Best new car options

Some options make a car more sought-after, while others are a waste of money. Here are the best, and worst new car options

BuyaCar team
Nov 22, 2018

Few things are as exciting as ordering a new car. It’s an opportunity to specify everything just how you like it. From the size of the engine to the colour of the paint; the finish of the leather upholstery to nifty gizmos like a heated steering wheel; all this and much, much more can be tailored to your taste – and budget.

However, in an age where the majority of drivers pay for their new car through a finance product, it can be all too easy to get carried away and add countless options that can not only add to the price of the car but will, remember, push up the cost of each month’s repayment sum.

At the same time, experts in the car trade warn that drivers can often kiss goodbye to the large sums of money spent on options. After the average three-year period that people own a car, most options become worthless.

Which begs the question: which options are more than a nice-to-have feature and will recoup some money when the time comes to sell your car?

Click here to see the best new car options
Click here to see the worst new car options

        

What is an optional extra on a car?

Generally, cars are offered in a series of trim levels, and the more expensive trim level will include more equipment as standard. An option or optional extra is something that is not included in the showroom price of a car but you can pay to have it fitted to the vehicle.

Options span a wide area, from the finish of the paint to the type, size and pattern of the wheels fitted. There are all sorts of gadgets and gizmos for inside the car, with some of today’s most popular features offering smartphone connectivity or big name audio systems.

Remember, when haggling over the price of any car, include the options when you try and chip away at the price, or your deal won’t be as competitive.

How options can make a car easier – and safer - to live with

Before addressing the value for money that options present to anyone buying a new car, it’s important to remember that there’s more to choosing a car than just seeing which will lose you the most cash over time.

Cars can be an extension of our personality, and in most cases you’ll be living with it for years to come, so if you have the budget and there are certain options you need or desire, don’t be deterred from browsing what’s available. Just choose wisely and think about what will make the car easier and enjoyable to live with.

For example, helpful features such as parking sensors will be appreciated by almost every driver. There are cosmetic changes you could make, like larger or lighter alloy wheels, which will be a subjective choice on all but the sportiest cars. And then there are practical upgrades, with a third-row of seats often proving sought-after on SUVs like the Skoda Kodiaq.

Another area to consider are the optional electronic driving aids that make cars safer. An autonomous emergency braking system, which can detect an imminent front-on collision and apply the brakes if the driver fails to respond to warnings, may never be used or could just save your life the one time it kicks in.

The expert’s view on choosing car options

Philip Nothard, retail and consumer specialist at Cap-Hpi, a vehicle research company, warns that many options cost a lot when new but become worthless once the time comes to sell the car or trade it in for a new model.

“From a financial point of view, many options do not make sense as the value of them will be lost over a typical 36-month or 60,000 miles ownership period,” says Nothard.

However, there are a small number of options that can make your car more desirable and easier to sell when you’ve finished. These may have less of an effect on your finance too.

“The used buying experience is rather different from the new one, where a customer is presented with a list of options to choose from,” says Nothard. “The customer is less interested in the extra items that have been fitted as they are not making the decision to add them.”

For example, you may think a sat nav is a desirable option on a new car but it rarely adds value to a typical three-year-old used car when the buyer finds out that the cost of updating the system with genuine manufacturer data will cost more than buying a brand new separate unit, downloading an app on their smartphone - or just using the free Google Maps app.

"Manufacturers will often package a popular single option with other less popular ones, but at a lower price than each would cost were you to buy them singly. When the car is then in the used market, a customer only places additional value on the desirable option; the others are dismissed as worthless," adds Nothard.

The impact of WLTP economy and emissions testing

A new method of testing the fuel economy and emissions of new cars – necessary for any new car to be sold legally throughout Europe – was introduced in September.

The Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), and associated Real Driving Emissions (RDE, which comes into force from September 2019) is designed to better reflect how efficient a car is and how much pollution it causes in everyday driving conditions.

For car makers, it has caused a headache, because legislators have stipulated that the new tests must account for a car’s optional extras.

There’s good reason for doing this. They generally either add weight or cause the car to use more energy, or both. Items such as an extra row of seats, a heated steering wheel, electric seats, larger wheels and tyres or panoramic opening sunroof can impact on a car’s fuel economy and its emissions.

The WLTP regulations take into account vehicle weight, the rolling resistance of the tyres and aerodynamics – how easily a car slips through the air –and also measures the effect of options on these areas.

With so many options available on the typical new car, it could take vehicle manufacturers forever – and cost them small fortune – to submit each option for testing.

Because of this, car makers are simplifying the number of options they offer, or grouping them into options packs, to streamline the WLTP process.

Did you know? Options affect road tax and company car tax

If a car’s sale price is taken over £40,000 by adding factory-fitted extras to the vehicle, it will impact on the cost of road tax in the second to sixth year of ownership.

A flat fee of £450 a year is applied to diesel or petrol models, £440 for alternatively fuelled vehicles (such as plug-in hybrids) and £310 for electric models.

