By on October 9, 2018

Perusing the responses to Matthew Guy’s QOTD post about the ideal $40,000 vehicle, three sedans kept surfacing in the comments. All three were compact, all of them had engines of identical displacement, and all of them were restrained by a price ceiling — meaning no optional extras.

Today we’ll narrow the $40,000 field to these three, and see which one you’d buy with your own bank’s money.

We end up with very different sedan offerings today, due to methodology: The trim selected is the closest possible to $40,000.

Cadillac ATS

Built atop GM’s Alpha platform with the CTS, the ATS was a new compact sedan venture for Cadillac — its first compact model since the ill-fated Cimarron. Sales since its 2013 debut haven’t been as strong as General Motors prefered, leading to an announcement earlier this year that 2018 would indeed be the final year for the sedan version of the ATS. The coupe lives on — for now. Our strict budget of $40,000 allows us only the base, all-wheel drive ATS. Equipped with the boosted 2.0-liter Ecotec, the ATS distributes 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic. $37,495.

Jaguar XE

Jaguar’s XE compact sedan debuted for the 2016 model year. Jaguar waded once more into a sedan segment it abandoned a few years before, repressing memories of the shockingly bad Mondeo Leather Edition (also known as the X-Type). The XE shares Jaguar’s iQ platform with the F-Pace CUV and its larger sedan brother, the XF. Jaguar offers a stunning 34 trim levels of the XE, which is surely a modern record for sedan variation. Today we can afford the 6th trim from the bottom of the barrel, which is known as the 20d Premium. That d stands for diesel, so the 2.0-liter engine here makes 180 horsepower, but 318 lb-ft of torque. All that torque goes to the rear wheels via the eight-speed automatic. $39,825.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The C-Class is nothing new for the three-pointed star, which has produced the 190E’s successor since the early 1990s. The model’s fourth generation debuted for the 2015 model year, adding a cabriolet offering to the sedan and coupe lineup in North America. Other markets still have the option of a C-Class wagon. It’s the most expensive car of our trio, which means the absolute cheapest C300 is our specification today. The turbocharged 2.0-liter delivers 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels via the 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic. $40,250.

Three Aces of Bases of luxury; which one’s a Buy?

[Images: GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz]

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78 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: The $40,000 Luxury Sedan Answer for 2018...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Buy, any after 2 years for $20K
    Drive, the Merc
    Burn, the Jag

  • avatar
    EX35

    Jags do have super long CPO warranties. XE/XF is appealing.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Buy the C300
    Drive the ATS with a manual
    Burn the other one

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d actually go with ‘none of the above’ but I’ll play along and tell y’all what I’d really buy at the end.

    Buy: ATS. It’s the best of this bunch to drive, plus it has AWD. And I’d get to hear DW rant.
    Drive: Benz.
    Burn: Jag. It looks like a Hyundai. Or a Ford. Or a Chevy. You get my point.

    But for forty grand, I’d buy an Infiniti Q50 with the 3.0t and AWD. $41295 after delivery. I drove a ’15 this weekend with the 3.7 and AWD and have developed a pretty fair crush on this car. They’re asking 22, and it’s certified with about 30,000 miles. The deals on used luxury sedans are just loony these days.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “The deals on used luxury sedans are just loony these days.”

      Might just be me, but they seem kinda disposable. People buy them for reasons, but those reasons don’t tend to be endearing. It’s odd.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Perfect cars to:

        A.) Lease
        B.) Buy and dump when the warranty expires
        C.) Buy CPO and dump when the CPO warranty expires

        Not the car for people who fall into the “keeper” category

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Boils down to dollars and cents, hubcap…for +/- $20,000, you can pick up a lightly used luxury car with plenty of toys and performance, or a base Camcord, or optioned-up compact. Based on this, a used luxury car has PLENTY of appeal.

        • 0 avatar
          hubcap

          “a used luxury car has PLENTY of appeal.”

          Yes. A used one does. But why is there such a supply of gently used luxury cars? My question is for the first owner.

          Why buy something to jettison is with so much usable life left while simultaneously knowing how much they depreciate during those early ownership years?

          Additionally, I feel luxury is an over used term (an argument for another day ,I know, but humor me.)

          First of all, what is luxury? What makes these three luxury cars? Premium, sure. But luxury? I don’t see it.

          A couple of days ago I saw a commercial for a Yamaha wave runner. The voice over called it a luxury wave runner. WTF?

          I’m actually surprised that a motorcycle brand hasn’t developed a line of luxury bikes and priced them 20-40% higher than the normal line.

