Big deal luxury wheels: sedans for the un-sedate.

Author:Buss, Dale

for practically minded CEOs, $40,000 to $50,000 luxury sedans are the sweet spot of the automotive market these days.

Part of the reason is that other contenders are fading. Behemoth SUVs, for example, scream "gas hog," well appointed though they might be. Six-figure cruisers bespeak excess in an environment today where the CEO wants to be seen as anything but self-indulgent. And fast little sports cars are for, well, retirement.

If you want to drive in the lap of luxury sedans, there are lots to choose from--cars that are fun and good-looking as well as comfortable, reasonably fuel-efficient and just sensible overall. Automakers put their best foot forward in exactly this part of the market, where healthy sticker prices and high margins give them the chance to integrate their most robust power trains with their best transmissions, highest-quality materials and niftiest technology features, and other amenities.

Lincoln MKZ is Ford's spanking-new attempt to retain its once-solid standing in the luxury segment. At prices starting around $29,000, the renamed Zephyr is the best value in this group. It offers a quintessentially American take on luxury, with conservative styling, an exclusive new 263-hp. engine for 2008, roomy and comfortable interior and a square and useful trunk. Competitive touches include standard driver and passenger lumbar supports. But it's difficult to hide the fact that the MKZ shares a mechanical platform with smaller cars, meaning that it simply lacks the overall responsiveness, handling dynamics, interior-design quality and refinement of the European entries in this segment.


Of the Japanese luxury makes, Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti brand get more attention. But Honda's own upscale division has fielded a notable vehicle in this segment in its flagship Acura RL. Starting at prices around $46,000, it's an intelligent choice if you're looking for an all-wheel-drive luxury sedan that sports all the latest gadgetry. This technophile's fantasy includes a "Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive" system that intelligently distributes power to each wheel; paddles on the steering wheel that let the driver shift manually if the road ahead calls for it; a multizone climate system that blows filtered air; and a rearview camera that's among the most useful in the segment.


In Germany, the Mercedes-Benz E350 is the standard-issue company car for corporate executives, and you can...

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