The duty dodgers

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Cover Story - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MOTORING EDI­TOR

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 warn­ing and, as with the test ri­vals, LED head­lights.

To make up for not hav­ing a rear-view cam­era for so long, BMW has gone one bet­ter and made a 360-de­gree PRICE AS TESTED WAR­RANTY



TRANS­MIS­SION THIRST DI­MEN­SIONS WEIGHT SPARE 0-100KM/H view im­age stan­dard. The big­gest change, of course, was the in­tro­duc­tion of the three­cylin­der 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. The C-Class still looks as fresh — inside and out — as when it

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