Take the Stress Out of New Car Time

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


New-car time can be one of the most stressful events in any person’s life.

When it coincides with a family change, often triggered by the upcoming arrival of a baby, the stress is comprehensively multiplied.

Yet families have never been served better in Australia on the automotive front, with all sorts of sizes and choices and unbeatable new-car value. Safety is also at an all-time high, everywhere from the number of airbags in cabins to easy-to-use Isofix child-seat mounts and even automatic safety braking on some cars.

SUVs have taken over from old-school station wagons as the most-popular family choice, and are set to overtake traditional cars before the end of 2016 in the overall sales tables. More and more people are also going for a work-and-play ute of some type.

The days when the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore dominated the monthly showroom totals are well in the past, even though they are still recognised as a smart family purchase.

But SUVs are bigger, more flexible, available with up to seven seats, and can also come with four-wheel drive and serious towing ability.

The prices are right, too, as SUVs come in every size from sensibly compact for city work - think of the Mazda CX-3 starting around $20,000 - to hulking family haulers - the Nissan X-Trail and Toyota Fortuna in the $45,000 bracket - through to super-luxury models led by the all-new Bentley Bentayga, which will whack your wallet for more than $400,000.

Women are the dominant force in showrooms today, involved in 82 per cent of car choices. That total is made up of 47 per cent or purchases on their own, and 35 per cent when they are involved in a joint decision, according to industry researcher David Chalke.

“Women are more attuned to the intangible clues that a dealer emanates then men. They tend to be more experienced shoppers in general and tend to place greater importance on the ‘right brain’ when judging who to do business with,” Chalke says.

The most popular family choices today are mostly on the SUV front.

Best sellers in the five-seater size are the Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, but there is a huge range of 20-plus individual models including the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and the latest Suzuki Grand Vitara. Subaru also has its updated Forester, although it might be marked down by families because there are no rear-seat air vents and no light in the boot.

Among the seven-seater favourites are the award winning Kia Sorento, Toyota Kluger and Prado, Nissan X-Trail and even the Volkswagen Touareg.

Trying to find the right family car starts at the same point as every new-car purchase: price.

The budget sets the target in every case, from a secondhand purchase through to the most exotic Lamborghini or Ferrari super car, and it’s important to go further than the basic list price. Buying right means ensuring the on-road ‘changeover price’, with all the incidental costs included and an trade-in deducted, is on the money.

But lots of people forget to include the ongoing costs, from insurance and fuel to depreciation and servicing. That’s why the latest boom in warranty coverage, up to seven years for Kia and six at Citroen, is great news and so are the capped-price service programs that ensure people can budget for future work.

For Craig Lowndes, things move quickly and predictably once the budget is set.

“Obviously, space is the big one. And when I say that, I mean the cabin size,” he says.

“Families obviously have baby-seat requirements, from capsules through to boosters, but you also need to look at the boot and cargo area to ensure it’s capable of holding what you need.”

Prams and strollers are an obvious consideration, but so are bicycles and footballs and beach gear for older children. And moving from one child to two, or three, or more means you need to do a trial-fit with child seats to ensure they can all fit.

“Look at the fuel consumption. With a family to think about, you don’t necessarily need a V8 engine. It needs to be economical and affordable,” says Lowndes.

The easiest way to find comparable fuel figures is in the website for the Green Car Guide, and the best measure is the ‘combined’ figure in litres-per-100 kilometres. But never think an SUV in stop-start city traffic is going to be as economical as a passenger car on the same run.

“On the safety front, ANCAP scores are good. Airbags, especially side airbags for children in the back, are important and so are parking sensors and reversing cameras. And there is ABS braking and electronic safety control on new cars,” says Lowndes.

The ANCAP numbers are calculated from crash tests and vehicles’ safety equipment, with a growing emphasis on high-tech systems like radar cruise controls, blind-spot monitoring and auto safety braking which allow the car to intervene in a potential emergency.

“You also have to plan for the future and think about where you are going to be in five or seven or eight years. If you’re planning on having multiple children then look for extra space,” says Lowndes.

Most Australians change cars after three to five years, so it’s easy to get caught if you don’t think ahead.

“Finally, for me, and automatic gearbox is the right choice. Particularly if the car is going to be driven mostly around town,” says Lowndes.

His choice is reflected in the showroom preferences, where more than 80 per cent of cars in Australia are now delivered with an automatic gearbox. Even sports car companies such as Porsche are now turning away from clutches and manual gearboxes, with Lamborghini and Ferrari adopting autos with flappy paddles for drivers who still want to take manual control for keen driving.


Craig lowndes’ top tips

1. Get the right size

2. Check the fuel economy

3. Always choose maximum safety

4. Plan ahead for future needs

5. Automatics are best


Article written by Paul Gover. Repurposed from the original post, Take the Stress Out of New Car Time, on The Courier Mail.