The Challenge: Looking for a Compact Sedan With a Luxury Badge
As buyers continue to look for utility in their next new vehicle, the traditional sedan may be losing out to SUVs and trucks. However, for many car shoppers who do not need the extra room and capabilities of larger utility vehicles, a four-door sedan can still be very appealing. And with many compact luxury sedans now starting in the $40,000-plus range, luxury brands have begun offering more financially accessible entry-level sedans priced in line with well-equipped mainstream mid-sized sedans. For example, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz debuted all-new models in this growing segment for 2020. But which one of our small luxury 4-doors is the best choice?
2020 Acura ILX
Ever since the introduction of the 1997 Acura EL, Honda's Acura luxury brand has recognized that Canadian car buyers are very fond of small—and affordable—luxury sedans. The 2020 Acura ILX has been the entry point to Acura's lineup since replacing the CSX for 2013. Based on the last-generation Honda Civic platform, the five-passenger ILX sedan is offered with front-wheel-drive only. The sole powertrain is a 201 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine matched to an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. While the ILX's 2.4-litre unit isn't the most inspiring performer, it does the job and the automatic helps return an acceptable combined city and highway estimate of 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres (L/100 km).
Starting with a Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price of $30,490 CDN, the ILX is $7,000 less than the next rung up Acura TLX sedan. Despite the lower price, the ILX offers a lot of value compared to its entry-level luxury sedan rivals. The Acura sedan is a surprisingly good luxury vehicle with a comfortable cabin, a generous 351 litres of trunk space, numerous luxury and safety features and responsive handling. Included in all models are Lane-departure Warning and Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward-collision Warning with Emergency Braking.
2020 Audi A3
Available since 2015, the 2020 Audi A3 is an established player in the entry-level luxury sedan segment. While all-wheel-drive is available starting at $39,300 CDN, the front-wheel-drive A3 40 Komfort starts at $34,500 CDN—well under the larger Audi A4 sedan's $46,200 CDN starting price. Power comes from the VW Group's familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, here making 184 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that's every bit as fun to play with as a manual without having to learn to operate a clutch pedal. Combined fuel economy is estimated at 7.8 L/100 km - tops among these contenders.
The 2020 Audi A3 sedan sets the bar high with its modern design, high-quality materials and immaculate fit and finishes inside, belying its entry-level status. Leather upholstery is standard, along with dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-way-power driver's seat, heated front seats, a panoramic sunroof and passive keyless entry with push-button engine starting. The A3 is cleanly designed and suitably sporty, with simple audio and climate controls. The A3's trunk space is less impressive, rated at 284 litres. On the road, the A3 rides smoothly, the steering is quick and precise and the cornering is fairly level.
2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe
Not to be confused with the rear-wheel-drive 2 Series Coupe and Cabriolet, the all-new 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is a 5-passenger 4-door sedan based on a front-wheel-drive platform shared with the German automaker's X1/2 and Mini Countryman compact SUVs. All 2 Series Gran Coupes come standard with all-wheel-drive. Driving enthusiasts will likely yearn for the hotter, 301 horsepower $50,900 CDN M235i xDrive Gran Coupe trim. Still, for most drivers, the base $42,500 CDN 228i xDrive Gran Coupe will satisfy your needs for an entry-level luxury sedan and save you almost $7,000 compared to a BMW 3 Series sedan.
Both 2 Series Gran Coupe models come with a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. The one in the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe makes 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 8.2 L/100 km. Driver oriented controls are the highlight of the 2 Series Gran Coupe's well-thought-through interior, with complimentary switchgear grouped by area. Despite the fastback profile, the 2 Series Gran Coupe sports a conventional trunk instead of a big hatch. That said, the trunk capacity is ample for the class, with up to 428 litres of available space.
2020 Cadillac CT4
Also all-new for 2020, the 4-door, 5-passenger, rear-wheel drive CT4 replaces the outgoing ATS as Cadillac's entry-level sedan offering. Starting $5,000 less than the larger Cadillac CT5 sedan, the base $35,798 CDN 2020 Cadillac CT4 has a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 237 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive is available for an extra $2,200.
The 2020 Cadillac CT4 has the same wheelbase as the outgoing ATS. Still, the overall length of the new CT4 is up. These changes result in a cabin where front passengers enjoy additional legroom, while headroom is improved both front and rear over the ATS. While it is not as tall, the greenhouse is not as steeply raked, resulting in the more rear headroom. The CT4 comes standard with keyless entry and push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, HD back-up camera, LED interior lighting, dual-zone climate control with a humidity sensor and a premium audio system. There's also a full-colour 8-inch diagonal touchscreen that runs off of GM's new digital platform.
2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan
Our third, all-new entry-level luxury sedan is the 2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Joining the A-Class Hatch and 4-door CLA Coupe, the 5-passenger, 4-door A-Class Sedan offers a more traditional profile with all the right ingredients to make it a bonafide 'Benz. While a Mercedes-Benz C Class Sedan starts at $46,400 CDN, the smaller 220 4MATIC Sedan begins at a more affordable $37,300 CDN. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that makes 188 horsepower. All-wheel-drive and a 7-speed automatic are standard gear. Despite the relatively low horsepower rating, the 220 4MATIC's 221 lb-ft of torque is the crucial factor here, kicking in at low engine speeds for punching off the line.
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan's fully independent suspension is tuned like a typical European sports sedan—taut, but not punishingly so. The steering is direct; turning into a corner is crisp and precise. Like its A-Class siblings, the layout of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan is clean and contemporary. The quality of cabin materials is suitably high. Choices of trim accents range from aluminum to natural grain walnut, indicating the car's luxury status. However, trunk space is the least generous of our contenders, with only 254 litres of space.
If having a German badge on your new entry-level luxury sedan is your top priority, we won’t argue if you pick either the Audi A3, BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe or Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan. All three offer the intangibles of any German-engineered vehicle for thousands of dollars less than their larger, compact siblings. Of the two remaining contenders, the new Cadillac CT4 stands out for drivers who may prefer rear-wheel-drive and is offered at a lower starting price than the German trio of small sedans, but with less standard equipment.
However, with a starting price that is more like a well-equipped mainstream compact sedan, a roomy trunk, and plenty of standard equipment, the 2020 Acura ILX’s value proposition is hard to ignore. If you are looking to get into a small sedan with a luxury badge for the least amount of money, we recommend the Acura.
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