When shopping for a new car, it’s always fun to drool over the supercars and luxury rides splashed across the covers of automotive magazines (just see our “Dream On” story on Page 6) — but then it’s time to come back to reality. What about the cars we actually stand a chance of driving someday?
Entry-level luxury vehicles offer many of the same features found in their pricier brethren, but can be financed on average budgets. And then there’s the badge prestige: We’re talking about hitting the road in the likes of a Lexus, Acura or BMW for around $35,000 — or even less.
Not buying it? Look at what these contenders have to offer:
Acura TSX ($29,810–$35,350)
From Honda’s luxury marque, the versatile TSX — available as a sedan or wagon — has most everything an aspiring luxury owner could ask for, with comfortable and high-quality interior accommodations for five, plus a moonroof and leather upholstery. And it’s quite family-friendly.
“The TSX Sport Wagon represents a smart choice for those seeking a vehicle with utility,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of Acura sales. “It’s practical, fun to drive, luxurious and technically advanced, all while achieving an outstanding estimated highway fuel economy rating of 30 miles per gallon.”
The generous list of standard amenities — one of the most extensive in its class — includes dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable heated front seats and a system that allows smartphones with music players to sync with the TSX audio system. An optional navigation system gives live weather and traffic updates, and has 15 gigabytes for storing music.
Imagine all that and more than 200 horsepower, with outstanding fuel efficiency through a standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.
BMW 128i ($31,050–$36,700)
This flashy compact, available as a coupe or convertible, is a remarkable entry-point vehicle. The 128i boasts world-class handling and a beefy 230-horsepower three-liter I-6 engine that can go from zero to 60 in a shade over six seconds (in manual mode). Best of all, it comes complete with the iconic BMW badge — sure to draw envious stares.
Design updates for 2012 render it curvier and more aerodynamic, with cool new LED headlights. And the convertible’s soft-top can be dropped or raised in little more than 20 seconds, even when the car is moving (up to 25 mph). Standard features are what you’d expect from BMW — dual-zone climate control among them — but many options are irresistible, like the navigation system that reads texts aloud and streams music from smartphones. You know you want that.
Buick Regal ($26,670–$34,450)
That’s right, Buick, back with a completely retooled Regal born of German design and technology, a bold representative of the American automotive renaissance. This midsize luxury sedan is based on Europe’s best-selling Opel Insignia, winner of more than 31 international motoring awards, and it clearly has the credentials to make American inroads. Start with its four-cylinder powertrain options: The Regal gets 30 mpg highway through its standard Ecotec 2.4-liter 182-horsepower direct-injected engine, which accepts E85 ethanol. Three other available engines include a mild hybrid (up to 36 mpg) and a turbo beast rated up to 270 horses.
The Regal is well-reviewed for its sleek and understated lines, with plenty of interior room and high-tech features such as Buick’s IntelliLink multimedia touchscreen system with Bluetooth, which is able to stream Internet radio from a smartphone.
“The 2011 Buick Regal is like nothing you’ve ever experienced from this brand,” said Roger McCormack, director of product marketing for Buick. Can’t argue with that.
Lexus IS 250 ($33,595–$37,225)
Not only does this beautiful sedan sport the prestigious Lexus nameplate, it serves up a heaping helping of luxury and sexy standard features for a surprisingly reasonable price. Also available as a convertible, the five-passenger IS 250 is loaded with dual-zone climate control, a power moonroof, a 13-speaker audio system and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel.
Black metallic trim adds to the aura of this muscular rear-wheel-drive sedan. All-wheel-drive is optional, as is a sophisticated navigation system that picks up “casual language” commands. It comes with the advanced Enform system — free for the first year — that seeks out restaurants and other points of interest based on your GPS location. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 204 horsepower and up to 30 mpg on the highway.
Proving that entry-level luxury rides can more than hold their own with the big boys, the Lexus IS 250 has been favorably compared to the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C300. Keep an eye out for special financing and lease deals. Dreams sometimes come true.
– Bob Young
Custom Publishing Writer