QUESTION – ANTHEA, NSW
We are looking at purchasing either a BMW 1-Series or an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, do you have a preference on either of these?
Typical duties will be mainly for work, driving around the city, nothing off-road. No specific requirements aside from something reliable and comfortable that's a bit fun, cool.
Happy to consider other brands but quite like the sexiness of a European brand. And/or can you recommend anything else in the same category? Something that looks good but is small and zippy. We will be using it daily in the city mainly.
ANSWER – NATHAN:
Given predominantly city use, I’ll assume you’re looking for an automatic and not a manual.
I ran a base-model Alfa Giulietta test car for 7 months back in 2014 and absolutely loved it. Timelessly beautiful styling, great seats, nice ride, perky engine, excellent economy… however it was a six-speed manual. The 2016 Giulietta Super six-speed manual is currently $29,990 driveaway and would totally fit your needs, but that’s only if you don’t mind shifting gears yourself...
Alfa Romeo’s two-pedal alternative – called TCT, or what is commonly known as a dual-clutch transmission – has a more powerful engine than the Super manual, and a bit more equipment too, but it isn’t as sweet to drive. And while Alfa Romeo’s warranty is 3 years/150,000km, plus 3 years 24-hour roadside assistance, if the Giulietta Super TCT is really what you like, then I’d try and wrangle extended-warranty coverage… and make sure it covers the transmission! It’s also $34,900, not including on-road costs, so would be right at the top end of your budget (unless you haggle a deal, which is definitely possible).
If a dual-clutch transmission (most commonly used by Volkswagen and Audi, but also Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Hyundai, among others) becomes problematic, it can be expensive to fix, hence making sure any extended warranty covers it.
That concern over warranty coverage would also apply to the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3, both of which are dual-clutch and can be had for your $35,000 budget. While near-identical under the skin, the Audi is the sportier of the two, but also much more expensive. That said, the A3 is about to be updated (December) so you might be able to score a deal on a superseded one. The RRP of a base A3 1.4 TFSI (without on-road costs) is $36,500…
Which brings me to the BMW 118i, whose RRP is $36,900, and that’s before you start adding options (which you’ll need to if you want the 1 Series to have a funky, luxury look and feel – it’s rather austere in standard form).
Same goes for the Mercedes-Benz A180, which starts at $37,200. Both will be way above $40,000 before you get one that’s looking and feeling like its price.
Best option, then, is to shop just below the mainstream premium Euro brands (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz). This might be hard to believe but you’ll get a better car, with more equipment, for way less money.
Besides the aforementioned VW Golf (which is super-slick, but perhaps a bit too conservative and common…), we’d go for a Peugeot 308 hatch. It’s the French brand’s renaissance car, was European Car of the Year in 2014, and finished runner-up in our COTY award the same year. It’s a brilliant little thing – fun to drive, with terrific engines, a great ride, superb efficiency and a fabulous interior. It’s a much more fun and funky car than the daggy base-model Germans, and it has personality!
The best model is the 308 Active 1.2-litre turbo-petrol auto. Its three-cylinder engine is amazingly smooth, punchy and charming, yet incredibly efficient, and the soon-to-launch MY17 model gets standard sat-nav and rear-view camera for $27,990 RRP. The still-great MY16 entry-level 308 Access is currently $23,990 driveaway for an auto, but it doesn’t get the aforementioned equipment, or a centre touchscreen.
At the upper end is the 308 Allure. It’s just under $32,000 RRP but adds quite a lot of extra gear (safety and comfort/styling extras) and a more powerful 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine. The engine doesn’t sound as charming as the smaller 1.2, and it isn’t as efficient, but the 308 Allure is where it’s at in terms of funky looks and persuasive equipment.
Finally, Peugeot’s warranty and servicing coverage is pretty solid. While the basic warranty is only average (3 years/100,000km, plus the same in roadside assistance), the 308 has a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty and offers 5 years/75,000km fixed-price servicing.