Buying an entry-level luxury car used to mean you were missing out on the good stuff, but not anymore. Competition in this class is stronger than ever, so luxury automakers are scrambling to outdo each other and offer you more for your money. Power, technology, style -- you name it, these cars have it, and often at a surprisingly affordable price. In case you need help narrowing down your options, here are AutoTrader.com's Top 7 Entry-Level Luxury Cars for 2014.
If you follow cars, you'll notice that the C-Class has looked the same for quite a while. But although the 2014 C-Class may closely resemble the 2008 model, much has changed under the surface. The C-Class has gone in for a thorough interior makeover in the intervening years, receiving a fresh dashboard look with up-to-date technology, while the old base V6 engine has been ditched in favor of a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that gets 31 miles per gallon on the highway. Plus, the C-Class is offered as a sleek coupe as well as a sedan.
For many shoppers, it's no big deal whether the front or rear wheels are doing the driving. But for Mercedes, rear-wheel drive has been part of the company's identity for a very long time. That's why the new front-wheel-drive CLA-Class sedan is such a big deal: It's the first front-wheel-drive car Mercedes has ever offered in the U.S. Also available with 4Matic all-wheel drive, the CLA actually gets a more powerful base engine than the venerable C-Class, sporting a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 208 horsepower and a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque. Starting around $30,000, the CLA is the most affordable way to put a 3-pointed star in your parking space.
The rear-wheel-drive ATS sport sedan is only "entry-level" in its compact size. Otherwise, this is a full-bore Cadillac. The ATS stands out for its impressive interior quality, exceptionally sharp styling and cutting-edge CUE system, which turns the center stack into a touch-based infotainment center. Whether you choose the sensible 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, the strong and fuel-efficient turbo 4-cylinder or the burly 3.6-liter V6, the ATS will deliver a comprehensive luxury experience. By the way, if you happen to enjoy spirited back-road driving, the ATS is one of the best-handling sedans we've ever driven.
Lincoln has gone to great lengths to improve its products over the past few years, and the Fusion-based MKZ is a case in point. The MKZ starts with Ford's EcoBoost turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, a sprightly 240-hp motor that's only offered on top-of-the-line Fusion models, while the exclusive 3.7-liter V6 option packs a healthy 300 hp. The turbo returns 33 mpg on the highway, too. If that's not enough, the Hybrid model borrows the Fusion Hybrid's fuel-sipping 4-cylinder powertrain for an incredible 45 (yes, 45) mpg. And the MKZ isn't just about what's under the hood; there's also that uniquely flowing exterior style and Lincoln's version of the high-tech MyFord Touch system inside. If back-seat space is a priority, the MKZ has more rear space than any other sedan on this list.
All-new for 2014, the nimble, rear-wheel-drive-based IS clearly isn't a wallflower anymore. Sleek and muscular, the IS was definitely designed to turn heads, particularly with the F Sport model's unique wheels and grille. Fortunately, those sporty looks are matched by the way the IS drives. The sublime front bucket seats make you feel like you're driving a sports car, and if you go for the IS 350 with its 306-hp V6, you'll have the acceleration to match. Among other interior highlights, the IS boasts Lexus' mouse-like Remote Touch Interface for infotainment functions, and the back seat is finally adult-friendly.
BMW 3 Series
The 3 Series seems to have matured with its latest design. Formerly focused on snug dimensions and taut performance, the 3 Series is larger and more accommodating now. Like the IS, it can carry four adults in comfort, and the cabin is airier and more upscale. But the 3 Series hasn't lost the plot in the engine room, as even the mainstream 328i comes with an excellent turbocharged 4-cylinder rated at 240 hp and 33 mpg. The 3 Series also offers a rare wagon variant, and keep an eye out for the even more affordable 2014 320i sedan (180 hp), as well as the desirable 328d turbodiesel sedan and wagon.
We're not sure if the EX is a hatchback, a crossover SUV or a wagon, but we can tell you this: It's great fun to drive. Revitalized for 2013 by the addition of Infiniti's beastly 3.7-liter, 325-hp V6, the EX is one of the fastest entry-level luxury cars you can buy, and its curvaceous styling makes that practical hatchback-style body look downright cool. Throw in an attractive interior with high-quality materials, and you've got a compelling alternative to the more familiar sedans discussed above.