Luxury Vs. Affordability: What's The Better Car Purchase?

By Ben DeMeter | May 18, 2012 AAA
Luxury Vs. Affordability: What's The Better Car Purchase?

Trying to get the most "luxury" out of a new car presents something of a philosophical crisis for today's auto buyer. As Hamlet might ruminate, is it better to bear the slings and arrows of a fully loaded Camry or to take out loans for a sea of baseline Lexuses? While the prestige of owning a Mercedes, BMW or other high-end car is undeniable, can these companies' low-end models really treat their owners as well as the increasingly luxurious trims of less expensive cars like the Ford Fusion? We decided to find out.
We've set up a comparison between the Ford Fusion Sport AWD, the consensus No. 1 affordable mid-sized car as determined by U.S. News' meta-rankings, and the Mercedes Benz C250, which is the No. 2 upscale mid-sized car. To determine which one is really the better deal, we reviewed each vehicle in the categories of price, performance and features. Since both cars received excellent ratings for safety and reliability, we decided not to factor these into the comparison. Though this is by no means a comprehensive analysis of all models on the market, it should give anyone planning on buying a vehicle in the near future a better idea of what they should be looking for.

Price
A fully-loaded Ford Fusion Sport AWD weighs in at $31,415 while the C250 Sport starts at $34,800.

Features
The Fusion brings a powerful suite of features to the table. The driver's vision package includes a rearview camera and traffic sensors that alert you when a car is in your blind spot or crossing lanes in front of you. The driver comfort package includes two-zone climate control, heated seats, machined aluminum pedals, ambient lights and power moon roof. Additionally, the car features FORD SYNC that allows you to hook up the music on your phone to the car via bluetooth and two-toned leather seats.

If you want heated leather seats on the C-Class, you'll have to shell out an additional $750. Otherwise, you'd better get comfortable sitting in vinyl. Consumer Guide also claimed that the rear seat of the car could be a little tight and that the trunk was slightly undersized. That said, the baseline C250 Sport still packs some powerful perks, including climate control, wood and aluminum trim, a panoramic sunroof and interior bluetooth. The interior is sleek and stylish and even at its barest still exudes the sort of luxury that made Mercedes a household name.

For the price, the Fusion features pretty much every technological perk and accessory available to the auto industry at the moment. Comparatively, the baseline C250 offers pretty much what you would expect to find in a $35,000 car, but the lack of standard leather seats, rearview camera and an internal navigation system can be a deal breaker for some buyers.

Performance
It might look like an unassuming family sedan, but the Fusion Sport is much more fun to drive than you would think. The 3.5L, 236 horsepower V6 engine delivers a very generous amount of power and Edmunds clocked the Fusion Sport AWD's 0-60 mph time at 7.2 seconds. Car Connection reports that despite its bulky size, the car handles crisply around tight turns. Plus, the all wheel drive makes tackling snowy highways and dirt roads a breeze. Unfortunately, the large engine reduces the Fusion Sport's fuel economy to 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, which is less than other "affordable" competitors like the Hyundai Sonata.

On the other hand, reviewers were universally disappointed with the pickup of the 1.8L, 201 horsepower "turbo four" engine in the Mercedes C250 Sport. In their road test, Edmunds found that the car posted a 0-60 mph time of just under eight seconds. Additionally, the seven speed four-cylinder engine only posts an efficiency of 21 miles-per-gallon city and 28 mpg highway. Looking past the power train, the C250 has numerous features that make the sedan a joy to drive, including a sport-tuned suspension, an electronic stability program and advanced anti-lock brakes.

In the end, the difference in performance between the Fusion Sport and the C250 Sport is almost negligible. The Fusion's added utility of all wheel drive gives it an edge in inclement weather, but the Mercedes performance perks included in the C250 sport makes it more fun to drive on a sunny day.

The Bottom Line
In the end, the difference between fully loaded "affordable" vehicles and their stripped-down "upscale" counterparts comes down to a matter of taste. If you compared the top 10 models of SUVs or sedans or trucks in each category, you would most likely find the same differences we've highlighted here. While the affordable vehicles made by Hyundai, Ford and Honda lack the "wow" factor of upscale automobiles, they offer more features than you would find in a baseline BMW, Audi or Mercedes for a few thousand dollars less than the luxury automakers charge.

To put it succinctly, if you value function over form and want a car that makes family drives comfortable no matter the season or time of day, then go for the Fusion and get the most bang for your buck. If you want people to stare when you drive down the street and don't mind sacrificing a few creature comforts for that intangible joy of owning a luxury car, then you should spring the extra $4,000 for a C250 base model.

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