Can’t survive without leather, heated steering wheels, and a prestige brand? Luxury vehicles are where you start looking, but there’s a lot of variety here. Don’t just focus on the name. You should buy what you want, or what your lifestyle needs, whether that’s sport sedan, crossover, or SUV. Here are the vehicles that deliver maximum luxury for the value.
A BMW badge on the front of your ride is the worldwide announcement of “I’ve made it.” But what if you’ve made it in a heavily populated city with horrible parking and icy winters? Enter the BMW X1. Originally based on the compact 3-Series chassis, the car-like ride, efficiency, and handling translate well to this compact SUV. 32 MPG highway is impressive for an SUV of any size, especially when rolling on stylish 18-inch wheels. While the exterior looks like a baby BMW X5, the X1 packs a properly modern and swanky into this compact. Inside, fine leather covers adjustable lumbar supports and heated seats. There’s ambient lighting below the oak trim in the dash, and the gauge layout feels like a high-end sports car. Like the 3-Series, there’s a selection of inline four and six cylinder engines, and the X1 is available with an xDrive badge, which is BMW product-speak for all-wheel drive.
Sure, the ES is popular with entry luxury buyers, and the LS is the flagship that gets all the attention, but take another look at the GS. While there is Lexus’s sterling reputation for quality, you also want features that set it above corporate parent Toyota. The big 12.3-inch split screen infotainment system is fast and logically laid out, and looks amazing. Everything you touch in the cabin is high grade leather, and the cockpit layout looks reminiscent of a Gulfstream V. For a very brief time in the ’90s, the Lexus GS was considered the fastest sedan in the world. While it’s not currently fighting for that title, options under the hood are decent with a stout 240 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder in the GS300. If you need more force, there’s 305 horsepower in the GS350’s V6. With rear-wheel drive, excellent balance, and precise steering, the GS feels like a four-door Corvette, but unlike the Chevy, you can select all-wheel drive for a safer drive in inclement weather.
The “old money” car is traditionally an S-Class, for many solid reasons. “Engineered like no other car in the world” was the tagline for this halo Mercedes model, but it’s not just PR, it’s also true. Huge engineering budgets allowed the big German car a reputation for durability, and attention to detail was designed in. You can get this car with everything from a diesel inline four (in Europe) to a twin turbo V6, V8, or a V12 with the horsepower and torque of the Titanic. The interior looks like it was taken from Blade Runner 2049, with a large display, reconfigurable instrument cluster, and head-up display. Unlike most cars which limit the leather and wood, the cabin of the S-Class is all Nappa leather and real walnut, with a few accents of bright metalwork. It’s comfy and quiet enough to rent out on Airbnb. The S-Class even comes equipped with Magic Body Control, which scans the road ahead for uneven surfaces, and instantly adjusts the suspension to compensate and keep the interior smooth. The AMG S65’s MSRP starts at nearly a quarter million dollars, so if you’re not old money, get one slightly used.
Wondering why Lamborghini, Bentley, and even Ferrari are building SUVs now? It all started right here with the Cayenne. It sounded ludicrous, a sports car maker like Porsche building a ponderous SUV. But instead of that outcome, we received a game-changing SUV with real sports car cred. The steering and braking are especially impressive, proving that SUVs don’t have to drive like an old UPS truck. Since it is from a sporting brand, the Cayenne has real handling qualities, and makes the case that you can have a quick and well-handling sports car that just happens to seat five and all their luggage. There’s a diesel option if you need to tow, or just want to get a very acceptable 29 MPG highway. The interior is undeniably Porsche, with the gauge layout and controls recalling the 911. The 3.6-liter V6 makes 300 horsepower, and with AWD and a light chassis, it can haul you out of rough and muddy terrain or, more realistically, a wet Whole Foods parking lot.
Need to go off-roading? Get a Jeep Wrangler. Need off-road capability but want to haul people in comfort on a daily basis? Get a Range Rover. Pictures don’t do it justice, and the Rover looks more chiseled and polished in-person, like the body is milled out of one block of aluminum. The interior looks tough but refined, like it’s from the same tailor as James Bond’s suit. Land Rovers made a name decades ago as the stalwart of the African Safari, and there’s still real off-road capability here today too, even with those optional 21 inch wheels. Whether heading down dirt roads to a cabin, or just icy streets in the Midwest, the full-time four-wheel drive will do it all and get you back safely. Speaking of, the Range Rover scored a perfect five stars in Europe’s NCAP tests. The 3.0-liter diesel is small but packs a wallop of torque, the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 turns this SUV into a rocket, and the supercharged V6 borrowed from Jaguar offers the best mix of performance and value.