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Top-of-the-line vs next base model

Which one is for you?

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When it comes to buying cars, everyone has a different perception of what kind of value they’re getting from the money they spend. In fact, automotive manufacturers introduce multiple variants per model to cater specifically to every buyer’s value perception. Don’t think leather seats are worth the extra P30,000? Well here’s a variant without them. Can you live without a turbocharged engine? You can find the exact same model with a normally-aspirated engine for P100,000 less.

Manufacturers have done such a great job of covering all the pricing bases, that their models sometimes overlap one another. In some cases, top-of-the-line lower-tiered cars are even more expensive than the base-model variant of the next model up.

Take the top-of-the-line Toyota Vios 1.5 Prime (P1,095,000) versus the similarly-priced Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6 G A/T (P1,053,000) for example. Given the price difference of P42,000, would you pay more for a smaller car? Looking at another example: The Mazda 2 1.5 Premium Series hatchback is priced at P1,085,000, while the next model up, Mazda 3 1.5 V sedan is priced at P1,090,000 — a difference of a mere P5,000. Even the Mazda 3 1.5 V hatchback isn’t that far off at P1,110,000 — a P25,000 difference. Which one would you choose? Here are some ways car buyers answer that question.

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Car size

The most popular reasoning behind why people would opt for the next model up, even as a base model, is that the bigger car offers “more metal for the money.” While it’s true that the dimensions of a car the next model up are larger, the perceived advantages that go with it aren’t as pronounced as they used to be.

In terms of luggage space, the Toyota Vios actually holds slightly more at 478 liters, versus its bigger brother, the Corolla Altis, which has 470 liters of cargo space. Today’s cars are also quite generous with rear legroom, with even smaller cars and hatchbacks offering enough distance to keep your knees from hitting the front seats. And as for a larger car providing added safety during an accident? We’ll get to that in a bit. So really, all that’s left is the notion that you’re paying for a bigger chassis, which some would translate as being more bang for the buck, even if the real-world advantages aren’t as clear cut as they once were.

Engine

In some cases, going up to the next model means you’re getting a stronger engine. In our Toyota example, the Corolla Altis 1.6 G uses a 1.6 liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 122 hp and 154 Nm of torque. The Toyota Vios 1.5 Prime on the other hand uses a smaller 1.5 liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 106 hp and 140 Nm of torque. In our Mazda example, the differences are less pronounced. The Mazda 2 1.5 Premium Series comes with a 1.5 liter engine that produces 108 hp and 139 Nm, while the Mazda 3 Skyactiv V hatchback and sedan’s 1.5 liter engine produces a slightly more powerful 110 hp and 144 Nm of torque. Bear in mind that the larger chassis means a heavier curb weight, so this directly affects your power-to-weight ratio, which in turn affects your performance.

Safety

A lot of consumers will opt for a bigger car because they believe it provides a bit more safety during collision. While this does hold true, there are other more important factors to consider that could substantially raise the safety level of a car that goes beyond the amount of sheet metal.

In our Toyota example, the Toyota Vios 1.5 Prime comes with seven SRS airbags, vehicle stability control, hill-start assist control, and ABS with EBD and Brake Assist. The Corolla Altis 1.6 G also comes with seven SRS airbags, but lacks the Vios’ vehicle stability control, which is absolutely critical in avoiding a crash in the first place.

The difference in safety features is a lot larger comparing the Mazda models. The smaller Mazda 2 Premium Series gets six airbags, ABS with EBD, rear parking sensors and dynamic stability control, while the Mazda 3 Skyactiv V gets two airbags, no rear parking sensors, though also comes with ABS with EBD and dynamic stability control. If you were to ask my opinion, safety technology such as added airbags and stability control will do a much better job at keeping you safe from harm, more than just some added inches of steel.

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Cabin features

Of course, the most apparent disadvantage you’ll encounter when opting for the base model variant of any car is a sparser interior. You will end up losing some features such as leather upholstery, upgraded infotainment systems, paddle shifters, push start systems, and more premium details on door panels and the dash. To some, these additional features are trivial and not considered important for daily driving. For others, even the smallest detail goes a long way in making the cabin a more enjoyable place to be, which is where you’ll be spending all your time in.

At the end of the day, the decision to choose one over the other boils down to what you deem is important to your own driving habits and needs. But with automotive technology advancing exponentially every ten years, it pays to take a good look at the specs to see exactly where what you’re getting for your money. After all, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

By Chris Van Hoven

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