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driving it home

2012 Ford Focus Titanium 5-door hatchback

Small isn't just the new big; it's also the newly luxurious in Canada and the United States.

We saw that last week during press preview days at the New York auto show. Mercedes-Benz led the pack in the Big Apple by announcing plans to offer a range of small cars in about three years or less, suggested American sales boss Ernst Lieb, the former CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada.

Standing in front of the Concept A-class coupe last week, Lieb said the A is coming to Canada and the U.S., suggesting a production version of the coupe concept will be first, along with a small sedan, van and crossover. Look for a starting price in the $30,000-range.

Over at the otherwise quiet Cadillac stand, the Urban Luxury Concept looks like another pint-size future model from a premium brand. While shorter than BMW's Mini Cooper, the design study seats four and is powered by a three-cylinder engine.

My bet is that if Caddy does a production version, the price tag also will also be in the $30,000-range. In fact, $30,000 seems to be a number where luxury brands are starting to converge with mainstream ones.

Consider: the new Focus, sold as a hatchback and a sedan, may start at $15,999 for the base four-door S, but if you go for a really loaded Focus Titanium five-door hatchback, the sticker is $30,859, including freight and $4,310 of options.

Yes, you read that correctly: $30,858 for a Focus.

That price puts the Focus in premium territory right on top of the front-drive Audi A3. With freight but no options it lists for $34,295. Yes, a fully dressed Focus is priced very near a starter A3.

Here's another example: the Lexus CT 200h hybrid lists for $32,900 with freight and no options. Again, the Focus Titanium is bumping up against the least expensive Lexus in Canada.

We're surely going to see more of this, as the New York announcements suggest. The choice for consumers will be to buy the brand and fewer features and perhaps even weaker performance, or buy something from a mainstream brand - like the Focus Titanium - with every bell and whistle.

Case in point: the Focus Titanium comes with everything from rear parking sensors to rain-sensing wipers, from 18-inch aluminum wheels to heated leather-trimmed seats, from a fancy Sony sound system to the trendy interior styling package and a navigation system, too. Neither the A3 or nor the CT 200h is equally well equipped.

Neither performs as well, either.

The Focus Titanium has a direct-injection, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed auto-shift transmission.

The A3 has a turbocharged four, also with direct injection, that spins up 200 hp and it's teamed to a six-speed manual gearbox which is not quite as sophisticated as the Ford tranny.

The Lexus is a really fuel-efficient hybrid with 134 net horsepower. Hybrid buyers here equate performance with fuel economy and on that score the CT 200h tops these other two.

Buyers will increasingly be offered this choice: pay a relatively high price for something like a feature-packed, up-market Focus with good fuel economy, outstanding crash test scores and entertaining ride and handling, or go for the starter model from a premium brand such as Audi and Mercedes.

Interesting choices for consumers, don't you think?