Article by Justin Mastine-Frost
Up until the last couple of years, the definition of a luxury brand in the automotive industry was a simple one. If overall finishes, design, and performance, were of a certain calibre, then a car was deemed worthy of the segment, and purchased even with an inflated price tag. In the last couple of years and with blossoming global economies developing more of an affinity for shiny and expensive things, we are starting to see manufacturers throwing the word luxury around far more than they should be getting away with. New models based on middle-of-the-road platforms are now being clad in a few more bells and whistles and are being touted as an all-new segment dubbed “Entry-Level Luxury”.
2013 Buick Verano Turbo. Click image to enlarge
For starters, the name of this new class of vehicles is simply an oxymoron. Entry-level is meant to be something that is accessible to all, while luxury, when you get right down to the root of it, just isn’t. In the Oxford dictionary, luxury is defined as “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”, and attempting to market luxury to the masses in essence undermines the brand itself. The auto industry marketing corps have always been quick to use inflammatory language and hyperbole to sell cars, but the buck really stops at jumping segments in my books. If it was a luxury car it wouldn’t be $28K and made from the leftover parts bin, now would it? Colourful adjectives aside, this dubious practice is the industry is equivalent to slapping a fancy label on a can of Budweiser and trying to sell it for $8 a can, and I highly doubt anyone in the room would tolerate that.
It’s surprising how quickly this shift took place. When the Passat first came out it was simply a nice car with better leather, and more sound insulation than a Jetta. Although it was a better product Volkswagen made no effort to try and brand it as a luxury vehicle. Fast forward to 2013 and we are presented with “The Luxuriously Redesigned 2013 Volkswagen CC”. Putting a new grille on it and removing a seat (and then putting it back in) doesn’t suddenly make the CC a luxury car, but then again shiny badges and a couple of lines of advert-speak has always done a good job of selling garbage to the masses. Unfortunately one-too-many marketing geeks with community-college diplomas have decided that the auto industry needs to be next in line to scam the middle-class with an allusion to something they really can’t afford.
2014 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4. Click image to enlarge
Some new vehicles, rather than being aspirational cars, are aspiring to be more than they are. Cars like Acura’s ILX and the Buick Verano aren’t necessarily bad cars, but when you get right down to it, it’s going to take a lot more than some plasti-chrome trim and a smattering of wood veneer to convince me that they’re anything special. Don’t get me wrong, you can build a nice car in that price point with some nice finishes and an engaging drive, but just don’t try to tart it up and pretend it is better than it really is. Anyone willing to do a bit of research will quickly learn that the Verano sits on the same platform as the Chevrolet Cruze and the ILX rests on a loose interpretation of the four-door Honda Civic, which aren’t bad cars, but sure as hell aren’t anything worthy of a premium. If manufacturers want to build a classy version of a Cruze or a Civic, fill your boots, just don’t slap a different badge on it and tell me it’s any different. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time wrenching on a variety of Rolls-Royce product over the years, and I can say with certainty that there’s something almost magical about the level of craftsmanship that goes into real luxury product. Not only does it look and feel incredible, but it’s built to a standard to which a Verano or ILX could never hint at bearing the faintest resemblance.