There’s this piece of marketing jargon I once heard used at an auto show: “Democratization of luxury.” The eye-roll-inducing phrase is meant to describe the slow creep of once-premium features into your average car. Features that were once meant for luxury cars are making their way into entry-level cars. Is this the worst time to buy a luxury car?
Think about it: navigation, name brand stereo, even power locks and windows were once only found in luxury cars. Now most of these items are standard or optional for every automaker–from the halo car, all the way down to the subcompact.
So why are people paying more for a high end name? When you learn what you’re paying for, it makes little sense–now more than ever.
Take the Lincoln MKZ, for example. It is a respectable luxury sedan with a forward-thinking design, but it is based on the Ford Fusion, an arguably better car. Sure, a loaded MKZ is a more luxurious car than a base model Fusion, but how about a fully-loaded fusion versus a similarly equipped MKZ?
The MKZ offers the 3.7-liter V6, which is not found on the Fusion, but the 2.0-liter EcoBoost makes 240 horsepower. The Fusion also has well-weighted steering that gives it an almost sporty feel. By comparison the MKZ feels rather numb. And you get all the same features, like heated/cooled seats, leather, power everything, and the (often maddening) SYNC infotainment system. So what are you paying for?
This sort of model overlap happens quite often in the automotive marketplace, so the consumer is really only paying for a name. That can have some serious financial consequences. If you want to shell out for a Lexus LS, they hold their value over the years, and you’ve chosen a solid investment. The same cannot be said for Land Rovers, Jaguars, and many other luxury brands. You may drop big money now, only to find out that you couldn’t trade it in for much more than a Honda Accord down the road. That sort of staggering depreciation is what gets people “upside down” on a car note.
Additionally, many of the volume brands have stellar reliability records. This can be said for Toyota, Honda, and others, but Land Rover? Not so much. The Range Rover is a beautiful vehicle, but pretty soon all of the automated and electronic parts will start to fail–just go on any Range Rover forum.
The problem with luxury is that it is a vague notion, propped up by the self-fulfilling prophecy of “Keeping up with the Jonses.” You want to let your neighbors know you’ve made it? You will likely plunk down top dollar for a car that could eventually break the bank.
My advice? Care less about what Bob and Deb across the street think, and buy a car that is a great value, but also has a lot of the features you want. It likely won’t be a luxury brand, but as you drive your fully-loaded Accord or Escape to work, you’ll also be laughing all the way to the bank.