If you’re a car enthusiast the answer is no, obviously not. You appreciate the premium design and cutting edge engineering German marques bring to the table. But what if you aren’t the type of person who compulsively raps their knuckles on every reachable surface when you enter a new car? Could you tell the difference?
I’m not sure. Midsized Japanese sedans have come a long way in the past few years. I bet if you swapped all of the badges on a new Accord and told the Average A4 buyer that it was a new model, they wouldn’t necessarily know the difference. The gap between German luxury and Japanese practicality is a lot narrower these days. Customers who buy something with an Audi badge because they need to pilot a status symbol are often clueless elitists with zero interest in cars. They’re the rich counterparts of the guy at the bus stop who asks you if your red MR2 is a Ferrari.
It’s all about the options list. In a new Accord, you can spec a 278 horsepower V6. Now you’re blowing the doors off of many 90s and early 2000s sports cars. In other words, it’s fast enough to merge and pass like a 535i or an E350. Sure, the Accord’s 40 to 80 sprint won’t be executed in an effortless and refined manner, but remember - we aren’t thinking about this from the perspective of a car nut. Most midsized sedan customers won’t be hooning their vehicle through the twisties. Capable highway acceleration is enough to successfully tick the “driving dynamics” checkbox.
Extensive luxury features are available too. Backup camera? Check. GPS? Sure. Simulated wood to look at, and heated leather to sit in? Most definitely. And the ride is great too. Hop into a Accord after driving a Civic and you’ll be blown away by how luxurious the car feels. The seats are exponentially more comfortable, the wind noise is negligible, and the interior is massive. Of course, the Accord’s suspension is no match for the air ride you’ll find in an E Class, but once again - we aren’t analyzing these characteristics from the perspective of a car nut.
The same can be said for the 2016 Legacy. It looks even sharper than the Accord and the interior is just as nice. I’ve ridden in one of these too, and I was once again surprised by the ride, luxurious interior, and decent acceleration. Spec a new Legacy with the big flat six or a turbo 4, and you’ll give an old WRX a run for its money.
Japanese interiors aren’t necessarily incoherent, cheap copies of their German brethren anymore. Accent lines flow across the cabin, conforming to the contours of the shapes they encounter. Comfy leather seats sandwich a wide center console with a clean, modern layout. If you changed the Subaru badges to BMW roundels and sold this to a Junior sales rep, would he know the difference? I really don’t think so. That’s why I recommend midsized Japanese cars to anyone shopping around for a new German luxury sedan. If they can deal with a less prestigious badge they’ll save at least $15,000, maybe more. A new Legacy with leather seats, GPS, the big motor, and a sunroof costs $34,000. A 528i starts at $52,000, and you’ll be paying that much to drive a new BMW with 4 cylinders and cloth seats. Now that’s embarrassing.
So, if you want a quick, luxurious midsized sedan, Japanese cars are a legitimate option these days. Badge snobs will never buy a Subaru or Honda over a BMW. But will they actually appreciate the premium build quality, driving dynamics, and luxury features? I’m skeptical. I laugh when I see smug yuppies tearing around Boston in their A3s and CLAs. They think they’re on top of the world. But the reality is that the old man in the new V6 Accord sitting next to them at a traffic light is in a faster, more spacious car with the same exact luxury features.
As a hard core German car nut, I never thought I’d say this: If you’re in the market for the cheapest new car you can find on a Mercedes lot, just ignore the badge and buy a Legacy. That cramped “compact executive sedan” is an exercise in badge engineering, and you’ll pay way too much for it. Furthermore, if you’re in the market for midsized German luxury, cross shop an Accord. If you don’t have your heart set on toys like parking sensors, 360 degree parking cameras, and radar cruise control, you’ll save thousands of dollars. And when you sell the car, you’ll save even more, because nothing depreciates like used German luxury.