Names like Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln bring to mind flashy cars with formidable pedigrees and even more formidable price tags.
But for the first time, all these storied luxury brands are focused on — of all things — compact crossover vehicles. Each is rolling out a new one at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens this week.
It’s not hard to figure out why: The segment’s market share has quadrupled in the last five years and is forecast to keep growing for the next five years.
“It’s the sweet spot in the luxury market,” said Tom Libby, lead analyst at auto research firm R.L. Polk & Co. “A luxury make has no choice — they have to get into it.”
There’s no rigid definition for a compact crossover, but think of a hatchback with a hormone problem. Most are front- or all-wheel drive, and come with four- or six-cylinder engines, often turbocharged for better fuel economy and power. Budget $30,000 to $50,000 for luxury models.
Porsche will use the L.A. show for the world debut of the all-new Macan compact crossover. All-new models that will hit the market in 2014 include Lincoln’s MKC, unveiled last week, and Mercedes-Benz’s GLA, making its North American debut in L.A. Jaguar, meanwhile, is showing off a concept crossover that will probably reach production in 2016.
The L.A. show opened to the media Tuesday and opens to the public Friday.
On the other side of the globe, Lexus was busy touting the LF-NX at the Tokyo Motor Show. Its concept hints at the shape a new NX crossover will take in the coming years.
And other luxury brands have compacts in various stages of development. BMW is already selling the compact X1 crossover. Audi has confirmed a Q3 crossover will be for sale this time next year.
Automakers eagerly eyeing this segment all say the buyers are coming from two distinct groups.
Baby boomers love them because they offer the luxury amenities they want in a more compact, practical size. Newcomers to the luxury world — often young families or single women — see them as a practical way to justify a pricey new vehicle.
The broad appeal of compact crossovers lies in their melding of the best attributes of passenger cars and SUVs. They offer the ride, efficiency and handling of a sedan with an SUV’s interior space and commanding view of the road. Because there’s no clear leader in the emerging segment, automakers are salivating at the prospect of a breakthrough product.
“This segment is blowing up right now,” said Andrew Frick, the head of Lincoln's marketing. “ And it's not being dominated by any one player. It’s very evenly spread out.”
Ford’s luxury division has only a few models to offer and badly needs a sales hit.
“This is one of the most important launches for Lincoln in recent memory,” Libby said.
The MKC is loosely based on the Ford Escape. Powered by one of two turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engines, it will come in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive configurations.
Base models will start at $33,995 and have a 2-liter power plant with 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Optional will be an all-new 2.3-liter turbocharged engine with 275 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.
Across the hall at the L.A. show, Porsche will unveil its all-new Macan on Wednesday.