Entry-Level Luxury Showdown

Ready to make your foray into European luxury? Get a lay of the land first.

So, you got that promotion. Your business is getting traction. Your investments are looking a little wiser than even you expected. Whatever the reason, you’re finally ready to put a little bit of that hard-earned wealth into a new set of wheels. You want to make a statement, but you don’t want to shout, “Look at me!” from the rooftops by getting a flashy sports car.

Well, welcome to the world of the European luxury sedan. These cars check all the boxes: classy, sophisticated, and thrilling, and with a backseat and actual trunk space, they’re practical, too. If you’re new to this world and taking a peak into the entry-level market, it’s best to get a sense of the space and find what’s best for you. Here’s that peek:

BMW 3-Series

BMW 340i, Colour: mediterranean blue. Leather: Dakota Oyster, Sport Line

 

If we’re going to talk entry-level luxury sedans, we have to start here. With more than 14 million sold in the past 50 years, the 3-Series has been the benchmark of this segment for quite some time — and with good reason. It offers sportiness, it offers luxury, and it provides you the confidence to put this thing anywhere on the road.

This car offers a variety of engine options—all great—and accurate electric steering (which is admittedly a touch dull), as well as a precise balance that gives the feeling you could bury the car into a corner with ease. There are sportier cars in this segment, but the 3-Series is right near the top in both performance and luxury, not to mention its iconic front grill and appealing exterior design.

It’s for you if … you root for the champion. This car has been on top for quite some time, and if you want to choose the best representation of sustained excellence, then the 3-Series is the one for you.

It might not be for you if…you root for the underdog. With BMW dominating this segment for decades, it almost feels like the New York Yankees of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s — always winning it all.

Audi A4

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Audi has made huge gains on the 3-Series in recent years and can now make a pretty strong argument that it provides the best combination of performance, luxury, and practicality. Some cars may better it in specific ways, but the A4 is consistently at the top of the leaderboard in all categories, much like the 3-Series. It offers an incredible amount of interior technology and a buttoned-down, whisper-quiet ride. Plus, it’s the most practical vehicle in the segment. It sports more trunk space, more headroom, and a little bit more of everything in the practicality department.

On the flip side, the A4’s design is a little boxy and angular compared to its more attractive competitors, and perhaps a bit too low-key for some.

It’s for you if … you’re looking for an incredible luxury-sport combo wrapped in a conservative presentation.

It might not be for you if … you’re looking for a thrilling driving experience. The exterior design, while handsome in its own right, isn’t quite on par with the others. Tastes will, of course, vary.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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The C-Class is all about luxury and class. The interior has high-quality materials and the large Mercedes three-pointed star on the front is a badge of pride and honor. It also has all sorts of outstanding features like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning and assist. It’s outfitted with some of the more premium luxury and safety features in the segment. As a performance car, it’s on the lower end of the spectrum. It’s roughly as fast as the Audi A4 (though not as fast as the 3-Series and XE), but its acceleration is noticeably slower than the rest.

It’s for you if … you’re looking for pure luxury. This car is probably the most luxurious of the group.

It might not be for you if … you want a sports sedan. The C-Class is capable, but it just doesn’t measure up to the others in this way.

Jaguar XE

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Jaguar has been making a comeback in the past several years. The company announced its return with the sporty and gregarious F-TYPE, and now it’s expanding the lineup to include a crossover (the F-PACE) and an entry-level sedan (the XE). Designers have done a great job of articulating Jaguar’s magnetic personality with the XE. Unlike the more buttoned-down, quiet personalities of the other cars on this list, the XE is an adventure. It’s sportier than anything on this list, offers a stiffer chassis made with lots of aluminum, has a better-tuned transmission than the 3-Series, and has a phenomenal suspension. Plus, it offers some gorgeous proportions and curves that make it perhaps the most attractive car of the bunch.

It’s for you if … you’re looking for a vehicle with some sports car charisma. Very responsive and a ton of fun, the XE is more like a sports car with a luxury sedan body. Plus, that luxury sedan body is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch.

It might not be for you if … you’re looking for pure luxury. The XE is no slouch in the luxury department, but compared to its competition, it’s more cramped and has a less sophisticated interior.

So there you have it: four European luxury sedans, all with different approaches. You have the two all-around sedans, the 3-Series and A4, which are battling it out by all-around excellence. You have the XE, which offers more sportiness but a touch less luxury. And you have the C-Class, which offers the reverse: more luxury with less sportiness. Naming a clear-cut, objective winner would be tough, and it’d also be missing the point. The key is to discover what you value — and when you can determine that, you’ll be able to figure out which car is right for you.