The entry level luxury segment is as fiercely competitive as ever. There have never been more quality cars in the segment. It used to just be the big three Germans, from BMW, Mercedes and Audi, vying for the top spot. But now there are newcomers from Lexus, Cadillac and Acura. Well, Car and Driver has recently released an article ranking the 12 best entry level luxury cars.
It isn’t surprising that the newest of the cars finished at the top. With this segment being as hotly contested as it is, each manufacturer uses the other’s car as a benchmark for the future. Technology and performance also rapidly increase with each new year. So the newest entry level luxury cars are going to have a distinct advantage over ones that are nearing the end of their life cycles. There are some surprising places, however, so let’s take a look.
The Lincoln MKZ, Buick Regal and Infiniti Q50 take the bottom three places. The Infiniti is rather surprising, as it’s actually quite new. It loses out because of its, frankly ridiculous, driver-by-wire steering, which lacks any sort of feel and makes the Q50 feel completely disconnected. The Lincoln and Buick are obvious choices for the back of the pack, as they’re pretty much just badge engineer knock-offs.
The next three are the Volkswagen CC, Volvo S60 and Acura TLX. The CC is almost ancient by now, though still a fine car, and the S60 is closing in on the end of its life cycle, but the TLX is brand-spankin new. So what happened there? It falls short by being unengaging to drive, having a silly infotainment screen and being a bit too expensive. Otherwise the TLX is quite a good car.
But the important section of the list comes after these. Places sixth through first are rather interesting, as they’re all very close to one another, whereas the back of the pack were all distant finishers. Sixth place ranks the Audi A4. I think this placement might be a bit unfair, because the list is supposed to account for all things, not just performance and I think that a couple of higher placed finishers aren’t as well rounded as the A4, despite its age. The current B8 A4 debuted in 2009 and will be replaced within the year, but it’s still a damn fine car for everyday use and fun. It still looks great, inside and out, has a potent yet efficient 2.0 liter TFSI engine, has Quattro all-wheel drive and still handles very well, even if it isn’t the most inspiring handling car out there. It even comes in wagon form. It’s just a very well rounded package.
Placed just ahead, in fifth, is the Lexus IS. The third-generation IS is far superior to its predecessors, but I still don’t think it’s as well rounded a product as the A4. It does handle very well, but interior space is minute, the interior is confusing and convoluted and the powertrains are even older than the A4’s. Fourth place goes to the Cadillac ATS, which is where I think the A4 should go, and I’m not so sure it deserves it. The ATS is a very good car, dynamically, but that’s really all it has going for it. It’s entry level engines aren’t that great, they’re coarse and unrefined as well as being down on performance, and the interior is poor by Hyundai standards, nonetheless Cadillac’s. The CUE system could be worst in the segment, the back seat is hilariously small and the whole interior feels too cheap and glitzy. It’s also boring to look at. I think the A4 is the better car, all around.
Third through first place I think are pretty spot on. The third place finish goes to Mercedes-Benz and its most excellent C Class. The C Class is a fantastic overall car. It looks excellent, has the best interior in the class, is competitively fast, handles very well and has plenty of space. It’s an absolutely excellent choice, but the second and first place finishers are just a tiny bit better. Second place goes to the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. While it isn’t the entry level BMW sedan, it’s the entry level Gran Coupe and it looks fantastic. It’s one of the best looking four-door cars on the road, handles incredibly well and has killer performance. The only knocks against it are the steep price and lack of back seat space.
But the first place finisher, as always, is the BMW 3 Series. The 3 Series has always been the go-to car in the segment and nothing has changed. In fact, the 3 Series has gotten better with its LCI update. Even though the current 3 Series isn’t as good of a sports car as its predecessors, it’s still the best all-around package in the segment. It’s fast, handles well, looks good, has loads of space, is comfortable and is affordable. No other car here even comes close to combining all of those traits so well. The BMW 3 Series still deserves the segment crown.
However, a new Audi A4 is on its way very soon. The B9 A4 has a much improved interior, engines, suspension and chassis. So when the B9 debuts, a reevaluation must be done to see if it has what it takes to take down the BMW 3 Series.