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Entry Level Luxury Performance Sedans

cybersolcybersol Posts: 91
edited January 2015 in General
Entry level performance luxury sedans are a hot area for car manufacturers and enthusiasts alike. These sedans show their performance by being fun to drive and handling well. They show luxury by offering leather and some of the important creatures comforts found in the most luxurious upscale sedans. The selection of vehicles that compete in the space is vast and varied.

The benchmarks which define this are the BMW 330 and the Audi A4 3.0. But there are many contenders, such as Acura TL-S, Chrysler 300M, Jaguar X-type, Infiniti I35, Mercedes C-Class, Volvo S60 T5. Some companies have contenders that emphasize performance Lexus IS300 or luxury Lexus ES300. And the field is continously growing, with the recent additions being the Cadillac CTS and Infiniti G35.

The common charateristics of this entry level perfomance luxury group seem to a price around 30 to 40k (US dollars) and 0-60 times between six and eight seconds.

With this wide variety of cars targeted at a similar market segment, the choices for our own personal car are great. But with all these choices, it is hard to understand and personally evaluate all these options. So this topic has been created to start a discussion on the relative merits and personalities of the cars available in this entry level performance luxury field.


  • merc1merc1 Posts: 6,081
    I personally think that with a few tweaks the C320 could also sit at the top of this group. It's still more of a entry-level luxury sedan than Mercedes would lead you to believe. The C320 "Sport" needs to have it's suspension retuned to accept 17 inch tires without a harsh ride. MB also needs to stop forcing metal trim and black leather on everyone that wants the sport package. The C240's 6-speed wouldn't hurt either if offered on the C320, though it needs to be "fixed" first.

    That said, my favorite of the group is (gasp!) the new A4 3.0. The A4 easily has the best interior of any sub-40K car, combine that with stunning looks and a body that is as rigid as any ever made and you have my personal favorite. The single thing I don't like about the A4 is the grey trim around the bottom of the car. This trim doesn't match any of the body colors, as it should be body color anyway. This is an excellent car and in my opinion the best there is under 40K. The upcoming A4 Convertible, Coupe and S4 WILL all be winners.

    The BMW 330i is now an old favorite, but I'm (of all people) starting to tire of the 3-Series just a bit, save the M3 variants. I was kind of dissappointed by the 2002 facelift, they could have done a little more in the way of styling. I hope they do a little more for 2003 with the coupe models.

    The Acura TL-S is easily my favorite fwd car in this class. Wonderful engine (you actually can hear it) and decent handling for a front driver. Nice price, seats and what not, not hard to see why the TL is so popular. This car's main faults are styling and obvious cost-cutting in the interior, stereo, fake wood etc. Otherwise a standout.

    Lexus ES300. Nice, but not my type of car at all. This is one for the Buick set. The IS300 is half baked, but has a wonderful chassis. Styling is also in question here, it simply doesn't look like a 35K car (grown). The interior is gawd-awful. Bet on the next IS300 being done right from the start. In their defense Toyota didn't initially intend for this car to be sold in the U.S. so it was a rush job.

    The CTS holds the greatest unrealized potential here. I've seen several now, and each time I see one they look better and better. Again like the C320, IS300 the car has interior issues. The dash feels like it was made by Rubbermaid. If you're going to be stingy with wood trim, why bother? Half of the steering wheel in wood, and very little anywhere else in the car??? The seats are very good though, as is the handling. A work in progress.

    The G35 looks like it may have a winning chassis, but the interior, though clean looking seems to be styled about 10 years ago, lots of square shapes and flat surfaces. Another great engine, waiting to drive this one.

    Don't really care much for the X-Type. If I were a Jaguar man I'd be truly pissed at Ford and Jaguar for this one. They are actually selling a fwd X-Type in England and I've read where they're thinking about selling it here! Hell no. The car should have been rwd not awd. Some will tell you that this was done to compete with Audi. Thats BS, awd was the only way to keep the car from being fwd, WITHOUT spending the money to convert the car to rwd. It is a good looking car though and that Jaguar "leaper" will be enough for some, but this car has to grow on me.

