2011 Luxury Car Buying Guide

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Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Car Pricing Insider blog and publishes daily incentives on new cars in addition to newsworthy articles pertaining to the auto industry.

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, Automotive Editor - March 18, 2013

Near Luxury

Near-Luxury or "entry-level luxury" cars are defined by three parameters: price, comfort, and prestige. Aimed at the car buyer who desires a little more class and comfort in their everyday car, this is the most competitive luxury class. Esteemed manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Audi have all released 4-door luxury sports sedans that are priced from $28,900 to $32,400 (for base models).

An emphasis on fit and finish is a must for this class and a car must be as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. The cars in this class share many of the same attributes that their bigger, more expensive flagship models do. This, coupled with the relatively low pricing will give you the best bang for the buck. Acura, Infiniti, Cadillac, and Jaguar also offer models in this class. A list of vehicles in this class can be found on the left side of this page. Click on either of the links to find out more regarding a particular model.

Price Range: $24,950 - $37,225

Models

For 2012, Mercedes-Benz serves up their updated 2012 C300 and 2012 C350. The C-Class features fresh new bodywork as well as a couple of engine options, from a 3.0-Liter 228-horsepower V6 to a larger, more powerful 3.5-Liter 268-horsepower V6, while the ultra-powerful 2012 C63 AMG produces a whopping 451 horsepower.

The 2012 Acura TL, 2012 Audi A4, 2012 Lexus IS 250 / IS350, and BMW 328i/330i also fall into this ultra-competitive category. The $35,105 Acura TL has found great success in the near-luxury class. "Its powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine, nicely balanced suspension, rigid structure, and classy good looks make the TL a serious contender," says NewCarTestDrive.

The A4 remains unchanged for 2012. Starting at $28,900, the A4 comes equipped with 200-hp 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. The turbo has been slightly updated with new compressor maps to aid in off the line acceleration, with a full 207 lb/ft available from 1800 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm, which is good news when you consider that the A4 weighs in at a porky 3500-plus pounds.

The IS series of vehicles from Lexus also remains largely unchanged for 2012 and continues in the company's pursuit of perfection. The IS350 starts off at $35,905 with the IS250 coming in at $31,625. That $4280 price difference will give your right foot a lot to be happy about, since the IS350 comes with a silky-smooth 306-hp 3.5-liter V6. Is it worth the extra money? We think so.

The BMW 3-series has long been the target that all this newfound competition has been aiming for. The 3 can be had in several different trim levels to suit virtually every appetite. Starting at the low end of the BMW yardstick, the 328i comes standard with BMW's tried and true Inline 6-cylinder engine. The engine produces 230 horsepower and is one of the smoothest out there. Fuel economy is also good, with the 328i getting about 20 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway - impressive indeed. For those that want the most power, the 335i juggernaut comes with BMW's award-winning 3.0-liter twin turbo Inline 6-cylinder engine. Horsepower jumps to 300, as does torque. The price also increases to $38,900.

For 2012, Infiniti's G37 sedan receives a few cosmetic changes to the front and rear fascias, along with new updated taillight treatments. The G37's 3.7-liter engine produces 330-hp, and has drawn many comparisons to the previously mentioned BMW 335i. In fact, in a recent head-to-head comparison with the BMW 335i, Motor Trend named the G37 the winner. And costing $7000 less, the G37 can be labeled a value-leader in this category.

Near-Luxury Car Safety Guide

All near-luxury cars come standard with anti-lock brakes and side airbags, and in many casesoverhead airbags and active head restraints are also available. Traction control is a more advanced feature that stops the spin of a wheel, and in turn insures maximum contact between your tires and the road. Augmenting this feature is an Electronic Stability System that also keeps your tires in maximum contact with the road by coordinating the ABS, Traction Control, and the "yaw" of your vehicle (how much a car rocks side-to-side). The individual systems are combined in an effort to reduce tire spinning, skidding, and traction-less cornering. All features, if not offered as standard, can considerably boost the overall price of vehicles in this segment.

Mid Luxury

Mid-luxury cars offer prestige, great fit and finish, and high performance characteristics that create an incredible driving experience. They also offer many of the latest technological advancements and safety features in the auto industry. For what you're paying in this segment, you should demand more space, speed and technology than in regular mid-sized sedans or entry-level luxury models.

Price Range: $31,300 - $133,500

Starting things off, we have the 2010 Audi A6. The A6 offers two different engines: a 3.2-liter 255-hp V6 and a bigger, more robust 4.2-liter 350-hp V8. If you need more interior space, the2010 Cadillac CTS is a solid contender, and offers the confidence-inspiring handling of its German competition.

Acura's 3.5-liter 290-hp 2010 RL will not win any drag races, but it will transport your occupants in quiet comfort, safely and effectively. Starting at $46,280, the RL offers a myriad of luxurious appointments from sumptuous high-grade heated leather seats to one of the most intuitive navigation systems we've sampled. Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) comes standard, but serves more as a function of safety than pure performance.

