Entry-level…puts you in mind of a beginner, a novice, something that needs to be graduated from. None of those metaphors apply to entry level luxury saloons. Despite being marketed to reach the largest possible audience, these cars are guaranteed to offer the amenities and prestige that buyers are looking for, sans the budget-breaking price of a more premium offering.
The segment is currently moving units like a house afire and manufacturers are salivating for more and more buyers in this profit laden group. Units are moving so quickly that manufacturers are clamoring for attention through ever increasing one-upmanship; working to create entry level cars with the same look, feel, and stature as their most premium offerings.
An unfortunate side-effect of this non-stop competition is a sort of overexposure that leads to buyer confusion. Buyers looking to find the right car to step up to are finding it more and more difficult to settle on one. That is where we come in. Today, we are going to rank saloons that are available in a wide variety of markets, placing them in reverse order(worst to best); all with the hope that you are able to narrow your list to the perfect saloon for you.
Known as the Opel Insignia in Europe and the Vauxhall Insignia in the U.K., the Buick Regal offers quite a bit of swank for relatively little bank. What it doesn’t deliver is the performance that many luxury buyers want. The base unit is powered by an anemic 1,362 cc I4. Even though this engine is turbocharged, it falls short. The beefier 1,998 cc I4 offers better response, yet somehow fails to inspire. Add in less-than-stellar handling and you can see why this is the lowest ranked vehicle on our list.
The Volvo S60 offers top-notch safety and a great eye-catching design. Interior amenities are spectacular and you can get a very nice turbocharged four that offers 240 bhp in the base models. There are several, more powerful engines available, but they push the price point beyond what many would consider for an entry level luxury saloon. The Volvo S60 lands so low on our list for a purely subjective reason…average ride and handling.
Originally sold as the Volkswagen Passat CC, the CC is currently the most expensive VW saloon available. The value-oriented version of the CC is powered by a 200 bhp turbo four that can be paired to a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic. The six-speed manual is more fun, but detracts from the luxury feel of the CC. There is an optional 280 bhp V-6 that is nicely mated to a six-speed dual-clutch auto and features 4MOTION all-wheel drive. The problem with the V6 is that it pushes the CC well out of the entry level price range. The CC offers a much more firm ride than a luxury car ought to, landing it fairly low on our list.
The Lexus IS offers great handling and a superb ride. It also offers one of the more intimidating grilles in its class. What it does not offer is the knock-your-socks-off power that the cars topping our list offer. That is not to say the IS is a wimp, either. The base unit is powered by a 241 bhp turbo four and the mid-range cars have a 255 bhp V-6 under the bonnet. Still, neither is awe-inspiring.
The Cadillac ATS is the new kid on the block in Europe. Sales have only been global for two model years now, making the ATS new to nearly every non-North American market. The lack of a pedigree doesn’t prevent the ATS from offering great driving dynamics and distinctive styling. The base units are powered by a 202 bhp four cylinder that is mated to an eight-speed automatic. The ATS really shines when equipped with the upgraded 272 bhp turbo four that offers a great experience behind the wheel.
The top dog in this niche is the BMW 3-series, but lurking in the shadows; ready to pounce is the Jaguar XE. The base car is powered by a 240 bhp turbo four, but you can upgrade to a 340 bhp supercharged V6 and remain in the entry-level group. If you prefer a manual gearbox, you will have to opt to remain with the 240 bhp engine. The XE is very fun to drive, more so than any car listed so far. On the downside, it has a very cramped rear seat.
How do you describe the Mercedes-Benz C-class? As some writers have aptly said: ”top-shelf interior materials and design, comfortable seats, and piles of technology; everything Mercedes-Benz knows about full-size luxury, distilled into a smaller package.” We swiped a quote on this one because it is so accurate; too accurate to be improved upon. The base units are powered by a 241 bhp turbo four. The only upgrade currently available is an AMG-badged 362 bhp twin-turbo V6. The AMG badging removes the entry level from this luxury car.
Swift and sporty, those are the first two words that come to mind when describing the Audi A4. The interior is whisper quiet and sophisticated; handsome in a near majestic way. That is a lot of praise for the number two car on our list. Pair good looks with 252 bhp and the optional Quattro drive and you have a dream on wheels. A dream that is only overshadowed by our chart topped the…
The BMW 3-series has been siting on top of the entry level luxury market for several years. Some writers place it further down the list as being dated, but some writers are fools. The 3-series is fun to drive under any conditions, but buyers should opt for the 240 bhp turbo four over the base180 bhp engine. BMW’s penchant for drivercentric cars is on full display and the available AWD turns it into a cornering monster for the masses. Oh yeah, it also features sharp handling and the kind of ride other luxury cars strive to offer.