As SUVs continue to be one of the best-selling segments in the American market, manufacturers are packaging them in all sizes. Gone are the days of land yachts being the only option to have a higher ride height on the road. Cadillac Escalades, Infiniti QX80s, and Mercedes-Benz GLS 450s are still popular picks, but their smaller competitors are gaining ground.
Car shoppers can now get a pint-sized version of nearly any luxury SUV. Subcompact SUVs offer a slightly taller alternative to the subcompact cars on which they’re based. Although they share vehicle architecture, they’re not technically subcompacts, given the extra cargo space. Nevertheless, shoppers may think they’re getting the best bang for their buck with small-scale luxury, but there is one major downside.
What should small luxury SUV shoppers consider?
Small SUVs can carry at least five people, most often comfortably. However, if the back seat isn’t in frequent use, its versatility comes into play. Consumer Reports (CR) says to look for flat-folding seats to get the most out of the remaining cargo space.
With most options in the segment featuring front-wheel drive (FWD), eliminating a driveshaft to the rear allows for a lower floor. Subcompact SUVs may not provide the most commanding driving position, but they provide the ease of getting in and out. Moreover, the flat floor bolsters much-needed cargo space.
On drive configurations, it’s important to decide between FWD and all-wheel drive (AWD), with four-wheel drive (4WD) SUVs becoming a dying breed. AWD is a lighter-duty, mostly FWD-based system that remains permanently engaged to route power between the front and rear wheels as needed. AWD is suitable for poor weather conditions and confronting dirt roads but will amount to lower fuel efficiency. SUV shoppers who travel almost exclusively on dry and flat pavement and in a warmer climate should consider an FWD model, saving at the pump and on the purchase price.
CR asserts that safety and active driver-assistance technologies are a big point of consideration in purchasing a small luxury SUV. Features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, and forward collision warning should be standard on most, if not all. Furthermore, there will be additional systems in the luxury class. For example, many offerings from Audi, BMW, and Lexus carry 360-degree cameras. Even though small SUVs are easier to park than their larger counterparts, the camera system is a nice feature to ensure wheels aren’t curbed.
What luxury car shoppers may not have considered
The above features and configurations may excite many shoppers, but there is still an unmentioned elephant in the room. Just because a mini-SUV from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, or Infiniti is small, that says nothing about the price tag.
Tiny SUVs from luxury brands are exactly what the name implies: luxurious. Spectacularly-trimmed upholstery, upscale entertainment modules, and strong performance come at a price. CR maintains that small luxury SUVs can cost as much as a midsize SUV from a mainstream, non-luxury brand. A few subcompact SUVs have a starting price tag in the high $20,000s. However, many luxury examples begin past $35,000 and commonly end up over $50,000. Some cost even more than full-size SUVs.
For instance, the eight-passenger 2022 Hyundai Palisade has a starting MSRP of $35,250. The Audi Q3, a five-passenger SUV, begins at $38,500. Even with a few options, the Audi will cost nearly $50,000. Furthermore, that’s one of the less expensive models. The Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG costs $55,400 to start without adding any extra options.
How should shoppers approach buying a small luxury SUV?
The prices on many small luxury SUVs can be overwhelming. While they come with outstanding interior features, tech capabilities, and sport car-level handling, they may be too pricey for many. So, how should one get around this?
Take the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG, for example. The website Cars reports there are used models for under $35,000 but with plenty of mileage on the odometer. Elsewhere, with the Audi Q3, Autotrader shows plenty of examples under $35,000 with as little as 20,000 miles on the clock.
Buying a used small luxury SUV will undoubtedly save money versus purchasing a new one. Yet, shoppers could also select a mainstream model and spec it with a high trim level and luxurious add-on options.