The sporty 2010 Infiniti M35 remains largely unchanged from last year. At $43,050, "the M35's 275-hp V-6 offers gobs of go across the rev band and rarely leaves you thinking that you shoulda had a V-8," says Automobile magazine. The big news for Infiniti's M marque is the availability of ATTESA ET-S all-wheel drive system for the M45 (dubbed M45x). The M45x joins the M35x in Infiniti's AWD stable and starts off at $51,850.

The tried-and-true BMW 5-series remains atop the mid-level luxury totem poll. The 5 is offered in two iterations: 535i and the 550i. The 550i comes with a beefy 4.8-liter 360-hp V8 that also churns out a symmetrical 360 lb/ft of torque. But the BMW 535i is what really will enthrall you. Utilizing the 335i's twin-turbo 3.0-liter Inline 6-cylinder engine, the 535i brings a new driving dynamic to the mid-luxury class. Test drive one, and you'll see. Starting prices for the 528i, 535i, and 550i are $44,300, $49,400, and $58,500, respectively.

Mid-Luxury Performance

For some, a luxurious car that drives well is simply not enough. Many luxury car owners share the very same passion as sports car aficionados. They want a luxury car that also has the characteristics of a sports car. To satisfy these consumers, and to showcase some of their company's racing developments, many manufacturers have created special edition versions of models in this class.

Mercedes-Benz enhances their models under the AMG badge and has the CLS63 AMG and E63 AMG. The $92,200 CLS63 AMG comes with a 6.2-liter V8, air suspension, larger Z-rated tires, and more powerful brakes. Its seven-speed automatic features Speedshift paddle shifters. The E63 AMG is available in sedan or wagon that come with 507-hp V8 engine. "The new V8 emits less harmful emissions than the supercharged engine and weighs 55 pounds less. Allowing the E63 AMG to rocket from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds," says NewCarTestDrive.

Cadillac has the CTS-V and STS-V as their sport models. The CTS-V has a 400hp 5.7-liter LS6 V8 engine developed for the Chevrolet Corvette. The STS-V is the most powerful Cadillac ever offered with its supercharged V8. It also packs a high level of standard amenities such as obstacle detection and rear climate controls.

The Audi S6 is based off the A6 and has a 435 hp 5.2 liter Direct Injection V10 engine and four-wheel-drive system to keep the power on the road. The BMW M5 now has an optional manual 6-speed or sequential transmission. This four-door sedan sprints to 60mph in 4.5 seconds thanks to its 500hp 5.0L V10 engine. The Porsche Cayman S is based off the Boxster, but Porsche took a more performance-oriented approach to its design. It has a 295hp 3.4L H-6 engine and a sport tuned suspension. Edmunds.com said the Cayman S is "more than just a Boxster S with a lid; the Cayman S embodies the soul and heart of history's best Porsches."

Mid-Luxury Roadsters

Roadsters evoke a certain mystique to those that have them and those that want them. Just rev up the engine, put the top down, and a roadster will take you and a passenger on a driving experience. In the mid-luxury class there are two such vehicles: the 2010 Porsche Boxster and the Mercedes SLK. The Porsche Boxster is designed as a midengine roaster giving it excellent balance and handling. When talking about the $45,600 Boxster Edmunds.com said, "classic Porsche styling, not to mention sublime steering and brakes, give the Boxster a unique combination of traits that few cars can match at this price point." Mercedes-Benz has two models of the SLK roadster in production, both with electric retractable hardtops. The SLK280 comes with a 228hp 3.0L V6 engine and the SLK350 comes with a 268hp 3.5L V6 engine.

Mid-LuxuryHybrid

Just because mid-luxury cars are expensive and luxurious doesn't mean they can't also be good to the environment. For 2010 Lexus offers up the GS 450h a hybrid model for their GS lineup. At $54,900 the GSGS 450h comes with a 340hp 3.5L V6 / electric-drive motor system, premium interior, and cutting edge safety features. The GS 450h can go from 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds and gets 25/28 mpg.

Mid-Luxury Car Safety Guide

As you move up the luxury ladder, more safety features become available. In addition to side airbags andtraction control, side-curtain airbags are commonly found in mid-luxury cars, which help reduce potential head and neck injuries during side impact collisions. An electronic stability system, which works by sensing a car's "yaw" (side-to-side motion) and applying braking pressure to the appropriate wheels to keep the tires in contact with the road, is another feature to look for in this segment. Many mid-luxury manufacturers also design in crumple zones and crash-resistant door pillars to better protect occupants in the event of an accident.

Ultra Luxury

When price is not a concern and the occasional state gas guzzler tax is not something you worry about, it's time to look into the ultra-luxury class. Often the flagships of their manufacturer's luxury lineups, these vehicles offer every amenity possible from massive horsepower to walnut wood interiors. Manufacturers in this class feature cutting edge technology in performance, design, and automobile innovation. If it's the latest and greatest thing you want, the ultra-luxury class is the place where you'll find it.

