Near-Luxury Passenger Cars
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Near-Luxury Passenger Cars
Designed to meet popular demand for value-priced luxury and performance.

A new entry in the near-luxury segment, the rear-wheel-drive Infiniti G35 sedan is powered by a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine.


The near-luxury segment is already very competitive, and there are a number of significant new entries for 2003. The near-luxury category includes not only the midsize cars from luxury brands such as Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and Lincoln, but also the upper-end models from other manufacturers.

More specifically, what defines a near-luxury car? Is it price, manufacturer, technology, amenities, or a combination of all of these elements? For categorization purposes, MSN Autos defines near-luxury cars as well-appointed sedans and coupes, with prices starting in the neighborhood of $30,000. Near-luxury models are designed to offer luxury and performance in a price range lower than true luxury or high-performance cars.

If you do not find a particular vehicle you would expect to see on a list of near-luxury cars, please check msn article on true luxury vehicles.

New Entries for 2003
Cadillac and Infiniti both offer new entries in the near-luxury segment for the 2003 model year that promise to be contenders in this highly competitive arena. The all new Cadillac CTS has bold, cutting-edge styling and is the first rear-drive Cadillac in 50 years to offer a manual transmission. The CTS is powered by a 220-horsepower V6 and the suspension was tuned at the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

The Infiniti G35 is another all-new sporty addition to the near-luxury segment, taking aim at the most popular German and Japanese competitors. The G35 Sport Sedan went on sale in March 2002 and the four-passenger G35 Sport Coupe joined the lineup in November. Both the coupe and sedan are front-engine rear-wheel-drive platforms with fresh, crisp designs and advanced technology aimed at driving enthusiasts. The 3.5-liter V6 produces 260 horsepower in the sedan and 280 horsepower in the coupe.

The Cadillac CTS has bold, cutting-edge styling and is the first rear-drive Cadillac in 50 years to offer a manual transmission. The CTS suspension was tuned at the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

Powered by a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V6, the Chrysler 300M can be equipped with an optional Performance Handling package.

With 215 horsepower on tap, the Lexus IS 300 takes on German rivals such as the BMW 330i and Audi A4.

The Mercedes-Benz C320 features a 3.2-liter 215-horsepower V6 engine and a driver-adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift.




Near-Luxury News
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3-Series are benchmarks in the near-luxury segment, and both manufacturers up the ante in 2003. For the first time, Mercedes-Benz offers the 4Matic all-wheel drive system for C240 and C320. Also, a new 189-horsepower 1.8-liter supercharged 4-cylinder is now the standard engine for the C230 sports coupe, which was added to the C-Class lineup for 2002.

The 2004 BMW 3-Series Coupe goes on sale in the spring of 2003 with new features that include adaptive headlights, updated front-end styling and an available sequential manual gearbox (SMG). A Performance Package is also available for the 2003 330i, which boosts horsepower to 235 and includes a standard 6-speed manual transmission for the first time in a 330i. To go with the added power, the Performance Package adds a new sports suspension and 18-inch wheels with mixed-size performance tires.

The Lincoln LS is updated for 2003 with a new grille surround, fascia, mirrors, rear deck lid, taillights, license plate surround and wheels. Variable valve timing and electronic throttle control improve power and smoothness for both 3.9 V8 and 3.0 V6 engines. Other updates include improved interior storage, available burl walnut and satin nickel interior trim; standard power pedals; available heated and cooled front seats; and available heated rear seats

More News
Saab introduces the new 9-3 Sport Sedan to replace the 9-3 hatchback, powered by new turbocharged 2.0-liter engines, producing 175 to 210 horsepower. A new 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic is available along with second-generation Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR).

The Toyota Avalon gets a freshened exterior, a revised interior, and new multi-stage airbags for 2003 The XLS receives more standard equipment, new 16-inch alloy wheels, and an optional DVD navigation system.

Volvo adds the S60 R to the S60 lineup in the spring of 2003, with a 300-horsepower turbo-charged 5-cylinder engine, electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive, and either a new 6-speed manual transmission or an optional Geartronic 5-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. The S60 R will offer Volvo's Four-C Technology (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) which Volvo refers to as the most advanced active performance chassis, to offer the capability of both high-performance and comfortable ride.

Over the past couple of years, several luxury manufacturers have added near-luxury models, including Jaguar with the introduction of its first compact sport sedan in 30 years. The X-TYPE—featuring standard all-wheel drive, V6 power and a 5-speed manual transmission—is aimed squarely at the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Lexus IS 300, with a starting price right around $30,000.

