The near luxury market is an interesting place to be. It's where premium brands like BMW compete with mainstream brands like Volkswagen, usually on an equal footing.
BMW introduced the 320i for two specific buyers: Those looking for the lowest price of entry to 3 Series ownership, and those who think a proper sports sedan should be free from unnecessary extras. The Volkswagen CC, meanwhile, brings the four-door coupe to a segment where high style is rarely found.
Which does a better job of appealing to customers with around $35,000 to spend?
What the Volkswagen CC Gets Right
The Volkswagen CC is the least expensive way to get a sleek body style that typically appears on Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. Unusually for an American-market Volkswagen, the CC is built in Germany. The interior uses upscale materials and benefits from a high level of fit and finish.
The CC comes with an available 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes a healthy 280 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. Despite this output, the Volkswagen still manages 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
What the BMW 320i Gets Right
You can look at the BMW 320i as a "stripped" model or as a return to BMW's performance-oriented roots. Many enthusiasts will actually welcome a 3 Series that forgoes the extra weight of luxury options.
The 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine supplies a smooth 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The 320i also boasts exceptional fuel efficiency: 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
The Subjective Choice
The Volkswagen CC and BMW 320i deliver very different experiences at a similar price point. If you need a premium badge, the BMW is your only option. If you'd like a more luxurious cabin, the Volkswagen is a natural choice.
Our Verdict: The BMW 320i
We can't resist the appeal of a BMW that carries on in the tradition of the early -- and iconic -- 2002 coupes.