Wednesday
July 30, 2014

2013 Autos: The New Luxury

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2013 Autos: The New Luxury

Traditional automotive luxury hasn’t gone away, but it’s getting an update.

As the Porsche Macan and Bentley EXP 9F underscore, even the luxury car segment is in the midst of a rapid evolution. Consider Mercedes-Benz: Barely three years ago, the company’s boardroom was enveloped in a fierce debate over the idea of adding what is today the compact C-Class. Today, the maker offers an alphanumeric soup of offerings in just about every possible car, truck, and crossover niche. “But we’re not running out of letters,” jokes brand boss Dieter Zetsche — who also serves as chairman of parent Daimler AG. Among the most significant products in the pipeline you’ll soon see the new coupe-like CLA sedan, a smaller version of the CLS.

Traditional luxury has certainly not gone away. The 2013 model-year brings major updates to flagship models such as the Lexus LS — including the high-tech LS 600h hybrid — and BMW 7-Series. A new version of the Mercedes S-Class will follow late in the year. Acura will launch its own new flagship, the RLX in the coming months.

But Acura’s ILX is more representative of the changes sweeping through the luxury segment. There’s been a push to downsize among high-line buyers. Models like the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3-Series are now targeted at the heart of the luxury market and — as with mainstream midsize sedans — this is where some of the key competition among automakers will take place in 2013.

Along with the new Acura ILX, perhaps the most closely watched offering here is the Cadillac ATS, arguably the most direct challenge Detroit has come up with to the compact luxury benchmark — the BMW 3-Series. The ATS is winning strong kudos and could usher in a rebound for the long-struggling domestic luxury brand. Caddy will also deliver next year the new XTS, a larger and more conventional Detroit luxury interpretation.

Lincoln, which long battled Cadillac for dominance in the American luxury market, is now struggling to regain that competitiveness. The company has an aggressive product plan in store and will set it in motion with the midsize MKZ sedan. Sharing some of the underpinnings of the mainstream Ford Fusion, it has garnered high praise — though it remains to be seen if buyers will agree — for intriguing features like a retractable all-glass roof.

While BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus continue to dominate, leadership in the luxury segment has never been more up for grabs. Nissan’s high-line Infiniti brand hits the 2013 model-year with the highly functional and well-equipped JX, its first three-row crossover. Audi has been making major gains on the luxury establishment with an assortment of new models in recent years, such as the A7 coupe-like sedan and Q3 and Q5 crossovers. For 2013, it is pressing both performance and fuel economy — the former with the likes of the lightning-quick RS5 coupe. But real estate professionals may find more appealing the fact that Audi will soon add four more high-mileage diesel models to its U.S. lineup.