    The Chrysler 300M is about as close to an Audi that American cars come. This new 300M "Special" is truly a good looking car inside and out. One problem: Where is the performance???? A 255hp car *in this class) with a 0-60 time over 8 seconds is not accpetable. Something is not right here. Some say engine, transmission and/or gearing, but whatever it is, Chrysler needs to let some MB engineers have a look at this car. The heavier E320 with less power is faster. I still like this car, but it's no lust object once you get past the great styling.

  • fredvhfredvh Posts: 857
    I am debating a new purchase and these two are at the top of my list. The price difference between these two is approx. 6K (non-Type S Acura). Is the ES300 worth 6K over the TL? I don't know because I have never owned a TL but I am familiar with the ES300(previous generation). Supposedly the 2002 ES300 is a lot better than the previous generation but is it that much better than the TL? Of great importance to me is initial quality and overall dependability. Does the TL compare with the ES300 in both of these categorys? I am not familiar with the Honda Co. Are prices lower than Lexus for service work? I would appreciate any input on this dilemma from some TL owners.
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257
    Great handling, RWD, excellent engine and the best warranty around. Easy winner.
  • And no manual tranny. That may not matter to you, but it most certainly does matter to me and many other enthusiast drivers.

    So IMO, it's not even on the board, let alone the 'easy winner'.
  • riezriez Posts: 2,361
    One beauty of BMW 3 Series is that there are so many models to choose from. Almost half of all buyers in America don't get the basic RWD 4 door sedan. Besides having 3 engine and 3 transmission choices, you can get coupe, convertible, AWD, station wagon, and super-high performance M-Series!!!

    hungrywhale... I concur that having the availability of a manual transmission across the line is absolutely critical!!!
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257
    good grief, so you wait 9 months for the manual. Even with an auto, I prefer to every car listed and I NEVER have owned an auto and never thought I'd enjoy driving a car with an auto. That's what value, performance and an exceptional engine can do for a car. Once the G has a stick there is not another sedan under the M3 that I'd consider.
  • I'll give it a fair shot when the manual comes out, but I'm just flat-out not interested in an auto. I don't care how fast it is. It's not about the speed, it's about the driving experience and having more control over the car.
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257
    I understand it's not about the speed. I really don't care if the car won't do over 100 as I rarely break the century mark. What I do care about is power and with the manual mode on the auto, I can get it when I want it. Will I buy an auto-equipped G? In all likelihood, no. I desperately want to drive the 6 speed.
  • It sounds like you know why I won't even put it on my list (let alone at the top) until the manual comes out.
  • riezriez Posts: 2,361
    Is there such a thing as an automatic-only true performance sedan? Not in my book. Certainly not in Europe or Asia. Only in America is such an oxymoron possible. Sad.

    If or when the manual G35 comes out and the coupe version, then the G35 will be interesting enough to be a serious contender in this segment.
  • wishnhigh1wishnhigh1 Posts: 363
    If I had to rank the entry lux performance sedans, here is what I would choose:

    Audi A4 3.0(lots of bang for the buck, loads of style and loads of luxury)

    Cadillac CTS( Decent BTFB, good handling, non-lemming style)

    Infinity G35(Tons of BFTB, good luxury, but completely boring exterior and even more boring of an interior)

    BMW 325(very little BFTB, excellent handling/build quality/resale, classy looking but too conservative for me)

    SAAB Viggen(almost zero BFTB, spotty build quality, but the damn coolest style in the world).