          It seems many homes are described as luxury homes. Apartments characterized as luxury apartments. I fully expect to find luxury hammers at Hope Depot any day now.

          It great for the manufacturers. Add luxury to an items description, charge more, and laugh all the way to the bank.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            “Why buy something to jettison is with so much usable life left while simultaneously knowing how much they depreciate during those early ownership years?”

            Because people want the latest and greatest, or don’t want to own a luxury car out of warranty, or some other reason. It’s no crime. Life is too short to drive a base Camry for 20 years if you want and can afford something nicer. Think about how much time we spend in our cars. Even someone who has a 30 minute commute spends about 9 days a year sitting in their car. Why not make that time a little more enjoyable?

            I like FreedMike’s idea. Q50 is very nice. I myself would go for a used hybrid. FWIW I’ve had various VQ equipped Nissans and Infinitis and they were all reliable, even with as many as 190K miles. If not for the abysmal gas mileage (even with the hybrid) I’d love to have another one.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            But why is there such a supply of gently used luxury cars?

            LEASES – 24 to 36 month leases and when it comes off lease the lessee just jumps into another lease. For MB and BMW there has be a good chance that the person in that C-class/3-series next to you isn’t paying a loan.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            “Why buy something to jettison is with so much usable life left while simultaneously knowing how much they depreciate during those early ownership years?”

            If they leased the vehicle – which is the case for about 99% of these CPO luxury cars – they already planned for the depreciation when they took delivery. That’s all they’re paying for, and all a lease is – depreciation plus interest (and sales taxes, depending on where you live).

            When it comes to luxury vehicles, a lease makes WAY more sense. What would you rather do – drop $700-800 a month on a buy over five years, or +/- $400 on the lease for the same car? I’ll take door number two, thanks, and take put the difference in something that might make some money for me.

            And if you want a luxury car to buy and keep, does it make more sense to drop $45,000 on one, or $20,000?

            Makes sense either way. YMMV, of course.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The most luxurious car is the one you own.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          I think the differentiator is that the Camcord will likely run up to 200k with few issues outside of maintenance (although this is becoming less true by the year as everyone adopts baby-turbo motors, DI, CVTs,etc). I agree with PrincipalDan, for the luxo-options buy it depreciated but inside of the warranty period, then dispose of it like expired milk. One can argue that almost any car in the automotive landscape that isn’t a naturally aspirated pickup truck is disposable.

          I personally love the Jag looks, that’d be a drive I guess. Buy the Benzo, burn the Caddy.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            One can argue that almost any car in the automotive landscape that isn’t a naturally aspirated pickup truck is disposable.

            In new cars I think that’s where we’re headed. I rack up 20,000 miles a year right now. My next vehicle will have a warranty and when I get it paid off I’ll probably dump it and move onto the next one.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            You’re right, gtem, but I think that by and large, luxury car buyers aren’t interested in keeping a car for 10-15 years.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            Nobody is interested in keeping a car for 10-15 years. Most people keep new cars for about 6 years, and I’m sure used car buyers keep cars for even shorter. Building cars for an end use nobody is buying them for doesn’t make much sense.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “Building cars for an end use nobody is buying them for doesn’t make much sense.”

            The market is “smart” enough to assign pretty accurate values on higher mile used cars, and simple/durable and cheap to fix stuff like Accords and Camrys held on to value and remained vaible low cost transportation down to the 4th owner and beyond. The issue with Euro cars for quite some time is that they become a real “hot potato” out of warranty and their value degrades about as fast as their control arm bushings and cooling systems (BMW). That increased rate of depreciation of course affects even the 1st and 2nd owners, or the guy buying something like a 5-7 year old out of warranty car.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d make sure any Q50 I bought did NOT have the electric steering, and DID have the Dynamic Suspension option.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        If I’m not mistaken, all Q50s have electric steering, but only a select few have the mark-of-Cain steer-by-wire system. Nothing these days has much steering feel anyway, you know?

        I actually drove a base model and a “S” with the 3.7 – I loved the seats and the paddle shifters in the “S”, but believe it or not, I preferred the base one.

        As a plus, the rather attractive saleswoman, who happened to be my own age, flirted rather convincingly with me.

        Seriously…low 20’s for one of these versus my first choice, with the CPO warranty? It’s a heck of a good deal.

        • 0 avatar

          That’s right RE: steer by wire. All the RS versions have it, and some of the Sport versions. They’ve been increasing it in the offerings over the years.

