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Best luxury sedans

Pampering cars that suit different drivers and budgets

Last updated: April 14, 2015 10:15 AM

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Like beauty, luxury is subjective… and for some even budget limited. Car shoppers seek different upscale attributes, such as creature comforts, ride quality, and effortless performance, and they clearly have varying ability to afford the finer things. But within each budget, there are indeed desirable models ready to spoil.

Because there are so many ways to parse luxury sedans, rather than provide a straight-up ranking by test score, we are highlighting the standout models for specific niches and attributes.

Each model here is extraordinary in its own way, but there are numerous covetable cars to consider, as featured in our luxury car buying guide.

Click through to read the complete road tests, and scan the reliability, owner cost, owner satisfaction, pricing, and other data. Or use our interactive tools to compile your own list based on the factors that matter most to you.

Jeff Bartlett

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Compact sedan: BMW 3 Series

Base MSRP price range: $32,950 - $62,000

The BMW 3 Series is an excellent car that boasts high quality, demonstrates careful attention to detail, and touts a long list of high-tech features. Dynamically, the car is agile, steady, and well balanced—even when pushed hard. And it delivers a very satisfying and balanced overall driving experience. Ride comfort, cabin quietness, and interior fit and finish are all impressive. The rear seat has received a little breathing room over the years, but it's still tight. And some controls remain needlessly complicated. The diesel 328d's 35-mpg overall is a standout in the class. A hybrid, an AWD wagon, and a less powerful 180-hp 320i version are also available. To the other extreme, the ultra-high-performance M3 can give Porsches and Chevrolet Corvettes a run for their money.

Read the complete BMW 3 Series road test.

Midsized sedan: Audi A6

Base MSRP price range: $44,800 - $75,500

The A6 outperforms many of its peers because it is so multi-talented. It provides an uplifting driving experience thanks to its responsive steering and tied-down suspension. But it also rides smoothly, leaving the bumps and ruts of the road outside the solid, vault-like cabin. The interior is quiet, sumptuous, and accommodating, with super comfortable and supportive seats keeping you fresh and ache-free. The trunk is large and beautifully finished. Interior quality and ambience is top notch, although it's more businesslike than glitzy. The A6 also provides an impressive variety of high-tech features, such as a 4G hotspot for connectivity and a touchpad interface.

Read the complete Audi A6 road test.

Ultra-luxury: Tesla Model S

Base MSRP price range: $76,200 - $106,200

The Tesla Model S is not only the best electric car we've tested, it's our top-rated model overall. This luxury sports car is brimming with innovation and delivers world-class performance. It provides razor-sharp handling, catapult-like acceleration, and excellent braking. The Tesla also rides comfortably, seats five adults plus two kids in an optional third-row seat, gets the equivalent of 84 mpg, and is one of the quietest cars we've ever driven. The new 70D base model has a dual-motor all-wheel drive system, along with a 70-kWh battery that gives it an EPA-rated range of 240 miles. With its hefty 85-kWh lithium-ion battery, the Model S we tested set new standards for EV driving range and recharge times. We found it can go between 180 and 225 miles on a charge. And it can be charged in five hours with a dedicated Tesla connector. We just bought a Model S P85D to test, with 691-hp and suite of active safety features. Look for P85D test findings in the weeks ahead.

Read the complete Tesla Model S road test.

Best fuel economy: Lexus ES 300h

Base MSRP price range: $37,700 - $40,580

While not the cossetting conveyance the ES used to be, the current ES provides a comfy, quiet interior and gets great fuel economy for the class. Although the ES rides well it's not luxury-car plush, feeling instead like a generic family sedan. Climb inside and you'll find adequate room, but it's not particularly spacious. Where the ES makes the cut here is with the zippy hybrid powertrain that squeezes out an excellent 36 mpg overall and 44 mpg on the highway. With a 17-gallon fuel tank, it has a 620-mile cruising range. Plus, it drinks regular gasoline—a cost-savings claim many peers can’t make.

Read the complete Lexus ES 300h road test.

