Luxury motoring has never been more attainable. Many high-end automakers are now reaching down-market, offering "entry-level" cars that provide much of the prestige and pampering of their more spendy sister models at previously unimaginable price points.
For manufacturers, these cars open access to a whole new market segment ripe for lifelong brand loyalty — especially for younger drivers who were formerly priced out of these luxury brands' models.
We looked at five "entry premium" cars with pleasantly surprising price tags.
Base MSRP: $29,900
The CLA-Class offers maximum Benz bang for the buck while still eliciting envious stares from fellow drivers. This brainy, quietly brawny beauty wraps a 208-horsepower inline-4 turbocharged mill, standard Bluetooth wireless audio streaming, and available COMAND navigation inside a gorgeously coupe-like, sweeping silhouette. Tied with the Audi A3 sedan as the most affordable car on this list, this lower-priced Merc has seriously raised expectations for the entry premium segment.
Base MSRP: $33,065
Cadillac's compact sport sedan, the ATS, boasts brand-synonymous luxury and technology and is also agile and exhilarating to drive. Its handcrafted cut-and-sewn interior, including available leather seating surfaces, honors the grand traditions of your granddaddy's Caddy, but a lightweight chassis, 50/50 weight balance and choice of performance-tuned rear-wheel drive or sure-footed all-wheel drive all epitomize the company's 21st century "art and science" era. For 2014, the ATS adds Intellibeam automatic high-beam control to Driver Awareness and Driver Assist packages and introduces four arresting new exterior colors.
BMW 2 Series
Base MSRP: $33,025
BMW has announced the entirely new 2 Series Coupe as its entry-level successor to the recently discontinued 1 Series. Set to debut at the January 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the new 2’s will go on sale stateside in the first quarter of next year. This two-door, three-box, four-seat rear-wheel-drive pocket rocket stays nimble thanks to perfect weight distribution and, even in the base 228i, 240 horsepower from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. All in all, a refreshing return to the spirit of the original 1970s 3 Series cars with which Bimmer established its name.
Lexus ES 350
Base MSRP: $36,470
With an attractive price point and fuel economy of 31 miles per gallon highway, the ES 350 is Lexus luxury that's both attainable and affordable to run. Now in its sixth generation, this sedan offers more room than ever in its ultra-quiet cabin (all the better to enjoy its premium sound system) and unusually intuitive technology, such as Siri Eyes-Free. A 268-horsepower V-6 powerplant means that performance and driving pleasure are also ES 350 priorities, while a class-leading 10-airbag safety system ensures maximum peace of mind.
Base MSRP: $29,900
Having debuted at last month's L.A. Auto Show, Audi's 2015 A3 family will be rolled out over the next 18 months, starting with the A3 sedan in the spring. Also comprising a Southern California-friendly Cabriolet and a 156-mpg plug-in hybrid Sportback E-Tron, these "baby" Audis offer the technological innovation, including 4G LTE connectivity and available Bang and Olufsen audio, and detailed build quality common to the brand's larger flagship sedans. And all of this four-ring finery for under 30 Gs (for the base A3 sedan).