Can a small car be a luxury car? It may sound like an oxymoron, but high-end manufacturers don’t think so. In an effort to meet future federal fuel economy requirements, premium automakers are creating some of their smallest vehicles ever.
Many of these models start at less than $35,000; a couple start at less than $30,000, about the same price as a fully loaded, mass-market midsize sedan. So what do you get for less than $35,000, including destination charge?
You can get a vehicle with a fair bit of prestige, but it’s unusual to find a stripped, base car at any luxury dealership. These vehicles are usually missing items luxury buyers expect, so you’re more likely to find that most vehicles have options that can push the price above $35,000.
Still, if you want the prestige of a luxury badge, they’re worth considering over something more pedestrian.
2013 ACURA ILX:
-Base price: $26,795
-Interior space: 101.7 cubic feet
The front-wheel-drive ILX looks luxurious, and its cabin is trimmed to the usual Acura standards. But to make this premium compact opulent, you must order at least one of two packages, which makes it pricey considering the ILX’s 150-horsepower engine and five-speed automatic transmission are little better than the Civic’s.
2013 AUDI A3 2.0T:
-Base price: $28,165
-Interior space: 109 cubic feet
Audi’s upscale five-door hatchback is overshadowed by the pricier A4 sedan, but the A3 boasts a practical hatchback configuration, front-wheel drive and a peppy 200-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual is standard; a six-speed automatic is an extra $1,520. But at this price, you won’t get heated seats or Bluetooth.
2013 BMW X1 SDRIVE28I:
-Base price: $31,695
-Interior space: 123 cubic feet
BMW’s least-expensive vehicle is not a sports sedan; it’s a compact crossover SUV. But fear not, BMW fans, the X1 is based on the athletic, but cramped, 1 Series coupe. The X1 solves the space problem, although at this price, you get rear-wheel-drive, not four-wheel-drive. And be careful with options; the X1 can get pricey.
2013 BUICK VERANO:
-Base price: $23,975
-Interior space: 105 cubic feet
If you’re brave enough to enter a Buick showroom and try one, you’ll find the Verano is not a soft-riding boat. This front-wheel-drive compact sedan’s responsive 180-horsepower four-cylinder engine is rewarding to drive, while its finely tuned ride and hushed interior adds to the premium feel you’d expect. This car will surprise you.
2013 CADILLAC ATS:
-Base price: $33,990
-Interior space: 101 cubic feet
The ATS is not just the smallest Cadillac in 32 years; it’s also meant to challenge Germany’s best compacts - and, remarkably, it does. Skeptical? Sling it through a corner and you’ll find the rear-wheel-drive ATS predictably, precisely and securely communicates its intentions. The base four-cylinder engine is adequate, if a bit vibratory.
2013 LEXUS CT 200H:
-Base price: $32,945
-Interior space: 100 cubic feet
Like some other vehicles here, the CT 200h uses components from a less-expensive sibling under its skin. In this case, it’s the Toyota Prius. Not surprisingly, the CT 200h’s performance is identical, but the Lexus feels more robust. And its opulent interior makes up for its cozy backseat. Indeed, the CT 200h is a unique proposition among entry-level cars.
2014 MERCEDES-BENZ CLA250:
-Base price: $29,995 (estimated)
-Interior space: Not listed
Come fall, Mercedes-Benz will offer its first front-wheel-drive compact sedan in the U.S. market. Looking like a CLS that was left in the dryer too long, the stylish CLA250 will be powered by a 208-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is optional.
2013 VOLVO C30 T5:
-Base price: $27,995
-Interior space: 104.5 cubic feet
This subcompact is one of the most overlooked cars in its class. That might be because of its cozy rear seat. Still, the turbocharged five-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission provides decent power to the front wheels. And its design, a mix of new and classic styling, will ensure you never lose it in a parking lot.
Don’t see something that appeals to you?
There are other models with base prices under $35,000 from the automakers already listed.
For starters, consider Buick. From the midsize Regal and full-size LaCrosse, to the new Encore compact SUV, you’ll find plenty of luxury for less than $35,000.
Like the Acura ILX? With options, its price is close to that of the larger, more powerful TSX. Look at both before you buy. The BMW X1 is based on the 1 Series coupe, and is only slightly less expensive. But you may want the new BMW 320i sedan instead.