By on June 20, 2017

Mercedes C230 Kompressor Sportcoupe, Image: M 93/wIKIMEDIA cOMMONS (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Yesterday brought exciting news for future car shoppers, especially those whose pants aren’t exactly sagging under the weight of an overstuffed wallet.

You see, there’s a new Mercedes-Benz on the way. A small four-door one, though likely not much smaller than the existing CLA sedan coupe. Yes, it will be front-wheel drive — sacrilege, we know — and will boast any number of four-cylinder engines. It’s the A-Class and, according to dealers, it’s also Mercedes-Benz’s future entry-level model.

Bottom rung. A starting point for the brand. And it might just carry a starting price of less than $30,000. Holy cats, you say, that’s less than a V6 Honda Accord! Just think of what this could do for my status in the community!

Yeah, about that…

Since the turn of the century, there have been other attempts to lure new buyers into the Mercedes-Benz brand with lower-priced models. The CLA itself, which now carries an MSRP of $32,700, started life in 2013 at a hair under the $30k barrier (before destination fee).

Since then, critics and owners alike have identified various flaws in the CLA that should compel any upwardly mobile car shopper to hold out for a C300. It’s not just the front-wheel drive, but the overall experience. Start up a conversation about Mercedes-Benz products and you’re likely to hear someone refer to the CLA as not being a “real” Mercedes.

On the subject of rear-wheel drive, let’s now talk about the C230 Kompressor Sportcoupe of the early 2000s. Engine up front, drive wheels in the back, and a starting price under $26,000. Good job? Not according to sales figures. The model flamed out quickly on these shores, partly because buyers didn’t feel a 3-door configuration was an appropriate bodystyle for a Mercedes.

Now, let’s forget Mercedes altogether and travel a bit further back in time. Yes, the heady 1990s, when BMW decided to slot a new entry-level car into its 3 Series range. The front half of the 318 ti resembled that of a normal 3 Series sedan or coupe. Unfortunately, venturing aft of the doors brought on a horrible discovery — someone had rear-ended the car! No wait, it was meant to look that way. BMW’s chop job on the 318 ti’s rump made for a very awkward-looking vehicle, never mind the four-cylinder powerplant under the hood. Lots of people want to brag about owning a BMW, but can anyone pull off bragging about owning a 318 ti? Maybe in polite company. Maybe.

Suffice it to say, all of these entry-level price leaders ended up cheapening their respective brands, rather than endowing them with new, lifelong fans. So, with the A-Class (expected to appear later next year), Mercedes-Benz is playing a dangerous game in its pursuit of premium and non-premium conquest sales.

It’s not impossible for a premium automaker to pull off a lower-cost car without falling into Aston Martin Cygnet territory. However, it is difficult. While the CLA’s issues seem to stem from overall quality issues, the C230 and 318 ti simply didn’t look the part.

The A-Class promises to be a taught (we hope) little sports sedan with minimal overhangs and seductive sheetmetal. Yes, it will be front-wheel drive, but is that the be-all and end-all for buyers? Probably not, especially for those who have never owned a Mercedes-Benz before. But the A-Class has to be good. The automaker doesn’t want a sales dud, nor does it want buyers to feel they’re not getting a “real” Mercedes.

What say you, Best and Brightest? What’s the lower limit for a premium automaker, in terms of pricing and target buyers? How cheap can a premium brand vehicle be before it loses the panache born from its badge? Or, should an automaker even bother trying to reach the lower strata of buyers?

[Image: M 93/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

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92 Comments on “QOTD: How Cheap Can a Premium Model Be?...”


  • avatar
    incautious

    much better off with an A3

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I like the A3. The styling and packaging are very tidy and handsome, and more than that, it’s based on an excellent car to start with (the Golf).

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      The A3 was junk.

      You get in it and you drive around and then you realize its an audi and think WTH???