The Lexus ES 300 was updated for the 2002 model year and now rides on a new platform that allows for a larger car with a roomier interior. Updates to its V6 engine improve acceleration. A new standard feature is dual-zone automatic climate control with an air filtration system. The Lexus IS 300 now offers a 5-speed manual transmission and for 2003 new optional wheel and tire packages including 17-inch 5-spoke aluminum alloy wheels with all-season tires, 17-inch 11-spoke aluminum alloy wheels, and 16-inch wheels with all-season tires.

Other contenders in the near-luxury segment include the Acura CL (now available with a 6-speed manual transmission) and TL, Chrysler 300M, Oldsmobile Aurora and Infiniti I35.



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  Automotive Tips:

Best Bet Selection Methodology

Best Bets, practical considerations carry the most weight, with an emphasis on the actual use of a vehicle type by the majority of owners as opposed to recreational uses exploited by few. For example, how well a sport utility vehicle performs off-road and how much weight it can tow get little consideration in determining a best overall SUV. We concentrate on the attributes that call for interpretation or that might benefit from my experience with many vehicles. In short, anything you can determine easily on your own through the use of this site — such as towing capacities — is left to you.

This is why exterior styling gets little consideration. Beauty is in the beholder's eye. Interior design/quality gets more attention, not in the sense of design but in terms of ergonomics and what the automotive industry terms "perceived quality": materials and the feel of controls and handles and the like, which is not as easy for shoppers to compare from one model to the next.

Safety is highly weighted in most categories, especially minivans and SUVs, which have become the minivan alternative.

Due to the rollover risk in SUVs, the most important features considered are rollover mitigation systems, electronic stability systems and side curtain-type airbags. In small vehicles, side-impact airbags and curtains are highly weighted, as they often prove to be the difference between a Poor and a Good IIHS rating for a particular model. Sports cars are the category for which safety carries the least weight, in keeping with consumer priorities. However, no vehicle with weak crash-test ratings is eligible for any Best Bet. A new, untested model may be cited with a caveat.

Ownership cost/reliability is another important consideration because low ownership cost can easily compensate for a higher sale price. Aside from being a drag, repairs are a significant component. For reliability data, we rely on J.D. Power and Associates' Mechanical Reliability Ratings and Consumer Reports' Reliability Histories. Other factors in cost of ownership include fuel economy, required fuel grade (octane) and insurance costs.

New and redesigned models have no reliability data. These entrants will remain innocent unless proven guilty and may earn a Best Bet citation along with a caveat.

It's best not to assume a car-based SUV like Toyota's RAV4 will handle like a car.

Ride and handling differ widely, especially among SUV models — and one can no longer presume that truck-based SUVs will ride like trucks or that car-based ones will ride well. Handling performance is critical in sporty cars, but also in SUVs as it regards controllability and top-heaviness. More modest cars are expected to be safe, but exceptional handling is more of a bonus than a requirement.

Roominess and comfort are important because exterior size tends to mislead. The main criterion here is how accommodating the seats are — and, in vans and SUVs, how many you get for your money. Actual seat comfort gets less attention, mainly because tastes differ.

Acceleration gets the most weight among sporty cars, but all vehicles can be classified in one of three categories: not quick enough, quick enough and more than quick enough, with consideration given to the issue of load whenever possible. Most vehicles on the road are, at minimum, quick enough if you're not a lead foot. Transmission performance is also an issue, and automatics that are unrefined or slow to react are graded harshly.

Choices are important in the battle for an overall Best Bet because the right car for you isn't automatically the right one for someone else. A model that comes with multiple engine and transmission choices, for example, has definite advantages. An automaker might give you one large engine for the price of a competitor's vehicle with a smaller standard engine. To some, this is an advantage, but if you want to pay less at the pump, the lack of engine choices is a disadvantage to you.

By Joe Wiesenfelder,

Premium Vehicles

Multifunction steering wheels are common in premium vehicles.
Automatic climate control: Single-zone automatic climate control is typically standard fare across luxury nameplates. Dual-zone systems are becoming more common; they offer separate temperature controls for the driver and front passenger, but they rarely work beyond 10 degrees of each other.

Multifunction steering wheel: Many nonluxury vehicles have redundant audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel; in this age, luxury nameplates should equip all their models with them.

Moonroof: Premium vehicles often include this feature as standard equipment. If it's listed as optional, consider the car's overall ambiance. Low rooflines may create an uninviting interior without the additional light from the moonroof. A moonroof can, however, cut an inch or more of front headroom, leaving taller drivers short on space.

Premium upholstery: At this price many automakers use a leather substitute or premium fabric standard and charge extra for genuine cowhide. Leather is often bundled with other items in pricey options packages — adding a Sport Package to a base 2006 Audi A3 to get leather costs $1,800 — so consider its look and comfort relative to the price.

Power driver's seat: A power-operated driver's seat allows near-infinite adjustments with much less effort. Look for at least three power adjustments: recline, fore/aft travel and cushion height — typically called six-way adjustment.

