Buyers' Guide: It’s all about the base
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When you are in the market for a new vehicle you are usually offered several variants within a range. The most obvious and appealing financially will usually be the base model but it may not be the best value.
Base models have similar engineering, suspension and design aesthetics as premium models in the same range, mainly because they have shared the same production line.
The base model will, at the very least, exhibit the fundamentals of the design team’s ideas which should manifest themselves in a clean, uncluttered look with chrome embellishments and frills on the side.
Base models of today do not reflect the base models of yesteryear.
You’d be surprised to find a new car for sale these days that doesn’t include functions once deemed to be luxuries, such as power steering, electric windows and central locking.
More importantly, advances in the development of safety assist technology systems (SATS) have raised the bar when it comes to expectations for occupant and pedestrian protection and crash prevention.
You may have to pay a premium for features such as 360-degree cameras or active safety assists that take control of the vehicle when its sensors detect danger, but plenty of passive safety assist technologies (those that audibly or visually highlight risks) are commonplace in base models.
Also, the absence of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC) can prevent a car from achieving a 5-star Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) safety rating.
Take the Holden Barina LS, for example, that boasts a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, six airbags, an Android Auto and Apple CarPlay-compatible infotainment system, reverse cameras and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Many motorists would consider these features as icing on the cake, but the LS is the Barina’s entry level model.
Manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen also offer impressively equipped and priced base models.
The most notable drawback in base models tends to be the engine performance. It could have a smaller capacity engine, or a de-tuned version that delivers lower performance.
Visually, the interior and exterior may also have a less polished finish, using cheaper materials than higher-end models.
After a number of years of depreciation, it may be more difficult to sell a base model if it is listed alongside premium variants that have retained their value.
The base model could well be the bait that drew you onto the forecourt, but as it normally features the manufacturer’s entry-level spec, you may find salespeople trying to upsell you by mentioning the benefits available with the next tier up.
Outwardly, many model variants will look similar, so understanding what bang you get for your buck on the base model will give you a good idea about the value of these add-ons or upgrades.
If a car takes your fancy, try to identify the differences between the models available in the range before you head to the dealership so you can ask the right questions.
If there’s something available in the next spec up that you want, find out whether the cost difference between models is cheaper than adding that particular feature on post-sale.
If the cost difference is negligible, you will benefit from further enhancements (practical and visual) that will make your car an attractive option at resale.