Will buyers pay out for pint-sized luxury?

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

Are U.S. buyers interested in owning a very small luxury car?

Several luxury brands are deciding whether to sell cars here which are a little bigger than a Mini Cooper.

Mercedes-Benz has taken the first step. It plans to offer a range of small cars in about three years. The automaker unveiled the Concept A-class coupe last week at the Shanghai and New York auto shows.

Insiders say Mercedes is planning a production version of the coupe concept, along with a small sedan, van and crossover, according to a story written by my colleague, Diana T. Kurylko. A starting price under $30,000 is expected.

General Motors has been testing the waters, looking for feedback on the Cadillac Urban Luxury Concept. The design study seats four and is a little shorter and wider than the Mini Cooper. A three-cylinder engine is the intended powertrain. The Urban Luxury Concept debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and was displayed earlier this year at the Geneva show.

These small cars are being developed with the urban dweller in mind. This is a buyer who navigates narrow side streets, wastes time looking for a big parking space for his or her luxury car and wants better fuel economy in stop-and-go traffic. The Mercedes cars were created for Europe and other regions. Now the automaker sees opportunities in the United States as well.

The A-class coupe concept shown at the New York auto show . Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

But will a small luxury car have success here?

While the Mercedes and Cadillac concepts are attractive, and the idea makes sense to me, I'm not convinced that swarms of U.S. buyers will embrace the idea of a subcompact luxury car, even if gasoline hits $5 a gallon.

It's a size issue. Americans will accept a small car as long as it has a comfortable interior and a usable second seat. Additionally, most car owners want a reasonable amount of space behind the second seat for several suitcases or other stuff.

I think it's going to be a hard sell for Mercedes or any other luxury automaker unless the vehicle offers phenomenal fuel economy.

Otherwise, a used C class might be a more affordable, practical fit for urbanites wanting a luxury brand.

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