Near-Luxury Vehicles:

Near-luxury vehicles should feature an in-dash CD changer, such as the six-disc unit on the Lincoln Zephyr.
Luxury-nameplate vehicles costing $28,000 to $40,000 should offer considerably more features than the premium segment. Among them are:

Basic trip computer: Depending on complexity, trip computers can offer information on gas mileage, average speed, outside temperature and maintenance. They're often optional in cheaper vehicles, but at this price they should be offered without extra charge.

Heated front seats: Heated seats are a convenience feature available in nearly every vehicle segment today. Look for at least a two-setting heater (high and low) that heats both the seatback and the cushion.

In-dash CD changer: A CD changer allows continual music with fewer stops to change discs. Trunk- or glovebox-mounted CD changers are inconvenient relics of the past — in this class, an in-dash unit should play six CDs. One exception: If a navigation system preempts the dash space, some vehicles offer a single-disc player instead, or a remote CD changer in the glove compartment, center console, trunk or cargo area, or under a seat.

Leather upholstery: Leather might be optional in the premium segment, but in near-luxury cars it should be standard. It comes in all manner of qualities, perforations and combinations, so recommending a specific grade is impossible. Don't mistake the upholstery's character for its quality: a BMW has firmer leather than a Lincoln because the former is intended for sportier driving.

Memory driver's seat: A memory function is convenient if another person frequently drives the car. If you're the sole driver, this is a negligible feature. By recognizing a signal from the key fob, advanced systems adjust everything from seats, side mirrors and adjustable pedals to powered head restraints, seat belt anchors and stereo and ventilation settings.

Power passenger seat: Four-way power adjustment — fore/aft and recline — should be included in every near-luxury car. Additional adjustments, such as seat height or cushion angle, are pleasant but rarely necessary.

Satellite radio: If a CD changer runs out of tunes in seven hours, a satellite radio picks up and never stops. It's a feature that should be standard across the near-luxury class, though many owners won't want to pay the monthly subscription fees.

Luxury Vehicles

The trim of the Infiniti M, or any other luxury car, warrants inspection before purchase.
Luxury vehicles costing between $40,000 and $100,000 are a nebulous class because their price range is so broad. At the low end are vehicles that might include many of the features below as options, while high-end models list them as standard.

Adaptive cruise control: Adaptive cruise control uses radar or lasers to determine the distance to the vehicle in front of your car. It adjusts speed accordingly, applying light braking if necessary. Many systems alert drivers if the vehicle in front decelerates abruptly.

Adaptive suspension: Adaptive suspensions can vary the firmness of individual struts or shock absorbers, changing a vehicle's ride within milliseconds. Advanced systems sense road conditions and stiffen suspension points to provide appropriate handling. Some allow drivers to select suspension settings based on how firm a ride they want, though some manufacturers deem this manual control unnecessary for some vehicle types. Drivers used to have to choose between a vehicle that rode comfortably and one that handled well, but, to some extent, adaptive suspension provides both.

Advanced climate controls: Dual-zone automatic climate controls offer individual temperature settings for the driver and front passenger, but advanced systems allow fan speeds and airflow to vary between the two zones. In a BMW 3 Series, for example, both temperature zones must operate on the same fan speed and airflow setting. On a 7 Series, these settings are variable; the driver can program warmer air to hit her feet, while the passenger opts for cooler air to blow toward his face.

Genuine trim: Painted plastics that resemble wood or aluminum are available in cheaper cars, and sometimes they look very close to the real thing. But in this price class, a vehicle should have genuine trim — be it wood, aluminum or carbon fiber. Some models also apply trim to the steering wheel. Bear in mind that execution matters: The best painted plastic looks better than the worst genuine stuff.

Heated steering wheel: Electrically heated steering wheels heat faster than traditional climate-control systems, warming hands long before the ambient air does. Most operate at the push of a button, though some automatically activate when the seat heaters are switched on.

The Land Rover Range Rover Sport has a standard navigation system.
Intelligent remote entry: Known by various names — SmartAccess, Keyless Go, Intelligent Key — many luxury key fobs constantly transmit a signal that communicates with the car when it's nearby. This tells the car door to unlock when its handle is pulled — even if the remote is in a pocket or purse. It's a convenient feature if you're holding an armful of groceries or if you don't want to dig for your keys. It's often paired with a push-button engine start system, which also allows the transmitter to remain out of sight.

Navigation system: Navigation systems come in all varieties. The key is intuitiveness: Systems that bury simple commands in layers of menus or don't offer any touch-screen options can be more frustrating than helpful. Ironically, simpler systems in cheaper cars can often be more user-friendly. Most cars closer to $100,000 offer standard navigation systems, while virtually all others in this class list them as options.