    Everything else is not worth my time
  • shiposhipo Posts: 9,148
    Hey my friend, dig this, in Australia, the ONLY 5-Series that can be had with a manual gearbox is the M5! Yeah, right, not the 525i, 530i, 535i or the 540i, they are all automatic only. :-(

    Best Regards,
  • mbartombarto Posts: 24
    >"Is there such a thing as an automatic-only true performance sedan? Not in my book. Certainly not in Europe or Asia. Only in America is such an oxymoron possible. Sad.
    If or when the manual G35 comes out and the coupe version, then the G35 will be interesting enough to be a serious contender in this segment."

    Riez, I read from your profile that you have a manual BMW 5-series. But I think you are wrong to not consider a car such as a Infiniti G35 to be a serious contender as a performance luxury sedan. From your logic, then the BMW 3-series (your wife's) or the 5-series with the Steptronic should not be contenders either. That's belittling the Infiniti, Audi, Lexus, Acuras, BMW's etc. with automatics.

    When I return in December from Qatar, I plan on purchasing a sports sedan. I'm leaning on the G35, but the BMW 330i along with the Audi S4 are also contenders. IMO, if the handling of the Infiniti is as good as the BMW as some that drove it has stated, then it will hard to pass up especially for the price. Also my first choice will be a manual, and Infiniti should have the manual out by December. I will test drive all three, manual and automatics, and make my choice from there.

    I do agree with you that manuals are more fun to drive, and that will be my first choice. But, automatics in this category, especially those made by BMW, Infiniti and others, should not be eliminated as performance sedans. Different flavors for different people.

    I have been following discussions on many boards and what I have been noticing is that there is so many "experts" on what is the best sports sedan. And most haven't even driven the competitors to give an honest opinion. This is not aimed at you Riez or Shipko, because your profiles states that you own a BMW already. But from what I noticed is that some BMW "supportors" don't even own a BMW, (at least not from their profile) or they state that they never drove an Infiniti G35, but they still make "unsupported" facts, assumptions or opinions on such. (See the Edmund's BMW 3-series discussion). I hope in your defense, Reiz, that you drove the automatic Infiniti G35, to give an opinionated statement that it doesn't classify as a performance sedan. I value your opinion and others as well.

    Again, I'm not flaming you, but I try to be an informed consumer before I buy anything. That is the reason that I will drive every car that I'm interested in and make my choice from there. I'm also always interested in those opinions from people that own the type of car I'm shopping for and at least drove it, so they can give valid pro/negative statements.

  • I think what riez and I are trying to say is not that automatics perform poorly or that only weenies drive them :)

    But any car that truly holds itself out as a performance sedan NEEDS at least the option of a manual tranny. Manuals are always faster than automatics and they are almost always the choice of the enthusiast driver.

    There's nothing at all wrong with automatics, but I sure don't want one.
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257
  • dave330idave330i Posts: 893
    In this class, the best bang for the buck has to be IS300, assuming one can live with the styling.

    I guess I'm one of the few that likes the old A4 styling to the new. Isn't the new A4 pushing 3600 lbs. now? That's pretty heavy for this class.
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257
    Even at 29k for a 35k msrp IS300, I passed on it. Now I never drove a manual one (they weren't out yet) but even with a manual, given the car's horrible drive-feel, poor interior and lethargic steering, I don't think I'd go near one. They're not up to Audi/BMW/MB/Infiniti.
  • wishnhigh1wishnhigh1 Posts: 363
    Never liked a lexus, and probably never will. I would rather drive the CTS. There is always something that irritates me about them. I would buy the IS as a Toyota but not a Lexus...I personally think Lexus should have a car in its lineup with this cheap of an interior and with this much sporting character. Toyota deserves something like it though.

