The allure of a luxury badge can be strong, but a hefty monthly payment can make some car buyers reconsider purchasing a premium vehicle. Many luxury brands, on the other hand, have expanded their product lines in recent years in order to broaden their appeal and reach new buyers.
Much of this expansion has occurred in the subcompact SUV segment, and three of the five 2021 models on our list — the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Volvo XC40 — compete in this segment and begin at less than $37,000, including destination. The Genesis G70 compact sports sedan and Lexus ES mid-size sedan round out the list, with starting prices of $37,025 and $41,025, respectively.
And, far from being warmed-over versions of mainstream models (we’re looking at you, Cadillac Cimarron), this new crop of entry-luxury models strengthens, rather than undercuts, their respective brands. Continue reading to find out what else, besides low starting prices, makes these luxury models worth a test drive.
The starting price is $41,025
Combined fuel economy: 28 miles per gallon (ES 250) or 26 miles per gallon (ES 250). (ES 350)
A starting price north of $40,000 may not register as affordable for some, but the Lexus ES is priced like a compact luxury sports sedan while offering the interior space of a class-up mid-size car for that kind of money. Customers can choose between two versions for the same starting price: The ES 250 all-wheel-drive model is powered by a 203-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, while the ES 350 front-wheel-drive model is powered by a 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. Both sedans come standard with a power moonroof, lane-centering steering assist, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The starting price is $37,025
The combined fuel economy is 25 mpg.
The Genesis G70 sports sedan has impressed us since its introduction, winning our Best of 2019 award in its first year, thanks in part to its engaging driving experience and relative value. The G70 comes standard with rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, as well as a 252-hp, turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; all-wheel drive and a manual transmission are optional. Automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability are among the many standard active safety features. The G70 is getting a refresh that will bring the sedan’s styling in line with Genesis’ new exterior design language, but the current model is still a compelling sports sedan.
The starting price is $34,795
The combined fuel economy is 26 mpg.
The Volvo XC40 debuted in 2019 as a 2019 model, bringing the Swedish luxury brand’s design identity from larger SUVs such as the XC90 to the subcompact class. The base engine in the XC40 is a 187-hp, turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder that drives the front wheels; all-wheel-drive models get a more powerful 248-hp 2.0-liter engine. At highway speeds, the XC40 drives well and feels stable. Meanwhile, standard leather upholstery is standard, and a 9-inch touchscreen serves as the primary dashboard interface, replacing many physical controls. Overall, it’s a user-friendly system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard. Moreover, despite the XC40’s compact dimensions, there’s plenty of room for adults in the front and back.
The combined fuel economy is 27 mpg.
The BMW X1 was last redesigned for the 2016 model year, resulting in the larger, more spacious entry-luxury SUV that is still available today. The X1 is available with front- or all-wheel drive and is powered by a standard 228-hp, turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Navigation with an 8.8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, and a power liftgate are standard features. The current X1 loses much of its predecessor’s handling prowess, and some of its controls have aged poorly, but it remains a practical and reasonably luxurious premium SUV.
The starting price is $35,095 (all prices include destination)
EPA combined fuel economy: 25 mpg
With its model-year 2019 redesign, Audi elevated its entry-level Q3, giving the subcompact SUV a level of quality and technology comparable to the brand’s larger, more expensive SUVs. The Q3 comes standard with all-wheel drive and a responsive eight-speed automatic transmission and is powered by a 184-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The Q3’s value proposition is enhanced by a long list of standard comfort and convenience features, such as a panoramic moonroof and an 8.8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. Moreover, despite its small size, the Q3 provides good comfort in both rows.