Great luxury doesn’t have to mean massive. Forget about the Cadillac Escalade and consider the best small luxury cars of 2021.
With the new Grand Wagoneer debuting and the gaudiness of the latest Cadillac Escalade, you’d think that huge SUVs had become synonymous with what constitutes a modern luxury vehicle. But what if you want all that comfort and refinement in a smaller (and more affordable) package? Good news my frugal friend, there are plenty of truly fantastic small luxury cars that offer gobs of walnut paneling and leather, glass-smooth rides, and copious amounts of horsepower for just a fraction of the cost of an oversized luxury SUV. Here’s our list of the best small luxury cars of 2021.
Mercedes loves to pile on the luxury features inside their cars. The refinement and innovation on display in their large sedans like the E-Class and the ultra-opulent S-Class truly boggle the mind. Their price tags, as you might guess, are equally astounding. The C-Class, however, ably provides that signature Mercedes-Benz experience for much less scratch.
The C-Class offers a bevy of engine options starting with the base 2.0L turbo four-cylinder making 255 horsepower. Acceleration and handling in the base model are excellent, but for that extra bit of excitement there are the AMG variants. The AMG 43 bumps things up considerably to a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 with 385 horsepower. The 63 and 63 S carry twin-turbo V8s with the latter topping out at 503 horsepower.
All that power is complimented by a serene and supple ride and a posh interior full of the latest in Mercedes tech. Their MBUX infotainment software is the current industry benchmark with an intuitive, quick response, and crisp graphics. And of course, there’s a wide assortment of options that include 13-speaker high-end Burmester audio system, a panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, and much, much more. The base C-Class starts at $41,600.
Genesis may not be as long in the tooth as luxury brands like Mercedes or BMW, but they’ve shown themselves more than capable of producing some of the industry’s best luxury cars. The G70, their smallest offering, is just as beautiful, comfortable, and exciting to drive as anything currently out of Germany or Japan.
The G70 offers two engine options: the base 2.0L turbo four-cylinder good for 252 horsepower and the 3.3L twin-turbo V6 with 365 horsepower. The 2.0L has the bonus of offering an optional 6-speed manual transmission in addition to the 8-speed automatic, the only transmission for the V6. Both engines motivate the G70 comfortably, but the V6 is our preferred choice if you want acceleration that matches the rest of this impressive car.
As nice as the G70 is to drive, it’s the interior that really wows. The fit and finish is stellar, the materials are top-notch, and the seats perfect for pampering your backside on your next cross-country road trip.
Another thing the G70 does well is predicted reliability and safety ratings. With stellar crash test scores and loads of standard safety tech, the G70 sets the standard for safety in a luxury automobile. Lexus aside, reliability has always been the Achilles heel of luxury cars, but the G70 boasts fantastic predicted reliability scores from J.D. Power which only sweetens the deal.
The G70 starts at $36,000.
The Audi A4 is another small luxury car worthy of consideration with its potent engines, stylish interior, and cutting-edge technology.
The Audi A4 starts with two 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engines producing 201 or 261 horsepower. Then there’s the 3.0L V6 pumping out 349 horsepower. For the best combination of power and fuel efficiency, the up-tuned turbo four is a great choice. Whichever engine you land on, the A4’s handling will match it with direct steering, a smooth, balanced ride, and standard Quattro all-wheel drive.
The A4’s greatest strength is its interior which is gorgeous, comfortable, and loaded with tech. That tech includes a 10.1-inch infotainment screen complimented by a new 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster to house Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
Base (Premium) Audi A4 offers a wide assortment of standard and available features that include keyless entry, leather seats, ambient lighting, tri-zone climate control, and safety features like forward collision braking and automatic high beams.
The Audi A4 starts at $39,100.
BMW has long history of making great small luxury cars. The current 2-Series continues that tradition with an engaging driving experience and smoking good looks (thankfully its kidney grille is still of a reasonable proportion to the rest of the car).
The 2-Series offers an engine for every budget starting with the base model’s 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder making 248 horsepower. On up the ladder you find the M versions including the M235i and its 301 horsepower turbo-4, the M240i with a 3.0L turbo six-cylinder making 335 horsepower, and the range topping M2 Competition with a turbo-six tuned all the way to 405 horsepower. For transmissions there’s a eight-speed automatic, seven-speed dual-clutch, and even a six-speed manual option (at no extra charge).
Like the rest of the competition, the 2-Series is as nimble as it is powerful, able to translate that horsepower into an exhilarating driving experience. Of all the cars on this list, the 2-Series is arguably the best driver’s car. There are plenty of performance options including 18-inch alloy wheels, brake and suspension upgrades, and even an aero body kit.
That doesn’t mean it’s not refined, either. The interior of the 2-Series is on par with the rest of the class with high-quality materials and loads of standard and optional features. These include twin 10.25-inch infotainment and digital gauge displays, ambient lighting, navigation, and safety features like lane departure and forward collision warnings and pedestrian detection. Even the base model is heavily equipped and starts at $35,900.
While Kia isn’t known as a luxury brand some of their products like the K900 and the Stinger compete in terms of both quality and price. The Stinger offers the best of the traditional sports sedan with the added utility of a rear hatch. From the hot paint choices, like the stylish new Ascot Green and eye-catching Micro Blue Pearl, to well-wrought interior, to the growling turbo V6s, the Kia Stinger is the full package.
The base 2.0L turbo-four is plenty potent, offering 255 horsepower. But when you buy the Stinger, it’s for the 3.3L turbocharged V6. The GT variants, the GT, GT1, and GT2 all host the V6 and its 365 horsepower. The 3.3 equipped Stinger is great both off the line and in highway passing with ample power and a throaty exhaust note to boot.
The Stinger’s cabin features great materials and a slick design that forces a double take to check that the badging on the steering wheel does indeed say Kia. The base Stinger starts at $33,090 and the V6s at $39,500.