Like Rolex watches, fine art or mega yachts, people aspire to own luxury automobiles. If they were both offered to you for free, chances are you’d pick a shiny new BMW 5 Series over a battle-scarred 1996 Plymouth Breeze every single time.
Now you’re probably thinking aloud, “Thanks for the no-s**t statement of the year, Craig.” What can I say other than you’re welcome? Now for another headline from AutoGuide’s Department of the Blatantly Obvious, luxury is nice and everyone wants a taste.
Premium automakers have recognized the insatiable demand for high-end cars. They’ve also acknowledged that not everyone can afford something fancy, which is part of the reason they’re pushing down to more accessible price points.
Premium small cars are designed for customers that are well-off enough to consider a luxury brand but are not quite in the 1 percent just yet. Maybe their trust fund hasn’t matured, or perhaps they’re merely a junior account executive at their investment house. In time those issues will fall away like an old scab and these folks will be able to go whole hog on a high-end vehicle.
But in the meantime they’ve got to think small – at least until their student loans are paid off – and get by with something entry-level. This week Ask AutoGuide looks at vehicular gateway drugs, entry-level luxury sedans priced right around $30,000.
Suggestion #1 – 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
One of the most interesting announcements to come from Stuttgart in years isn’t a brand-new S-Class (ok, that’s pretty intriguing), it’s not some cutting-edge technology (like autonomous driving) nor is it the introduction of a redesigned electric smart car (wait, it’s definitely not that). Mercedes is pushing into the compact luxury segment in a big way with its appealing new CLA-Class.
This small sedan should deliver Benz-level engineering, technology and dynamics in a vehicle with near mass-market pricing. The car starts at a very reasonable 30 grand.
With four-doors and five seats the CLA is comparable to the company’s ever-popular C-Class. But that’s where the similarities end. The new entrant’s wheelbase is a couple inches shorter and its curb weight is about 160 pounds lighter than the trimmest C-sedan.
Despite its slightly truncated hub-to-hub span the CLA’s overall length is 1.5 inches greater than the C-Class; it’s also a fraction of an inch wider. Maybe this car isn’t so compact after all.
Up front it’s got a big, smiling grille that’s graced with a gigantic three-pointed star (or chicken foot if you’re a BMW fan). Aft of its face the rest of the car looks quite similar to Mercedes’ other “four-door coupe,” the pricey CLS, with a sagging belt-line and pinched tail lights.
The CLA-Class is powered by a transversely mounted 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four. It delivers a rather unimpressive 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque.
Like wine and cheese, the engine is paired with a suitable partner. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered. All of this hardware should allow the car to scamper from zero to 60 miles an hour in 6.9 seconds.
SEE ALSO: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA Revealed
Hedging their bets, the folks at Mercedes wisely decided to offer a performance version of the CLA. The AMG model packs a 355-horsepower turbocharged wallop that’s ready to body-slam you into the seat back like an F-22 Raptor on full afterburner.
Suggestion #2 – 2015 Audi A3
Unlike the CLA we’ve actually had plenty of seat time in the 2015 Audi A3 sedan, which is slated to go on sale in the first quarter of next year. Can you wait that long? You’re going to have to.
The new A3 brings Audi’s top dollar luxury DNA down to a smaller, more affordable package, and a good looking one at that. Where the Mercedes CLA is avant-garde this four-door is subtle and clean. Inside and out it’s grown up and sophisticated.
In global markets an all-you-can-drive buffet of engines is available under the A3’s diminutive bonnet. Unfortunately American customers have considerable limitations, but there’s still plenty to choose from.
The base powerplant is a 1.8-liter turbo-four with 180 ponies. The up-level engine displaces a healthy 2.0-liters and should be a lot more muscular. Of course an efficient diesel is also available. Clocking in at 2.0-liters, it’s expected to bring 150 horsepower to the table.
Beyond these difficult choices there are two other powertrain options. The S3 will feature a scalding-hot engine with around 300 ponies! Lastly, Audi will also offer a plug-in hybrid e-tron version of the car, in case you needed another choice.
American buyers may have multiple engines to select from, but aft of the bellhousing their options are severely limited… in fact, they have no options. All Audi A3 sedans sold on this side of the Atlantic will come with a self-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch autobox. The car should also come with a packet of tissue so you can dry your tears.
The new A3 sedan may be small but it’s still an Audi, which means you get a super-premium interior. The car’s cabin is constructed of high-end materials and is chockablock with features, like the company’s latest generation Multi Media Interface (MMI) and a slick retractable display screen that silently motors down into the dashboard when it’s not being used.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan Review
There’s a lot to love about the 2015 A3 sedan. The way it carries itself the car feels like Audi’s much larger A6; it’s that good. Unfortunately it won’t go on sale for at least a few months, or more. You’ll just have to bide your time. May we suggest you take up competitive Parcheesi?
Pricing for the 2015 Audi A3 sedan has not been announced at this time but company representatives have hinted that it will start right around $30,000.
Suggestion #3 – 2014 Acura ILX
So, the two German cars in this little puff piece are off limits for the time being. What’s up with that? Bucking this ridiculous trend is the Acura ILX, a premium compact that you can actually buy… today!
Aside from availability, another area this car beats its competitors is pricing. Hypothetically the ILX undercuts its rivals by a not-insignificant chunk of change. Base price for this small sedan is a little less than 28 grand, including shipping and handling charges.
But who wants a “luxury” car with no options? That’s like ordering a hotdog sans condiments. A tube of fat on a white-bread bun is pretty unappealing, but if you add a smear of mustard, some globs of tomato ketchup (not to be confused with feline-sourced “catsup”) and a sprinkling of relish that meat stick becomes a lot better looking.
Likewise, Honda has added some suitable trimmings to its otherwise pedestrian Civic, creating the ILX. Even the most basic model comes with some nice features including dual-zone automatic climate control, a five-inch information display and keyless entry.
If you really want to shell out some Benjamins you can get things like high-intensity-discharge headlamps, voice recognition and an advanced navigation system with real-time traffic and weather updates as well as restaurant reviews. Bring your appetite.
But best of all Acura still has enthusiasts in mind; you can get an ILX with a six-speed manual transmission. This is yet another way this car distances itself from Mercedes and Audi.
ILX customers have three different drivetrains to choose from. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit that delivers a disappointing 150 horsepower with 140 lb-ft of twist. It’s matched exclusively to a five-speed automatic transmission.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Acura ILX Review
The optional engine is a 2.4-liter unit that puts out a much more appealing 201 ponies and 170 units of torque. It’s only offered with the abovementioned six-speed manual transmission.
Lastly, a hybrid version of the ILX will be available shortly. It features a 1.5-liter four-banger and a bunch of electronic junk to deliver a combined fuel-economy score of 38 miles per gallon.
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to get in touch. Just send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.