Buying prestige needn’t mean paying a premium. Entry level cars from the luxury brands are comparably priced to top-spec mainstream models: about $45,000 gets you a shiny upmarket badge to show the neighbours.
Be warned, though; you may pick up that coveted badge, but there will be a profusion of blank buttons and missing pages in the infotainment display denoting the absence of the latest technology.
Here’s what your cash will buy among the most popular prestige brands.
Volvo V40 T3 Momentum $35,888 drive-away
The hatch’s list price is $37,990, making this limited-time deal — the car is in run-out mode — worth about $8000. The T3 is fitted with city-speed autonomous emergency braking but you’ll pay more for the likes of blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts and lane-keep assist. Smartphone connectivity isn’t an option.
Lexus CT 200h $44,500-$46,300 drive-away
Lexus has sold fewer than 400 examples of its glorified Prius this year, so the prices are down. An update last year added a 10.3-inch screen with satnav, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist across the range but the base Luxury version lacks digital radio, has cloth seats and rear passengers miss out on drink holders and USB ports.
Infiniti Q30 1.6 GT $42,900-$43,600 drive-away
If you need any proof Australians are badge snobs, look at the Q30. Essentially a cheaper, rebadged Mercedes A-Class, the Q30 has yet to hit triple figures in sales so far this year, compared to almost 2500 sales for Benz. Standard gear includes AEB, single-zone aircon and cloth seats. It doesn’t have a reversing camera or rear USB ports.
BMW 118i $43,400-$45,300 drive-away
The base Beemer is reasonably equipped for the price by prestige standards, with LED headlamps, satnav, digital audio, supportive sports seats, city-speed AEB and lane-departure warning. It also rides and handles like a BMW. The infotainment screen is small at 6.5 inches and those in the back miss out on storage areas and USB ports.
Audi A1 Sportback 1.4 TFSI $30,900 drive-away
The A1 is in runout mode and, under a special deal, the 1.4-litre mid-spec car is cheaper than the base 1.0-litre version. The discounted price goes some way to atoning for the absence of features found on cars with $20,000 stickers. AEB can’t be had, there’s no reversing camera and the screen is 6.5 inches without satnav.
Mercedes-Benz A180 $43,000-$44,100 drive-away
The new A-Class is being progressively introduced in Australia but for now the base model is the “old” version. Default kit includes a reversing camera, satnav, blind-spot alert, smartphone mirroring and park assist. The good active safety gear is bundled in an options pack. Hold out for the new one late this year or haggle hard.
If you’re willing to forgo the street cred that comes with a luxury badge, you’ll be richly rewarded by the mainstream manufacturers.
Mazda3 SP25 Astina $33,790 drive-away
The Astina tops the Mazda3 range and comes with adaptive cruise control, LED headlamps, head-up display, city-speed AEB, blind-spot alert, leather seats, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition and Bose audio. The warranty is now five years and if you buy before the end of the month you get three years’ free servicing.
Volkswagen Golf GTI $38,490 drive-away
VW is working hard to shift the GTI and the drive-away deal is $3500 off the list price. That applies only to the six-speed manual, which suits the sporty nature of the car but may not suit city drivers. For the money you’ll get perhaps the most revered hot hatch in history, a potent engine and creature comforts including an eight-inch screen with satnav, cloth seats, city-speed AEB and LED headlamps.
Honda Civic VTi-LX $36,700-$37,600 drive-away
A five-year warranty and decent drive makes the Civic worth buying. In this guise it includes AEB, lane-keep assist, seven-inch infotainment screen with satnav and smartphone mirroring and a digital instrument panel. The upholstery is leather-accented and the drive is a match for most of the prestige players.
We all crave recognition and there’s no doubt a premium car in the driveway achieves that. It comes at a cost and buyers need to be aware of what they want from their vehicles, be that image or the latest innovations, and decide accordingly.