Get the Best for Less
I have a friend who always buys luxury-brand cars. She has deep pockets, so she can afford to pay more for status. But value shoppers should know that you can get nearly the same amount of car for less money. With a luxury vehicle, you're typically paying extra for a nicer nameplate and a bit of bling, and sometimes even for pampering at the dealership. We took a look at four pairs of 2011 models that are substantially alike -- except that one is the gold standard and the other is a value choice.
Midsize sedan. The Acura TL is built on the same platform as its corporate cousin, the Honda Accord. But the sticker price of an Accord EX-L V6 ($30,180) is about $6,000 less than the base TL ($36,165). True, the TL has a more upscale interior and more powerful audio system, and its suspension is geared toward sporty handling and a refined ride. Plus, Acura's warranty is four years, and Honda's is three. But both cars have clean, sporty lines, a 3.5-liter V6 engine and the same safety equipment. And the Accord, in addition to a better price, gets 30 miles per gallon on the highway, yet sacrifices only nine horsepower to the TL, which gets 26 mpg on the highway. Plus, the Accord has more-generous interior proportions and more cargo space.
Luxury sedan. Sure, it sounds impressive to say, "I drive a BMW." And the top-of-the-line BMW 750i ($83,375) is a driver's dream. But Hyundai's new superluxury sedan, the Equus Ultimate ($65,400), is a value. For example, it includes a long list of standard equipment that costs extra on the BMW 750i, such as a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats (BMW charges $800), a rear-view camera ($400), and adaptive cruise control ($2,400).
Both sedans have large V8 engines. The BMW puts out a bit more horsepower (407, compared with 378 for the Equus), but the 750i gets 17 mpg in combined mileage, versus 19 mpg for the Equus. The Bimmer has a four-year warranty and free maintenance for four years; the Equus bests that with a five-year warranty and free maintenance for five years, and the dealer will pick the car up from your home. Plus, the Equus has four more inches of front legroom and a standard massage feature for the driver and right-side backseat passenger (you know, for when Jeeves is driving). Plus, every Equus buyer gets a free iPad.
Compact crossover. The Audi Q5 Quattro ($43,375) boasts Audi's smooth exterior lines and elegant interior, but from behind the wheel, the Ford Edge Limited with all-wheel drive ($36,845) gives it serious competition for $6,500 less. Both vehicles have six airbags and standard stability and traction control. Both have V6 engines that get 20 mpg combined. But the Edge has more power, and its two extra inches in length translates into more rear legroom. And for just $795, you can add MyFord Touch for voice control of the audio, climate and navigation; blind-spot obstacle detection costs $395. On the Q5, you'll pay $3,000 for a navigation system or $7,200 for nav, blind-spot detection and a high-end sound system.
Large crossover. When it comes to seven-seaters, the all-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz GL 350 BlueTec ($61,825) is hard to top for comfort, performance and luxury. But if you can live with less chrome, make do with a three-year instead of a four-year warranty and go without unlimited roadside assistance, the Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring with all-wheel drive ($40,450) might do -- for $21,000 less. It gets the same 19 mpg combined fuel economy, and interior room is similar, although the CX-9 trades third-row legroom for more cargo space. The fully loaded CX-9 comes with rear-seat entertainment and navigation. On the Mercedes GL, the optional package that includes navigation runs at least $4,280, rear-seat entertainment costs $2,080, and blind-spot detection (standard on the CX-9) is $600.