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In the Lap of Luxury

Cadillac's most expensive car, the two-seat XLR offers a power hardtop for both open-air and coupe driving, and a 320-horsepower Northstar V8.

Incorporating the latest in performance, convenience and safety features that an automaker has to offer . . .

Luxury cars can represent the ultimate in vehicle amenities, while often showcasing the latest in automotive technology. Many luxury cars rank as flagship models, and historically the luxury segment is where the newest auto innovations can be found. These innovations are available on luxury sedans, coupes and convertibles.

Luxury models range from BMW's 3-Series, which has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $27,000 for a base 325i, to the 2004 Mercedes-Benz SL600 that starts around $126,000.

In spite of increasing consumer interest in luxury SUVs over the past couple of years, luxury cars continue to be the choice of many drivers looking for the ultimate in automotive comfort.

Lexus Leads in Total Sales
Lexus has become the top luxury brand in the U.S., and the flagship LS 430 offers safety features such as vehicle skid control, high-intensity discharge headlights and available options such as adaptive variable suspension and laser cruise control.

Lexus also offers the SC 430. It's a stylish two-plus-two coupe with a power-folding hardtop. The Lexus GS 430 and 300 are spirited sedans with six- and eight-cylinder offerings. Other Lexus models include the IS 300 and ES 330.

BMW Ranks Second in U.S. Sales
BMW's 7-Series includes plenty of technology, too. Mechanical features include an electronic active roll stabilization system with split anti-roll bars to better manage road dynamics and reduce body roll in cornering. The 7-Series also was the first BMW to include the automaker's novel iDrive system, which consolidates a variety of communication, climate control, navigation and entertainment controls into a single knob on the car's center console.

In the 2004 model year, the iDrive, as well as some of the styling cues from the 7-Series, come to the new fifth-generation 5-Series. The 2004 BMW 525i and 530i are, overall, a bit bigger than their predecessors, but are also a bit lighter, thanks to judicious use of lightweight materials.

Not to be missed on the new 5-Series: the high-tech active steering that senses, based on the car's speed, turning input and automatically adjusts the steering ratio for quick response.

Mercedes Is Third in U.S. Sales
German carmaker Mercedes has a long history of luxury and innovation that includes development of airbags. Indeed, today's SL-Class, for example, has safety features that include dual-stage front airbags, head and thorax side airbags, and a driver's knee airbag as well as pop-up roll bar and electronic braking system.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan goes further and has as standard equipment a PreSafe system that automatically positions seats and pretensions seat belts just before a collision occurs. In addition, Mercedes offers its 4Matic all-wheel-drive system on all its models.

As for performance, the choices are varied. For example, the Mercedes S600 has a twin-turbo V12 with 493 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, while the S55 AMG is powered by a supercharged 5.5-liter V8 with 493 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque.

The S55 AMG isn't the only performance model to wear the AMG badge. The midsize Mercedes-Benz E-Class comes in an E55 AMG version with 469-horsepower 5.5-liter supercharged V8, and there are the C32 AMG, CLK55 AMG, CL55 AMG, SL55 AMG, and SLK32 AMG models, too. AMG models are limited production cars from Mercedes' motorsports and performance group.

Domestic Luxury Brands
Cadillac's return as a force in the luxury segment has been well documented in recent years. Cadillac is now in fourth spot among luxury car brands in sales. In 2004 the automaker launches its halo car, the XLR roadster. Besides its striking styling, the two-seat XLR has a power hardtop for both open-air and coupe driving and a 320-horsepower Northstar V8. At a manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $75,000, the XLR is Cadillac's most expensive car.

Meantime, Cadillac's Seville is nearing its next-generation version, Cadillac's CTS sedan adds a high-performance V-Series in 2004, and the full-size DeVille sedan continues in the lineup.

Lincoln, with sales that typically put it in fifth or sixth spot among luxury brands, continues with its large Town Car, now with a higher torque capacity transmission, and the smaller LS sedan, which has a revised suspension in 2004 for an improved ride.

Several of the 2004 luxury models are available as open-air cruisers. Already mentioned are the Cadillac XLR, Mercedes SL-Class and Lexus SC 430—all of which have power retractable hardtops with boots (or rear covers) that come down and position themselves automatically.

Other convertibles in this class are the Volvo C70, Audi TT, Ford Thunderbird, and Jaguar XK Series . Engines here run the gamut, from a 180-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged four cylinder in the base TT to a 390-horsepower 4.2-liter supercharged V8 in the Jaguar XKR, to the new-for-2004 twin-turbo V12 with 493 horses in the Mercedes SL.