And if you are adding options to a company car, did you know that since April, 2017 any factory-fitted options count towards the sum that is taxed?

It means company car users who are free to specify their vehicle should carefully consider their options and the impact on their tax bill. Some car makers offer ‘business edition’ trim levels that offer popular optional extras, such as satellite navigation and leather seats, as standard and at a competitive price.

The best new car options 

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)

An option that could save your life? Most would agree that’s pretty much priceless.

AEB is a system that helps prevent frontal impacts by scanning the road ahead of the car and, if sensors detect an impending collision, alerts the driver or – should they fail to react - applies emergency braking.

Thatcham Research, the organisation that decides which of the 50 insurance groups a car falls into, looks favourably on cars fitted with AEB by placing them in lower insurance groups than those without.

However, it only recognises AEB systems fitted as standard, so a car that has one fitted as an option won’t be cheaper to insure than the same model without it.

Meanwhile, as for safety equipment in general, Philip Nothard says used car buyers won’t pay more for it. “Safety equipment very rarely adds any value in monetary terms,” he says.

“There is a consumer assumption that any vehicle that is available for sale is safe to drive, and nobody pays extra for a vehicle with a certain element of safety equipment compared with the same car without.”

Alloy wheels

The motor trade calls it option creep: the way that some features start off as expected options, only to become so popular that they are expected, even on the cheapest cars. Alloy wheels are a good example. Only a few years ago, they were an option but now most cars have them as standard.

It’s possible to upgrade to larger alloy wheels. They might make the car look more distinctive but won’t add to its secondhand price.

Basic versions of cars such as the Ford Fiesta or Fiat Panda still come with steel wheels as standard; to make your car more desirable as a used buy, consider adding optional alloy wheels.

Automatic gearbox

A self-changing gearbox can take the strain out of every drive for those who cover long distances, young families or less mobile drivers. Widely sought-after, their value will be partly reflected in the value of the car when you sell it.

Cruise control

Adaptive cruise control is the latest development in cars. It will not only maintain a speed set by the driver, but adjusts the speed and applies the brakes to allow for slowing vehicles ahead. For those who regularly drive on motorways and dual carriageways, it is a useful safety feature.

Heated windscreen

Like the back windscreen, an electrically heated windscreen removes mist in a moment and melts snow and ice in seconds, saving you from waiting for the engine and heating system to warm up.

Leather seats

On premium or large cars, these are expected because they are in keeping with a car’s classy image. On family cars, they are a bonus – especially as they are easy to keep clean but don’t expect to get all your money back.

Metallic paint

Metallic paint has long been regarded as a valuable option and is seen as almost essential on upmarket cars from the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. There is an exception to this rule, though: white is a popular colour and is often available at no extra charge when new. It is expected to remain popular on the used market.

Parking sensors

Parking sensors are becoming more common. For example, the Nissan Qashqai, Britain’s most popular family SUV, comes with front and rear parking sensors for every trim level.

However, if they aren’t standard, get a feel for the car during a test drive and consider whether having them fitted will help you park more easily and – importantly - avoid a bump. Remember, cars bought on a finance agreement should be handed back in good condition, or the customer could be charged for repairs.

Panoramic sunroof

Sunroofs lost their appeal with the rise of air conditioning but they are having their day again, with panoramic versions boosting light and visibility for front and back-seat passengers.

It’s attractive to used buyers because it’s an obvious enhancement rather than just a piece of technology buried in the car.

Reversing camera

A good reversing camera makes parking easier and safer, giving a driver an extra pair of eyes. Once experienced, most motorists wouldn’t want to be without one.

The worst car options to pick

Adaptive suspension

While adaptive suspension does make the world of difference in some low-slung sports cars, and high-up SUVs, on more workaday cars it’s a gimmick too far.

You’ll hardly ever need to put your diesel Audi into Dynamic mode, really. Instead, trust the judgement of the engineers and stick with the car’s standard suspension system.

Bespoke paint

Plenty of car makers now offer customers the chance to pick from countless colours or even match a shade they like. However, such a personal finish is likely to restrict the car’s appeal when the time comes to sell it.

Business systems

BMW offers an additional version of its standard sat-nav called Professional Media, costing around £900. But used prices reveal that a year-old 3 Series with the professional sat-nav is worth no more than one with the standard option.

Four-wheel drive

Where available, one of the most expensive options is four-wheel drive. So before choosing it, ask yourself whether you really need it. Do you tow? Have difficult driving conditions prevented you from reaching your destination? Would a set of all-season tyres be a more effective solution? Not only do cars with four-wheel drive cost more to buy, they cost more to run too.

Illuminated door sills

They might look fancy as they glow in the dark but you’ll be getting none of your money back when the time comes to sell your car.

Run-flat tyres

In our view, a spare wheel, whether full or compact size, is a better option than run-flat tyres. The latter add weight and give a noticeably harsher ride over anything but super-smooth roads.

      

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