Thinking Cap: COE Categories Are Obsolete

In Singapore, luxury is no longer about engine size and power, and there are plenty of COE Category A cars with luxurious features


Sometimes things creep up on you, but other times, they have been obvious all along. 

For instance, it may shock our Millennial readers that yes, the 1990s was almost three decades ago, even if non-tapered jeans and mid-riffs are coming back into fashion.

In another instance, it ought to shock nobody at all that the categorisation system for Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) have been out of date for at least six years. 

Six years is because 2014 was the last time it was updated. Back in February 2014, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) modified the COE categories. Back then CarBuyer called it like it is: An update which nobody needed. Six years on, Cat A and Cat B prices are essentially the same.

Traditionally, Category A has been reserved for mainstream cars. In the past, that would have meant a family sedan with a 1.6-litre engine. Anything with a larger engine, presumes the legislation, means a luxury car, i.e. with an audience that is willing and able to pay more for the pleasure. 

What makes a luxury car? If it’s the latest technology then the next Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI surely can be considered luxurious

The 2014 modification was a power cap, meaning any car with engines (regardless of capacity) that made more than 97kW (or 130hp) were shunted into Category B. Because of turbocharging becoming widespread, it’s common to see cars with sub-1.6-litre engines but plenty of power.

But this categorisation no longer quite works, because of two reasons. Firstly, it’s now very difficult – if not impossible – to draw a clear line between ‘mainstream’ and ‘luxury’. 

Volkswagen Golf Variant 1.4

Modern cars exist on a spectrum that falls between the two poles, and there are countless criteria, and not just engine power, to decide what makes a car luxurious or not. 

The idea ‘more engine, more power = bad’ is obviously an environmental one, since it implies more consumption. But take the Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 SUV for example: it has a 1.4-litre engine, but makes a generous 150hp. Putting aside considerations of whether that itself is ‘luxury’, consider it has the fuel consumption (6.3L/100k) equivalent to an average East Asian family sedan.

On the flipside, consider the Volkswagen Golf Variant 1.4. It just about scrapes into Cat A with its 125hp engine. If luxury means space, technology, and things you don’t find in mainstream cars, the Variant has all of this: 1,620-litres of maximum boot space and good passenger room, a 12.3-inch fully digital Active Info Display instrument panel and 9.2-inch infotainment system with navigation, a powered driver’s seat and panoramic sunroof. 

We should also point out, for transparency, that various mainstream cars do have these features as well, so it’s not like Volkswagen has a monopoly on COE Category bending either.

In any case, it’s cars like these that have muddied the spectrum from normal to luxurious, and made choosing a car tougher for consumers – in a very good way. 

Thinking Cap is a monthly column written by CarBuyer and presented by Porsche Holding Salzburg, and it’s aimed at helping you fire up more neurons and see the other side of current automotive issues or events.  

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CarBuyer Team
CarBuyer Singapore / brings the most relevant, accurate and useful car news to Singaporeans in both print and online formats.