Posted by: David Welch on May 20, 2010
To hear some auto industry executives tell it, even luxury cars will get a downsizing in the next few years as new fuel economy standards kick in and a global economic recovery pushes fuel prices back up. Americans, being the pampered consumers that we are, will still want our creature comforts, but we’ll be willing to accept a smaller car loaded with them. Or so goes the speculation.
For that to become reality, these phat little cruisers had better find some love soon. As nice as they are, the tiny luxury cars aren’t selling. Take the Audi A3. I gave it a test drive a couple weeks ago. Loaded to the roof with luxury amenities like satellite radio, heated seats and the like—plus a clean-diesel engine—the small wagon I tested is priced at $37,500. (It starts at $27,270) Like BMW’s 1-series, you can get a luxury brand name, great driving performance and all kinds of posh features.
The problem: Audi has sold just over 2,000 copies of the A3 this year. BMW has sold fewer than 4,000 of the 1-series through April. With regular unleaded gasoline selling for $2.84 a gallon on average, according to AAA, they’re a tough sell for Americans who equate luxury with size and roominess.
Don’t get me wrong. The A3 is a terrific car. Its clean diesel engine gets a combined 34 miles per gallon in city and highway driving. It’s zippy and handles wonderfully. Inside, the A3 has the great craftsmanship of larger, more expensive Audi cars like the A6. If you really want a small luxury car, this is a nice one. But after climbing in and out of the back seat of the A3 and 1-series, gas prices will have to rise a lot higher for these little luxury cars to take off. Americans will be enamored with their big sedans for a long time to come.