Ask anyone who knows cars and purports to understand the rich, and they’ll tell you that the idea of luxury in vehicles has changed a lot in recent years anyhow. Those models with the unmistakable hood ornaments—and the lambswool rugs, exotic leathers, and grain-matched veneers—will probably still get you special up-front spots from the valets, or jealous looks along a few high-class shopping streets, but the real luxury for most Americans is time—safe, quiet time; entertainment time; productive time. And through more in-car technology, some luxury models are helping realign our idea of luxury in that sense.
The all-new Cadillac ATS sport sedan and XTS luxury sedan are both examples of that. Both have upscale interiors, but the star is really GM’s new Cadillac User Experience (CUE) interface, which takes the idea of the in-car interface a step further—with a capacitive touch screen, a high level of configurability, and some of the most advanced voice controls yet.
The 2013 Audi Allroad is also in contention, and it could also perhaps fit into this list; but because its luxury feature set is mostly carried over from the A4 family and its rugged crossover package is what's new and genuinely different in the market, we included it in yesterday's list of crossover nominees.
As we’ve mentioned in our posts earlier this week (surveying the sedan, crossover, and sports car and truck nominees), in order to qualify for The Car Connection’s Best Car To Buy shortlist, a vehicle must carry an Overall Rating, of at least 8 out of 10 in our full reviews (a composite of Styling, Performance, Comfort, Safety, and Features); be all-new (or substantially revised in a way that changes/broadens its appeal); and have a starting price under $50,000.
That still leaves room for plenty of accessible—or affordable—luxury, depending on your own income bracket. Watch our video overview of all the nominees, then click through the following pages for a brief up-close look at each of our luxury-category Best Car To Buy nominees. We pick only one TCC winner on December 10.
Overall Rating: 8.6
Bottom Line: With unerring focus on handling, Cadillac finally has the 3-Series' number with the 2013 ATS.
Cadillac's new ATS takes on the BMW 3-Series, as well as the Infiniti G37, with this compact spot sedan that crisply styled, nicely proportioned, loaded with technology, and very entertaining to drive. The techno-minimalism of GM's CUE interface may not be to everyone's liking in a sport sedan, and tight back-seat space makes this no substitute for a family sedan, however.
Overall Rating: 8.6
Bottom Line: The 2013 Cadillac XTS is everything a big comfort-oriented luxury sedan should be—plus a lot more, for the safety- and tech-focused.
As the new luxury flagship for the Cadillac lineup, the front- or all-wheel-drive XTS takes a completely different tack than the ATS. Interior space, safety, and a high-tech feature set are the priorities here, with a backseat that offers enough legroom for those who leave the driving to others. GM's CUE system, much the same as what's in the ATS, fits in better with the XTS's mission, while the MagneRide suspension manages to combine a quiet, composed ride with better handling responsiveness than you'd expect from a big, comfort-oriented sedan.
Overall Rating: 8.2
Bottom Line: Larger but leaner, the 2013 Lexus ES gains a hybrid model and some very attractive new styling to stave off strong new competition.
Over the years, we've come to appreciate the Lexus ES as a superb luxury sedan, but one that isn't really all that enjoyable to drive. With a redesign for 2013, Lexus has given the ES 350 the equivalent of some high-fashion sneakers with its suit; it's lighter and leaner and drives far more responsively than the previous version—all without getting in the way of comfort and quiet. And there's a new ES 300h Hybrid model that returns an EPA 40 mpg City.
Overall Rating: 8.2
Bottom Line: The 2013 Lexus GS 350 gains a little confidence and connectivity, while its competition gains some weight and complexity.
The Lexus GS sport sedans push Lexus even more directly up against the likes of the BMW 5-Series and the Jaguar XF in performance, but they push in a new, distinct direction with respect to styling and cabin appointments. With the new Lexus face on the outside and a special minimalist interior inside, swaddled in plush leather and LED lighting, the GS is warm and inviting in a way the German sedans aren't, and has a personality all its own. We're not complete converts on the styling, the driving feel, or the tech (like Remote Touch), but the new GS is a very good (and different) sport sedan.