Although the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class date back to the 1970s, many of the 15 entries in the premium compact class have been added in just the past few years. It’s only recently that Americans have really embraced the idea of small cars with big price tags, which is what has brought several of these cars into being.

There’s quite a bit of diversity in this segment, with a range of body styles available. Some entries focus on luxury, some on performance, some on fuel economy. Most start as front-drive cars, others as rear-drive cars, but many also offer all-wheel-drive versions. Engines range from relatively small 4-cylinders to potent V6s, and even a couple über-muscular V8s. Prices are all over the board, with the least expensive starting at less than $22,000, the most expensive topping $80,000—before options.

What ties them all together, however, is that they offer refinement and amenities above and beyond those of “normal” compact cars. They also wear a more prestigious nameplate, which is a large part of their appeal as well.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2017

Jaguar enters the premium compact car class with the all-new XE, a sporty 4-door sedan that targets the venerable BMW 3-Series and other sport-sedan rivals. Rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are available, and engine offerings include a 240-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four, a 180-hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel four, and a 340-hp 3.0-liter supercharged V6. Italian marque Alfa Romeo is also planning to join the fray with the Giulia sedan, another 3-Series challenger that’s slated to launch in high-performance Quadrifoglio trim with a 505-hp turbo V6. Tamer turbocharged 4-cylinder models are expected to follow later in the model year.

The Audi A4 sedan and its SUV-flavored wagon counterpart, the Allroad, are both redesigned. The smaller Audi A3 gets updated exterior styling, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital gauges, new infotainment features, and available active lane assist. All three BMW compacts get a new 248-hp turbo 2.0 4-cylinder, and the Gran Turismo and 4-Series Gran Coupe get the 320-hp 6-cylinder that the 3-Series sedan received last year. The new engines result in new model designations: 330i and 430i for the four, and 340i and 440i for the six. The Lexus IS gets revised exterior styling with standard LED headlights and Lexus’s Safety System Plus suite of safety technologies as standard equipment. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class adds 2-door coupe and convertible body styles; the sedan gets minor trim revisions and its C450 AMG model is updated and renamed AMG C43. The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class gets subtle styling updates, optional LED headlights and hands-free trunk access, and new slim-line Infotainment screen.

The rest of the 2017 premium compact car class sees either no noteworthy changes or a shuffling of trim levels and standard/optional equipment. The 2017 model year is the last for the Buick Verano; it will be discontinued after a short run of ’17 models.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

Most prominent here are the AMG performance versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. With a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 with 469 or 503 hp, the C63 is the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. In the same vein are BMW’s 425-hp M3 and Cadillac’s 464-hp ATS-V sedan and coupe.

At the opposite end of the performance spectrum are hybrids. Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz offer plug-in hybrid versions of the A3 (4-door hatchback only), 3-Series, and C-Class (both sedan only). Lexus offers the CT 200h 4-door hatchback—the only dedicated hybrid vehicle in the class. The BMW 3-Series and Jaguar XE both offer a diesel engine option.

Although sedans dominate the class, there are two wagons (Audi Allroad and BMW 3-Series wagon), three hatchbacks (Audi A3 e-tron hybrid, BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo, and Lexus CT 200h), two convertibles (Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz C- Class convertible), and two coupes (Cadillac ATS Coupe and Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe).