Luxury vehicles typically represent the leading edge of comfort, performance, safety, and technology, and a good luxury car has an innate quality that goes beyond leather upholstery and wood trim. Materials should be of a higher grade than those in mainstream vehicles, with plush carpets, rich fabric, and quiet cabins. Basic power amenities, automatic climate control systems, and uplevel audio systems with Bluetooth connectivity are expected. Many luxury models also offer all-wheel-drive and can be had in sedan, coupe, SUV and convertible body styles.
What You Will Pay
Prices can run the gamut. For example, the Acura ILX, Audi A3, and Mercedes-Benz CLA are priced in the low $30,000s. From there, true luxury models can reach up to $200,000 and more. The most expensive car Consumer Reports has bought is the Tesla Model S P85D ($127,820), and the most expensive SUV we've tested is the Land Rover Range Rover ($88,000).
Key Things to Consider
Luxury cars can be so comfortable and enjoyable that once you've experienced the luxe life, going back to a mainstream car feels like a major downgrade. But this exclusive driving experience comes at a price, literally, in the form of the initial purchase and ownership costs, both of which typically far exceed those of more humble vehicles. Before committing to a luxury model, realize that nearly all of today's mainstream models are better equipped than luxury cars from just a few years ago. Many offer uplevel comfort and safety features that were once the exclusive domain of prestige-brand models. These well-equipped mainstreamers cost thousands less than luxury-branded models, but often lack the thoroughness of design, special atmosphere, and prestige of a proper luxury car. Ultimately, it's an individual choice as to how your money is best spent. Luxury cars tend to do very well in our tests due to their performance and comfort, but so do some well-appointed models from non-luxury brands.
When buying a luxury car, one must look carefully at the standard equipment list, especially on European cars, which sometimes offer little more than brand cachet in their lower-spec models. Features you might expect to come standard, such as metallic paint, backup camera, and genuine leather upholstery, may be offered as extra-cost options, and high-end, high-tech features are often bundled in expensive option packages. Most of these optional extras are priced far higher than similar features in mainstream cars, and we've seen several models which offer enough high-priced options to nearly double the price of the car. If you want to avoid option confusion, consider American and Japanese brands. They tend to offer a few trim levels and a minimum of options and packages. The German manufacturers take the opposite approach, with multiple versions or trim levels, plus extensive lists of options and packages
Note, though, that some high-end features add more complication than real functionality. That said, the rapid advances in active safety systems are well worth your attention, as many systems are helpful (blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert) and some a proven lifesavers (collision-mitigation systems). Once the lone purview of the luxury class, these systems are becoming widely available. It is best to try any unfamiliar features before putting much weight on them in your purchase decision. Your salesperson should be able to explain and demonstrate any features.
Luxury Comes in Different Shapes and Sizes
Midsized luxury cars and car-based SUV models, priced from $40,000 to $60,000, are generally a sweet spot in the market, offering driving enjoyment and interior refinement without the fussiness or large footprint of a large vehicle or the complexity of cutting-edge features.
Large and heavy V8-powered luxury models tend to also cost you at the pump. Hybrid, turbocharged, and diesel powertrains are offered in a growing number of luxury sedans and SUVs to improve fuel economy, although the hybrids and diesels often come at a significant price premium. Generally, this isn't a category to explore if saving money is a primary goal.
Traditionally, most large luxury sedans employ rear-wheel drive. It is the preferred set up for ideal weight distribution, handling agility, ride comfort, and noise isolation. But rear-wheel drive is not the ideal setup for foul-weather driving, and many rear-drive luxury vehicles offer all-wheel drive as an option.
If you want a luxury car, deciding whether to choose a sedan, SUV, or sporty model depends on your needs and wants. You can turn to our buying advice for those types of cars to help you narrow it down. Each category has several good vehicles to choose from, but there are several models that don't deliver on their luxury promise. Our Ratings will help you see the difference.
What You'll Spend
Entry-level compact luxury models are priced from the low $30,000s up to about $60,000 for a heavily optioned model. Midsized luxury models cover the range between $40,000 and $80,000, while the large luxury cars start around the mid-$70,000 and run well into three figures, not counting the offerings from exotic brands.