While SUVs are the trend du jour, every manufacturer who still produces sedans deserves some credit, especially compact sedans with a low centre of gravity, modern advances in handling, and all the desired safety features.
Like the pusher who offers the first taste free to get you hooked, this category of luxury compact cars is the entry level into the brands you want to be seen driving to your high school reunion. Not to imply the manufacturers cheaped out on these – far from it. Remember the design credo from modern architecture beacon Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: Less is more. These vehicles contain the best of their brands, only in a smaller package. (This famous architect was German, it’s worth noting.)
So, just what makes a great luxury compact car? The autoTRADER.ca jury of more than 20 automotive journalists takes a 360-degree look at every single vehicle in this segment and breaks it down to value, innovation, technology and features, user-friendliness, performance, engineering, driver satisfaction, design, safety, and fuel efficiency. The jury voted on their top five to arrive at these finalists.
What’s most striking below are the similarities in features, price, and power. In fact, at times, it was easier to talk about what the contenders didn’t have in common. Here are the finalists for Best Compact Luxury Car for the 2021 autoTRADER.ca Awards. Winners will be announced in February 2021.
2021 Genesis G70
Genesis knew it was late to the party with the G70 only arriving on Canadian shores in April 2018, so the brand would have to come out swinging. It did. Starting at $43,000, the Genesis G70 has already won multiple awards, including winning this category in last year’s autoTRADER.ca awards.
Genesis calls the design language used on the G70 “Athletic Elegance” and a highlight is the LED headlights, which give the sedan sexy bobcat eyes. There’s an attention to detail consistent in all of the G70’s design. The distinctive mesh pattern on the grille is a thematic design element, for example, that returns like a chorus on the quilted seats. There’s also enough leather and brushed aluminum across the surfaces to form a heavy metal band.
The entry-level 2.0-litre turbocharged engine brings positive new meaning to the expression “four-banger,” achieving sweet peak performance of 252 hp and 260 lb-fit of torque. You can upgrade to 3.3-litre V6, but with four driving modes, plus a customizable fifth in the base model, do you need to? Speaking of custom, the electronic suspension is your own private co-pilot, doing much of the hard work but giving you credit for the acrobatics.
The fire-engine red calipers on the Brembo Brakes clash brazenly with every colour offered, calling attention to themselves like an exposed piece of lingerie. Although the current G70 sets a high bar with its design and driving dynamics, a new one that is coming out for 2022 will surely move that bar even higher.
2021 BMW 3 Series/4 Series
Imagine the dilemma of the Sutter family’s parents: six sons in the NHL, all representing assorted teams. Who should they root for? The team at BMW Canada must empathize, but this is one of those good problems. While they look quite different, both the 3 and 4 Series share a platform, their infotainment systems, and a new virtual assistant that responds to voice commands, but we’ll talk a bit about each separately, starting with the 3 Series.
It’s immediately noteworthy and a sign of the times that the 3’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) variant, starting at $44,950, is almost $5,000 less expensive than the gasoline model. The base engine is an intercooled 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo that emits 288 hp and 310 lb-ft torque. With no trim weighing over 1,900 kg, that’s enough power to get you in trouble.
Three years into its seventh generation, the 3 Series boasts a distinct sporty, low-to-the-ground look (and that’s without the head-snapping upgrade to the M design), and the balanced driving dynamics that the German automaker is famous for.
Barely 60 mm longer and 10 mm wider, the BMW 4 Series opens the bidding at $53,650 (upgrading to the M440i costs nearly an extra $11,000). Unlike the 3, it includes automatic parking, a feature that pays itself off every time your teenager drives it to the mall.
The base engine is another 2.0-litre four-cylinder that squeezes out 255 hp and 294 lb-ft of torque on all-wheel drivetrain, matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for control freaks. Driver assistance includes pretty much anything you can think of except cross-traffic alert.
We’ll leave you with what autoTRADER.ca reviewer Sami Haj-Assaad recently said of the two models: “The 4 Series shares its wheelbase with the 3 Series, but the coupe is longer, lower, and wider than the sedan, giving it sleek proportions. The new 4 Series looks like a distinct departure from the 3 Series it’s based on, reminding me of the range-topping 8 Series.”
2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Well into its fourth generation since 2015 but still pretty, the C-Class is the driving epitome of not fixing what ain’t broke. It’s an elegant minnow that slips through tight spots and somehow looks fast even when it’s not moving. About all that changed for 2020 was the addition of a couple of rear-seat USB ports (the socks of the auto world, in that you can never have too many) and available ventilated seats.
Starting at $46,400 for the sedan, it has a wagon iteration you can have for another $1,300 and performance-oriented AMG versions for people who want some speed and drama. The C-Class features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that achieves 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque with a nine-speed transmission on an all-wheel drivetrain. Fuel efficiency numbers for city and highway are 11.0 and 7.3 L/100 km, respectively.
The in-cabin experience is sensuous, calming, and – courtesy of the heated steering wheel – warm. Drivers can also change up the 64 colours of ambient lighting for any mood from after-hours elegance to disco-floor fever.
It compares to its rivals well on driver assistance technology; and while it lacks a rear-parking aid, it does include automatic parking. However, in a Consumer Reports survey conducted last year, its infotainment interface rated just 58 per cent customer satisfaction while rival BMW’s iDrive scored 80. Mind, pretty much everything you need is organized on the steering wheel to scroll, swipe, and dial from your fingertips.
2021 Audi A4
This luxury compact sedan is in its fifth generation and it’s a very pretty and sleek one that looks lean and quick. The Audi A4 recently got a significant mid-cycle refresh that introduced new styling and an interior modified around tech upgrades. The infotainment system scored 68 per cent on Consumer Reports’ survey of customer satisfaction last year.
The base trim features a smooth 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that emits 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. It’s matched with a seven-speed sport transmission and rides on Audi’s famous all-wheel-drive system. Another similarity with other finalists is the estimated fuel efficiency: 10.0 L/100 km in the city and 7.3 on the highway.
None of the A4’s trims come with automatic parking and the entry-level Komfort model doesn’t have adaptive cruise control, but does include a sunroof to increase the feeling of space and a heated steering wheel for your cold Canadian fingers. The base model rides on 18-inch wheels while the S-line sport package for the Progressiv and Technik trims bumps them up to 19 inches.
Here’s what autoTRADER.ca writer Jil McIntosh had to say about the facelifted model last year when we all still travelled: “It’s as lithe and lean as a cat, as nimble on its toes as a ballet dancer, and basically makes you glad you learned to drive.”
2021 Acura TLX
This list of finalists started in Korea and closes just across the Sea of Japan. Acura overhauled the TLX this year, promising to return to its roots of building fun performance cars, and giving the sport sedan a fresh and aggressive new look. Starting at $43,990, it competes with the other cars here on price, but the upcoming Type S model will try to bring performance to the fight as well. But at nearly five metres long and almost two metres wide, with an included sunroof to enhance the feeling of space, it’s visiting from the midsize category. The 1,433-mm height, though, is comparable and even lower than a couple of competitors, promoting the sporty look.
You won’t be surprised to learn it houses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine that can make 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission with paddles; nor that it rides on 18-inch wheels (unless you upgrade) with all-wheel drive. The fuel economy numbers have yet to be released.
We’ll close off with some bold kudos from autoTRADER.ca reviewer Sami Haj-Assaad, who recently reviewed the TLX: “In a world overrun with derivative-looking crossovers, the TLX stands out as a concept car for the road.”