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In searching for the best luxury cars, 2018 to 2020 models were considered and in compiling our rankings we not only looked at specs and performance, but we also looked at style, build and materials quality, and the always subjective, but all-important element of aesthetics. After all, the best luxury cars should feel special, offering brilliant engineering and the best car stereos and sound systems, as well good looks and charm.
After covering miles of city streets and snaking mountain highways in the top 20 luxury cars, we came away most impressed with the Mercedes S-Class, which gives you interior quality beyond anything else we’ve seen from the top luxury car brands. Read on to see more of our picks for the best luxury cars and best luxury SUV.
Award: BEST LUXERY SEDAN
WHY WE LIKE IT: Unmatched interior quality, top notch materials, plenty of gadgets and well engineered performance hardware make the S-Class the leader when it comes to the best luxury sedans. Available tech includes hybrid gas-electric powertrains, thermal imaging cameras, massaging seats and bespoke cabin perfumes.
Though its current design dates back to 2014, the Mercedes S-Class still looks fresh and still turns heads on the road. Eschewing the rather bland and busy styling of its predecessor, the current S-Class signaled a new direction for Mercedes Benz styling and proved it was still at the forefront of the top luxury car brands. The S-Class range includes a wide variety of models ranging from the almost eco friendly, whisper quiet hybrid S560e to the V-12 powered S65 AMG and Maybach S65 ultra luxe models. If you want to make sure your power stays contained on the road, take a look at the best radar detector too.
Since 2018 the Mercedes S class has offered technical wizardry like semi autonomous driving, a configurable digital dashboard and an active suspension that leans the car into turns like a motorcycle.
Award: BEST ELECTRIC
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Model 3 combines the best aspects of Tesla’s high performance electric sedans in a more livable, compact form, offering precise, sports car worthy steering, blistering acceleration and a full suite of autonomous driving features, plus Tesla’s famous over-the-air updates.
The Model 3 is our pick for the best electric luxury car, and is among the best luxury cars overall if you value quiet, smooth driving and surge of electric motor torque. Like the larger and more expensive Tesla Model S, the Model 3 is eligible for over the air updates, and it features the hardware capability for autonomous driving.
Where the Model 3 really stands out, though, is from behind the wheel. A low center of gravity and well turned steering gives the Model 3 sports car driving attributes. Add in the instantaneous rush of electric acceleration and you’ve got a seriously fun luxury vehicle. Even the base, single motor Tesla Model 3 reaches 60 mph in around 5 seconds, and the dual motor version gets there in closer to 4 seconds flat. If you want to add some personality to your Tesla, take a look at some of the best car accessories.
Award: BEST COMPACT
WHY WE LIKE IT: If you like the traditional BMW virtues of simple controls and an engaging, tactile driving experience, then the 2 series coupe, offered since 2014, is definitely one of the best luxury cars. 2018 brought a slight refresh, but this sporty coupe remains one of the last modern cars that provides the fun of an old school BMW compact.
While the 2-series coupe isn’t the cheapest BMW you can buy, it is the model that adheres most to the brand’s traditional sporting virtues. The 4-cylinder 230i and even the 6-cylinder M235i, M240i and high performance M2 models are lightweight for a modern car and they are relatively free of electronic trickery, relying instead on well-tuned physical controls. The 4-cylinder models can reach up to 36 MPG on the highway and accelerate from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, while the 6-cylinder M235i 0-60 times range from 4.1 to 4.7 seconds. The M235i reaches 34 MPG on the highway. In other words, this unassuming small luxury car is as fuel efficient as some small hatchbacks while accelerating as quickly as many high performance sports cars.
A manual transmission is available in every 2-series coupe, a rarity these days. The driving position is near perfect and visibility is great, especially compared to some luxury car rivals. You can still get tech gizmos like variable ratio steering, back up and top view cameras and blind spot / land departure warning, but in this car you may not need them. The M235i, produced between 2014 and 2017, is a relative bargain if you’re looking for the best luxury cars under $60k. If you’re worried about your car battery dying on the road, take a look at the best car battery charger to be prepared.
Award: BEST FAST LUXERY
WHY WE LIKE IT: Continuously refined over fifty years, the 911 is an iconic luxury sports car that blends high performance motoring with unique style and (mostly) laudable aesthetic choices.
Though the Porsche 911 has not been air-cooled since 1996, it retains its original rear engine configuration, and is alone among modern cars in that way. It also retains the iconic round headlights and overall proportions of the original Porsche sports cars from the 1950s and 60s.
Modern Porsche 911s also offer serious high performance cred, and for the most part no longer exhibit the tricky handling of their predecessors. Unlike most luxury sports cars with similar curvy road appeal and track day potential, the 911 offers four more or less usable seats, a comfortable and spacious interior and decent luggage room thanks to its front trunk. If music is a must while you’re driving, take a look at the best car stereo too.
