See that car up there? What do you notice about it? Well, apart from the giant red NO I plastered over it (don't I have amazing MSPaint skills?). Probably that it has a huge three-pointed star? I mean how could you miss it? In case you live under a rock, you probably know that that is the new Mercedes-Benz CLA250, a car that "starts" at under 30 thousand United States Dollars. It's a decent enough looking car, fills a lot of different design cues, and has an illuminated badge. Yes, you heard that right, it's a $480 option, but how many do you think will leave that off? An ILLUMINATED TRI-STAR. Let's let that sink in for a minute.
It's also an extremely rare car; limited production. Not the CLA250 per say, but an actual 100% base model CLA. See the one up there? With the pretty (mandatory in my opinion) front fascia, and the big wheels, the matte paint, moonroof and red brake calipers? Yeah, that model is at least forty thousand dollars. Add in navigation and other features you'd expect and you're paying forty-five thousand dollars. On top of that, you're paying $45k for a car that was designed on an extreme cost cutting budget, so it's not even as "luxurious" on the inside as the badge would suggest.
See that car up there? The red one with the Lincoln badge? Say what you will about the styling, but it is a comparable car to the CLA250, but it gets a turbo, all wheel drive, and all the features of the Merc and then some (a V6, auto parking, remote start, high end sound to name a few) and it costs five thousand dollars less. It's faster, just as economical and more importantly, inside it's vastly more comfortable. But it does have a major drawback, it doesn't have a German luxury badge. So what does that mean? Well for starters, it's shit. We know that the only luxury cars worth buying come from countries that view cup holders as an afterthought. Where things like a "frypod" would be laughed at. So why are we even talking about this car? Because if you could look past the badge, you'd be driving one of the best cars in it's segment. But you can't, and instead we get abominations from a company with a roundel to cater to the market.
It's not your fault, there was genuinely a time when the only good luxury cars were either German or Japanese, I wouldn't begrudge you that train of thought not even seven years ago. But in the time since, two very remarkable things happened. The Koreans decided to stop making "me too" products but fell short of making their own luxury brand and the Americans started making cars up to the standards they held in the 20th century again.
I'll make no bones about it, I was a brand snob. I didn't even consider a car unless it had four rings or a roundel. In fact, I was so reticent to try new cars that I bought the same generation of Audi 4 times (C5 A6). And then something weird happened, I drove a Lincoln MKT and suddenly I found myself lusting over a car I previously thought was an abomination. Eventually I bought one for my mother because I simply can't justify owning another car for myself. She had an X5, what is generally considered to be the epitome of suburban housewife's dream car, and she absolutely hated it. Complained about this, or complained about that every week. I made excuses for it all the time, she claimed the seats weren't comfortable (they were the sports seats) I told her its because you need to be alert to drive properly, she said the radio was bad, I told her that her hearing was bad. I tried in vain to justify my father and I's purchase of a $60k car that wasn't all that good and after 7 years I was over it. When I first drove that rental MKT, I knew it was the right car for her. Hell if I wasn't hellbent on a manual transmission it'd be the right car for me too! Or at least the sedan (MKS) version.
I'm not trying to tell everyone to go out and buy a Lincoln or a Cadillac(or maybe I am, I don't really know anymore), but I am calling for more informed buying decisions. I'd always advocate for buying a used car, the deals are better. But if you must buy brand new, look at the whole car and not just the badge. What does the badge really mean? If I put a tri-star on the MKZ I bet it'd be the best selling compact luxury car. Doesn't that sadden you? That we put so much stock in the badge of the car and not the quality of the car? Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of really good high water badge cars. But there are also plenty of volume brands that have exceptional cars too. I personally feel if you set a price point for yourself, you should get everything you want within your budget. You should never compromise features for a badge, compromise a feature for another one if you must, but never for the stinking badge. Because at the end of the day you're the one who has to live with the car day in and day out. What's going to comfort you more? A badge? Or actual comfort?
People keep telling me that I should have used Cadillac for my example. But apart from being more intimately acquainted with a modern Lincoln, I wanted to use the Lincoln because people carry their predisposed notions of it. Because they've only ever seen it on the net and because they only ever read reviews by the same car journalists who have their own predisposed notions of the car coming in.
It's true, Cadillac follows the German way of thinking better than Lincoln does. But that's what they've become, BMW clones. They're fantastic, don't get me wrong and anyone who says that a comparable bimmer or merc or audi has better fit and finish than the similar Cadillac/Lincoln doesn't know what they're talking about, but they sold their identity as the world standard in luxury to become this modern interpretation of what the Germans do. I don't fault them for doing it because they want to compete (clearly they sell more caddys than lincs) but I can recognize the difference between a "sport sedan" and a "luxury sedan".
The German three have wonderful sport sedans with nice luxurious interiors (hell I have an RS6 which I love and a 2013 C300....which I don't love, in my garage, among other things) but they don't quite make comfort like Lincoln does. The Lincoln is akin to the Rolls, it's got oomph and power, that is "adequate" because it champions luxury and a smooth ride over ring times. Now I am fully in support of hard suspension'd sport sedans that blast the ring, but I firmly believe there should be a market for both. If the MKS had a Merc badge and was marketed from Mercedes as the "comfortable choice" I bet it'd sell in droves because middle aged men might act like they want a sport sedan but they really want comfort. I can't tell you how many middle aged high end car buyers I know who buy a sporty sedan and then end up complaining that it's ruining their back! Then do some bloody research and drive a car that is comfy!
I firmly believe the 50 year old men who own an S class and a Vette have it right. They have their ultra cushy and posh luxobarge for the work week and then they have the Vette for the hour during the weekend that they can tolerate driving a car with a sport suspension. Fact is unless you're wealthy you have to compromise on something, performance or comfort. Which is more important to you?