          You’re succumbing to the dealer vixens! When I bought my Subaru they sent an old man out because he was probably the salesman most like me.

          Side note: Lexus GS of ’14 or ’15 age (7AT, no predator face) are also low $20k.

          • 0 avatar
            OmarCCX

            The GS is a pretty good grab now. 2013-15 GS350s are selling for less than the 2014-15 IS350s.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Yep Pre-predator GS is looking like a pretty choice option at the moment. One last chance to own a Toyota “Mark” on our shores.

        • 0 avatar
          OmarCCX

          What made you prefer the base model, the ride quality?

          • 0 avatar

            S versions have usually fatter tires, and stiffer suspension bits. I would always prefer a regular on any Infiniti. Also I prefer wood to fake-luminium.

      • 0 avatar
        cbrworm

        Yes.

    • 0 avatar

      Do’t insult Ford. Ford looks like Aston Martin which I would choose over all three, used of course.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    No thanks I’ll wait for the G70 or dicker on a KIA Stinger.

    (I KNOW COREY – FAIL!!!!!)

    Don’t really care today.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    Buy the Benz. Looks best IMO and is just a decent car. Interior is the best out of the three.

    Drive – ATS. The Jag almost beat it with the diesel engine, but idk I think I would rather drive the ATS. Alpha platform is fun after all.

    Burn – Sorry Jag. Your interior is sad with bad infotainment (worse than CUE). You look and drive fine, but nothing about you sets my heart on fire.

    *actually buy – Audi A4 manual. Best interior and last year before the manual is axed

  • avatar
    ajla

    Gross.

    Buy: C300. I hate the C300 but maybe the badge will get me some social staus points.

    Drive: ATS-4. Whatever. I’d burn it if you’d let me.

    Burn: Jaguar XE 20d. I already hate the XE and then you piled a diesel on top of it? Easiest “burn” choice ever.

  • avatar
    pb35

    I don’t want to buy, drive or burn any of those either. I’d save another $40k and buy the CTS-V that I really wanted.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    Drive–ATS. Especially one with a manual (I’d actually burn it).

    Buy–C300 Don’t really like this car, but whatever (I’d actually burn this one too).

    Burn– Jag XE. Seems to be a derivative, me too car. Lacks purpose, besides hoovering money out of consumer pockets. I’d make a great target for flame thrower enthusiasts. In fact, I think I’ll go fuel up my M9.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Seems like the Genesis G70 was mentioned far more often than these three, and its the one I’d have.

    That said:
    Buy the Cadillac
    Drive the Mercedes
    Burn the Jaguar

    Say what you will about the X-Type, but it looked like a proper Jag.

    • 0 avatar

      Do not concur on the X-Type. The S-Type looked like the Mark II, but the X was too truncated and smushed.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      All I remember about the X-type was that a woman I worked with had one. She did nothing but brag on the thing.

      Word around the campfire was she quit after they wouldn’t give her dedicated parking for her broomstick.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Mike, I used “word around the campfire is…” like three times in the last month or so, usually at or about work.

        Aren’t movie refrences great? You should hear me when someone offers me bacon. (No, in real life, I don’t eat pork, and stopped eating it long before I saw the movie, but I can’t resist using the line when someone opens the door for me.)

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    This is hard – but if I stick with as equipped.

    Buy the C300 = love the baby S class
    Drive the ATS – checks the right boxes given my choice, AWD and the 2.0T
    Burn the XE – damn it, I love this car, but RWD and the diesel engine is my choice

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Used SS sedan with a real engine.

    Burn the faux luxury overpriced compacts.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    The C-class is the nicest car of the bunch but I dunno what kind of equipment you get in a base Benz these days. Might be shockingly sparse.

    The ATS is a fabulous driver and you get AWD and a punchy engine. Again though you need to look closely at equipment levels in the base trim to be sure you can live with it.

    A Jag diesel? No thank you.

  • avatar
    ScarecrowRepair

    “20d” — isn’t that 20 pence, as in one shilling?

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    For me, this comes down to infotainment and reliability, as none of these cars have any appeal to me.

    Buy- cautiously, the C-Class. The touchpad infotainment interface infuriates me, but I’d rather that than some of the nightmare reliability issues I’ve heard about the ATS. Plus I think its rear seat is bigger, which I’d need for an infant car seat.

    Drive- ATS- it’s the driver’s car of the group. That’s about as far as I’d go with it.

    Burn- Jag- XE feels like an afterthought. Feels like all of JLR’s resources go to Range Rover.

