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Are new cars getting more expensive?

Some bestsellers are up 8.5%, reveals Which? study

Vauxhall prices have risen steeply

The three Vauxhalls in our study are all now more expensive in real terms

A Which? investigation has found the prices of some small and medium cars have increased significantly above inflation during the recession.

We analysed current prices for 20 of the bestselling cars from 2011 against their most comparable models from 2008 to discover which cars offer good, and poor, value for money over the four years. Full results are shown in the table below.

Car prices winners and losers

Our calculations show some dramatic price rises well above inflation for some models, but a similar number of car prices have dropped below the inflation rate.

Vauxhall prices appear to have increased the most steeply, with prices for all three models we compared rising above inflation. The Astra and Zafira now cost more than £1,300 extra in real terms than they did in 2008.

And while you can buy them today with dealer discounts exceeding 20%, you could have expected the same level of discount in 2008.

VW Polo price has risen by 8.5%

Prices for the bestselling VW Polo have risen more than £800 above inflation

Other poor performers include the bestselling version of the VW Polo, which increased by more than £800 over inflation – a large amount when you consider it’s a small supermini.

Perhaps surprisingly, a BMW appears to offer then best value. The 3 Series has fallen £1,800 in real terms in the last four years, even with a new model launch in 2012.

Small cars worst affected

Which? cars editor, Richard Headland, says: ‘It’s disappointing to find some manufacturers are hiking the price of new cars above inflation, especially smaller cars, at a time when consumers are already feeling the pinch.’

Ford, Renault, Vauxhall and Volkswagen all told Which? that price rises were partly due to model upgrades since 2008. 

However, Which? found that prices for some updated models had also fallen in real terms – such as the latest BMW 3 Series and Ford Focus.

Working out price rises in real terms

On paper, new car price rises are to be expected – especially when you factor in changes to VAT, car tax and registration fees. To remove the effect of these external factors (which have all changed between 2008 and 2012), we excluded them from our calculations. 

We selected bestselling cars across four classes that were available in the same, or comparable, form in 2008.

We compared prices from March 2008 with the same date in 2012, using the basic price.

We then inflated the March 2008 prices by 14.53% – in increase in the All-items Consumer Price Index from March 2008 to March 2012 – to allow us to benchmark car prices against inflation.

Car prices: the results in detail

The table below shows the full results of our investigation.

How much are car prices rising?
Model 2008 price 2012 price Compared to inflation
VW Polo 1.2 70 Match Petrol 5dr £10,150 £12,880 +8.5%
Fiat 500 1.2 Lounge Petrol 3dr/Stop start* £9,215 £11,305 +5%
Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec Petrol 5dr £11,075 £13,040 +0.5%
Peugeot 107 1.0 Urban/Active* Petrol 5dr £8,015 £9,290 -1%
Mini One 1.4/1.6* Petrol 3dr £11,750 £13,405 -2.5%
Medium cars
Renault Megane 1.5 dCi (106*) Expression Diesel 5dr £14,210 £17,955 +8%
Vauxhall Astra 1.9 CDTi 16v Sri 150 Diesel 5dr/2.0 CDTi 16V Sri 165* £17,990 £22,670 +7.5%
Honda Civic 1.8 iVTEC SE Petrol 5dr £14,940 £19,995 +3%
VW Golf 1.9/1.6* Match TDI Diesel 5dr £16,485 £19,840 +3%
Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec Petrol 5dr £15,350 £17,025 -5%
Large cars
Toyota Prius 1.5/1.8* VVTI T Spirit Petrol 5dr £20,612 £24,855 +3%
VW Passat 2.0 TDI SE Diesel 4dr/BlueMotion Tech* £18,965 £22,205 no change
Audi A4 2.0 TDI 143 SE Diesel 4dr £23,425 £26,500 -3.5%
Mercedes C-class C220 CDI Sport Automatic Diesel 4dr/BlueEfficiency* £29,265 £32,710 -5%
BMW 3 Series 320D SE Diesel 4dr £25,875 £28,025 -7.5%
Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 CDTI Elite (120) Diesel 5dr/1.7 CDTI ecoFlex Elite (110)* £20,255 £25,420 +7.5%
Vauxhall Meriva 1.4 16V Expression Petrol 5dr £10,305 £12,310 +2%
Nissan Note 1.4 Visia Diesel 5dr £9,920 £11,130 -4%
Ford C-Max 1.6 TDCI Zetec (110*) Diesel 5dr £17,375 £19,180 -5.5%
Ford Galaxy 2.0 TDCI Zetec Diesel 5dr £23,300 £25,760 -5.5%

Table notes

Percentages show the difference in pre-tax prices between March 2008 and March 2012, after adjusting for inflation – they do not reflect the difference between the two list prices shown.

*Where two model names or variants are listed, the first refers to the most comparable 2008 version of the 2012 model.

  More on this…

  • Buying a new car – read all our tips for buying a new model
  • Car reviews – check out our full independent reviews and videos for hundreds of cars
  • Tax explained – read more about VAT and other taxes we pay
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