Motor Trend: Tesla Model 3 Is Best Compact Luxury Sedan For 2021

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The compact luxury sedan market is an interesting space. At least in the States, bigger has always been seen as better, with many buyers wanting a bigger vehicle. At the extreme, luxury buyers have migrated to SUVs, buying expensive barges like the Cadillac Escalade. If you aren’t convinced of this, consider that Tesla didn’t touch the compact luxury sedan category until after it had made the relatively large Model S sedan and the bigger Model X crossover. The American obsession with size is well caricatured by Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, when he says “Size does matter. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”

At the same time, though, the rolling McMansions people want is still a caricature, and maybe even a caricature of a caricature. Even in the States, many people want a smaller vehicle. Crossover faux-SUV buyers are buying up auto companies’ smaller offerings, even when it makes almost no sense to buy them. Poor efficiency, low or no towing capacity, and even less interior room for people and cargo (compared to similar sized sedans) doesn’t chase buyers away. They want the appearance of size, but at the same time, they don’t want all the difficulty and parking lot/garage hassle that comes with real size.

There’s also the matter of price. Sure, people aspirationally want the bigger, more expensive vehicles on the lot, but it’s hard to fit the payment for them into the monthly budget. Go a size or two down, and you can get most of the bells and whistles, and almost all of the prestige of owning the premium vehicle, but with a price that’s easier to sell to one’s spouse (who likely at least has veto power in the household).

For these reasons, it’s no surprise that the compact luxury sedan market is seeing a lot more entrants in recent years. As Motor Trend points out, it’s not all BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class anymore. Everyone wants a piece of that market, even if it’s not as big as it once was, because there’s a lot of room for profit in that space.

Why Motor Trend Says The Model 3 is #1

Tesla fans are probably asking at this point, “The Model 3 has been around for years. Why is it suddenly #1 now?” Motor Trend did a good but indirect job of answering that question. The Model 3’s build quality has improved quite a bit since it was first introduced, with issues like uneven panel gaps and paint mismatches nearly eliminated as an issue since 2017–2018. With those problems behind it, the vehicle got more points and started beating out the competition. It almost won last year, and finally did it this year.

While fans of electric cars have considered the Model 3 the best vehicle in the segment since its introduction (and it has outsold all of its segment competitors), Motor Trend plays to a different audience. Many in the general auto fan club are skeptical of electric vehicles and aren’t ready to jump into a new technology and potentially the hassle of charging if they don’t have an ideal lifestyle for that.

The lack of hassles with a Tesla is a big part of what Motor Trend says made it win out over the gas cars in an audience that isn’t as impressed by EVs. The decent range that covers nearly everyone’s daily driving combined with the easy-to-use and widely available Supercharger network makes for an experience that isn’t meaningfully worse than driving a gas-powered vehicle — and potentially even better.

Once we see that the experience isn’t degraded by being electric, the advantages of quick acceleration and decent handling (due to the low-slung battery pack) give it an edge.

The only complaints Motor Trend had was that the driver-assistance tech needs improvement — they didn’t see it as having a very luxurious feel compared to the other vehicles, and that the steering was “vague”. Once again, keep in mind that publications like Motor Trend don’t give the Model 3 as much credit for being electrically powered as CleanTechnica fans do.

What Cars Did The Model 3 Beat Out?

I’m glad the imaginary reader I created here asked! It’s actually a pretty interesting list.

Here’s the list, verbatim:

11. 2021 Infiniti Q50
10. 2021 Lexus IS
9. 2021 Cadillac CT5
8. 2021 Acura TLX
7. 2021 BMW 3 Series
6. 2021 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
5. 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia
4. 2021 Volvo S60
3. 2021 Audi A4
2. 2021 Genesis G70
1. 2021 Tesla Model 3

Of course, we do see the expected players in the luxury space. BMW came in at #7, and Mercedes-Benz came in at #6. We also see the upscale versions of more basic cars making a decent showing (Infiniti is Nissan, Lexus is Toyota, Cadillac is GM, and Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group).

More interesting is that relatively new players in this space are taking some decently high spots.

The #2 spot went to Genesis, which is a spinoff of Hyundai. Most people still wouldn’t consider Hyundai to be a premium vehicle. Kanye West’s song Gold Digger even mentions the brand as something a wealthy person (say, someone who just won the Super Bowl) wouldn’t drive unless they were financially crippled by a vindictive ex-wife who managed to get courts to award her overly generous child support and alimony payments. By improving their build quality and spinning off a luxury/performance brand, Hyundai has done a lot to shed that negative image and take a bite out of the luxury segment.

Volvo has always been a better-than-average vehicle brand, but it has been more known for reliability and safety than luxury in the past. The fact that it took the #4 spot with the S60 shows how much it’s changed that perception toward luxury without losing out on the pluses it already had in the public eye.

It will be interesting to see how the other players fare in ratings lists like these as they introduce their electric offerings over the next few years. Will Tesla hold onto the crown in 2022–2030? Things look good for Tesla, but it’s not a sure bet. As more compact electric luxury sedans come out and as the charging networks available to other vehicles continue to improve, the competition will certainly heat up.

Featured image by Tesla.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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