Photo Credit: Jaguar Land RoverBy Brent Dunn
Just because you’re in the market for a luxury car doesn’t mean that you want to spend more money than necessary. The luxury segment is fiercely competitive, and some cars are better values than others. The choice will largely come down to whether you place a premium on affordability, comfort, or performance. Most of the cars on this list manage to do all three at least competently, though as always there are compromises. Read on to see our top choices when it comes to the choosing the best luxury car for the money.
Photo Credit: Acura
The Acura ILX is a small four-door luxury car that is closely related to the Honda Civic. The only available powertrain is a normally-aspirated four-cylinder that is paired with an eight-speed dual clutch transmission that sends power to the front wheels. The transmission is unique in that it uses a torque converter, making it one of the smoothest dual clutch units on the market. While the ILX isn’t particularly fun to drive, it is competent through the corners. If you’ve outgrown your Civic and are looking for something a little more upscale, the ILX is worth a look.
Photo Credit: BMW
BMW 3 Series
The compact BMW 3 Series is available in both sedan and wagon forms (and as a coupe in the closely related 4 Series). The 3 Series has long been the standard bearer in the segment, and the latest model is more of the same—it would be almost sacrilegious if the model didn’t make our list of the ten best luxury cars for the money. Handling is what you’d expect from a small BMW, as is ride comfort, and the driver-centric interior is nicely finished. The wide range of engines include a super-economical diesel and a smooth powerful turbocharged inline-six, and drivetrain options include rear or all-wheel drive and some models are available with manual transmissions.
The ATS is Cadillac’s entry into the competitive compact luxury segment, available in both coupe or sedan models, with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Choice of engines ranges from a normally aspirated four-cylinder all the way up to a fire-breathing turbocharged V6 (in ATS-V form); the ATS is ready to compete with the best in the class. Handling is also at or near the top of the pack, the ride is comfortable, and the interior is one of the best ever offered in a General Motors vehicle. Cadillac wants to beat the Germans at their own game, and the ATS is a fierce competitor, and definitely one of the ten best luxury cars for the money.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
While some might scoff at the prospect of spending this much money on a Hyundai, the full-size Equus gives you just about all the luxury its competitors do, but at a much more affordable price. The interior is nice but doesn’t quite match the best in class; and the Equus’ handling isn’t nearly as exciting as what you’d get from the Germans; but the ride is comfortable, and the interior is very quiet. The eight-cylinder engine is smooth and powerful, but not all that economical. On the other hand, the money you save at the dealership could buy you a whole lot of gas.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
The Hyundai Genesis is a full-size luxury sedan that is available in rear or all-wheel drive. When loaded with the Ultimate Package you get a car that includes nearly every luxury feature you could want in a car, including a classy interior and high-end features like a heads-up display, a 17-speaker stereo and a power rear sunshade. The ride is tuned more for comfort than for sporty handling, but that helps make the Genesis a great highway car. The best part (and the reason why it makes our list of the ten best luxury cars for the money) is that you can get a fully-loaded Genesis for much less than the base price of some of its competitors.
Photo Credit: Infiniti
The Infiniti Q50 is a compact luxury car available with a wide selection of powertrains, from economical hybrid and turbocharged four-cylinder options to a pair of more powerful turbocharged V6 motors. An interesting option is Infiniti’s Direct Adaptive Steering, which is anything but ‘direct’ and features no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels. One of the main benefits of steer-by-wire is the system’s ability to decrease the amount of feedback and vibration felt in the steering wheel, which is especially nice on rough roads. Overall, the power is good, handling is more than competent, the interior is attractive, and the ride is quite nice.
Photo Credit: Jaguar Land Rover
The Jaguar XE is a very attractive compact luxury car with a nice interior and excellent handling. Though the body is largely made from aluminum, the XE isn’t a true lightweight. The engine choices include an economical diesel, a turbocharged four-cylinder, and a supercharged V6 that makes the XE sound almost as good as its sportier XF sibling (which is just about the best sounding car we’ve ever driven). With the V6, the Jag XE is a fast car that asks to be thrown through corners, but all XEs drive nicely thanks to a sophisticated suspension setup and communicative steering.
Photo Credit: Kia
The Kia K900 is closely related to the Hyundai Equus, but it follows a slightly different path, taking a much more American perspective on the definition of luxury. Both cars use the same powerful V8, but unlike the Hyundai, the Kia is also available with slightly more economical V6 engine. Both engines have enough power to move the K900 around with confidence, and while the ride is soft, well-controlled and quite comfortable, handling definitely isn’t the car’s strong suit. All-in-all, the Kia is a decent luxury cruiser for the money, as long as you don’t have any sporting pretentions.
Photo Credit: Lexus
The Lexus ES is a good looking, large-to-midsized luxury car that almost encroaches on the full-size segment. The front-wheel drive ES is not a sports sedan (for that you’d have to take a look at the Lexus GS range), but handling is secure and it is a comfortable car with lots of interior space front and rear. Engine choices include a normally aspirated V6 or a hybrid powertrain that uses a combination of electric motors and a four-cylinder engine to achieve impressive fuel economy numbers. Best of all, the ES is quite affordable, no matter which engine you choose.
Photo Credit: Volvo
The Volvo S60 is a compact luxury sedan that is loaded with features, including a number of class-leading safety related systems. The range of engines includes unique powerplants such as a turbocharged inline-five engine and a four-cylinder unit that is both supercharged and turbocharged. Depending on the model, power is sent to either the front wheels or to all four wheels, and the handling is safe and secure with either configuration, but not as sporty as the class leaders. As expected from Volvo, the S60 scores extremely well in crash testing by both the IIHS and the NHTSA.