    If the choice were open I think I’d go with a 330e. Hoping Lexus implements the LC hybrid configuration across the lineup. An IS hybrid would be really nice.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Ok I agree with many, it would really depend on what you get w your 40K, in the real world I doubt the benz is being discounted much so it will be base base which may not be very good on a german car,you side step this if you buy CPO since most a well equipped leases but the rules are the rules.and with that said

    I will buy the ATS, I do not love the looks but it should drive well
    Drive the Jag, I like diesel cars , it is problem decently equipped and it will be different and that is a plus for me. and it gets the best mileage by far which is important to a road warrior. Sadly it looks like Jag green is not a color choice.

    Sadly I am burning the MB- I think it is the best looking and the best badge if you care about that but I checked and at 41k for the stripper my choice would be black or white only, no heated seats, and basically nothing that makes a MB a MB, just can not do it so it must Go to the fire.

  • avatar
    Steve Lynch

    The 2019 C 300 now has 255 horsepower…

  • avatar
    readallover

    Have any of you actually sat in an ATS? The single worst interior packaging of any modern car I have been in. And the back seat is literally useless – even for child safety seats. If you have a mortal enemy make them sit in the back seat of one of these things on a long trip.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, no one advertised the ATS as a great family car, but the back seat isn’t THAT bad – I’m 5’10” and I can get in and out of there fairly easily. I wouldn’t take a six hour trip back there, but it’d be perfectly fine for a double date, or going out to lunch with co-workers.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Nobody claimed it was a DeVille for today. Its a compact, it’s RWD, what do you expect?

      I do believe it works better as a coupe, and that’s how I’d take it.

  • avatar
    Drew Cadillac

    Meh. Let’s go with fake leather, no sunroof, and a cramped interior? I’m with the people here who say use the $40k to buy a used real luxury car, instead of a new compact base version “luxury”. These baby luxury cars make me think of the old Cadillac Cimarron. Wannabes that elicit more laughter than envy.

    That being said:
    BUY: the Cadillac ATS, because it looks good from the exterior. Just keep it on display and don’t actually drive it.

    BURN: the Jaguar and Mercedes, because they are both ugly and useless.

    DRIVE: something else. Preferably a larger and much more luxury used car, real leather seats, smooth ride, nice stereo, sunroof, all the bells and whistles.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      To be fair, the stripper luxury car is hardly a new concept. Recall the 190E 2.3, 318i, hell pretty much any entry level German car from the 70s. They sold on driving dynamics, build quality and door close thunk

  • avatar
    Dan

    Burn this entire segment, the 2000cc compact sedan as a luxury car is three different oxymorons at once.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      How do you figure? Turbo 4 bangers have been in this class since the ’97 A4; most of these cars are about the size of a W123 or E28; and the best of these cars shame mainstreamers in design and build quality.

      I’m all for cute one liners but they sound very dumb when they’re just not true

      • 0 avatar
        Dan

        “Turbo 4 bangers have been in this class since the ’97 A4”

        Because, like that A4, this class is by and for markets with displacement taxes and $7/gallon gas. That A4 also started at $23,000, which was the middle of Camry. It took Audi’s marketers years to work up the chutzpah to claim that it was a luxury car.

        “… most of these cars are about the size of a W123 or E28”

        Because the W123 and E28 were engineered during an energy crisis. In a country that was still picking up the pieces from a world war. Which they lost. To be sold in markets with narrow lanes and tiny parking spaces.

        Those cars made as much sense here as an F-150 would in Munchen.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          The compact luxury benchmark at the time came with a 1.8l 4 banger that didn’t even have a turbocharger.

          And the W124 and E28 made such little sense that they helped establish the Germans’ foothold in the luxury market and exposed the D3’s “luxury” offerings for the miserable jokes they were. Come on man where are you coming up with this stuff.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Burn all, buy a creampuff Mercedes W126 and have money for 10-years of maintenance.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: ATS-I’m a fan of the Art and Science design. Plus it’s a nice drive, plus 2.0 Ecotec and AWD. The manual is only available in the RWD version. Rear seat room can be a drawback for some.

    Drive: Benz-It’s 2/3 of an S-class.

    Burn: Jaguar-It looks too generic almost like a Hyundai. Even the X-type seemed more like a Jaguar.