Onboard data processor: An onboard processor should minimally operate as an advanced trip computer that reports relevant vehicle statistics. On pricier vehicles in this class, the feature may include a hard drive that stores music, maintenance files and navigation data.

Power-adjustable steering column: A power-adjustable steering column tilts and telescopes at the push of a button. Some versions automatically tilt away from the driver during entry and exit. A power-adjustable steering column will likely be optional at the $40,000 end of the segment, but any vehicle priced near six figures should include one standard.

Power lumbar supports: Manual lumbar support is universally available, but luxury vehicles should include power-operated supports for both front seats. Power lumbar systems use inflatable sections within the cushion or seatback to adjust firmness. The most advanced type allows you to choose the support's height.

Premium sound system: At this level, vehicles are quiet enough to allow a high-end sound system to shine. Luxury automakers often pair vehicle audio systems with a premium audio-component manufacturer like Bose, Mark Levinson or Harman/Kardon. It's impossible to compare wattage or speaker count at face value, as interior acoustics and speaker quality determine the end result.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is one luxury vehicle that offers a variety of rear-seat amenities.
Rear-seat accoutrements: Backseat features become more lavish as prices increase. Heated rear seats are common on the low end of this segment, with power-operated seatbacks, individual temperature controls and cooled rear seats available on vehicles closer to $100,000.

Rear sunshades: Whether manual or power-operated, rear sunshades keep backseat passengers in the shade on sunny days. Many luxury cars have a sunshade in the rear window, though some also offer either powered or manual sunshades for the rear side windows.

Remote start: Remote start systems include a button on the key fob that can start the car from several hundred feet away, usually while keeping the vehicle locked. Starting the vehicle early allows a climate-control system to bring the cabin to a comfortable temperature by the time you arrive.

Ventilated/cooled front seats: Seats act as an insulator against the body's backside — a good thing on a cold day, but if it's already warm, they can cause considerable discomfort. Ventilated seats typically use embedded fans to blow air through perforations in the upholstery. Cooled seats go one step further by blowing cold air.

Ultra-luxury Vehicles

A panoramic moonroof and refrigerator, both on the Maybach 62, define the ultraluxury class.
Luxury vehicles costing more than $100,000 offer superfluous features by the truckload. Some notable ones:

Full leather trim: Seats and door inserts are not the only place for leather. Ceilings, instrument panel domes, dashboards and center consoles can be stitched up as well. It's often a pricey option on sub-$100,000 cars, but should be standard in the ultraluxury class.

Massaging seats: These are a recent luxury innovation that are available for both front and rear seats. Some systems, such as BMW's Active Support, use liquid-filled bladders that slowly flow from one side to the other; others use embedded motors. Either way, the systems aim to relieve fatigue over extended trips.

Refrigerator: Typically mounted between the rear seats, an onboard refrigerator keeps chilled beverages at hand for backseat passengers.

Panoramic moonroof: Essentially a fixed glass pane behind an existing moonroof, panoramic moonroofs give the cabin a more airy, open feel — especially over the backseat.


Place your favorite brand of dryer sheets in the glove box, under the seats, in the trunk or any other little place that can use a fresh smell. 

Use a long handled soft-bristled floor sweeping type brush or mop with a wide mouth bucket of soapy water to clean those hard to reach areas on the car or truck. 

It is always a good idea to check the water, oil and tires before leaving the house, even though everything was okay yesterday. 

Look for anything unusual with your tires such as, low air, lumps, bumps or bulges, nails, screws. Carefully run your hand across the top and sides of your tires feeling for any wire coming through or worn areas. 

Check your gas gage. 

Be prepared, change or add antifreeze before winter sets in and the stores sell out. 

While you have the hood up, look at any visible belts for worn or frayed areas. 

Change the oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles. 

Have a tune-up done on your auto periodically; you can check your auto manual for the specifics. 

Add life to your auto by having the timing belt checked or changed after 100,000 miles. 

Change windshield wiper blades before they scratch and ruin your windshield. 

Keeps the car doors locked. 

Keep a spare key somewhere other than inside the car. Give a spare key to a trusted family member that can assist you if the time should ever come about. 

Never leave the trunk lid open an unattended. 

Watch children’s fingers when closing the doors. 

Never leave children, pets or the elderly in a car at any time unattended. 

Never sit in a parked car with the heater running. You risk the chance of being overcome by exhaust fumes. 

For safety sake, let someone know where you’re going. 

Be prepared; carry an emergency kit for yourself, your passengers and your auto. 

A personal emergency kit could include, Band-Aids, wound ointment, rubbing alcohol, aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever, eye drops, a cloth for making an emergency wrap, water, crackers, and so on. 

An auto emergency kit could include, a flashlight, jumper cables, water, oil, a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench, fix-a-flat, electrical tape, twine or rope, rags, safety flares, a candle, matches, writing paper and pen, call for help sign, and so on.


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