Editorial

Rebranded Luxury

When thinking of a luxury car, several names immediately come to mind, such as Mercedes, BMW, Audi, and Jaguar. There's no doubt they have excellent build quality and innovative upscale features. However, as I've been reviewing some of what's considered non-luxury cars, I've observed that automakers are increasingly upgrading their base cars' quality and available extras to a level that just a few years ago was found in luxury cars only.

For example, the new 2012 Ford Focus surprised me in a number of ways. While it certainly has an improved exterior design, it's the interior that really won me over. The fit and finish is simply outstanding and the MyFord Touch infotainment system is so good that it's hard to believe the Focus is Ford's hopeful bread-and-butter volume seller. There are also examples of so-called luxury that spark memories of rebadged past. The upcoming Buick Verano compact sedan is based on the same Delta II platform as the Chevrolet Cruze; although GM is proud to point out that the Verano's dimensions are closer to that of the larger Regal.

GM has also emphasized that Chevrolet engineers worked overtime in making sure the Cruze overcame all of the demons that haunted its predecessors, the Cavalier and Cobalt. So why on earth is there a need for a rebadged Buick version? Admittedly, the differences between the two, specifically the sheetmetal, interior, and engine, are positively vaster than those of the Cavalier and the Cadillac Cimarron. Remember that badge engineering disaster? Instead of calling the Verano a rebadged upscale Cruze, perhaps the better description here is rebranded luxury.

Another example is the inevitable upcoming comparisons between the Ford Focus and the Chevrolet Cruze. With the Focus being newer than the Cruze, could the Verano be a more suitable competitor? The point is whether the Verano is even necessary when the Cruze is already a good car that's available with plenty of upscale features. It just needs an expedited mid-cycle facelift to correct its age-related shortcomings. And now Ford is working to revitalize its Lincoln brand with several new models.

Unsurprisingly, they will be using the same global C1 platform (that also underpins the Focus) for a new compact luxury car. In other words, Lincoln is about to do to the Focus just what Buick has done to the Cruze. That's rebranded luxury. So now we must ask ourselves: How much are we willing to pay for what is mainly a rebranded version of an already solid car that's available with plenty of luxury options? If I had a choice between a fully loaded Cruze, Verano, or an Audi A3, obviously I'd go for the Audi.

But if that choice came down to the same Cruze or Verano, I'd pick the former. Why? Because the Cruze is the more honest car and I'm not trying to show off by driving a "baby Buick." With new car prices likely to increase in the near future, there's a greater chance buyers will value the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus more than the upcoming Buick and Lincoln rebranded cars. Those shopping for an entry-level upscale car are best off sticking with the aforementioned established brands because they are the more honest luxury cars.

As for prospective buyers for the Verano and Lincoln compact, they'd be better off with something like a fully-loaded Ford Focus Titanium. Unless they think rebranded luxury is the same as real luxury.

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