Most reliable: Lexus GS 350

Base MSRP price range: $48,600 - $61,330

The GS competes well with other luxury sports sedans, delivering a balanced combination of ride, handling, quietness, and roominess. Where is has a distinct edge is with reliability. Its strong 306-hp, 3.5-liter V6 returned 21-mpg overall in our tests. Rear-drive versions have an eight-speed automatic, and all-wheel-drive models get a six-speed automatic. A 338-hp hybrid version with CVT is also available. Interior space is on a par with the class, and the cabin has the requisite luxury trim and materials throughout. Reliability can, and should, be a concern with true luxury cars. As these models push boundaries to have the very latest technology onboard, there can be risks of problems down the road. And with luxury models, repairs can carry a price premium. The GS shines with best-in-class reliability. In fact, based on the latest survey, we expect reliability of new models will be 48-percent above average.

Read the complete Lexus GS 350 road test.

Best American: Lincoln MKZ

Base MSRP price range: $35,190 - $37,080

The upscale MKZ is the most appealing and well-executed Lincoln in recent memory. Based on the Ford Fusion, it has a luxurious, quiet interior, and its ride and handling rival some high-end European sports sedans. Powertrains include a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and a 3.7-liter V6, each matched with a six-speed automatic. There's also a hybrid, which returned a near-class-best 34-mpg overall in our tests. The push-button gear selector and touch-sensitive controls for climate and audio functions are frustrating to use. And the modern styling compromises cabin access and rear-seat room. With many configurations to choose from, we’d pick the fuel-sipping hybrid, which, unlike many other hybrids, does not carry a price premium over the conventional gasoline powertrain.

Read the complete Lincoln MKZ road test.

Performance: Porsche Panamera

Base MSRP price range: $78,100 - $200,500

The Panamera offers the performance and feel that driving enthusiasts expect from a Porsche, but in a luxury sports car with seating for four. With very quick acceleration and excellent handling for its size, the Panamera cocoons passengers in a very well finished and comfortable cabin with rear seating that can accommodate adults. But the cockpit is somewhat snug, and the cluttered controls can be confusing. While the low-slung stance and firm suspension require compromises compared to a more upright traditional luxury sedan, the ride is civilized overall and the cabin is quiet. The hatchback design and folding rear seats add a measure of practicality.

Read the complete Porsche Panamera road test.

Most pampering: Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Base MSRP price range: $94,400 - $230,900

In almost every important attribute for a luxury car, the S-Class is a benchmark of excellence. The driving experience is first class, with an extremely hushed cabin, a supremely comfortable ride, and effortless power delivery. Handling is responsive and enjoyable. Unlike most competitors, when the corners become demanding, the S550's humongous size feels like it shrinks, allowing it to dance with the alacrity of a C-Class sports sedan. And in case the complicated controls distract you, and they will, the car will nudge you back into your lane and even stop for you in an emergency. The S-Class is indeed opulent and stately. Not only does it present a remarkable technological showcase, it hits the mark as a pampering, appealing, and enjoyable luxury liner.

Read the complete Mercedes-Benz S-Class road test.

Luxury alternative: Chevrolet Impala

Base MSRP price range: $27,060 - $40,660

Looking for a luxurious car without the upfront expense and elevated maintenance costs common with prestige-branded models? Test drive the Chevrolet Impala. Really. One of our top-rated sedans, the Impala is roomy, comfortable, quiet, and enjoyable to drive. It even rides like a luxury sedan, feeling cushy and controlled. Engine choices include a punchy 3.6-liter V6 and an adequately powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder, both paired with a six-speed automatic. The V6 accelerates and brakes capably, with secure and responsive handling. The full-featured cabin stays very quiet, with a sumptuous backseat and a huge trunk. Controls are intuitive and easy to use, but rear visibility is restricted. Advanced electronic safety features are readily available. A standard Wi-Fi hot spot is new. Overall, the Impala is a world-class sedan that outscores luxury-brand sedans costing $20,000 more.

Read the complete Chevrolet Impala road test.

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