If you’ve got 40 grand to spend, you can buy the works burger of Mazda3s or a mid-spec Mercedes-Benz A Class. They’re about the same on fundamentals. But let’s find out which one’s better value.
The Germans continue to strip equipment from their notionally premium products just so they can compete with the Japanese on price. It’s becoming a bad joke. On you – if you buy one. Let’s take a look at just how badly you have to bend over to drive the baby three-pointed star..
The Mazda3 Astina hatch is a very impressive small car. It comes fully loaded for $38,190, plus on-road costs. It’s so packed with standard gear the only option available is red metallic paint: $200. Every other metallic finish is a no-cost option. The six-speed auto Mazda has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, beautiful styling, and it runs on 91-octane regular unleaded petrol. The cheap stuff.
MAZDA3 ASTINA IMAGE GALLERY
The Mercedes-Benz A 200 petrol hatch is a 5 grand step up from the poverty pack A Class – the A 180. It’ll cost you $40,900 plus on-road costs. Near enough three grand more than the Mazda. The A 200 sips a minimum of 95-octane fuel – which is going to cost you more every time the fuel light comes on. The A Class one extra forward gear in the drivetrain (for a total of seven) and frankly you can’t jump over the list of available options. Unbelievable.
MERCEDES-BENZ A 200 IMAGE GALLERY
Mazda has just seven models in its lineup, currently, which keeps the inventory nice and compact. The Mazda3 is the second rung up the Mazda ladder; arguably the best small car currently on sale in Australia. But it’s up against the three-pointed star, which has unmatched cachet in the market.
Mercedes-Benz has an incredible 18 different models in its inventory. You’d be flat-out naming half of them – or even identifying how some of them are differentiated from others in the model range. They’re so ‘niche’, some of these models, Benz will be designing vehicles specifically for left-handed lumberjacks named ‘Andrew’ next. That’s what I heard.
Mercedes-Benz prices range from $35,600 for the poverty pack A Class to – wait for it – $639,000 for the Black Series SLS AMG, which I’m pretty sure is a very nice, but somewhat irrelevant, car. Not too many manufacturers have a $600,000 spread in the price of their products. $639,000… have that wrapped…
Meanwhile, back on earth, the price difference between the Mazda3 and the A 200 is just $2710, which begs an obvious question: Why isn’t every man and his dog buying Benzes instead of upmarket Mazda3s? Off the bat, less than $3000 for the three-pointed star doesn’t seem like a bad deal. Like, sign me up. I’ll take it.
Except, that’s not the whole story.
The Mazda3 Astina comes with a tonne of standard equipment. Equipment which the A 200 Benz actually lacks. In fact, this dearth of standard stuff makes a mockery of the term ‘premium’ in relation to the Mercedes. The Benz is premium on intangible criteria only – ie the badge. When you factor in objective criteria (things you can actually measure) the A 200 is a joke. And the Mercedes-Benz dealer will be the one laughing, all the way to the bank.
Up front, these vehicles are fundamentally the same. Same sort of weight, same sort of size, same approximate dynamics, similar engine outputs – they fit in the same garage, and they perform about the same.
But let’s option up the A 200 so that it’s at least equivalent to the standard Mazda3 Astina – and see what that does to the price. Get the defibrillator ready.
Let’s Assume we want Australia’s most popular automotive car colour – silver. The new ‘white’. That’s $0 extra for the Mazda, and $1190 extra on the Mercedes.
Here’s the gear that’s standard on the Mazda, but optional on the baby Benz.
You’d want a sunroof and bi-xenon headlamps. (The Mazda’s got that.) That’s what Mercedes-Benz calls the ‘Vision package’: $2490.
Premium sound system and sat-nav? Mazda’s got that. It’s called the Command Package on the Benz: $2990.
Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and blind spot warning. Yep. Sure. If it’s good enough for the Mazda. That’s the Benz Driving Assistance Package. Just $2490. (We’ll just bundle it up in the finance. You won’t feel a thing.)
