Best Luxury Car Buying Guide

January 25, 2023

At the entry point of the luxury-vehicle range reside models such as the Acura Integra, Audi A3, BMW 2 Series, and Mercedes-Benz CLA. These cars bridge the gap between mainstream cars and true luxury vehicles. Despite premium badges and higher prices, some models may be missing features found on a well-equipped, less expensive mainstream car.

Ramping up in pricing, the BMW 3 Series has reigned as one of the top performers in CR’s testing for decades. It’s joined by the Acura TLX, Audi A4, Cadillac CT4 and CT5, Genesis G70, Lexus IS, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. And with consumer interest in EVs on the rise, there’s the Tesla Model 3—the company’s entry-level car. Many of these models have two roomy front seats but fairly cramped rear seats.

Their larger counterparts embody the definition of true luxury . . . and steadily increasing prices. A few notable models include the Audi A6 and A8, BMW 5 Series and 7 Series, Genesis G80 and G90, Lexus ES and LS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class, and Volvo S90.

Luxury EVs are certainly gaining traction with well-heeled buyers, as seen with the BMW i4 and i7, Lucid Air, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Polestar 2, Porsche Taycan, and Tesla Model S, to name a few.

These exclusive chariots bring greater levels of interior room, ride comfort, quietness, performance, and refinement. Some ultraluxury models have quite long wheelbases (the distance between the axles) that enable limolike rear-seat space.

What you’ll spend: The least expensive entry point in this category hovers close to $40,000, which quickly escalates by adding a few options to popular models like the BMW 3 Series and C-Class. The least expensive long-range Tesla Model 3 tops $55,000. Dipping a toe into the pool of top-notch models here will set you back anywhere from around $48,000 for a midlevel Lexus ES 350 to well over $100,000 for the best from Audi, BMW, Lexus, Lucid, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Tesla.

Luxury SUVs also run the gamut from small to jumbo. Some of the subcompact and small players include the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and X2, Buick Encore GX, Cadillac XT4, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Lincoln Corsair, Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLB, and Volvo XC40. These are comfortable for two occupants, snug for four, and downright tight if a fifth adult comes along for the ride. Likewise, carrying cargo is limited by the vehicles’ compact proportions. Many of these smaller models deliver agile handling and return fuel economy in the low to mid-20s mpg.

One step larger, compact models include the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Buick Envision, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, Genesis GV70, Infiniti QX50, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Porsche Macan, and Volvo XC60. While subcompact SUVs are based on front-wheel-drive platforms, many compact models are rear-drive based and offer sportier handling dynamics.

There are also more electric-only options than ever before. Joining the small EV SUV ranks are the Audi Q4 E-Tron, Genesis GV60, and Tesla Model Y. A touch larger, the Audi E-Tron, BMW iX, Cadillac Lyriq, Jaguar I-Pace, and Tesla Model X come with all-electric powertrains. And more are on the way.

Moving up to the midsized SUV category brings more room but also higher prices. Some models include the Acura MDX; BMW X5; Buick Enclave; Cadillac XT6; Genesis GV80; Infiniti QX60; Land Rover Defender, Discovery Sport, and Velar; Lexus GX and RX; Lincoln Aviator and Nautilus; Mercedes-Benz GLE; and Porsche Cayenne.

Over the past several years, some manufacturers have brought out coupelike SUVs—that is, they have a swoopy rear roofline that makes them look like coupes, but they retain four doors and are still classified as SUVs. The Audi Q8, BMW X4 and X6, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, and Porsche Cayenne Coupe are a few of these rare examples.

Full-sized luxury models are at the top of the money-is-no-object food chain in the world of SUVs. Some examples include the Audi Q7, BMW X7, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX80, Land Rover Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, Lexus LX, Lincoln Navigator, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Tesla Model X, and Volvo XC90.

Some of the midsized and larger models have three rows of seats to accommodate up to eight people. Like many luxury sedans, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric powertrains are gaining traction, but traditional V6 and V8 engines remain the most prevalent.

What you’ll spend: Prices for the always popular luxury SUVs run the gamut from the mid-$30,000s to around $100,000. For many of the rich and famous, nothing less will do.

Sporty Luxury Cars
It used to be that sporty luxury coupes owned a bigger chunk of the market, but they’ve lost some popularity over the years. Some manufacturers, though, are sticking it out. Models include the Audi A5, a full range from BMW, the Jaguar F-Type, the Lexus LC and RC, and the Mercedes-Benz C- and E-Class, among others.

Sporty luxury cars tend to favor a rear-wheel-drive configuration to aid performance dynamics, but many are available in all-wheel drive. A range of four-cylinder, V6, and V8 powertrains is offered. Some even offer hybrid and fully electric systems.

You can expect sporty luxury cars to have nicely finished leather and wood interiors, the latest electronic features, and engaging driving experiences.

Some may trade ride comfort, interior room, and access or visibility for better cornering ability, increased performance, or stylish exteriors.

What you’ll spend: None are inexpensive. These models might run you between $55,000 and over $100,000.

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