TORONTO — Luxury automakers long ago realized that in order to grow, they need to move down-market by making smaller, more affordable vehicles.
In 2005, Mercedes launched the diminutive B-Class hatchback. BMW began producing the 1 Series in 2004.
While rich customers spending $100,000 on full-size luxury sedans from these companies might’ve been mortified to see such plebeian vehicles in showrooms, semi-affordable entry-level models are now a staple of every luxury brand’s lineup.
The vehicles assembled below are the most affordable ways to drive off a luxury car dealer’s lot. They all have prices under $40,000 and come in all kinds of shapes, from coupe, to sedan, to SUV.
In Europe and the U.S., luxury vehicles make up a larger percentage of the overall market than they do in Canada.
However, that’s changing. Sales of luxury cars and SUVs in Canada are leading industry growth, posting double-digit, year-over-year increases, according to a 2017 Scotiabank report.
Expect entry-level luxury cars to feel fairly Spartan — unless you dive into the option list — and be smaller than something similarly priced from a mainstream brand.
Your head tells you to resist. You’re paying more to have that luxury badge on the steering wheel. But, increasingly, our hearts prevail and desirability takes the day.
Aston Martin’s chief designer, when recently asked which other brand is doing good design work, replied: Volvo. The Swedish company’s turnaround is in full swing. They’ve come so far from those boxy station wagons. The XC40 stands out from the masses of other small SUVs by looking both distinctive and stylish. The interior is full of useful details, too, like hooks for takeout food and a removable garbage bin for receipts and old parking passes.
While popular in Europe, the B-Class never sold well in the U.S. Here in Canada the smallest Mercedes always found more buyers. The three-pointed star is the car’s most prominent design feature on purpose. You wouldn’t spend this kind of money on any other front-wheel-drive sub-compact. If you’re interested, you may want to wait for the upcoming A-Class hatchback. The price will be a smidgen higher, but it’s more of a bona fide luxury car and the interior is in a different league.
Cadillac ATS Sedan
This is your last chance to buy Cadillac’s often-overlooked ATS. Production of the compact sport sedan is winding down as of this year. The rear-drive machine had the performance and handling chops to rival the best Germany had to offer. The base 2.0-litre motor made 272 horsepower, and the big V-6 was good for 335 hp. While the interior was never quite up to par, it was a solid comeback effort from Cadillac. Expect it to be replaced, eventually, by an all-new sub-compact model.
Audi A3 sedan
The A3 sedan was introduced in 2013. Compared to its German rivals, the smallest Audi feels grown-up. It looks just like the bigger A4, which is a large part of its appeal. Refreshed for 2017, the four-door A3 is a more practical choice than BMW’s 2 Series coupe or Mercedes’ fastback CLA sedan. The base model is front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for $39,100. If it’s performance you’re after, the $62,900, 400 hp, RS3 is both the cheapest model in Audi Sport’s lineup and the most fun to drive.
BMW 230i Coupe
BMW is the only one of the German luxury automakers to offer rear-wheel drive in its most affordable model. For many purists, this car is a return to BMW’s glory days. Handling is nicely balanced and the controls are feel-some. The punchy four-cylinder makes 248 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to get the car from 0-100 km/h in 5.6 seconds. A six-speed manual transmission is standard while a paddle-shift automatic is available for an extra $1,600. The $1,850 Performance Pack adds adaptive sport suspension. Downsides? It’s heavy for such a small car and it only has two doors, which will limit its appeal.
It is mightily affordable for a car with a premium brand badge, but if you put it next to a Honda Civic you’ll quickly see why. The ILX has always been an up-market version of the best-selling Civic. For 2019, Acura gave it a visual overhaul, dressing it up with fancy jewel-like headlights and leather upholstery but its humble origins show through in big chunks of black plastic in the cabin. The 2.4-litre engine makes a fruity 201 horsepower, and is mated to a dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Acura has good residual value and gets top marks for initial quality, but it’s hard to forget it’s a Civic.
This is Infiniti’s all-new entrant in the red-hot compact luxury SUV segment. The QX30 is built in England and was co-developed with the Mercedes GLA. Infiniti undercuts the BMW X1 and aforementioned Benz, and offers a (relatively) cavernous trunk. The 208 horsepower engine won’t light your hair on fire, but it’s enough. Leatherette trim is standard. Optional real-leather on the seats and dashboard make the cabin feel properly luxurious, but it’s part of a $5,000 option package. Infiniti expects the QX30 to attract first-time luxury car buyers, targeting customers in their early 30s.