Note the TT can be had with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Other Luxury Car News
In 2004 Volkswagen enters the U.S. luxury car segment for the first time in its history.

The new VW Phaeton is a four- or five-passenger large sedan—nearly 204 inches long, in fact—with the quiet, unfettered ride and amenities expected in a luxury car. There are two engines: a 335-horsepower 4.2-liter V8, and a 420-horsepower 6.0-liter W12.

"The Phaeton is the most technologically advanced, dynamic, luxurious and most well thought out Volkswagen ever built," said Frank McGuire, vice president of sales and marketing for Volkswagen of America. With a starting MSRP of more than $64,000, the Phaeton, with standard 4Motion all-wheel drive, is also the most expensive VW ever offered in the U.S.

The 2004 model year also is a busy one for Acura, which is Honda's luxury brand. A new, higher-powered, third-generation TL is out. It distinguishes itself from competitors with its high-tech audio system—not found as factory equipment in any other vehicle— and standard Bluetooth communications. Acura also continues with its top-of-the-line RL sedan.

In the market for a new car? MSN Autos is pleased to provide you with information and services designed to save you time, money and hassle. Click to research prices and specifications on any new car on the market or click to get a free price quote through MSN Autos' New-Car Buying Service.


Near-Luxury
Passenger Cars

A new entry in the near-luxury segment, the rear-wheel-drive Infiniti G35 sedan is powered by a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine.

Designed to meet popular demand for value-priced luxury and performance.

The near-luxury segment is already very competitive, and there are a number of significant new entries for 2003. The near-luxury category includes not only the midsize cars from luxury brands such as Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln, but also the upper-end models from other manufacturers.

More specifically, what defines a near-luxury car? Is it price, manufacturer, technology, amenities, or a combination of all of these elements? For categorization purposes, MSN Autos defines near-luxury cars as well-appointed sedans and coupes, with prices starting in the neighborhood of $30,000. Near-luxury models are designed to offer luxury and performance in a price range lower than true luxury or high-performance cars.

If you do not find a particular vehicle you would expect to see on a list of near-luxury cars, please check our article on true luxury vehicles.

New Entries for 2003
Cadillac and Infiniti both offer new entries in the near-luxury segment for the 2003 model year that promise to be contenders in this highly competitive arena. The all new Cadillac CTS has bold, cutting-edge styling and is the first rear-drive Cadillac in 50 years to offer a manual transmission. The CTS is powered by a 220-horsepower V6 and the suspension was tuned at the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

The Infiniti G35 is another all-new sporty addition to the near-luxury segment, taking aim at the most popular German and Japanese competitors. The G35 Sport Sedan went on sale in March 2002 and the four-passenger G35 Sport Coupe joined the lineup in November. Both the coupe and sedan are front-engine rear-wheel-drive platforms with fresh, crisp designs and advanced technology aimed at driving enthusiasts. The 3.5-liter V6 produces 260 horsepower in the sedan and 280 horsepower in the coupe.

Near-Luxury News
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series are benchmarks in the near-luxury segment, and both manufacturers up the ante in 2003. For the first time, Mercedes-Benz offers the 4Matic all-wheel drive system for C240 and C320. Also, a new 189-horsepower 1.8-liter supercharged 4-cylinder is now the standard engine for the C230 sports coupe, which was added to the C-Class lineup for 2002.

The 2004 BMW 3-Series Coupe goes on sale in the spring of 2003 with new features that include adaptive headlights, updated front-end styling and an available sequential manual gearbox (SMG). A Performance Package is also available for the 2003 330i, which boosts horsepower to 235 and includes a standard 6-speed manual transmission for the first time in a 330i. To go with the added power, the Performance Package adds a new sports suspension and 18-inch wheels with mixed-size performance tires.

The Lincoln LS is updated for 2003 with a new grille surround, fascia, mirrors, rear deck lid, taillights, license plate surround and wheels. Variable valve timing and electronic throttle control improve power and smoothness for both 3.9 V8 and 3.0 V6 engines. Other updates include improved interior storage, available burl walnut and satin nickel interior trim; standard power pedals; available heated and cooled front seats; and available heated rear seats.

More News
Saab introduces the new 9-3 Sport Sedan to replace the 9-3 hatchback, powered by new turbocharged 2.0-liter engines, producing 175 to 210 horsepower. A new 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic is available along with second-generation Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR).

