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8 Compact Luxury Car Gems

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
July 18, 2011
5 min. Reading Time

The days where owning a luxury car by default meant getting behind the wheel of a hefty full-size sedan are long gone. Nowadays, the luxury market has expanded to include vehicles of all shapes and sizes, including a sizable number of premium compact cars that offer all many of the advantages of a smaller automobile (easy to park, good on gas) combined with the comforts expected out of a top tier model.

Let’s take a closer look at eight compact luxury cars that might surprise you in terms of the number of premium features stuffed into their smaller platforms, as well as the high end driving experience they have to offer.

01. 2011 Lexus CT 200h

The 2011 Lexus CT 200h doesn’t just offer the solid, high tech luxury experience expected by Lexus buyers – it also provides a hybrid drivetrain that is a rarity amongst compact premium automobiles. In addition, the Lexus CT 200h has had its chassis tuned to provide tighter handling and better road feedback than what is offered by most other hybrid cars, and this performance flair is further enhanced by selecting the vehicle’s Sport mode which sharpens throttle response and allows for more direct steering input.

The 2011 Lexus CT 200h features essentially the same drivetrain as the Toyota Prius, which means that its 1.8-liter, four-cylinder is matched with a team of two battery-powered electric motors to provide a total of 134 horsepower. A continuously-variable automatic transmission sends that output to the front wheels, and the hatchback’s fuel economy is rated at 43-mpg city and 40-mpg highway.

02. 2011 Audi A3

The 2011 Audi A3 is aimed squarely at first-time premium car buyers who don’t want to give up the practicality of a hatchback design. With 39 cubic feet of total cargo space available with the rear seats folded forward, and also boasting Audi’s reputation for excellence in terms of interior design and quality, the Audi A3 is a solid small car luxury pick.

The 2011 Audi A3 is also notable for the availability of a turbodiesel engine under the hood. This 2.0-liter, four-cylinder option generates 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque and returns an impressive 30-mpg city and 42-mpg highway. The A3’s entry-level 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine also offers up solid power (200 horses, 207 lb-ft of torque) and comes with either a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, as well as the option of all-wheel drive. The diesel A3 features the six-speed auto and all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

03. 2011 BMW 1 Series Coupe

The 2011 BMW 1 Series coupe offers drivers the chance to get behind the wheel of a vehicle whose compact, lightweight dimensions and sporty suspension system promise the kind of thrilling driving experience that has become part and parcel of the German automaker’s brand identity. The BMW 1 Series coupe can also be ordered with the M Sport package that turns up its performance image through the addition of special race-inspired seats, a more aggressive body kit and a higher top speed limiter.

The 2011 BMW 1 Series coupe starts out with a willing 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine under the hood. With 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque on tap, the engine is a potent performer and can be matched with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. An upgrade is available in the form of a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six, a unit which pumps out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque while putting up slightly better fuel economy figures than the naturally-aspirated six (20-mpg city, 30-mpg highway). Transmission choices for the turbo 1 Series remain the same.

04. 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan is notable for shrinking down the high end feel that comes with the top-end S-Class flagship and injecting into a compact package. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is comfortable, stylish and classy, and can ordered in both decadent Luxury and extroverted Sport trims in order to best match the personality of its owner.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class can be outfitted with one of two V-6 engine choices. The first is a 3.0-liter unit that is good for 228 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, while the second is a 3.5-liter motor that generates 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The smaller engine is available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission, as well as the option of all-wheel drive, while the top of the line power plant is exclusively offered in rear-wheel drive automatic form. Fuel economy for the two drivetrains is remarkably similar, with the 3.0-liter V-6 edging into the lead thanks to its rating of 18-mpg city and 26-mpg highway.

05. 2011 Lexus IS

05. 2011 Lexus IS

The 2011 Lexus IS is a direct competitor to the compact European automobiles that largely define the luxury sport sedan segment in the minds of many American drivers. The Lexus IS is one of the most aggressively-styled Lexus vehicles, which speaks to the youth market that it is trying to corner with its combination of high tech comfort features and nimble handling.

The entry-level 2011 Lexus IS 250 is presented with a standard 2.5-liter V-6 that is good for 204 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is of course offered free of charge, while selecting the available six-speed automatic introduces the option of all-wheel drive. Fuel economy for the IS 250 is a respectable 21-mpg in stop and go driving and 29-mpg during highway cruising. The Lexus IS 350 ups the performance ante with a 306 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that also generates 277 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed manual gearbox can’t be found on the IS 350’s equipment list, but all-wheel drive remains as an alternative to the vehicle’s standard rear-wheel drive configuration. Fuel mileage is only slightly lower for the larger V-6.

06. 2011 BMW 3 Series

06. 2011 BMW 3 Series

The 2011 BMW 3 Series sedan has long been the “gold standard” of the compact luxury field, thanks to its excellent road manners, powerful range of engines and restrained yet elegant interiors that can be loaded up with all manner of high end gear. Like several of its competitors, the BMW 3 Series also offers a number of packages that can install stiffer suspension systems, sport-oriented trim and premium features such as iDrive, a navigation system, adaptive HID headlights and heated leather seats.

2011 BMW 3 Series buyers can choose between the 328i and 335i models, and each of these editions of the car comes with a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. The 328i provides 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque, while the 335i’s turbocharged unit grinds out 300 ponies and 300 lb-ft of twist. The 3 Series can be had with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto gearbox, as well as optional all-wheel drive, and when it comes to fuel economy the 335i carries the day thanks to its 19-mpg city and 28-mpg highway rating.

07. 2011 Audi A4

The 2011 Audi A4 presents itself as a compromise in the German battle for compact luxury and performance supremacy. Instead of leaning hard one way or the other, the Audi A4 is instead a viable choice as a comfortable cruiser with a wild streak, or a corner-carver that doesn’t jar one’s bones when navigating over broken pavement. In addition to this balancing act, the Audi A4 also wins major points for style – both inside and out – as well as for the spaciousness of its passenger compartment.

The 2011 Audi A4 keeps things simple in the engine bay, offering up a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder motor across all trim levels. Thanks to the judicious application of boost by the A4’s turbocharger, this motor is good for 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, but quattro all-wheel drive can be ordered on every edition of the sedan, and transmission choices include a six-speed manual or an advanced eight-speed automatic. Fuel mileage for the Audi A4 skews towards to high end of the luxury compact scale, showing as 22-mpg city and 30-mpg highway.

08. 2011 Volvo C30

The 2011 Volvo C30 hatchback is one of the most visually arresting premium compact cars around. The Volvo C30’s sharp curves and bold greenhouse are impossible to ignore, and the small vehicle manages to deliver a big 20 cubic feet of total cargo space in addition to some of the Swedish brand’s tastiest driving dynamics. The C30’s sporty personality is further enhanced by selecting the T5 R-Design trim, which grafts a more willing suspension system, bigger wheels and very responsive steering onto the small hatchback’s chassis.

The 2011 Volvo C30 comes exclusively with a five-cylinder engine that is rated at 227 horsepower. The 2.5-liter unit also produces 236 lb-ft of torque, all of which is sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic. Fuel mileage for the pint-size luxury hatch shows as 21-mpg city and 29-mpg highway.


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