MotorTrend’s 5 Best Luxury Subcompact Cars Offer Something for Every Automotive Taste

Luxury subcompact cars are the miniature terriers of the car world. They’re lively and love to run and play. Most of them punch above their weight, offering performance that rivals some sports cars while serving as a practical companion for everyday life.   

A red 2023 Acura Integra A-Spec driving in the sun
2023 Acura Integra A-Spec | Acura

MotorTrend recognizes the five cars on this list as the best in the luxury subcompact category. Not surprisingly, these luxury cars share a lot of the same traits. However, they are also different in many ways, which is why they offer something for every automotive taste.       

1. The 2023 Acura Integra ranks as the best luxury subcompact car

The 2023 Acura Integra shares its platform with the Honda Civic, which is one of the best small cars you can buy. It also uses the Civic’s 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 200 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. That engine is coupled to a sport-tuned CVT automatic and an athletic sport-tuned suspension as standard equipment. 

But what sets the Integra apart is the crisp, six-speed manual transmission and the available A-Spec package. That combination is fun to drive in just about every setting. It’s a precision instrument for dissecting back roads. The optional adaptive suspension stays planted, and the shift lever for the manual transmission has a well-oiled mechanical feel. As a car, it’s extremely practical. But as a machine, it’s as close to analog as you can get in an age of electric and semi-autonomous vehicles.  

The 2023 Integra starts at $31,895. Add the A-Spec package and the price increases by another $2,000. Fully loaded with the A-Spec and Technology packages, you’re out the door at $36,895.   

2. The 2023 Audi A3 is a fuel-efficient luxury subcompact car

Jump into the 2023 Audi A3, and it may take a while to realize you’re piloting a hybrid luxury subcompact car. The only real giveaway is the 38 mpg fuel economy. Otherwise, you’ll think you’re driving a quick car with a quiet, refined 201-horsepower turbo four-cylinder.  

In either front-wheel drive form or with Quattro all-wheel drive, the Audi A3 feels planted with confident handling and a fairly smooth ride. MotorTrend noted that the current A3 lacks the previous generation’s sportier performance. It also felt the cabin was a bit noisy, and the base model lacks safety and technology features that are standard on other cars. 

But if you’re looking for a premium small car with excellent fuel economy and solid road manners, the A3 starts at $34,900. 

3. The 2022 Mercedes-Benz CLA Class offers luxury and refinement

If you seek luxury and refinement in your luxury subcompact car, look for the three-pointed star. The Mercedes-Benz CLA Class offers the same premium feel as its bigger siblings but with a sophisticated look that stands out in this class. 

The base CLA 250 starts at $38,200 and comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 221 turbocharged horses. Coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, it offers impressive performance and up to 35 mpg on the highway. 

The CLA feels solid and substantial with surprisingly good handling. Inside it’s packed with technology, although some people feel that the MBUX infotainment system is overly complicated and frustrating to use. Even so, it’s a solid offering from Mercedes-Benz.   

4. The 2022 Cadillac CT4 offers sharp reflexes

You might be surprised to find that the Cadillac CT4 is the best-handling luxury subcompact car in this group. Even the base model offers the sharp reflexes of a sports sedan and great rear-wheel drive balance. The ride quality is excellent and extremely composed. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder is turbocharged like most other engines in this class and puts out a respectable 237 horsepower. 

The CT4 is handsomely styled, a theme that carries to the well-laid-out interior. Starting at $33,695, it’s neither the most expensive nor least expensive car on this list. It’s also not the most luxurious or sophisticated. But it is the best sports sedan in the group with its near 50/50 weight distribution and impeccable road manners.  

5. The 2023 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is fast to drive

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The 2023 BMW 2 Series Grand Coupe is a fast and powerful fastback that makes a quick daily driver. Starting with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 228 horsepower, the 2 Series Grand Coupe is peppy and gets 34 mpg highway. The base price for this configuration is $36,600, which goes up quickly.

Overall, the 2 Series Grand Coupe is a luxury subcompact car that’s effortless to drive fast and is light on its feet, but it feels somewhat disconnected, almost like you’re driving a BMW in a video game instead of the real world. It’s competent, capable, and practical, and has the BMW emblem on its nose. But it lacks the emotion of other cars on this list or BMWs of the past.

Which is the best luxury subcompact car on the list? 

You can divide the cars on this list into two categories. First, the luxury sedans on MotorTrend’s list include the Audi A3, BMW 2 Series Grand Coupe, and Mercedes-Benz CLA. Then there are the Acura Integra and Cadillac CT4, which are performance sedans. 

If luxury and the prestige of a designer label appeal to you, get one of the luxury sedans. All three are packed with technology, solidly built, and offer good performance to make quick work of running errands or a daily commute. However, they lack the eagerness to seek out back roads and just get out for a drive. 

The Acura Integra and Cadillac CT4 are the drivers. They may lack some of the prestige or luxury of the other cars. But they more than make up for those shortcomings with a rewarding driving experience.