Buyer's Guide: Elite features come down to earth
It’s game on in the new vehicle industry with every new mainstream vehicle release highlighting a host of innovations and features once reserved for the prestige market.
Potential life-savers such as multiple airbags and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) hardly rate a mention when new vehicle reviews go to press as they are seen as par for the course and expected.
ESC becomes mandatory on all new class MA, MB, MC and NA light passenger and goods vehicles certified for entry into service from July 1, but the majority of the main players in NZ have been well ahead on that score for some time.
The good news is, new vehicle buyers don’t have to wait for the current new wave of innovation and safety features such as blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control (automatically reduces a vehicle’s speed when it approaches a slower vehicle ahead), lane departure and collision warning to filter down from the more elite models. In some cases, the mainstream brands and models are leading the charge and introducing a host of innovations as standard.
The even better news for buyers is the suggested retail prices are not increasing at the same rate as the extra benefits being offered either.
If we looked back at what a new vehicle, fitted with a basic safety package of Anti-Locking Brakes and a driver and passenger airbag only, retailed for 20 years ago and compare it with what is on offer today, then it’s plain to see how far the industry has come. The motor industry is providing a lot more for less these days.
It also seems there has been a rapid catch-up in perceived weaknesses. All brands have strengths, but some have had their share of problem areas as well.
For example, most of the main players are quick to point out improvements in body strength and rigidity of new models, plus the increased use of high-strength steel is making vehicles safer. Others have lifted their game in terms of build quality, styling, fuel efficiency, tailpipe emissions and performance.
Some of those improvements have been forced on manufacturers, but overall the improvements are driven by fierce competition from within the industry. Some want to increase or retain their already high ranking, while others want a much bigger slice of the cake and have worked hard to improve their product.
There will always be vehicles reserved for the select few who can afford the extremes of luxury but when those vehicles and customers are removed, there is little difference between one brand and another.
For buyers, there is always the brand itself to consider, and that’s where there is still a big difference. A vehicle brand can demand higher pricing but the pressure is really on for those manufacturers to retain that point of difference to justify the increased asking prices.
Those differences are definitely there at times — it may be the self-closing doors, reduced cabin noise, armchair comfort, better ride and handling, high-quality leather and stitching, better-quality sound system or the many infotainment features on offer. Whether it’s enough to pay the extra and clinch a sale is over to each buyer.
For some new buyers the brand will always win because it can be an inspirational purchase and while other distributors may compete favourably at times, nothing will replace the badge. And to be fair to many of the luxury brand distributors, their pricing has been realigned to ensure they remain competitive.
Those in the used car market should have a more open mind. A second-hand vehicle with a strong prestige brand reputation could easily be overtaken in terms of specification levels and safety features by a new mainstream player. Throw in the benefits of new car warranty and cheaper running costs and that gap suddenly closes.
For some it will never be enough while for others it’s definitely worth consideration. No right or wrong answer, but it certainly pays to weigh up the options carefully.