      The screen is pixellated (huh??) and it drives like a VW golf. If I wanted a golf I’d buy a golf.

      seriously the hyundai sonata is higher more highline than the a3.

      • 0 avatar
        cramerica

        Let’s break this down

        “The A3 was junk.” – Useless hyperbole and unqualified statement. A3s are of the most common premium brand cars in Western Europe. Excellent build quality and older 1.9 TDIs are renowned for durability.

        “You get in it and you drive around and then you realize its an audi and think WTH???”

        Do you get in not realizing it’s an Audi? Are you driving blindfolded?

        “The screen is pixellated (huh??) and it drives like a VW golf. If I wanted a golf I’d buy a golf.”

        Are you referring to the VW Maxidot display? Big chunky pixels in between the binnacle gauges, been in VW and Audis since the 1990s?

        And it *is* a Golf. Most chassis components are literally the same. Why do you get in a badge-engineered VW and expect some radical difference?

        You are looking for incremental interior improvements, higher power engine choices, a more stylish body and brand perception.

        In Europe you can shop the same car across three VW price tiers ; Skoda Octavia, VW Golf and A3. Your wallet and your tolerance for long-term interior quality determine where you end up. You can expect generally similar chassis durability and performance, with spring rates and tire selection being the main difference between an Octy and A3. Cheaper Golfs and Octys do with torsion beam rear axles, which you will not find on an A3. With MQB the underpinnings are more similar than ever.

        “seriously the hyundai sonata is higher more highline than the a3”

        No, you just get a longer feature list. The Audi will have superior NVH, interior build quality and high-speed surefootedness. I would not bet any serious amount of money that, at 150,000 miles, the Hyundai will feel anywhere near as tight and planted as the Audi. I would also promise that a 100 MPH sustained cruise, as you will find in Audi’s home turf, would not be nearly as pleasant in your Korean car.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Like you said, I think the main thing that killed the C230 Kompressor Sportcoupe and the 318ti was that they were weird little abbreviated liftback vehicles (although I like the 318ti). If their respective automakers could have found the dollars to turn them into proper coupes, they might have done better.

    As far as “premium”, I think it varies with the type of vehicle being offered. MINI is a premium automaker that sells cars for under $20K. But when the near-20K-dollar MINIs are three-cylinder cars with no options, when you could get a well-equipped Fiesta, Sonic or Fit for the same money, they’re selling a premium offering within that market..and fortunately, MINI has the hardware and design to justify its relatively-high prices. Ditto for Smart, whose cars most people could afford.

    So for Mercedes-Benz, a compact FWD sedan hovering around the $30K mark, when most compact FWD sedans never reach $30K to begin with, would be a premium offering from a price standpoint. The better question is…will it be “premium” enough to offer a Mercedes-Benz badge? Will it be, as you say, a “real” Mercedes-Benz? So far, I don’t think the CLA-Class is. And if all I feel like I’m just getting a three-pointed star and a car that I feel is vastly inferior to a Golf, Mazda3 or Cruze…I, personally, am going to shop elsewhere. Mercedes-Benz has it a little tougher than its fellow Teutons, because at one point, BMW and Audi were simply somewhat-upscale “premium” brands (and indeed the base 3-Series continues in that spirit…premium, but not luxurious), whereas Mercedes-Benz of North America has always been thought of as an outright luxury brand.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      There’s a rule of thumb when picking a mate, even a casual one – when you’re 20yo, you want someone who your friends approve of. When you’re 28yo, you don’t care if your friends approve of your mate, you just want someone that you’re compatible with. Long way of saying that I buy a model of car dependent upon how it makes me feel. I tried out a C230 Kompressor hatchback at the NY Auto Show, and disliked it even before taking one on the road. Everything about just sitting in one whispered ‘cheap’ and ‘down market’. Not so the BMW E36 Compact aka 318ti. It seemed like a real 3-Series. Yes, the rear suspension was a leftover from the E30 2DR, and it was only a four cylinder, and many of the features I wanted were extra-cost on the 318ti but standard on a 3-Series coupe. I still liked it, and I didn’t mind the abbreviated rear end design. The only things that prevented me from buying one was the shortage of them when I was shopping for one, and the happy coincidence that I found a CPO E46 Coupe during my 318ti search that I could afford, and went for that car instead. I don’t know much about the M-B A-Class other than they seemed to be popular in London on my last visit, and the B-Class models that I occasionally see in Montreal look OK. I’m not a fan of the CLA sedan, and it’s my own prejudice that I dislike its front wheel drive in what looks otherwise like a C-Class but I’m perfectly fine with front wheel drive for the A-Class.

