Like the line between crossovers, wagons, and SUVs, the line between a heavily optioned car and a bona fide luxury vehicle is becoming increasingly blurry. Nowadays, cars outfitted with leather, technology packages, and other perks have come within arm’s distance of matching their luxury counterparts by factors of comfort and features.
However, luxury vehicles still have their place, signified by more standard equipment, better performance out of the box, and, perhaps above all else, by the badge resting on the front grille. But one can’t exactly waltz out and pick up a brand-new luxury car — their prices tend to be prohibitively expensive. But Autotrader.com argues that this may not exactly be the case, and supports its thesis with this list of six entry-level luxury whips.
The term “entry-level” could mean a few different things, but in this context, it’s likely referring to affordability, size, and a sort of “bang-for-your-buck” scenario — the most luxury for the least cost.
The following cars are not ranked or rated.
1. Mercedes-Benz C Class
Base price: $35,800
Since the debut of the current-generation Mercedes-Benz C Class in 2008, little has been done to the exterior of the vehicle, aside from some minor cosmetic tweaks. However, the engineers at Mercedes have been busy under the hood: “The C-Class has gone in for a thorough interior makeover in the intervening years, receiving a fresh dashboard look with up-to-date technology, while the old base V6 engine has been ditched in favor of a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that gets 31 miles per gallon on the highway,” Autotrader writes.
2. Mercedes-Benz CLA Class
Base price: $29,900
Essentially a baby version of Mercedes’s sensuous CLS Class — which starts at around $72,000 — the CLA represents a couple of firsts for the company. Most notably, it’s the first front-wheel drive car Mercedes has ever offered in the U.S., an important factor since the company has so often leaned in favor of rear-wheel setups. Additionally, it’s available with 4Matic all-wheel drive and actually gets a more powerful base engine than the C Class: a 2-liter four-cylinder with 208 horsepower and a healthy 258 pound-feet of torque, Autotrader notes. Further, it’s one of the most affordable vehicles Mercedes has on the market.
3. Cadillac ATS
Base price: $33,095
New for 2013, the Cadillac (NYSE:GM) ATS was added to the lineup to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes’s C Class. However, don’t expect a budget car with some nice bits of wood and metal: “The rear-wheel-drive ATS sport sedan is only ‘entry-level’ in its compact size,” Autotrader observes. ”Otherwise, this is a full-bore Cadillac.”
4. Lincoln MKZ
Base price: $36,190
Redesigned and charged with the responsibility of reinvigorating the brand (albeit partially), the Lincoln (NYSE:F) MKZ is a radical departure from the Lincolns of the past. “The MKZ starts with Ford’s EcoBoost turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, a sprightly 240-hp motor that’s only offered on top-of-the-line Fusion models, while the exclusive 3.7-liter V6 option packs a healthy 300 hp,” Autotrader reports, adding, “the turbo returns 33 mpg on the highway, too.”
5. Lexus IS
Base price: $35,950
The Lexus (NYSE:TM) has, like its counterparts, received some significant updates to keep it competitive. “All-new for 2014, the nimble, rear-wheel-drive-based IS clearly isn’t a wallflower anymore,” says Autotrader, which had nothing but kind words for the car. “The sublime front bucket seats make you feel like you’re driving a sports car, and if you go for the IS 350 with its 306-hp V6, you’ll have the acceleration to match. ”
6. BMW 3 Series
Base price: $32,550
The BMW 3 Series is essentially the gold standard for entry-level luxury vehicles. “Formerly focused on snug dimensions and taut performance, the 3 Series is larger and more accommodating now,” Autotrader writes. ”Like the IS, it can carry four adults in comfort, and the cabin is airier and more upscale.” However, the improvements haven’t come to the detriment of performance or efficiency: The vehicle still manages more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway, with a respectable 240 horsepower at base.
7. Infiniti EX
Base price: $36,900 (for 2013; 2014 pricing not yet released)
“We’re not sure if the EX is a hatchback, a crossover SUV or a wagon, but we can tell you this: It’s great fun to drive,” Autotrader lauds. The Infiniti is propelled by a potent 3.7-liter V6, making it one of the fastest entry-level luxury cars on the market. “Its curvaceous styling makes that practical hatchback-style body look downright cool,” Autotrader says. ”Throw in an attractive interior with high-quality materials, and you’ve got a compelling alternative to the more familiar sedans discussed above.” Notably, the EX is continuing into 2014 under the QX50 nameplate.
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