The role of active galactic nuclei (AGN) in the evolution of galaxies remains a mystery. The energy released by these accreting supermassive black holes can vastly exceed the entire binding energy of their host galaxies, yet it remains unclear how this energy is dissipated throughout the galaxy, and how that might couple to the galaxy’s evolution. The Close AGN Reference Survey (CARS) is a multi-wavelength survey of a representative sample of luminous Type I AGN at redshifts 0.01 < z < 0.06 to help unravel this intimate connection. These AGN are more luminous than very nearby AGN but are still close enough for spatially resolved mapping at sub-kpc scales with various state- of-the art facilities and instruments, such as VLT-MUSE, ALMA, JVLA, Chandra, SOFIA, and many more. In this article we showcase the power of CARS with examples of a multi-phase AGN outflow, diverse views on star formation activity and a unique changing-look AGN. CARS will provide an essential low-redshift reference sample for ongoing and forthcoming AGN surveys at high redshift.