Most of the vehicles in the premium compact car category are a bit larger than those in the mainstream compact car class, and most of them have a more overtly sporting nature as well. 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. Some 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 below $30,000 and the most expensive topping $75,000—and that’s before options.
What ties them all together, however, is that they offer refinement, amenities, and all-around athleticism above and beyond those of “normal” mainstream-brand compact cars. They also wear a more prestigious nameplate, which is a large part of their appeal as well.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2020
The class is slated to gain two new contenders this year. BMW is set to launch its 2-Series Gran Coupe—a new entry-level model that is based on the same platform as BMW’s X1 and X2 crossover SUVs—as a 2020 model. Despite the name, the Gran Coupe is a 4-door sedan with a swoopy, coupe-like roofline. It will come standard with all-wheel drive and be powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 228 or 300 hp. The Cadillac CT4 4-door sedan debuts as a replacement for the discontinued Cadillac ATS. The CT4 is offered with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and a choice of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines with 237, 309, or 325 hp.
The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class sedan (which Mercedes calls a “coupe”) is redesigned on the same platform as the A-Class sedan, which debuted last year. The new CLA-Class is essentially a swoopier version of the A-Class. And speaking of the A-Class, it adds a high-performance AMG A 35 model with a 302-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.
The Audi A3 loses its convertible model and gains a Final Edition trim package. The 2020 model is likely the last for this generation of the A3; a redesigned version may debut for 2021. The Audi A4 lineup (including the allroad wagon and the high-performance S4) and the A5 Sportback line are all slated to get a mild refresh that includes updated styling and a new version of Audi’s MMI infotainment system. The BMW 3-Series line loses its station-wagon and Gran Turismo hatchback-sedan versions, but gains a 6-cylinder powered M340i model with 382 horsepower. The super-performance M3 version is set to return with a twin-turbo 6-cylinder with 473 or 503 horsepower, rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive, and an available manual transmission. A new version of the 330e plugin-hybrid model is slated to join the 3-Series lineup for 2021.
The Jaguar XE gets a refresh that includes revised styling, an updated infotainment system, and a traditional gearshift lever instead of the previous rotary knob. The model lineup is also significantly pared down; the diesel, V6, and limited-production V8 engines are all discontinued, leaving a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 247 or 296 hp. The Lexus IS adds a Blackline Edition model with dark-finish exterior elements and other unique trim touches.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
Though several high-performance models are offered in this class, the most prominent at the moment 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. At the opposite end of the performance spectrum are hybrids; the class currently doesn’t offer any hybrid models, but as mentioned above, BMW is planning to add a new 330e plug-in hybrid for 2021.
Although sedans dominate the class, there is one wagon (Audi Allroad), two hatchback sedans (Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe), one convertible (Mercedes-Benz C-Class), and one coupe (Mercedes-Benz C-Class).