  • avatar
    Rasputin

    The entire idea of a “premium” auto is that it is “aspirational.”
    There is absolutely nothing aspirational about an under $30K, front wheel drive 4-banger. With 84-month financing, a typical food stamp recipient could probably swing the payments. Does wonders for MB’s image.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Dude, in many neighborhoods, if you’ve got the connections required to collect foodstamps, you’re, like, hoiti-toyti and all. Of course you need to show off your privileged status, by rolling in a Benz….

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Do non-exotic luxury badges even communicate “status” anymore?

    I assume there was a time that having a new premium car really did indicate that you had “made it” and had the disposable income to prove it.

    But given current lending standards and long-term financing it seems that almost anybody can have a luxury car if they want to and are willing to lease or go into debt forever to get it.

    When I see somebody with a new Audi in traffic I don’t think “there’s a guy who worked hard and made good and is rewarding himself with something nice”; I think “that sucker’s going to be making payments until 2025”.

    Is anybody here impressed by luxury badges, and do you grant people additional status as a result of them? If so, why?

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      The way you judge people is pretty jaded. Sure, there will always be people reaching for “status” vehicles. There’s also no shortage of people that did work hard and bought them with pride and joy. Do you just hate people that might actually be successful?

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        I don’t think he hates anyone. I think he’s merely observing the facts. Sure, there are people who work hard and reward themselves with something nice because they are prospering. There always have been. But do you honestly believe the majority of luxury-label buyers fit into that category?

        Just look at our economy and employment trends. The country simply doesn’t have enough people doing well enough to reconcile with the sales figures for brands like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, etc. People are mortgaging themselves to the hilt again – with no apparent lessons learned (on the part of consumers, lenders and manufacturers) from the financial crisis of a decade ago.

        The irony is, the status that many of these people seek really isn’t there for many of these brands anymore. Final thought on the question posed by Steph: It is far easier for budget and mainstream automakers to reach upward than it is for premium and luxury automakers to reach downward. This has pretty much always been the case and certainly is now.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        I definitely don’t hate people who are successful; in fact I recommend that everybody do it.

        However, I contend that it is likely that most people driving new luxury cars have overextended themselves in order to appear more financially successful than they actually are.

        Looking at the numbers for lease %, household debt in America, and the portion of that debt that is for automobiles I think my contention is pretty solid.

      • 0 avatar
        Shinoda is my middle name

        How about we don’t judge anyone at all, starting now. I don’t buy a car thinking about how other people are going to ‘see’ me in it….I buy a car thinking about what I need, what I want and what I can afford. People who judge people by what car they drive are sooooooooooo shallow.

        For the record, I drive a C-Class. Not because I couldn’t afford and E or a 5-series, but because I like it, it fits me and my garage and my lifestyle perfectly.

        When I replace it next year, I will buy another C-Class. Not for how anyone else ‘sees’ me in it, but because my current C has met all my expectations and needs at the price point.

        One would think at this site, at least, badge snobbery would be considered gauche.

        • 0 avatar
          Steve Biro

          You may not buy a car thinking about how others see you in it. But I guarantee you many, many others do. The auto industry is built around that reality.

          And what makes you think we’re judging? We’re discussing what we see, economic facts and how consumers regard premium-branded vehicles.

          Thou doth protest too much, methinks.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      I think “that sucker’s going to be making payments until 2025”.

      Au contraire! That sucker is renting the car and will be making payments forever.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      When it comes to the luxury makes, I’m generally impressed by anything newer over $100K or by anything in good shape that’s 6+ years old and originally cost over $60K.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “Do non-exotic luxury badges even communicate “status” anymore?”
      Some would argue they don’t, and that there are new markers of wealth and social status these days:
      http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170614-the-new-subtle-ways-the-rich-signal-their-wealth

      Jack seems to know some some rich folks who drive cheap cars – but I’ll bet they don’t buy chicken breasts at Costco…
      http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a33393/the-4000-car-that-all-the-millionaires-love/

      • 0 avatar
        whynotaztec

        Thanks for the BBC link that was interesting. With 3 kids in college I did not realize I was “wealth signaling.” Yet I feel like I have no money…

    • 0 avatar
      Cactuar

      Personally I am only impressed by super sports cars (Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari etc) or high-end luxury cars (S Class, 7 series etc).

      I also respect folks who prefer to own and maintain an older luxury car. For instance seeing an older LS430 in perfect condition is far more impressive than seeing a new A3.

      Anyone can make the payment on a 3 series or E class, it’s not impressive.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        I try to not judge by ones car. I do however find i apply a higher level of respect for the individual driving a 10 year old F150 that is well maintained then a benz of any sort

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      If your middle class, no they don’t mean squat.

      If your poor though, they still show you made it. After all, making minimum wage and having 200k in student loan debt doesn’t get you a Benz.

      But if someone makes $50k a year, I don’t think a premium vehicle means jack.

      But exotics still do.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      It’s funny that you ask that. I have a friend who lived in a predominantly blue-collar city that has owned a succession of BMW 3-series car. His current is a 335i, and the way he acted you would have thought that it was a supercar. Last year he moved from his blue-collar town to central Ohio, and for months now he’s been commenting about how there are so many BMWs and MBs around town. Well, yes, we’re a primarily white-collar city with residents who can easily afford the lease payments on an entry-level luxury car. Suddenly his status symbol isn’t a status symbol anymore.

      So I suspect that at least part of that is where you live. If you’re in a more affluent city or suburb then a BMW doesn’t communicate status, it communicates “I’m another one of you”.

  • avatar
    ajla

    USA starting prices only.

    Buick/Acura/Alfa tier : $30K

    Cadillac/Volvo/Lincoln/Infiniti tier : $40K

    Lexus/BMW/Mercedes/Audi/Jaguar tier : $45K

    Maserati tier : $70K

    Bentley/Rolls/exotic tier : $200K

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You can put Porsche in that Maserati tier as well; pretty much all the good ones are $70K and above.

    • 0 avatar
      Shinoda is my middle name

      Someone driving a Maserati, or Ferrari or Bentley doesn’t impress me. Means they have more money than sense. And they probably inherited it. Because people who have that kind of jack who EARNED it, know it’s worth and wouldn’t waste it on anything north of, say, a Lexus or S-Class.

      Pretention is so lame.

      • 0 avatar
        notwhoithink

        I know a self-made multi-millionaire doctor (he has a number of patents on surgical implants) that has a garage full of Lamborghini and Rolls Royce autos. During the summer I’ve seen him literally drive a different Lamborghini to work every day. He buys them because he likes them.

        So much for your silly assumptions…

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        “How about we don’t judge anyone at all, starting now. I don’t buy a car thinking about how other people are going to ‘see’ me in it….I buy a car thinking about what I need, what I want and what I can afford. People who judge people by what car they drive are sooooooooooo shallow.”

        “Someone driving a Maserati, or Ferrari or Bentley doesn’t impress me. Means they have more money than sense. And they probably inherited it. Because people who have that kind of jack who EARNED it, know it’s worth and wouldn’t waste it on anything north of, say, a Lexus or S-Class.”