And I guess you’d want dual-zone climate control air conditioning, an electric driver’s seat, and heated front seats – the Mazda’s got that. That’s all part of the Benz Exclusive Package – another $2490.
You also get full leather trim with that (the Mazda’s only got part leather trim). And Mercedes-Benz says, for the two-and-a-half grand, you even get the dashboard trimmed in black – quote – man-made leather. That’s right: man-made leather. Talk about breathtaking semantic promiscuity colliding with Teutonic hubris. Man-made leather. (I thought all leather was man-made. It doesn’t occur in nature, unless you live on the Gold Coast and forget to exfoliate. Monkeys don’t make leather. I think Mercedes-Benz really means ‘fake’ leather. Like vinyl, only minus the underlying authenticity.
So, they’re almost equivalent now, these two cars, on objective criteria. The big thing you can’t option up to, on the A 200 is a proximity key. Obvious question here: Why the hell not? If Kia and Hyundai can manage it on an i30 or a Cerato – why not make proximity keys standard across all Mercedes-Benzes? Like, we’re halfway through the second decade of the 21st Century here. Proximity keys aren’t cutting-edge any more. They’re not bespoke. They’re off the rack. They cost bugger-all to fit. It’s embarrassing to offer a notionally premium product without one.
You don’t get voice control or active cornering on the headlamps on the Benz, either. They’re all standard on the Mazda. And, to be fair, the A 200 has some minor gear the Mazda lacks as well.
All up though, that’s an additional $11,650 to get a Mercedes-Benz A 200 equipped kinda like a Mazda3 Astina. As close to equal as you can get, without bending time and space. The Mazda is $38,190 and the optioned-up A 200 now costs an incredible $52,550.
The difference is $14,360. Which is a lot of additional hoot if you walk into the Benz dealership expecting to drop $40k. You could always buy the base car without the options, but then the Mazda pulls its pants down by proving it, and not the Benz, is really the premium product.
That’s roughly a 40 per cent price hike for driving essentially the same thing, with different badges. Maybe that’s fair enough – it depends on your value system. The point where substance and statement-value collides in your commercial universe.
The bigger issue is perception, here in the cheap seats.
Let’s say someone graduates from university, gets a good job, finally, trades in the 15-year-old Camry, and decides to buy a brand new A 200 based on seeing it in traffic and the reputation underpinning the Mercedes-Benz badge. A reward of sorts for all that hard work at uni. They don’t shop around, they just drive off in the Benz – which admittedly is a real step up from any death’s door Camry that gets you through uni – and they think they got a great deal – on subjective as well as objective criteria. They’re badly wrong, objectively. The badge is really all they get.
If you ask most people: Is Mercedes-Benz better than Mazda, they’d go: Yeah. But they’re wrong. Mercedes-Benz needs to wake up. ‘Premium’ needs to tick both boxes: the tangible one and the intangible one. And the tangible one here remains sorely un-ticked. Mercedes-Benz drops the ball on value, all the way up to $100,000 – that’s the point where Mercedes-Benzes start making sense objectively – and then, only just. Same goes for BMW and Audi. The cheapies are exactly that: cheap.
If you buy the Mazda3 Astina you get a much better deal than the A 200 on all meaningful objective criteria. More worryingly, perhaps, Benz is busily bastardising and burning its brand in this way, just to price-point the Japanese. They’ve taken the decision to come down off Mount Exclusivity and mix it up with the peasants toiling in the fields. I thought they spent all this time previously being above all that: Gottlieb Daimler would be spinning in his grave.
Would you pay 14-and-a-half grand just for the three-pointed star? Here’s one I made earlier for about 20 cents. Admittedly it’s slightly different: a bit light on for objective, tangible value. But this is allowed nowadays - apparently.
Fencing wire and pliers, though – is there anything they can’t do, in the right hands? I think it was McGyver who said that.