    Honorable mention: BMW 320i it’s a proper entry level sport sedan.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    Burn the Mercedes with fire
    Drive the Jag [per the original rules that this is occasional, but I’m not borrowing it much]
    Buy the Cadillac [per the original rules that this is at least a semi-primary personally-owned and -driven car]

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Seems Corey hasn’t heard about those fancy Audis, Lexiis, Infintiys, Alfa-Romeos, Lincolns, or Acuras. I heard they sell cars for 40K. Instead we get three “you could’ve done better” cars in colors that would make Cameron Diaz look hideous driving them. Back to the rules. Buy the Caddy, a few DC bumper scrapes won’t matter a bit. Drive the Merc quickly down an off camber entrance ramp so you can sit in rush hour traffic. Siphon diesel out of the Jag’s own tank to burn it to the ground. Albeit slowly. A white diesel Jag? So much wrong on four non-bespoke wheels.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      No such thing as “Infinity” or “Lexii” cars. Lexus is a name, it isn’t to be changed to be plural. Its Lexuses and Focuses and Tauruses. Infiniti is the name, it isn’t to be changed because the word infinity is spelled the way it is.

      And, it’s “Drive/Buy/Burn”, not “Drive/Think About Buying But Don’t/Make Fun Of/Recommend To A Stranger/Loan To A Friend/Drive on Tuesdays/Park In A Fire Lane/Drive On Thursdays When Its Raining In A Month With Less Than 31 Days/Drive To Work On Fridays That Isn’t Your Birthday But Is Your Most Hated Co-worker’s Birthday/Drive To A Movie On Wednesday At 11:30 AM In Another Town/Park In Your Neighbor’s Driveway To Make Him Think His Spouse Is Having An Affair/Drive Your Son To Pizza Hut On The First Monday Of Every Third Month Not Starting With March, so not every player in a given segment can be included.

  • avatar
    Aron9000

    Buy – Benz C300 Looked on the Benz website, new base C-class is $41,400, doesn’t come with heated seats, no keyless start, MB tex vinyl(stuff is actually nice though), no navigation, larger infotainment screen is an option, any color other than black or basic white is an option. Still the one I’d get, I like the styling, base interior has real woodgrain and looks/feels WAY nicer than the other two options, has a good amount of room for a smaller car too IMO

    Drive – Cadillac ATS. These are a hoot to drive, handling/steering feel/turn in is in the 4 door Miata catergory. Exterior looks sharp too. Interior sucks, cheap looking, its very cramped, CUE system is hard to use/illogically designed.

    Also the whole principle of a small/cramped Cadillac kind of offends me. I’d say buy a used CT6, that’s how you Cadillac, buy the biggest one. Still handles great and the ride/refinement is noticeably nicer.

    Burn – The Jaaagggg Except for the XJ, Jag’s styling leaves me cold, it looks generic and it feels dated because this car still looks A LOT like the Jaguar XF(cough Lexus GS350) that came out 10 years ago. Interior is crap as well, looks like crap, feels like crap, since when is acres of hard black plastic considered “luxury”?? This isn’t the 1980s where BMW could get away with it because it was “different” from the sea of fake plastic wood in every American car at that time.

  • avatar

    buy the Benz. It will last longest, probably….
    Drive the ATS…especially the V model if you can get it.
    Burn the Jag. Sorry

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    I almost opted for a C-Klasse Wagon (C220d) Before settling on a Skoda Octavia Combi vRS TDI. I did test drive the C220d (a model not sold in North America) and liked it. Solid feel, very comfortable, pleasant to drive (not inherently sporty but competent handling) and a wonderful interior.

    The C-Klasse has a good reputation here and is known for durability and ease of servicing, plus comfort. Some are even used as taxis. It would be my choice, but with a Diesel engine. Definitely a car to buy.

    The Jaguar most likely drives the sportiest, so it would be the one to ‘drive.’ A Jaguar with a Diesel engine? Yes, please.

    I have no experience with the Cadillac. Are these even sold in Europe? Is it a good or a bad car? I am not able to judge, but if the rules demand a car to be burned it will unfortunately be this one; simply because I am not familiar with it.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Neither. For 40K I’d buy myself a fully-loaded 300C Hemi and call it a day. Plenty of luxury there.

  • avatar
    DEVILLE88

    Buy the Caddy,burn the Benz, drive the Jag!

  • avatar
    GenesisCoupe380GT

    Buy the Caddy(from personal experience oil changes with this car are surprisingly cheap and the top-spec V6 engine sounds like a G35 coupe under acceleration, plus it requires only 87 octane)
    Drive the Benz(leasing a Mercedes may be cheaper but servicing it sure as hell won’t be)
    Burn the Jag(British cars may have a hard life in this country but they certainly don’t make it easy on themselves. And where I live there’s only three Jaguar/ Land Rover dealers in the whole state)

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