You get what you pay for … some­times

Motor Trend (USA) - - Afterword - Words Mark Rechtin

When we were assem­bling the field for this four-test shootout, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a lux­ury au­tomaker ex­pressed con­cern that we were cre­at­ing a straw man sce­nario—in other words, we were mak­ing a test­ing par­a­digm that would set up the lux­ury brands to fail.

With cross-our-heart prom­ises that no such agenda was in play, we set out to see if main­stream au­tomak­ers could play in the lux­ury sand­box or whether lux­ury brands could move down­mar­ket and con­quest folks with Maserati tastes but Mazda bud­gets.

As you can see from the pre­vi­ous pages, main­stream ve­hi­cles won the over­all bat­tle, 3–1. But two of those main­stream­brand vic­to­ries were by the nar­row­est of mar­gins—and, depend­ing on one’s list of wants and needs, could have swung the other way.

For us, our wish list for a lux­ury ve­hi­cle (or a ve­hi­cle priced to com­pete against one) is that it comes with req­ui­site per­for­mance cre­den­tials, a com­fort­able ride, in­te­rior re­fine­ment, el­e­gance of fit and fin­ish, and a cer­tain flair one would as­so­ci­ate with a pre­mium ve­hi­cle.

Sev­eral things we learned in our price­sen­si­tive test­ing:

Lux­ury ve­hi­cles tend to value tac­tile and sen­sory el­e­ments, whether it be the ef­fec­tive­ness of sound-dead­en­ing ma­te­ri­als; the ac­tion of the switches, di­als, and but­tons; or the over­all look and feel of the ve­hi­cle de­sign. You also get white­glove treat­ment at the deal­er­ship. It is the cost of en­try.

How­ever, when hav­ing to cut costs to reach a lower en­try price point, the lux­ury brands of­ten fall a bit short. The dele­tion or de­con­tent­ing of items can re­sult in frus­trat­ing com­pro­mises for some­one hop­ing to get a steal on a base-model lux­ury car. It might be a tin­nier stereo, cheaper leather, or a de­pow­ered en­gine. You get the classy badge, but you might have to bust out your wal­let to add some op­tions pack­ages to see what all the fuss is about. And in the long term, main­te­nance costs tend to be pricier.

The flip side is that main­stream brands can as­pire to com­pete against lux­ury mod­els, but of­ten times the un­der­pin­nings (which have to be priced to be af­ford­able at much cheaper trim lev­els) show their pro­le­tar­ian roots. It might be louder in­side the cabin. The ride might be chop­pier. And when you load up a main­stream model, a bet­ter deal might be found at the neigh­bor­ing lux­ury dealer.

The only lux­ury ve­hi­cle in our tests that truly rep­re­sented the up­scale look and feel you would ex­pect was the Volvo XC60. Then again, we bent the rules and al­lowed a pricier model to com­pete. Give any of these can­di­dates an­other $4,000 to play with, and they would have likely shown stronger, as well.

That said, cer­tain au­tomak­ers ex­e­cute the lux­ury premise bet­ter than oth­ers. Our testers rated the XC60 and Honda Ac­cord as the two best ve­hi­cles of the field of eight, re­gard­less of price.

There’s no fixed for­mula. Lux­ury can be worth it, but of­ten it’s not if you scrimp. And al­though some main­stream brands as­pire to cre­ate a pre­mium ex­pe­ri­ence, they can’t all ful­fill the prom­ise. There’s no sub­sti­tute for ac­tu­ally sit­ting in the driver’s seat. n

ON LO­CA­TION Our field was ready for its close-up at Los Angeles’ Elysian Park, home to Dodger Sta­dium, with a clear view of down­town.

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