A little luxury
It’s the smart spend in every sense — a prestige badge in a small but perfectly formed shape
THE WAY we look at new cars changes from today. A genuinely new class hasn’t emerged since the 1990s when the first examples appeared of the compact SUV that most car-hunting families now at least consider.
March introduces a new segment. For the first time every prestige brand has a fully equipped luxury model on the market priced at $35,000. So, too, this week does prestige-priced Volvo.
In April Volkswagen releases its Mark VII Golf. By year’s end some 40 per cent of its sales will be versions priced from that $35K mark. In May, Audi — which already sells a re-skinnedVWPolo — produces for the first time an A3 that promises to be more than a Golf in a nicer suit (even if it looks all too much like the unlamented outgoing model).
The new prestige compact class comprises legit luxury cars, at the forefront of their respective badges’ foray to conquer new buyers. That’s the buyer who would otherwise spend $35K on a middling equipped Mazda CX-5, a Toyota Camry or or any one of several perfectly respectable products from stalwart family brands; a buyer who might once have bought a Commodore or Falcon.
Banish memories of Benz shopping trolleys that toppled during handling tests or basic BMWs so underpowered as to endanger occupants. The new wave brings sophistication not previously seen at this price point.
Benz’s A-Class — the best hatchback of any type, our reviewer argues — has the capacity to park itself. BMW’s 1 Series — the best handling model from a brand noted for dynamic cars — uses the same eight-speed automatic transmission as a $300,000 7 Series limousine.
Volvo’s V40, the safest car crashed by European authorities, has a front airbag to cushion pedestrians. The A3 fits the world’s best interiors to the underpinnings shared with VW. The CT200h from Lexus is the only affordable compact hybrid.
What’s more, though they are classified as small cars, all seat five people (in the rear of the 1 Series they’d want to be short people) and have cargo space at least approaching that of most compact SUVs.
And given that we buy some 20,000 small cars a month, quantity has long since been supplanted by quality on our new car shopping criteria.
This is why the high and mighty brands are descending to this level. It’s all very well winning the battle of the $350,000 super sedans but $35K is where the majority of family buyers are, and they have no shortage of choice.
The downward foray by the prestige players makes that choice harder and wider. And when the likes of Mazda are faced by Mercedes, buyers are the winners.