and all-wheel drive. It smokes the 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.8 sec­onds.

Top shelf Nappa leather up­hol­stery, 18-inch al­loys and Audi’s bril­liant “vir­tual cock­pit” dig­i­tal dis­play are stan­dard in a cabin with the best ma­te­ri­als, fit and fin­ish qual­ity in the busi­ness. BMW 125i BMW’s 1 Se­ries starts at $37,990 but the sweet spot in the range is the 125i M Sport., which is good value at $49,000.

It’s the last hatch­back still with rear-wheel drive and, with M Sport sus­pen­sion, brakes and 18-inch al­loy pack­age as stan­dard, it han­dles beau­ti­fully. Its 2.0-litre turbo has plenty of go — 0-100km/h in 6.1 sec­onds — and comes with six-speed man­ual or eight-speed au­to­matic.

SEDANS

MERCEDES C-CLASS The “lux­ury car” is de­fined by big Ger­man sedans such as the BMW 5 Se­ries and Mercedes EClass. They’re out of reach if you want to avoid the LCT.

The Benz C-Class, which th­ese days re­ally is a shrunken ver­sion of the E-Class, is a great car with pow­er­ful, fuel-ef­fi­cient four-cylin­der en­gines, plus a hy­brid, that al­low it to limbo un­der the LCT fuel-miser thresh­old.

The C250 is $69,400 with 2.0-litre turbo; the C250d with su­perb 2.1-litre turbo diesel is $70,900; and the C350e hy­brid is $75,300. JAGUAR XE Once a brand re­served for the landed gen­try, Jaguar has be­come more ac­ces­si­ble in re­cent years with a range of smaller and cheaper sedans, as well as its first SUV.

The XE is a wor­thy al­ter­na­tive to the Ger­mans and the 20t Pres­tige sneaks un­der the LCT with a price of $60,400 be­fore on-roads.

It’s not as spa­cious as the Mercedes and the in­te­rior can’t quite match the C-Class’s am­bi­ence. How­ever, it’s a great drive, with a com­fort­able ride and sharp re­flexes through the cor­ners.

The 2.0-litre four-cylin­der

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