The car world loves indulgence. It may be built on millions of appliance-like Toyota Camrys, but the glamour and glory come with luxury models that blend performance and decadence, usually with a German brand name slapped on. However, indulgence can come in small doses. The major luxury brands all offer entry level models, with plenty of performance and luxurious tech for those who don’t have a national GDP at their disposal.
The A4 is among the most attractive cars in entry-level luxury field, yet it’s built on sensible principles. The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four gets decent mpg (24 city, 31 highway) and is decently powerful (211 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque) while Audi’s trademark quattro all-wheel drive provides a secure feeling. The company is also known for great interiors, and the A4 doesn’t disappoint; it’s even a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.
The 3 Series has been the darling of automotive journalists for decades, and with good reason. It’s the prototype luxury sport sedan, with a well-balanced chassis and BMW’s finely tuned inline engines and manual transmissions. For the 2013 model year, the 3 Series was completely redesigned, gaining more dramatic styling and a more economical, 240 hp turbocharged four, along with engine start/stop. Buyers looking for more power can still opt for the 335i and its turbocharged inline six with 300 hp, or the ActiveHybrid 3, which adds an electric motor to the mix.
The 3 Series also comes in a variety of body styles. The new (F30) chassis is currently available as a sedan and wagon, while the coupe and convertible continue on the old E92 chassis. A new 4 Series coupe and convertible will replace them soon.
It may be based on the Chevrolet Cruze, but the Verano Turbo is a major upgrade. Buick’s sound-deadening experts got busy and gave the Verano refined manners befitting a more expensive, purpose-built luxury car. The turbocharged, 250 hp inline four and six-speed manual transmission also make this Buick a legitimately quick (0 to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds), compact sport sedan.
Cadillac’s answer to the 3 Series brings some American swagger to the party. The mini-CTS styling definitely suits this sedan, and it’s nice to see a sport sedan that isn’t German minimal. Two engines are offered: a 2.0-liter, 272 hp four and the 321 hp 3.6-liter V6 from the CTS and Camaro. Unfortunately, a manual transmission is only available with the smaller engine. Onboard, the ATS sports the Cadillac User Experience (CUE), which one of the best infotainment systems on the market, and comes stockpiled with some of the most advanced safety tech features in its class.
Infiniti’s entry-level model is due for a replacement, but many of the qualities that made the original great still hold true. Nissan’s 3.7-liter V6 isn’t as refined or thrifty as the newer engines, but it does produce an impressive 325 hp and make some good noises while doing so. It’s also the best looking car to come from the Japanese luxury brand, even if its lines were penned in 2007, and it rides on the same “front-midship” platform as the Nissan 370Z sports car. The G is available as a sedan, coupe, or convertible.
For those looking for the prestige of an S-Class at a (relatively) low price, the C-Class wears the three-pointed star with pride. The base 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-four is a little underpowered (201 hp), but the optional 3.0-liter (248 hp) and 3.5-liter (302 hp) V6s have plenty of power. The C-Class also sports mbrace2, Mercedes’ latest and greatest infotainment system, and is available in sedan and coupe body styles.