        That’s the good stuff, there.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The reality is that there are a lot of people who do judge people by what they drive as well as expect people to judge them by what they drive, and they do want to “fit in”.

          My Mother In Law is a great example. She had lived for many years in a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Several years ago her husband passed away and she just couldn’t part with his old Ranger. She actually started using it as her main vehicle a lot of the year when she bought a convertible. Then one day she got hit pretty hard in the driver’s door and was totaled because it was an older truck. Again she didn’t want to get rid of it and needed it fixed “right now”. So I went to the wrecking yard that quoted the cheapest price and of course it wasn’t the same color.

          Fast forward several years and she moves into a condo in a gated community. The truck was then parked in her private 2 car garage when it took the last load, not touched for several months and then she announced she “had to sell it” because she never drove it anymore. When pressed she admitted that she wouldn’t drive it because she couldn’t stand being seen in the fancy neighborhood in an old truck with a door that didn’t match. So I kept watching the wrecking yard until a door in the right color came along. And of course she now is able to drive it again. Yes she may be at the extreme end of the scale but she certainly isn’t alone.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            Perhaps you could replace the badges with Lincoln ones for her.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I…I kind of think your mother-in-law is cool for this story. She vocalized something we’d probably all be thinking if we were in her position.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Ha, and the funny thing is that I just replaced the Blue Oval on the tailgate the same time I did the door as it had fallen off last year.

            It is wearing classier wheels than the average Ranger. It had the OE 14″ aluminum wheels on it and there weren’t really any good choices in the right size w/o spending a lot of money. So it got plus 1″ with an old set of 92 Crown Vic wheels I had laying around. Unfortunately there isn’t a Lincoln center cap for that wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        I drive a Ferrari. I have no desire to impress you.

        I actually think I have more sense than money, and I didn’t inherit a dime.

        I drive my Ferrari because I love it. I always wanted it. I love the sound it makes. I love the way it drives. I love having something I don’t see every day.

        My daily driver is a Hyundai. I love my Hyundai too. I don’t need to impress anyone at work with a badge, but on the weekend you’ll see me in my Ferrari, or my Porsche, or even my Jeep Wrangler tackling an offroad trail.

        If you don’t like me because of what I drive, fortunately that’s not my problem! The beauty of not driving things to impress people is that I also don’t care if someone is #NotImpressed or even hateful.

        But personally, I don’t hate on someone just because of what they drive. Its a personal decision, and there’s some cool people out there in Maseratis, Ferrari’s, and Bentleys. There’s also some cool people out there in Pintos, Miatas, and alfa romeos. There’s also some really annoying people in every one of those as well.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    CPO should be the entry level for prestige brands, but the march down-market is all about generating economies of scale. You can’t make a profit in the car business unless the platform can generate a few hundred thousand unit sales per year for 5 or 6 years, especially when you go down-market. That’s why all Minis, X1, and the 2 series MPV share the same BMW front-drive platform, because together they probably sell close to half-million units per year.

  • avatar
    zayg

    Don’t forget that stepping into a C230 from that time was like stepping into a Ford Escort. It was a cheap little piece of garbage from a brand that was historically known for building rock solid, elegant cars.

    The 318ti wasn’t too bad of a car. I actually quite like them and I believe the proportions were rather charming. However, the car certainly did not fit what BMW was trying to be in the US market.

    I think this new Benz can be done well if it continues to follow the formula of having a lineup of cars that look mostly the same with the interior trying to mimic the higher end models. I can’t imagine that MB would ship out any car with an interior as horrid as the C230 today.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Anyone who can afford a new civic can afford a cpo BMW. That being said, premium brands should start above the average price of a new vehicle, or $35,000.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    If only they could have made the Chrysler merger work. This would be a great Chrysler! Cheap Mercedes well only hurt the brand name.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      They could have made it work and chose not to. Look at how well the Chrysler 300 – built on a retiring E-Class platform – worked out. They could have done the same with each Mercedes platform of every size as it was replaced by a new one. Ironically, the people at Daimler were worried about cheapening the Mercedes brand when they decided to halt the strategy. Just brilliant.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    I’m generally not impressed by anyone’s car, except if it’s a well-cared-for classic one. That still doesn’t mean they know about cars, mind you — you can just buy a ’65 Benz and pay the shop bills just like you can with a ’17 one –, but at least it suggests good taste.

