For practically minded CEOs, $40,000 to $50,000 luxury sedans are the sweet spot of the automotive market these days. Part of the reason is that other contenders are fading. Behemoth SUVs, for example, scream “gas hog,” well appointed though they might be. Six-figure cruisers bespeak excess in an environment today where the CEO wants to be seen as anything but self-indulgent. And fast little sports cars are for, well, retirement.
If you want to drive in the lap of luxury sedans, there are lots to choose from-cars that are fun and good-looking as well as comfortable, reasonably fuel-efficient and just sensible overall. Automakers put their best foot forward in exactly this part of the market, where healthy sticker prices and high margins give them the chance to integrate their most robust power trains with their best transmissions, highest-quality materials and niftiest technology features, and other amenities.
Lincoln MKZ is Ford’s spanking-new attempt to retain its once-solid standing in the luxury segment. At prices starting around $29,000, the renamed Zephyr is the best value in this group. It offers a quintessentially American take on luxury, with conservative styling, an exclusive new 263-hp. engine for 2008, roomy and comfortable interior and a square and useful trunk. Competitive touches include standard driver and passenger lumbar supports. But it’s difficult to hide the fact that the MKZ shares a mechanical platform with smaller cars, meaning that it simply lacks the overall responsiveness, handling dynamics, interior-design quality and refinement of the European entries in this segment. Of the Japanese luxury makes,
Brand new from the GM shop, the 2008-model Cadillac STS represents the worthiest American competitor in this segment. At 302 hp., its new 6-cyl. engine has more raw output than the other two cars, nimble handling for a longish body and a reassuring road feel-though it’s simply not as quick, responsive or solid as the BMW 535i or Mercedes E350. For prices starting at about $43,000, GM has loaded the STS with new technology, including a lane-departure warning system to help drowsy drivers: It flashes an indicator on the fuel gauge, and chimes three times, so you can right the ship. But STS displays at least one puzzling drawback: The opening of the capacious trunk is curiously small, making it difficult to fit in, say, a hefty bag of golf clubs.
|The BMW 535i might comprise the pinnacle of this segment: Its prices start at about $50,000. The 535i is powered flawlessly by BMW’s new twin-turbo 6-cyl. engine, which can zap you from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds while you maintain total control. But the 535i is also big on comfort for all occupants, thanks to a ride that is unfailingly solid and seating that is easy on your frame. In fact, the driver’s seat bolsters fill in with support around your body right after you sit down. There’s more leather than you might expect. Unfortunately, the interior’s new bamboo anthracite wood trim is a ghastly gray mess. Keep your eyes on the road and you’ll be all right|
Now, if you’ve got a big 2007 bonus coming and want to raise your automotive sights, you might also consider a statement sedan like the Jaguar XJ Super V8. For a mere $92,000, this British-built beauty will propel you down the highway behind its 400-hp., supercharged V8 engine, cosset you with wonders such as 20-way power-seat controls, and do it all with such quiet aplomb that you can truly enjoy the 320- watt, 12 speaker Alpine sound system. And unlike less-expensive Jags, there’s no mistaking the styling heritage of this car. The few drawbacks include doors that don’t close easily and seat bolsters that are tough to slide over. But if you really want to “rough it,” choose one of the other five sedans instead.