With each model year, the term 'luxury' evolves just a bit, it seems—and the idea of what makes a luxury car has changed profoundly in the past decade or two. Everyone associates luxury with step-above comfort, top-tier materials, and exclusivity. That much has remained the same. And if the brand goes above and beyond, and it altogether makes you feel special, or it makes you look better, that's luxury, too.
For some years, luxury cars were also being defined, to some degree, around their interfaces, connectivity, and active safety; but we're seeing all of those things democratized—and that means, delightfully, getting astonishingly good touch-screen interface in a Chevrolet Spark, or a top-performing accident avoidance system in a Subaru Outback.
Where does that leave luxury? Going back to what it does well, being flashier—providing great performance, boosting your image, wowing with technology, and making you feel special. And whether we're pointing to the better-yet Acura MDX crossover or the brand-changing Mercedes-Benz CLA compact, these are vehicles that achieve that.
And as we've already covered with our Best Car To Buy Sedan Nominees, in order to qualify for this shortlist, a vehicle must achieve an Overall Rating of at least 8 out of 10 in our full reviews, representing a composite of Styling, Performance, Comfort, Safety, and Features; vehicles must also be all new (or changed in a way that significantly changes or broadens its appeal), and have an entry price under the $50,000 mark.
Click through the following pages for a quick look at each of our luxury-category Best Car To Buy nominees, and check back for more between now and the big announcement on November 12.
2014 Acura MDX
Overall Rating: 8.6
Bottom Line: The 2014 Acura MDX is more focused than ever on its mission of keeping the entire family comfortable, content, and entertained—and yes, that still includes the driver.
Acura no longer calls the MDX an SUV, or even a crossover, and we think that's a good thing. Forget about off-roading with this latest version of the MDX; Acura has instead focused on ride, handling, and on-the-road responsiveness—and making its cabin quieter than ever. The 2014 MDX has plenty of solid, practical family-hauler attributes to counter its charm, including some already-enviable safety ratings. The only downside? The navigation and audio interfaces; we can't find any good words for them.
2014 BMW 4-Series Coupe
Overall Rating: 8.2
Bottom Line: The 2014 BMW 4-Series builds on the best of the 3-Series with added performance benefits for its coupe form factor.
If you've driven a BMW 3-Series Sedan in its latest F30 form, you've almost driven the BMW 4-Series. Building on that great platform, but with a longer, wider, lower two-door Coupe profile, the 4-Series lineup impresses as a little sexier, while delivering a driving experience that's up to the same standards—if not a step ahead in some minor respects.
2014 Cadillac CTS
Overall Rating: 8.4
Bottom Line: The 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan scales up the ATS' handsome profile and spot-on handling, and tops it off with a winning Vsport edition.
Last year Cadillac introduced the all-new ATS as a legitimate contender against the likes of the BMW 3-Series. Now GM has applied some of that lighter-weight engineering to the Cadillac CTS, which really brought Cadillac back into consideration for a lot of luxury shoppers in its last generation. With new turbocharged engines for much of the lineup plus runway looks and one of the best cabins in the business, this luxury sedan wows inside and out.
2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid Sport
Overall Rating: 8.2
Bottom Line: With a hot new look, a Hybrid, some world-first technology, and much-improved cabin refinement--combined with a sharp, eager driving character--the 2014 Infiniti Q50 seeks new sport-sedan believers.
Forget about the perplexing Q50 badge, and the fact that the Q50 is replacing the G37 Sedan while that latter model is still being made and sold. Take a look at the striking sensual sheetmetal, the great new hourglass shape, and consider that one of the G Sedan's worst qualities—cabin noise—has been finally remedied. Factor in, too, that we found performance as eager as ever and the driving experience still a joy, and we have one of this year's top new performance-oriented luxury cars. Yes, the Q50's debut is confusing; but based on what we've seen of this sedan so far, it's improved in all the right ways.
2014 Kia Cadenza
Overall Rating: 8.2
Bottom Line: The 2014 Kia Cadenza is no sport sedan, but it's a screaming deal of a luxury car in nearly everything but the badge.
Kia doesn't call the Cadenza a luxury car, and while we think that's intentional, we can't help but include this premium sedan here among the luxury Best Car To Buy contenders. That's because its bottom-line sticker price can easily top $40k. But it's also handsome, comfortable, refined, and as well equipped as many true luxury-brand cars, so why not? If you can see past the badge, the Cadenza is still a good amount of luxurious car for the money.
2014 Lexus IS 350
Overall Rating: 8.0
Bottom Line: The 2014 Lexus IS is an important car for the brand, and at first impression, the redesign is off to a good start.
The Lexus IS needed more of an edge, and based on what we've so far seen of the redesigned 2014 model, it's a step in the right direction. This sport sedan gets a bolder look and much-improved interior, and even some LFA-inspired details. It's already definitely a step ahead in safety and features compared to the previous model, although a manual gearbox is sorely missing.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG, First Drive, Bilster Berg
Overall Rating: A scaled-down CLS with turbocharged performance, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA proves the car world is shrinking--even at the luxury level.
Bottom Line: 8.2
Mercedes-Benz is doubling down at the entry-level luxury market with its all-new CLA. This front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder model might be quite the about-face for the brand; yet it's really no gamble, as we can see the CLA hitting the mark for a wide range of shoppers, from those who want an image boost to those who simply like its feature set and upscale materials inside. The base CLA 250 and its EPA Combined rating of 30 mpg, the CLA250 makes a lot of sense for families, although the tiny backseat might not.