Award: MOST RELIABLE
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Lexus IS200t and IS350 have solid handling, great steering and plenty of comfort features, plus they’re relatively less complex than their luxury sedan competitors and tend to uphold Toyota/ Lexus’ stellar reputation for long-lasting reliable cars.
The current generation of the Lexus IS sedans, in production since the 2014 model year, provide sharp handling and decent performance, plus spacious cabins and comfortable seating. Lexus has often been ranked in the top luxury car brands for reliability, and with this in mind, if you’re looking for the best luxury sedan for the money and are looking for a late model used car, the Lexus IS makes an excellent choice. A bonus for city dwellers, the rear-wheel drive versions of the IS (All-wheel drive is an option) have the best turning radius of any luxury car, at just 17 feet.
Even higher mileage IS350s tend to experience fewer reliability problems than an Audi or BMW of comparable age. There are a few tradeoffs, however. Compared to rivals like the contemporary BMW 3-Series, the IS lacks a lot of the complexity that makes the 3-series so frustrating for mechanics and service techs, but it’s this same complexity that allows the 3-series to strike an amazing balance between high performance and efficiency. If you want to be as prepared as possible, you need to take a look at the best car charger too.
Award: BEST SUV
WHY WE LIKE IT: This luxury SUV is big, bold and seems to bend the rules of car design–and the laws of physics–with its on-road agility while offering surprising dirt and gravel road abilities, too.
One of the first modern luxury SUVs, the Porsche Cayenne is a counterintuitive, ridiculous machine that aims to cater to two totally different, incompatible ends of the car and truck performance spectrum. Just about everything that makes for the best luxury sports car–low stance, sticky tires, high-revving motors–makes for the worst off roader and cargo hauler, and vice versa.
Yet the first ever SUV from one of the top luxury car brands in the sporting realm did just that. Somehow this 2.5-ton truck corners with as much verve as a sports sedan, and it holds the road better than most compact sporty cars. The 2011-up Cayenne Turbo will also accelerate to 60 mph in under five seconds and has a claimed top speed upwards of 165 mph. To make sure every driver in your vehicle is safe, check out the best breathalyzer too.
Award: BEST BUDGET
WHY WE LIKE IT: Great handling plus a smooth ride and understated, classy styling inside and out and a long warranty make this somewhat overlooked British car possibly the best luxury sedan for the money, especially if you’re buying a lease return vehicle.
While many people haven’t even heard of the Jaguar XE, this surprisingly capable car may be the best small luxury sedan on the market if you’re looking for a good value in a late-model used car. Thanks to somewhat quicker depreciation than more well-known rivals, plus a generous 5-year warranty on 2017 through 2019 models, the XE can be quite the bargain.
The base engine is a turbo 4-cylinder, much like in most compact luxury sedan rivals. A supercharged V6, shared with the Jaguar F-Type sports car, was also offered from 2017 to 2019, and it gave the XE better straight line performance than a BMW 3-Series or Mercedes C300, plus a unique exhilarating sound. A 6-cylinder Jaguar XE 35t can accelerate 0-60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, and returns up to 31 mpg on the highway and around 23 to 24 in mixed driving. If you want to keep your vehicle safe from intruders, take a look at the best car alarm too.
In order to narrow it down and bring you the best luxury cars to buy, we selected models that stood out in terms of style, safety, performance and aesthetic charm. We also looked for technological excellence, choosing only those cars that could be considered great works of engineering as well as art.
We looked at specs of the best luxury cars 2020 and the best luxury cars 2019 and 2018 models as well, and we also test drove and logged city and highway miles in the leading cars from the best luxury car brands.
To ensure safety, we only chose models that achieved an IIHS Top Safety Pick or above rating, or which scored five stars in the European NCAP crash test, if crash test data was available. If not, we relied on manufacturer data and specs, as well as anecdotal crash reports to ensure a vehicle’s safety performance. While the newest luxury cars will generally have the most advanced safety features, you still may find top safety performance in a used luxury car, as top luxury car brands like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo were conducting crash tests and introducing features like ultra-high strength steel pillars, hydroformed frame rails and multi-stage airbags decades ago.
For small luxury sedans, we required at least 30 MPG on gasoline or at least 200 miles of range for battery electric vehicles. We also required brisk acceleration and good roadholding, looking only at small luxury cars that could do 0-60 mph in 6 seconds or less, circle a skidpad at .88 G or higher and stop from 70 mph in fewer than 170 feet.
For the best luxury SUV, we required ample cargo space of at least 20 cubic feet, a tow rating of at least 2500 lbs, and at least 8 inches of ground clearance, in addition to excellent on-road performance.
We love the best cars just like you. We are especially excited about the best electric cars. Which is why we features all of the best car accessories like the best car stereo for instance. Or the best car alarm.