Why we must tell it straight
Clear and accurate information on price and spec should always be the industry norm, writes Campbell Spray
IN REFLECTIVE mode, I came across an obituary the other day written by Hugh Leonard of the legendary and much-feared producer David Merrick.
Less than chuffed with the response to a Broadway play by the seven most influential critics in New York, Merrick found a septet of people with the same names as the reviewers. He wined and dined them liberally before taking them to the show where they were duly impressed and gave written quotes that he used to publicise his play.
I was thinking of this on hearing on the radio a succession of quotes extolling the virtues of Hyundai and, in particular, the i40. Did I ever say "onwards and upwards?" Unfortunately probably yes; my triteness can be as profound as the depths of my shallows.
I will have to be more careful. However, the motor industry is a small place and wouldn't take liberties. Yet as motoring correspondents we must always remember that we are not there to give nice quotes but to provide proper information and be on the consumer's side. The industry can look after itself.
In that respect, I received a letter from a reader, Fergal Sweeney, last week. It began: "Forgive me if this is an issue you have already dealt with so often that you are tired of it, but why are motor dealers allowed to mislead the public in their advertising? As a potential new car buyer, my eye is often attracted to a photo of a car advertised at, say 'The all new ... for only €18,000', then buried in the small print at the bottom one reads that the car in the picture in fact costs €25,999! Secondly (in an advertisement) there is a large photo of a (car) underneath the strap ... 'from (such and such)'. Buried down in the small print is the warning that 'prices displayed exclude the recommended delivery charge (€600) and related fees'.
"What precisely is a delivery charge, delivery to whom? And what precisely are related fees? Why is the motor trade allowed to get away with this nonsense? If I buy a new television, I can get it for precisely the advertised price so why should the public trust an industry that is so opaque in its pricing? Why do they perpetuate their image as being tricky to deal with?"
Fergal is absolutely right and some manufacturers have changed their policy to give straight on-the-road prices. It must become an industry norm, as should clarity about the particular models shown in advertising. It is a bit like airbrushing which was the subject of landmark case last week involving the actress Rachel Weisz and a face cream. As Fergal adds, "please stay on the side of the consumer".
But let's return to where we came in. I was very impressed with the Hyundai i40 when it came in as a Mondeo-sized estate. It had style, spec, space and savvy for a very good price. Hyundai also benefits from probably the best warranty on the market, its five-year triple care package. I thought it would do better in the Continental Irish Car of the Year results but the fact that it was only available then as an estate probably counted against it. That has now been rectified and a saloon that might be even better looking has arrived.
Last Monday I attended an event at Mercedes-Benz HQ on Dublin's Naas Road and the i40 I was testing didn't look out of place among some of the most stylish coupes and saloons in the world. The i40 saloon comes with two specs, the Comfort at €24,995 and the Executive €2,000 more. There is also an automatic Executive at more than €30,000. I think it is a very stylish car and if fleet and personal buyers don't have a look at it, they are doing themselves a disservice. I think it is the best value on the market at the moment as it gives an almost premium feel of quality. I am still not enamoured about the reversing camera which shares space with the rear mirror but the overall economy and handling of the car is first class. Those are quotes which I will stand over!
I was at Mercedes to have a brief drive in the new B-Class which, with the soon-to-be-unveiled A-Class at Geneva, is giving the company a major presence in the smaller car market. A saloon smaller than the C-Class is also scheduled.
The new B-Class is lower than the old model but because of a more normal step-down rather than step-up floor, it has more headroom. Its relative squatness gives it a more confident road grip. I was impressed by the space inside, especially in the back and the very open load area. It's just the sort of car like the Kia Venga, Hyundai iX20 and Skoda Yeti that I really like. Prices have come down and are on average 11 per cent cheaper than the last model. While diesels are likely to make up the bulk of the purchases -- wrongly, I believe -- I think the 122bhp B180BlueEFFICIENCY selling at €29,890 (plus those dreadful extra charges) with road tax of €225 deserves a good look.
Safety features on board the new B-Class include items imported from larger Mercedes-Benz models and introduced for the first time in this class of vehicle. These include adaptive headlamp, blind spot, lane keeping and speed limit assist systems along with parking assist, hill hold brake function, reversing camera and distance control. A world-first in the compact segment is the provision of a new radar-based collision prevention warning with adaptive brake assist as standard to reduce the risk of rear-end collisions.
I'll bring you a fuller test later. It has been an interesting start to the year; I hope it continues.