Last time we met some of you crowned me the automotive internet idiot for comparing a Kia to a BMW. Most of you though, saw the humor and were pretty cool about it. Now keep in mind that comparison was directed at all the people, and there are plenty, that drive BMWs and could care less about performance or dynamics. Sure those 528xDrive lessees like to say they have, "The Ultimate Driving Machine" but I don't think they know what those words mean. Since most of us don't have 5 series money, talking about "driver's cars" in that segment is not terribly helpful. However, the average transaction price of a car is about 32k, so for the same money as a loaded Camry (or Cadenza) you can get yourself a German sport-sedan in the form of a Mercedes CLA or an Audi A3. I am here to tell you that if you are true Jalop both are a waste of money.
Both cars are stylish, fun to drive, and offer some nice luxury content for the money. The problem with these cars is the eventual stigma that will be attached to them. Derek Kreindler, from TTAC wrote that these affordable models could make the rest of the brand less special. He compares the CLA to Coach bags, which once were a statement of wealth and style but now that practically woman has one, the bags have lost their cache'-
"Let too many people into your exclusive nightclub and it suddenly becomes passe. If too many people can buy your premium clothing line at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls, its seen as a mass-market product, or worse, something for poor people. I'm fairly agnostic when it comes to "brand values" or "heritage" – that stuff is just pap cooked up by suits and sold to wide-eyed types as a marketing narrative. I find it conceivable that, in such a crowded, competitive marketplace, traditional Mercedes customers could abandon the brand if too many undesirables are seen as entering the brand via the CLA and other lower-end cars."
I don't know how much the CLA and A3 will really effect the perception of the overall lineup from Mercedes and Audi, but I don't think it is too far of a stretch to imagine A4 and C-class owners looking down on CLA/A3 drivers as getting the "cheap" models.
If you are going to drop around 30-35k on an entry-level German car, and you call yourself a real enthusiast there is only one choice, the BMW 320i. You see while most of the car-buying public is going nuts over these new and affordable offerings from Mercedes and Audi, BMW will give you a legit sports sedan with with RWD (or AWD if you must), generous legroom, a nice trunk and no one will think you were too poor to get a "real" German car. Oh, and here is the best thing about the 320, you can have a manual transmission. Granted finding one on the showrooms might be challenge, but BMW will happily order you a "Jalopnik edition" with 3 pedals and minimal equipment if you so desire.
Out of the box the 320i might be out gunned by the A3 and the CLA, but keep in mind that the 320's motor is simply a "de-tuned" version of the 240hp N20 from the 328. I'm sure with minimal investment you can have it "re-tuned" to 328 levels of power or more. As far as the driving dynamics go rather than have me explain it, I think Mr. Chris Harris is a bit more qualified-
Of course all of this makes me wonder, how the upcoming 1 series will fit into the BMW equation. If a 320i starts at $32,750 and a well equipped Cooper S pushes 30k, where is there room for the 1? All I know is, in 3-5 years pre-owned 320s should be in the 22-28k range, and that is good news for all of us.
(A3/CLA image via Autoexpress.uk, 320i image via MotorTrend)