Mass-market players are throwing jabs above their weight classes.
Wallet-friendly brands such as Ford, Honda and Kia offer loaded upper trim levels that inflate prices to the point where their vehicles end up face to face with high-end brands.
The Ford Edge might not seem like a natural challenger to the Lexus NX 300, for instance, but the Edge Sport carries a sticker price that's $570 more than that of the NX 300 F Sport. Similar overlap occurs with the Kia Cadenza and Lincoln Continental sedans, the Toyota Land Cruiser and Lincoln Navigator SUVs and the Mazda6 sedan and Mercedes-Benz CLA four-door coupe, to name a few.
The goals of the loftier pricing vary. Mazda has tried to move upmarket with its Signature trim on the CX-9 crossover and Mazda6. Kia, on the other hand, wanted to lift brand awareness and consideration when it released the pricey K900 sedan.
Meanwhile, luxury staples Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz moved downmarket in recent years, edging more into mass-market territory. Jaguar released the F-Pace crossover and XE sedan, while Mercedes introduced the CLA, its first front-wheel-drive model in the U.S., with a sticker price around $30,000.
Nonluxury brands that pack upper trim levels with high-end perks have a chance to widen their consumer base, said Cox Automotive analyst Michelle Krebs. Kelley Blue Book research found that one-third of luxury intenders said they would consider a nonluxury vehicle if it had the upscale features they wanted.
"Luxury is being redefined by consumers and automakers," Krebs told Automotive News. "Consumers who are interested in premium or the upper levels of nonluxury, they want luxury-type features, but they want it at a perceived value price with this idea of increased practicality. Clearly, the automakers want to make more money by offering them, but consumers are already thinking of luxury a bit differently."
Kia's portfolio has a wide range. Its manual Rio sedan starts at $14,795. But the youthful brand has positioned the K900 rear-wheel-drive cruiser, which delivers 420 hp, among the luxury heavyweights. The V-8-powered 2017 K900's Luxury trim has a starting price of $62,850. All prices include shipping. Kia said in 2014 that if luxury brands could come downmarket with entry-level models, why couldn't it move up into their space?
Then there's the Stinger, Kia's edgy option that is challenging German marques. Kia touts the V-6-equipped GT trim's 4.7-second acceleration from 0 to 60 mph, bragging on its website that the Stinger outdoes competitors such as the Audi A5 Sportback. The Stinger's priciest GT2 trim with all-wheel drive is $52,300 for 365 hp, vs. the awd A5 Sportback's top Prestige trim, which is $51,175 with a 273-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter quattro S tronic four-cylinder engine.
For the Honda brand, the Accord sedan has long been a crucial volume player. At its base level, the Accord, which won this year's North American Car of the Year award, is a mass-market friendly $24,465 with a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder turbo engine. But the Accord's tech-filled Touring trim comes in at $36,695, putting it neck-and-neck with the base BMW 3 series, which costs $35,895 with rwd. The entry-level 3 series includes a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, while the fwd Accord Touring is packed with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo and 10-speed automatic.
Automotive News breaks down some of the intriguing matchups in which loaded trims from volume brands overlap with luxury marques' offerings.
Kia Cadenza Limited vs. Lincoln Continental Premiere (base) (photos top)
|Engine||3.3-liter V-6||3.7-liter V-6|
Toyota Land Cruiser vs. Lincoln Navigator Reserve (top trim)
|Engine||5.7-liter V-8||3.5-liter V-6|
Ford Expedition Platinum vs. Cadillac Escalade (base with awd)
|Engine||3.5-liter V-6||6.2-liter V-8|
Honda CR-V Touring vs. BMW X1 xDrive28i
|Engine||1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder||2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder|
Mazda6 Signature vs. Mercedes-Benz CLA Coupe (base)
|Engine||Skyactiv-G 2.5T 4-cylinder||2.0 turbo 4-cylinder|
Kia Stinger GT2 vs. Audi A5 Sportback Prestige (top trim)
|STINGER GT2||A5 SPORTBACK|
|Engine||3.3-liter V-6||2.0-liter turbo quattro S tronic 4-cylinder|
Ford Explorer Platinum vs. Lexus RX 350L
|Engine||3.5-liter V-6||3.5-liter V-6|