Price Range: $38,470 - $1,380,000

The Audi A8 is the largest and most luxurious sedan in their lineup. Options include massage, heating and ventilation features for the front seats, four-zone automatic climate control with individual rear-seat settings and a wood steering wheel. The current Jaguar XJ has better performance than its previous generations. According to Edmunds.com, "an all-aluminum body and high-tech air suspension transform this former fat cat into a friskier flagship."

BMW's 650 continues the high performance tradition BMWs are known for as NewCarTestDrive says, "The BMW 6 Series delivers stellar performance, brilliant handling, and that arrow-like stability that marks this marque." For 2010 in the BMW 7-series, the 760i gets discontinued but the 750i, 750iL and 760iL models continue. BMW also offers the 7-series a new package including a unique interior trim, Merino leather, and special 20" wheels. The Lexus LS 460 is redesigned this year and does a great job at providing competition to Mercedes and BMW. Comparable in design, power, handling, and promising a hybrid version in 2010, the LS 460 should cause concern amongst German automakers. The Mercedes S-class was redesigned in 2006 and remains dominant in the ultra-luxury class. NewCarTestDrive says the S600has "Virtually every convenience imaginable, from massaging front seats to electric door-close assists, and the most sophisticated passenger-car safety technology money can buy."

Ultra-Luxury Performance

For some, having simply a luxurious car that drives well is not enough. As driving enthusiasts in addition to car lovers, they want a luxury car that also has the characteristics of a race car. To satisfy these consumers who want just a little more icing on their cake and to showcase some of their company's racing developments, many manufacturers have created special edition models. While much more expensive than many cars in the ultra-luxury class, they are based off of the car models in this category.

The Audi S8 is based off the ultra-luxury A8 and has a 450 HP 5.2L V-10 engine. The same engine as the S6, but the horsepower increase allows it to sprint to 60mph in less than 5 seconds. There are no changes to the Cadillac XLR-V in 2010, but it carries on a 443hp Supercharged 4.4L Northstar V8 starting at $97,460. The BMW M6, a performance tuned 6-series, now comes available in a convertible so you can have a better view as you're blasting down the road. Mercedes has versions of their S-class, SL-class, and SLK-class badged as AMG performance tuned vehicles. The smaller SLK55 AMG is a mean roadster with its 355hp 5.8L V8 engine. It comes with a seven speed automatic and manual paddle shifters. TheMercedes S65 AMG has a 604hp 6.0L V12 engine and is the flagship of the large Mercedes sedans. The $128,800 Mercedes SL55 AMG increases in engine power to a 510hp 5.4L V-8 and the $186,000Mercedes SL65 AMG offers a 604hp 6.0L V12. On the SL65 AMG, Edmunds.com says, "With 604 horsepower and torque measuring an asphalt-wrinkling 738 pound-feet emanating from its twin-turbo V12, this drop top can hang with Ferraris as easily as it will go for a top-down Sunday drive."

Ultra-Luxury Roadsters

In the ultra-luxury class, the Lexus SC 430 starts at $65,455, and Edmunds.com calls it a roadster with "one of the best interior designs you'll find anywhere." For 2010, the Cadillac XLR comes in a new trim, "ultra-luxury Platinum," that adds a chrome grille, 15-spoke 18" polished wheels, Platinum exterior badging, unique door sill plates, and wood/metal accents in the interior. The Porsche 911 Targa that the Los Angeles Times calls "a hard, stiff [performance] car, with an icy competence about it" is known around the world for its unmistakable body design. The new Jaguar XK convertible was introduced this year with all-aluminum construction and a 4.2L 300hp V8 engine. Cars.com says that the XK is "the most technically advanced Jaguar production car ever built." Starting at $132,000, the Mercedes SL600 is roadstering at its most expensive. With over 510hp on tap from its thirsty 5.5L V12 engine, the SL600 can go from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds. On the other hand, the SL600 only gets 13/19mpg, but who's counting?

Ultra-Luxury Car Safety Guide

As you might expect, ultra-luxury cars feature a ton of gizmos and widgets, many of which enhance safety. In addition to front and side airbags, antilock brakes and traction control, most ultra-luxury cars come with an electronic stability system and head airbags. Additionally, some ultra-luxury cars offer aheads up display, which projects the dashboard instruments onto the inside of the windshield, closer to eye level. A few automakers, such as Cadillac, even offer night vision, which uses infrared technology to help the driver "see" beyond the headlights. Many ultra-luxury cars also come equipped with a back-up sensing system, which tells the driver if there are people or objects hidden in his blind spots.

, Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Car Pricing Insider blog and publishes daily incentives on new cars in addition to newsworthy articles pertaining to the auto industry.

Follow On: Google+ | Website

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