    Besides, most “premium” cars in Europe are company cars anyway.

    Yes, I do look twice when a Rolls Royce, Bentley, Mercedes-Maybach or Bugatti comes my way. Maybe even a big premium-brand coupé or convertible, or something exotic like a Cadillac (over here). Who wouldn’t? But a 7-series I find no more impressive than a 1-series. So in my book, there’s no problem at all with things like an A 140, an A1 1.0 TSFI or a 116d hatchback.

    • 0 avatar
      scott25

      Knowing about cars and understanding how they work, and being able to work on cars are pretty far from the same thing.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        That’s not what I meant. You can drive a classic car without knowing the first thing about it, just because of its looks or the image they convey, if you throw enough money at it.

        Also, you don’t have to wrench yourself to earn my respect for your classic car. (Though it helps.)

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      As someone who’s owned an ancient Mercedes, I might buy “good taste”, but certainly not “good sense”.

      Loud, (comparatively, bare minimum) slow deathtraps with everything wearing out or worn out or simply not-available less then 40 years old, no thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        (I mean, my ’76 was a very safe car *for 1976*.

        But that makes it a deathtrap by today’s standards.

        Every old car is a disaster, frankly, no matter how nice it *looks*.)

  • avatar
    DavesNotHere

    Au contraire, there is a very desirable 318ti, the Clubsport. It was kitted out with M suspension and other bits to make it a daily driver and weekend racer all in one. I had one, and it was basically a 4 cylinder M3.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Why can’t they make a modern day 2002 or 318-i?

  • avatar
    chris8017

    The millennial yuppie drowning in student loan debt will lap this up like a Starbucks Macchiato. Now they will be able to pay the minimum payment to Sallie Mae and still drive a Mercedes. Mercedes isn’t as stupid as they look….

    Before you blame me for hating on Millennials I should add that I am technically a Millennial. I know this generation…

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Cheap Ultra Premium……. well let’s talk cheap. How about 6 year old Audi A8’s stacked up like cordwood with shelled out merried transmission/AWD units. Buy them buy the dozen, real cheap.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    The moneyed are never going to look upon the aspirational in their low-level “premium” vehicles. They’ll sell plenty though, and drag the Mercedes barrier to entry ever-lower.

    The people in the E-Class, G-Wagon, and S-Coupe will just laugh and pass you with their V8s. They won’t pay you any mind. Just stop reaching for your base model premium, and get a middle to loaded standard brand you can actually *afford.* Spend your limited funds on things with substance that matter, or paying down your debt. Don’t be stupid, you can’t pretend your way into the prestige of the upper-class.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      “Just stop reaching for your base model premium, and get a middle to loaded standard brand you can actually *afford.*”

      So this really begs the question: what denotes “premium” these days? Is it the badge?

      Story time: About 8 or 9 years ago I was in the market for a new car. I wanted a 4-door, but something more “premium/luxurious” than a Ford. So I started shopping around looking at used 3-series and C-class sedans. I liked them. They looked good. But when I drove them, there was nothing that really made me go “wow”. Then I looked at a used Acura TL with the full tech package. It was a bigger car, with a much more powerful engine, and had far more tech features than the entry-level Germans, and at a slightly lower price. It was a no-brainer, because once you got past the badge everything about the Acura (except perhaps the FWD handling) was better.