The Toyota Avalon gets a freshened exterior, a revised interior, and new multi-stage airbags for 2003 The XLS receives more standard equipment, new 16-inch alloy wheels, and an optional DVD navigation system.

Volvo adds the S60 R to the S60 lineup in the spring of 2003, with a 300-horsepower turbo-charged 5-cylinder engine, electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive, and either a new 6-speed manual transmission or an optional Geartronic 5-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. The S60 R will offer Volvo's Four-C Technology (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) which Volvo refers to as the most advanced active performance chassis, to offer the capability of both high-performance and comfortable ride.

Over the past couple of years, several luxury manufacturers have added near-luxury models, including Jaguar with the introduction of its first compact sport sedan in 30 years. The X-TYPE—featuring standard all-wheel drive, V6 power and a 5-speed manual transmission—is aimed squarely at the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS 300, with a starting price right around $30,000.

The Lexus ES 300 was updated for the 2002 model year and now rides on a new platform that allows for a larger car with a roomier interior. Updates to its V6 engine improve acceleration. A new standard feature is dual-zone automatic climate control with an air filtration system. The Lexus IS 300 now offers a 5-speed manual transmission and for 2003 new optional wheel and tire packages including 17-inch 5-spoke aluminum alloy wheels with all-season tires, 17-inch 11-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, and 16-inch wheels with all-season tires.

Other contenders in the near-luxury segment include the Acura CL (now available with a 6-speed manual transmission) and TL, Chrysler 300M, Oldsmobile Aurora and Infiniti I35.

In the market for a new car? MSN Autos is pleased to provide you with information and services designed to save you time, money and hassle. Click to research prices and specifications on any new car on the market or click to get a free price quote through MSN Autos' New-Car Buying Service.

 


Luxury Competition Highlights

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan offers, as standard equipment, a PreSafe system that automatically positions seats and pretensions seat belts just before a collision.

The 2004 Lincoln LS sedan has revised suspension for an improved ride.

BMW's 7-Series was the first BMW to include the automaker's novel iDrive system, which consolidates communication, climate, navigation and entertainment controls into a single knob on the car's center console.

Flagship of the Lexus line, the LS 430 offers safety features such as vehicle skid control and high-intensity discharge headlights. Options include adaptive variable suspension and laser cruise control.

For the first time in its history, Volkswagen enters the U.S. luxury car segment with the Phaeton sedan. This new VW offers two engines: a 335-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 and a 420-horsepower 6.0-liter W12.


Near Luxury Competition Highlights

The Cadillac CTS has bold, cutting-edge styling and is the first rear-drive Cadillac in 50 years to offer a manual transmission. The CTS suspension was tuned at the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

Powered by a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V6, the Chrysler 300M can be equipped with an optional Performance Handling package.

With 215 horsepower on tap, the Lexus IS 300 takes on German rivals such as the BMW 330i and Audi A4.

The Mercedes-Benz C320 features a 3.2-liter 215-horsepower V6 engine and a driver-adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift.

 

 

 


Segment Participant Comparison

HONDA AUDI BMW TOYOTA GM
Acura RL Audi A6 BMW 3-Series  x Lexus ES 330 x Cadillac CTS x
Acura TL Audi A8 BMW 5-Series Lexus GS Cadillac DeVille
Acura CL  x Audi S4 BMW 7-Series Lexus IS 300  x Cadillac Seville
  Audi A4   x BMW M3 Lexus LS 430 Cadillac XLR
      Lexus SC 430 Buick Park Avenue
      Toyota Avalon Saab 9-5
        Oldsmobile Aurora
         
         
FORD MERCEDES BENZ VOLKSWAGEN NISSAN CHRYSLER
Ford Thunderbird Mercedes-Benz C-Class  x Volkswagen Phaeton Infiniti M45 Chrysler 300M

x

Jaguar S-TYPE Mercedes-Benz CL-Class   Infiniti Q45  
Jaguar X-TYPE  x Mercedes-Benz CLK   Infiniti G35  x  
Jaguar XJ Series Mercedes-Benz E-Class   Infiniti I35    x  
Jaguar XK Series Mercedes-Benz S-Class      
Lincoln LS  x Mercedes-Benz SL-Class      
Lincoln Town Car Mercedes-Benz SLK      
Volvo C70        
Volvo S80        
Volvo S60  x        
MITSUBISHI        
Mitsubishi Diamante  x        
         
         

 

Types marked ( x ) are near luxury segment.