On a daily basis in the media we are bombarded with individuals bemoaning the fact that credit is scarce and countless people are losing their jobs. But not all of us live in daily fear of being deemed redundant members of the workforce. Not everyone longs to spend their summer wasting their Government aid money on beer and potato chips in the quest for funemployment.

But even if you are secure in your job, many people are finding that they still want to save money wherever they can. It is always a wise idea, no matter how gainfully employed you are, to keep some sort of nest egg for that possible rainy day. One manner in which many people are saving is by leasing or buying a less expensive luxury car. In all honesty, do you really need that fully loaded BMW M5? Lets be real here. That car is the automotive equivalent of stuffing your pants.

A shrinking bank balance shouldnt preclude you from the unique joys of owning a vehicle with the propeller or four rings on the hood. Audi and BMW are both highly ambitious automakers facing the same sales losses as other mainstream automakers like Ford and Nissan. The only difference is that these automakers have had years of selling their cars at huge profits. So now they have the financial backing to offer inexpensive lease and financing deals. And nowhere are the deals sweeter than at the bottom of their model lines.

Many people recoil in horror at the notion of buying the cheapest model line in a luxury car makers lineup. But the fact of the matter is that the Audi A3 and BMW 1 series are more fun to drive than the majority of their pricey brothers and sisters. Both are available with manual transmissionsa must for any enthusiastand both are available with engines that have been named World Engine of the Year as voted on by the international automotive press.

The 2 liter direct injection engine in the Audi also features turbo-charging which affords the engine a flexibility and rev-happy nature not found in most competitors six cylinder engines. This engine is also highly fuel efficient with a highway rating of over 30 miles per gallon. The 135i engine is rated at 300 horsepower and is probably the closest thing to a true muscle car available from any German manufacturer. It also differs from American muscle cars in that it features strong brakes and razor sharp handling. Try taking a corner in a 135i and a Dodge Challenger and you will feel the difference I am talking about. It is sort of like the handling difference between a speedboat and a Carnival Cruise Ship.

In this mindset here are a few preconceptions people have about basic luxury models like the A3 and 1 series. For those who could never imagine lowering themselves to something beneath a basic A4 or 3 series, here are a few pros, cons and outright falsehoods regarding these budget luxury models.

The A3 and 1-Series have Cheap Interiors

While cost cutting is a little bit more evident in the A3, the 1 series is just as solidly built as a 3 series just at a smaller scale. At first glance the dash may appear overly simplistic and bare in the 1-series. But on further inspection any driving enthusiast will find everything they need is clearly labeled and within easy reach. Not all interiors need 18 million buttons and a mouse to be luxurious. And when specified with the must-have sport package the 1 series has the most gloriously tactile shift knob and steering wheel in all of creation.

Again, the A3 might have a dash made of slightly cheaper plastic than that of an A4 but do remember that this is a far cheaper car. But compare this interior to that of pretty much any C-Class or similar in price top line Camry or Accord you will see that the A3s interior is still very much an Audi design. Pleasingly simple and Teutonic, the A3 has an interior that appears built to last. Surprisingly enough this car features more precise build quality than the newer and far pricier Q5. It also, especially in front wheel drive 2.0T form, handles far better than the nose heavy A4.

I Think These Cars are Ugly

Granted, if you are the type of person who finds the Nissan Altima to be too out there of a design then perhaps the A3 and 1-series probably arent for you. People like these are far more likely to buy a Camry because they are safe. The 1-series is a challenging design that appeals to people that can see shades of the classic 2002ti and 320i in its unique shape. The 1-series, as it only comes in coupe form, is perfect for a sporty single person or a couple who loves to take long road trips.

The A3, on the other hand, is a far more practical proposition. Most family cars sold in Europe are, in fact, five door hatchbacks. Appearing almost like a mini-station wagon, the Audi A3 is perfect for any small family. Fold down the rear seats and the A3 becomes a commodious moving van. A moving van that can go 0-60 in around six seconds, that is.

There Arent Enough Options Available on These Cars

Both the A3 and 1-series can be equipped as meagerly or opulently as the buyer desires. The 1-series has two engine options. Both are 3 liter 6 cylinder engines but only the 135i comes with twin turbos. But in all honesty most people would probably find the 230 horsepower 128i to be fast enough for their needs. Only true lead foots need apply for the 135i. Make my 135i a manual transmission model please! Automatics are, sacrilegiously, available on both 1-series models. Fans of BMWs idrive system will need to fork out a couple grand on a built in navigation system. Or keep the purist nature of the 1-series interior intact and spend $200 on a Garmin navigator. Seriously, how often do you use the navigator in your car now?

The A3 comes standard with leather and can be optioned with a navigator and even an OpenSky system that turns the entire roof into glass. OpenSky is a must for anyone with children. They will just love being able to see everything that passes over their little heads. Those with a fear of a clutch pedal have the option of specifying the DSG double clutch automatic transmission. This transmission is so fast that it actually betters the 0-60 times of the manual transmission model. This transmission is the only automatic on the market that can keep a fan of self-shifters happy. It really is that good.

These Cars Arent That Much Cheaper Than the A4 and 3-series

While this was true of the 1-series when it first came out, BMW has come out swinging with a number of unbelievably generous lease and financing specials. When compared apples to apples, a 1-series should be at least $6,000 less than a comparable 3-series. Also keep in mind that every new 1-series comes standard with 4 years/40,000 miles of free maintenance including pricey brake pads and rotors.

The A3 is also offered with myriad finance and lease deals ensuring its place as a bargain hunters paradise. Also remember that these lease ad finance deals arent just for the impossible to find stripped out models. The special deals are usually on models with automatics and either a premium or sport package. And at this level there really is little else that any drivers needs. Again, for both of these models I highly recommend buying a Garmin navigator rather than investing over $2,000 in the factory unit.

Are you still not convinced these entry level cars are worthwhile?

Some people just cannot handle driving anything that is not top of the line. For these people I say, go ahead and spend your kids college fund on an over-engined, over-gadgeted and obnoxious 7 series on Godzilla tires and use your  work funded HMO policy to get some quality psychiatric care. Not everything in life is better when you buy the bigger and pricier model. If driving a car with over the top size and power is that important to you then perhaps Dr. Freud should have a word or two with you.

For the rest of the world, perhaps the lesson to be learned from this economic crisis is that sometimes less is more. Just because you have not as many buttons on your dashboard and your car is a little smaller does not mean you are less of a success. And it definitely doesnt mean you arent having fun driving your new car. The BMW 1-series and Audi A3 may exist at the bottom of the manufacturers price lists but they should exist at the top of any driving enthusiasts new car shopping list.