      Fast forward to last fall and I’m in the market for another car. I’ve got my list of features that I’m accustomed to that I won’t give up: leather, power everything, bluetooth, nav, moonroof, integrated HomeLink, dual zone climate control, heated/cooled seats, etc. And I also wanted the new and improved tech stuff like collision avoidance, backup cameras, lane departure warning, etc. So what car did I wind up with? A new Ford Fusion. It has everything my Acura did and more. The only way you can configure a BMW for a similar price is to order a stripped down 320i and pick literally zero options. You can’t even order a stripped C-class at this price point, and the decked out Fusion runs will be more luxurious and have more amenities than either of them, so long as you can look past the badge.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        Badge denotes premium, and is a required component of premium vehicle. Even with a Titanium trim, the Fusion is not a premium vehicle.

        You didn’t like the TLX?

        • 0 avatar
          notwhoithink

          Back seat on the TLX was too small, otherwise I’d have probably gone that route.

          And if the badge is the sole determiner of what constitutes “premium”, then the term is utterly useless. A decked out Fusion (Titanium or Platinum) is considerably better equipped than a stripped out 3-series or C-class. But then I also buy generic medication as well, when possible.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            And the CRV is better made and has more equipment than a GLA.

            But the CRV isn’t premium.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          It is if you put a Mercedes Star on it replacing the Blue Oval, though!

  • avatar
    scott25

    The 3 series compact and C-coupe are definitely near the top of my favourite vehicles made by those two brands. Not that I’ve driven or even sat in either of them.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    It’s very dependent on the manufacturer. The Germans are very married to the heirarchy of size. When you decouple those things, it’s very easy to deliver a premium experience at a low price point. Something like an ES350 or even a Maxima is pretty premium IMO. Nobody in the US wants a Mercedes Fiesta, but MB has locked itself into its image so much that a $40K large sedan would kill a lot of the incentive to shop up for many.

    I think Lexus has it just about perfect. Instead of focusing on size, make size adequate across the board and vary the experience. Many C class shoppers are folks who just couldn’t afford the E or S. But by contrast I think there is zero overlap in IS and ES shoppers.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    MB should create a sub-brand. Call it iMerc, iBenz, MercedI, or something similar. As long as it sounds like an Apple product.

    For BMW the convention should be as simple: iMotor, UltimatI, etc.

    Put some ads at the Hipster Monthly

    Have You Googled iMerc260 lately? Read about pressure-aided engines tested for decades in lawnmower duty.

    iMotor220xi Gran Turismo Can Carry All Your Ipads In Its Spacious Trunkslot. 12 USB3 Ports!

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I don’t think anyone would buy it, but I like the idea of a C-Class with a tiny engine, steel wheels, and basically nothing but A/C (roughly in line with entry level W123s and W201s) – something still built to a fairly traditional Benz standard of quality, but definitively not a luxury car. It wouldn’t fly with Benz’s current branding, but it’s more honest than the CLA.

    For that matter, we get the B-class here in Canada – despite having the exact same mechanicals and interior as the CLA, it seems more tolerable, for the same reason. Short of the oversized badge, it’s not going to be bought by anyone trying to show off.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Well, nobody in America would buy it.

      But the Mercedes Germany Konfigurator suggests you can get close – C160 with the same power output as a Corolla, starting at a *mere* 31,868 Euro!

      16″ steel wheels, cloth seats, manual. Does have AC and power windows and seats, though.

      Of course, the US market price would presumably be lower, because DE taxes.

      (And the C-Class Touring? Why, MBUSA, why no import?)

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    My solution to the “I want to drive a status symbol on the cheap:”

    indianapolis.craigslist.org/cto/6174599671.html
    Really needs some white-walls though…

    That’s more like it:
    indianapolis.craigslist.org/cto/6162319744.html

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    It may actually turn out better than CLA. The CLA is much too similar to C-class in every dimension, except the quality. So, when they are parked together, it’s blatantly obvious which one is junk. If the new A-class is smaller, there’s not going to be effect of sameness. Personally, I would be interested.

