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. 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 6-cyinders, and even a muscular V8. 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.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2022
After skipping the 2021 model year, the Audi A3 is redesigned for 2022 with sharper, more-angular styling inside and out, a 201-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and a host of new technology features. The regular A3 models launch first, with high-performance S3 (powered by a 306-hp turbo 2.0 four) and RS 3 versions (with a 406-hp turbo 2.5-liter 5-cylinder) following later in the model year. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is also redesigned, gaining slightly larger dimensions, a 255-hp turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, a high-tech interior design with a 11.9-inch touchscreen display, and styling that looks like a downsized version of Mercedes’s S-Class large sedan. The previous-generation C-Class offered coupe and convertible versions, but we don’t expect those to return on the new model.
The BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe also skipped the 2021 model year, but returns for 2022 on a redesigned platform that’s shared with its 4-Series coupe, convertible, and 3-Series sedan siblings. The 4-Series Gran Coupe is a 4-door hatchback sedan with a sleeker roofline and flashier styling than the traditional 3-Series sedan. Speaking of the 3-Series, its high-performance M3 version is now available with all-wheel drive in addition to rear-wheel drive.
The Cadillac CT4 adds a super-performance CT4-V Blackwing model that’s powered by a 472-hp 3.6-liter V6 and offers a choice of a 6-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. The Genesis G70 loses its previously available 6-speed manual transmission but gains bolder exterior styling, a freshened interior, and a new infotainment system with a 10.25-inch touchscreen. After its revamp for 2021, the Lexus IS adds a high-performance IS 500 F Sport Performance model with a 472-hp 5.0-liter V8, standard chassis upgrades, and unique styling elements.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
Though several high-performance models are offered in this class, the most prominent at the moment are the BMW M3 Competition (which has a 503-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter six) and the new Cadillac CT4 Blackwing and Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class previously offered AMG performance versions that packed a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 with 469 or 503 hp; those were dropped with the C-Class’s redesign, but new AMG models are likely to be added to the line in the near future.
At the opposite end of the performance spectrum are hybrids; BMW offers the 330e plug-in hybrid and a mild-hybrid system on the M340. The Audi A4, A4 Allroad, and A5 Sportback all include a mild-hybrid system.
Although sedans dominate the class, there is one wagon (Audi A4 Allroad) and two hatchback sedans (Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe).