Your car is your most public possession, one that declares what type of person you want to project yourself as. An expensive sports car declares that you are rich and sporty, while a prestige limousine says that you are rich and important. If you have a small SUV, it suggests that you are adventurous but cannot afford a BMW X5 or an Audi Q7.
Car for car, there is not much mechanical difference between an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but each brand has established its own image. One of the reasons the little Tata Nano failed was because it was projected as a poor people’s car and this did not appeal to the many upwardly mobile young people who wanted to convey that they were not poor. It might have done better if it had been promoted as a fun car or a cute car.
When people go to buy a new car, they are torn between the desire for a prestigious vehicle and one that fits their budgets. Most people want a conventional saloon like the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic but are tempted to save about 30 per cent of its costs by taking a smaller saloon like the Maruti Suzuki DZire or a Honda Amaze, which are quite good looking and fairly spacious and comfortable.
But you need to go on a long road journey to really evaluate if the space and comfort are actually good enough. When you are three hours or more in the back seat you will realize that it is tiring because the thigh support is not quite enough. With fierce competition the smaller sedans are constantly getting better, but the larger saloons are also adding a huge array of luxurious options to keep ahead of the race. It is not easy to make a decision.
The small sedans may match their larger sisters with touch screens for easy access to navigation, rear cameras, communications, entertainment and electronic gizmos, but a bigger car will always have a little more legroom, seat width and overall space.
The longer wheelbase will also make the ride a bit more comfortable, especially on bad roads, and the extra weight will take up a bit more of the road shocks. The bigger doors will also make getting in and out much easier. So, if you are likely to spend a fair amount of time in your car, a larger car is definitely an advantage despite the higher costs.
All the auto makers will also confuse you with many attractive new gadgets. Remote entry and starting is certainly useful, but you can manage quite well without them. Remote starting and cooling your car before you even leave your house is fun, but is the pleasure really worth the extra cost? Sensors warning you about objects dangerously close are definitely desirable, but these are now available on both large and small cars. Smart LED and DRL lights are equally good on both too.
Automatic gears are much the same on small and large cars and make driving much easier, smoother and safer, but automakers also try to con you with several other expensive but fairly useless options. Cruise control is useful where you can drive at a constant speed, but it is quite useless in the hectic traffic of most Indian roads. Most drivers will also seldom use their expensive sunroofs and paddle shift gears. So, don’t be tempted just by technology. Go for the car you really like and buy the options you really want to use.
(The author is a senior automobile analyst)