    As for the brand dragged down by its entry-level car, did CT do that much to destroy Lexus? Hardly, you know!

  • avatar
    KevinB

    Alfred Sloan did it correctly.

  • avatar
    matt3319

    So as with all entry Premium brand cars it will start at $29,995 before destination. So now its $30,895. By no means will you even find one without options in standard paint. Add $595 for premium paint. You need some option totaling $9000. So now that entry level sub $30K premium auto is now over $40K.

    some things never change.

  • avatar

    I just bought a 318ti for less than my last suit, and it is silly fun to drive.

  • avatar
    TheDoctorIsOut

    “The A-Class promises to be a taught -”

    And there I stopped.

    The word you were reaching for is “taut” as, in this case, to describe tension or a tightly drawn design. Yet another casualty of this digital age where speed and cost are prized above attention to detail and over reliance on spell check is a good copy editor to catch such foolish composition errors.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    BMW and Mercedes are already embarrassing themselves with the crass and foul X6 and GLE on the upper price end, and Audi with a behemoth CUV powered by a 2.0T, so why not test the sub-$30K FWD end of the market as well? They cannot possibly sink lower than Aston Martin did with this:

    http://www.astonmartin.com/en/heritage/past-models/cygnet

    Ooooo! Elegant *and* distinctive while also individual?

    The mainstream automakers have been successful at blurring the lines between them and the premium brands by increasing the performance envelopes and feature lists of their cars. So much so, that if I want premium on the cheap, I’ll look at this: https://tinyurl.com/y9fn77gz

    New or used that’s likely to be a damn sight better than a midget FWD Benz. These are the folks who gave us the non-premium CLA and its ownership of gell-haired 20-somethings with oversized white framed sunglasses and pathological social media addictions.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    I’d say no new Mercedes should be under $45k if you are trying to keep the brand image be a long term, aspirational product.

    I also don’t think the strategy of getting someone to buy a crappy, entry version of your vehicle and hope they move up the food chain is a good strategy. Most people I know that bought entry level luxury cars hated the brand when they were done.

  • avatar

    I’d rather be driving my top of the line Civic EX-L coupe than a bottom dwelling Mercedes that will cost an arm & a leg to maintain when it gets out of warranty. Your Mercedes doesn’t impress me unless it’s an E class or better.

  • avatar
    cramerica

    In Europe these are just called “German”, not “Premium” or “Aspirational”. In Germany they are domestic production.

    There are hundreds of thousands of commuter grade A3/3series/C’s and A4/A6/E class made for people who perceive, often rightly, that the German chassis durability and body rust protection are simply superior over high speeds and long miles. Japanese cars may be more reliable, but an all-day cruise at 100+ MPH in a base E200 is simply a superior experience than a top-spec Toyota.

    Much of the TTAC flack fired at “unreliable” German cars also comes from the optioned-up electrobarges that the NA market gets. Our Euro A4 had crank rear windows, cloth seats and FWD.

    I think the German manufacturers have finally realized that pricing out the young professional or middle class market is ignoring a powerful profit center. They sell plenty of small engine, low option cars to European families, and Germans are frugal people. Merc and VAG are the Ford and Chevy of Germany, they just need to extend that image to North America.

  • avatar
    joc6812

    I lease two Mercedes. Have leased two before that. Are the cars so much better than competitors? Probably not. But, in my experience, the dealer is. Once you’re in the “family,” they want to keep you leasing. Deals are good, not that much more than other main stream, mid line competing vehicles. The car is always under warranty during the lease, free car washes (at my dealer), nice amenities, good service, a pleasant, low hassle experience. I wanted to get a Mazda model last time around, but the dealership was so sleazy and run down…I passed. People will pay for an entry level Mercedes for the enhanced dealer experience, even if the vehicle is slightly more than a competitor and not as “good.” Then, there’s the three pointed star….

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