Crossing Over to Luxury

By Steve Schutz, MD

Mercedes GLA 250

Small Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUVs) like the Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape have been increasing in popularity for years, but until recently luxury manufacturers have been reluctant to fish in that pond because they feared diluting their brands and attracting the wrong sorts of customers. Those days are clearly over, as every upscale car maker, emboldened by the success of larger crossovers like the Lexus RX, Audi Q5, and BMW X5, has either already released or has plans to release a compact CUV.

It makes sense, as car buyers are increasingly turning their backs on traditional sedans and body-on-frame SUVs in favor of crossovers, vehicles that combine the extra interior space and off-road ability of traditional SUVs with the improved fuel economy and drivability of sedans. Given all that, it seems likely that this new wave of luxury compact CUVs will succeed in the marketplace.

Who are the intended customers for these vehicles? They will undoubtedly appeal to many people, but I picture the prototypical buyer as being a 40-year-old radiologist who just paid off her student loans. Ten years ago she was purchasing a Lexus IS or BMW 3-series, but now she’s looking for a small luxury crossover. Here are three examples:

Mercedes GLA 250

Based on the diminutive CLA 250 sedan, the GLA 250 takes that car’s small luxury theme and adds ride height--helpful in traffic--and extra space, then subtracts, umm...nothing, creating a vehicle that does it all, as long as you don’t have teenagers or lots of luggage.

The exterior design is decidedly avant-garde, with a square-ish yet rounded--yes, I meant that--look that catches your eye when it drives by. A large grille with an almost equally big Mercedes emblem tells passersby that this is not just any compact crossover, which is presumably the idea.

Audi Q3

Audi Q3

If an understated counterpoint to the extroverted GLA 250 is what you’re after, take a look at the Q3, Audi’s answer to the question, “Do you have something a lot like the Q5, only smaller?” It takes a trained eye to tell a Q3 from a Q5, but given ever-growing sales of the bigger Q5 crossover, I suspect Audi doesn’t care in the slightest that they look so similar. Still, the Q3 is quite small inside, so if you need room for your dog, two kids, and a mountain bike, you should buy a bike rack. Or a Q5.

The interior is, quite frankly, as good as it can be. While the Mercedes GLA’s may be too modern for some buyers, the Q3’s impresses with materials and styling that are restrained but unerringly attractive.

Lincoln MKC

The MKC’s styling is handsome and well proportioned, and the Porsche 911-esque tail lights are a nice touch. But I bet I’m not the only one who finds the horizontally flowing grille  off-putting.

Lincoln MKC

The interior is well done with upscale materials, attractive detailing, and clever push button gear selectors alongside the central screen. I see better days ahead for Lincoln if their upcoming vehicles are as good as the MKC.

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Info At a Glance

Mercedes GLA 250
MSRP*: $32,225
Base powertrain: 2.0 L turbo 4-cylinder 208 HP, FWD, 7-speed automatic

MPG: 25 City 35 Highway

Audi Q3
MSRP*: $33,425
Base powertrain: 2.0 L turbo 4-cylinder 200 HP, FWD, 6-speed automatic

MPG: 20 City 29 Highway

Lincoln MKC
MSRP*: $33,995
Base powertrain: 2.0 L turbo 4-cylinder 240 HP, FWD, 6-speed automatic
MPG: 20 City 29 Highway

*These prices are for true base models with no options. Expect to pay $40,000-45,000 for vehicles equipped the way most buyers want them.

-----------------------------------------------

Steve Schutz, MD, is a gastroenterologist who lives and practices in Boise, Idaho. A lifelong car enthusiast, he's been writing about cars and the automotive industry for twenty years.

Mercedes GLA 250

Small Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUVs) like the Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape have been increasing in popularity for years, but until recently luxury manufacturers have been reluctant to fish in that pond because they feared diluting their brands and attracting the wrong sorts of customers. Those days are clearly over, as every upscale car maker, emboldened by the success of larger crossovers like the Lexus RX, Audi Q5, and BMW X5, has either already released or has plans to release a compact CUV.

It makes sense, as car buyers are increasingly turning their backs on traditional sedans and body-on-frame SUVs in favor of crossovers, vehicles that combine the extra interior space and off-road ability of traditional SUVs with the improved fuel economy and drivability of sedans. Given all that, it seems likely that this new wave of luxury compact CUVs will succeed in the marketplace.

Who are the intended customers for these vehicles? They will undoubtedly appeal to many people, but I picture the prototypical buyer as being a 40-year-old radiologist who just paid off her student loans. Ten years ago she was purchasing a Lexus IS or BMW 3-series, but now she’s looking for a small luxury crossover. Here are three examples:

Mercedes GLA 250

Based on the diminutive CLA 250 sedan, the GLA 250 takes that car’s small luxury theme and adds ride height--helpful in traffic--and extra space, then subtracts, umm...nothing, creating a vehicle that does it all, as long as you don’t have teenagers or lots of luggage.

The exterior design is decidedly avant-garde, with a square-ish yet rounded--yes, I meant that--look that catches your eye when it drives by. A large grille with an almost equally big Mercedes emblem tells passersby that this is not just any compact crossover, which is presumably the idea.

Audi Q3

Audi Q3

If an understated counterpoint to the extroverted GLA 250 is what you’re after, take a look at the Q3, Audi’s answer to the question, “Do you have something a lot like the Q5, only smaller?” It takes a trained eye to tell a Q3 from a Q5, but given ever-growing sales of the bigger Q5 crossover, I suspect Audi doesn’t care in the slightest that they look so similar. Still, the Q3 is quite small inside, so if you need room for your dog, two kids, and a mountain bike, you should buy a bike rack. Or a Q5.

The interior is, quite frankly, as good as it can be. While the Mercedes GLA’s may be too modern for some buyers, the Q3’s impresses with materials and styling that are restrained but unerringly attractive.

Lincoln MKC

The MKC’s styling is handsome and well proportioned, and the Porsche 911-esque tail lights are a nice touch. But I bet I’m not the only one who finds the horizontally flowing grille  off-putting.

Lincoln MKC

The interior is well done with upscale materials, attractive detailing, and clever push button gear selectors alongside the central screen. I see better days ahead for Lincoln if their upcoming vehicles are as good as the MKC.

-------------------------------

Info At a Glance

Mercedes GLA 250
MSRP*: $32,225
Base powertrain: 2.0 L turbo 4-cylinder 208 HP, FWD, 7-speed automatic

MPG: 25 City 35 Highway

Audi Q3
MSRP*: $33,425
Base powertrain: 2.0 L turbo 4-cylinder 200 HP, FWD, 6-speed automatic

MPG: 20 City 29 Highway

Lincoln MKC
MSRP*: $33,995
Base powertrain: 2.0 L turbo 4-cylinder 240 HP, FWD, 6-speed automatic
MPG: 20 City 29 Highway

*These prices are for true base models with no options. Expect to pay $40,000-45,000 for vehicles equipped the way most buyers want them.

-----------------------------------------------

Steve Schutz, MD, is a gastroenterologist who lives and practices in Boise, Idaho. A lifelong car enthusiast, he's been writing about cars and the automotive industry for twenty years.