Compact executive car
Compact executive car is a car classification term applied to premium cars smaller than executive cars. In European classification, compact and subcompact executive cars are part of the D-segment. In North American terms, close equivalents are "compact premium car", "compact luxury car", "entry-level luxury car" and "near-luxury car". Compact executive cars are usually available in saloon, estate, coupé, and cabriolet body styles.
Most entry-level luxury cars are part of D-segment, but some cars like the Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKZ, Buick LaCrosse, Hyundai Azera, Hyundai Genesis, Acura TL, Toyota Avalon, and Lexus ES are part of E-segment despite the prices of D-segment premium and V6 mid-size cars.
History in the United States
The modern version of this market segment was successfully established in 1950 when "the Nash Rambler was deliberately conceived as a luxury compact rather than an austerity model" and available only as a convertible, with hardtop (no "B-pillar") and station wagon and models added in 1951. By 1959, sales of European small cars and American Motors' Rambler "exploded" with many their buyers having above-average incomes leading commentators to describe "cultural motives behind their preferences" including the owners' "unconcern for symbols of success and importance that testified to the possession of the real thing." Long-time president, chairman, and CEO of General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan, described the rising demand for compact cars was not motivated by economy, but "was essentially a further expression of the customer's desire for variety." By the early-1960s, the market for smaller, more economical cars, "but with more comfort, looks, and luxury" than ordinary compact cars included, among others, the Mercury Comet featuring style and interiors that "sparkle with most of the glamour Americans are accustomed to in their bigger cars." During the late-1960s, buyer preferences fragmented the market, moving to intermediates, personal/specialty, and all-out luxury cars, while the demand slowed for traditional large cars. Increasing fuel prices and competition pushed AMC to "exploit special market segments left untended by the giants. In 1978, "AMC introduced its new Concord luxury compact" "represent[ing] an upgraded, more luxurious, more comfortable, more silent, more opulent automobile." Cadillac continued its sales leadership in the premium market by making changes with the market and introduced the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron, a luxury version of the compact GM J platform. The Cimarron helped to boost the automaker's Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), but its badge engineering of a front-drive, high-mileage model was evaluated as a low-value proposition in contrast to historic Cadillac luxury.
Today, automakers are responding to changes in the marketplace and in the "mind-set" of consumers looking for status on a budget. Traditional "luxury car makers are gearing up to offer small models that will test whether affluent U.S. car buyers are ready to concede that bigger isn't always better." Facing higher fuel costs and traffic, changes are sweeping through the luxury car market and "Americans are beginning to catch up with global trends."
History in other markets
Individual markets may also define the particular automobiles that are marketed or perceived to be within the "executive" class.
Dimensionally, compact executive cars are smaller than mid-size/large family cars, and sometimes even smaller than compact cars. Mass market compact cars typically use the economical front wheel drive transverse engine layout, well suited to the inline-4 engine, which also maximizes interior room. Several compact executive cars are rear-wheel drive with longitudinal engines, for improved stability and handling, and in order to accommodate the larger size of higher-performance engines (straight-6, V6, rarely V8), with four-wheel drive often being available. Compact executive cars also tend have more complicated independent suspensions, sportier transmissions, and high revolution engines that may require premium gasoline. The more complex powertrain and mechanical layouts of compact executive cars comes at increased cost and reduced interior passenger and trunk space.
Compact executive cars usually offer the buyer less equipment, interior room or engine horsepower for the money, compared to mass market (non-luxury) cars. However, the material and building quality is higher, there are exclusive features not found on mass market cars, there is better handling and performance, and the nameplate itself is part of the value proposition. Recently, the entry-level luxury segment has been very competitive, and there has been price-overlapping with well-equipped non-luxury cars. Today, many compact executive cars particularly emphasize sporty handling. This category of vehicle is crucial to luxury marque BMW; BMW 3 Series accounts for up to 40% of the vehicles that BMW sells worldwide.
The Citroën DS5 is an example of a compact executive car from the new premium (Luxury vehicle) sub-brand DS of the French automaker Citroën. The DS5 mixes hatchback and estate styling resembling a shooting-brake.
Other vehicles such as the Lexus ES, Acura TL, Acura TSX, and Chrysler 300 are also considered entry-level luxury in the United States and Canada, being similar in price to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. However, the ES and TL are not sold in Europe and do not fall under European luxury classifications. The ES and TL actually began as badge engineered versions of the midsize Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, respectively, retaining the front wheel drive transverse engine layout platform with mass-market cars. The ES and TL are not considered executive cars either, despite similar dimensions, since executive cars usually emphasize higher performance, often being rear-wheel drive with longitudinal engines (the Chrysler 300 and 300C are one of them). The present iterations of the ES and LaCrosse emphasize "comfortable, reasonably priced luxury", while the TL has recently been targeted at the entry-level luxury sport market.
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