    Also, I don't think 215 horsepower for 29k is a lot of bang for the buck, considering the G35 is the same price with 260 horsies.
  • dave330idave330i Posts: 893
    "I would buy the IS as a Toyota but not a Lexus"

    How else are they going to get that extra $5k from you then? ;)

    Reasonably equipped G35 goes for $33k or so.
  • riezriez Posts: 2,361
    I couldn't have said it better myself. I'll let you lead services! :)

    mbarto... I most certainly will test a G35 manual if and when it finally comes out. I promise!!! Automatics make nice luxury sedans and maybe even sporty luxury sedans. But NOT performance sedans or luxury performance sedans. (I don't even consider the 540iA Sport truly worthy, though it is as close as one can get in an automatic. If I could just get my wife to drive a manual....)
  • mbartombarto Posts: 24
    Thanks Riez! Let me know when you do. I'm sure you'll get a chance before I will since I won't return until December. I am curious of how it compares to the BMW's. YOU can speak from experience, so I'll value your opinion.

    It does make a difference being married. (LOL! see the latest discussions on the Infiniti G35 vs BMW 330i board). First, I'm fortunate to have a wife that can drive a manual. Not that she prefers that, her first choice is an automatic. But she appreciates the hard work and sacrifice I'm doing out here, and knows that this car is for me first, family second. Of course, it helps my cause when I let her buy a new dining room set last month, and new living room drapes this month. Bribes do help! Whatever I finally decide, I'm sure she'll be happy.
  • riezriez Posts: 2,361
    mbarto... As regards the "bribes" issue, you've figured out one of life's great truism: You get what you want so I can get what I want."
  • cybersolcybersol Posts: 91
    So if someone were looking to purchase a new performance luxury sedan today, what cars would they HAVE to take a look at and test drive? Lets say they only had time to look at five?

    What five would they have to look into?
  • riezriez Posts: 2,361
    Since it has to have a manual transmission and should be RWD (AWD/4WD adds too much weight and complexity) and has to be fun to drive hard...

    1. BMW 3 Series manual
    2. Lexus IS300 manual
    3. Cadillac CTS manual
    4. Lincoln LS6 manual

    If you want affordable and can go FWD, then add Nissan Maxima 6-speed with LSD and maybe Altima 3.5SE 5-speed.

    Try to get car with LSD. Inline 6s are magnificently smooth engines.

    Possible future car: Infiniti G35 sedan when it finally gets the 6-speed manual.
  • coolguyky7coolguyky7 Posts: 932
    The TL should be up for redesign in a few years so a TL would be outdated in the not so far future. And besides, it seems like everyone who drives an Acura drives the TL. I LOVE the ES300. Some say it looks bloated; I don't think it does. At the 3/4 angle, it looks impressive. The interior is as nice as a car can get. If I had the money, I would buy an ES300 in a heartbeat. I never did like the past ones' boring styling...especially since the last two generations were nearly twins. Go with the ES. Besides, Lexus' quality is ahead of Acura's.
  • kdshapirokdshapiro Posts: 5,751
    The new ES is a very smart looking car. Notwithstanding any engine issues though, I think there are direct price competitors like the I35 that offer better overall value on paper. Now I haven't driven either new model, I did drive the older ES300 and it did it's job very well. They are both great cars. Lexus for legendary reliability and resale value, Infiniti for up-to-date features.
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257 left off the Infiniti G35 and it's bland, boring brother the I35 (the ES300's competition).

    29k gets someone a 4 door 260 HP performance entry level luxury sedan with all sorts of goodies.
  • jagboyxkrjagboyxkr Posts: 53
    Sorry, I thought that I had already taken up too much space, and I also was getting tired of typing. When I check out an Infiniti G35, maybe I'll post something on it.

    I always thought the I35's looked all right, even if they aren't the most exciting cars ever built.
  • blueguydotcomblueguydotcom Posts: 6,257
    Go drive one. They're a blast and for the money they're a steal. If someone wants entry level performance luxury at a great price, the G's really tough to beat.

    Save for BMW, it sort of stands head and shoulders over most of its competition.
  • I can't make a decision. I was set on the MB C240 but then I read some postings from people who got lemons. Now I am starting to think that the Audi 3.0 CVT front wheel drive is what I shoud get. Any advice? Low manintenance is what I am looking for.
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