Ask the Best and Brightest: Do Americans "Get" Small Premium Cars?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

One thing’s for sure: they don’t BUY them. Exhibit A3. Sales of Audi’s premium compact are cold, cold, cold. In August, the German car company moved just 479 copies, bringing its eight-month year-to-date total to a paltry 2,295 units. Exhibit BMW. The 1-Series is a flop; just 914 examples moved off dealer lots in August, bringing their YTD total to 7,443.On the hand, MINI. In August, BMW’s British brand flogged 5,111 Coopers stateside, bringing their eight-month YTD total to 30,868 moved MINIs. Questions for the class: is that as good as it gets? Is the so-called small premium market saturated? And if you’re a dead car company walking trying to resurrect a dead brand walking, is it worth developing a new car for this niche market? GM’s film would have you believe that the “small premium” market is ascendant. If gas prices go through the roof . . . nah. As Ford said in one of its UK ads, “space is the ultimate luxury.” You don’t think Europeans buy small premium cars because they want to, do you?

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Ethermal Ethermal on Sep 17, 2009

    Just wanted to pipe in with my 2 cents and clarify a few things people have been saying about the 1 series. The one thing I find funny with car naming conventions is that because the 1 series is, well, called a 1 series and the 3 series a 3 series. People automatically assume the 3 series is instantly better. That however is not true, consider the 3 series offers no increase in interior space over the 1. As a matter of fact the 1 series has larger dimensions in areas that really matter like front seat leg room and rear seat head room. The 1 & 3 series share the same engines, the same interiors the same optional features (well true with the 128i and 328i coupe, the 135 and 335i may differ more). The 1 series weighs less and performs better because of the weight savings and costs less $5K USD is no chump change, in fact in Canada the 328i is $10K CDN higher then the 128i. The real question is not; why would you go with a 1 series? The question is why would you go with a 3 series? For the record I bought a 2008 128i my boss being the boss bought a 2008 328i. We car pool to work together in both cars and I can say after a year and half I have no regrets, he got nothing for the $10K premium he paid. I think I am starting to agree that if the 1 series isn't selling it is simply because people think they are getting less of a car but in fact they are getting one of the best automotive deals out there (perception gap ;). here is the yahoo auto links that show the differences 1 series 3 series the question in my mind is, if you are getting nothing more why spend a dime more?

  • Redwood Redwood on Sep 17, 2009

    I don't think Americans get small premium cars just yet. Some people obviously do, but I think it will take some time for this change to occur. I personally would rather drive a 135i than a 335i. It's smaller size and better brakes make it more fun to drive. $5K less than a 335i is just icing on the cake. I also find it funny that "just" $5K more seems like a small step up. What if the 135i was already the small step up from say a Genesis coupe? The one advantage I'll give the 3 is that it has a 4 door variant, which makes it more useful. The A3 is also more fun to drive than the A4 (drove them through an autocross course at an Audi event). I have been watching the monthly BMW sales and I find it interesting that the 1 series sales have not dropped off as much as the 3 series sales. I am thinking some people that were maybe considering a 3 before are saving a bit and going with a 1 series instead. Also, if I recall, BMW changed their initial estimate of 20,000 1 series a year to 10,000 BEFORE it came out in the U.S. The current sales figures seem to fall in line with that projection. How is that a failure? The A3 on the other hand... @TEXN3 is right. The Mazda 3, especially the 2010 is high value though. It's cheaper and in Grand Touring trim comes with many premium features. It's just hard to beat the value there, plus it's fun to drive.

  • Wadebryant Wadebryant on Sep 22, 2009

    This is great conversation around the topic of Small Premium. Could I persuade any of you to post some of these ideas on the original discussion site? If you don't mind helping us out, please contribute your ideas to the discussion thread we've started. Thanks, Wade Bryant - GM Design

  • Anowlan Anowlan on Oct 02, 2009

    The 128i has substantially less rear seat space than the 328i coupe. One of the things that's amazing to me about the 335i is the fact that a real 5'10"-6'0" person can be very comfortable back there for hours at a time. I've sat in the 128i at auto shows- there's simply no comparison there. The stats the above poster posted bear this out- the shoulder room measurement is meaningless in a 4-place coupe- there's more than enough in either car.