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The Best In Luxury Cars 2013

With smaller, lighter, faster, greener and more techy entries, car makers continue to widen the road for what is considered high-line driving
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013

The winged badge on the nose may be familiar to those who know the legendary British marque, but the new Aston Martin Cygnet is definitely not the sort of car you’d expect to see super-spy James Bond driving; it’s certainly not the latest DBS nor the classic DB5 brought back to life in 007’s latest adventure, Skyfall. Measuring barely 10 feet, nose to tail, the three-door Cygnet isn’t much bigger than a Smart fortwo coupe.

And while the Aston microcar isn’t available in the U.S.—yet—it underscores the dramatic transformation that is underway in the luxury car market both here and abroad. Gone are the days when luxury was measured by the foot and the pound. These days, small is big with upscale buyers, compacts and even subcompacts—like the familiar BMW 3-Series and the newer 1-Series—rapidly growing in demand even as such traditional, full-size flagship models as the 7-Series, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Audi A8, barely tread water.

Other classic metrics are facing a challenge. These days, many luxury buyers are as likely to compare the wattage of their sound systems as they are horsepower or 0 to 60 times. For the emerging digital generation, infotainment technology has become a major differentiator—Cadillac is putting as much emphasis on the new XTS sedan’s iPhone-like CUE technology as its performance characteristics.

Of course, some things never change. Buyers expect a significant level of refinement from a car wearing a Lexus or a Lincoln badge. Bentley still devotes more than 100 manhours of labor to the burl-wood-lavished interior of its big Mulsanne sedan. But even today’s “entry-luxury” models deliver a degree of sophistication once expected on only the most exclusive, top-line models. The latest Lexus ES boasts nearly as much standard equipment as you might have anticipated on the Japanese maker’s flagship LS barely a decade or so back.

Sorting out all the new luxury offerings isn’t easy, but we’ve narrowed the list down to a dozen of our favorites, as well as a select group of runners-up. (We’ve also picked our favorite luxury concept car of the year.) Furthermore, we even considered factors like fuel economy and the size and functionality of in-car infotainment systems that are not traditional in the segment. Of course, the classic measures of luxury—elegance, exclusivity, performance and desirability—still played an important role in our selections.

Best Entry-Luxury Model
Cadillac ATS

It’s been a decade since Cadillac introduced its edgy Art & Science design language, promising a renaissance for the once-dominant domestic luxury maker. Since then, Caddy’s progress has come in fits and starts, with a couple notable setbacks. But the maker is clearly back on track for 2013 with the launch of two new models, the XTS and the ATS.

The latter is the first truly serious competitor to the benchmark BMW 3-Series that we’ve seen from the Motor City. The 2013 Cadillac ATS delivers a very solid mix of performance, styling and technology (notably the new CUE infotainment system). Our personal choice is the 2.0-liter turbo package, though the bigger V-6 is a muscular alternative. If the ATS is any indication of what Cadillac has in store—and we hear there’s plenty of new product to follow—it might yet become a viable competitor.

Honorable mention: It was yet again a virtual coin toss while trying to decide whether to give the gold medal to Cadillac or BMW. We’ve certainly got great respect for the latest-generation 3-Series. Kudos also goes to the latest-generation Audi A4, another one of the models giving BMW a run for its money.
Best Midsize Luxury Model
Audi A6

Whether you’re talking mainstream or luxury, the midsize segment is clearly one of the market’s most competitive and one of the most difficult from which to select a clear winner. But we’ve ultimately gone with the Audi A6 because of its striking design, lavish and elegant interior and solid performance—as well as a highly functional and easy-to-master infotainment system.

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