Many drivers shopping for affordable luxury will turn to the used-car market, where they know they can find premium-brand vehicles at pre-owned prices. But there’s another way to squeeze even more value from this strategy: Look for a mainstream model equipped with luxury-grade amenities.
These aren’t just the higher trim levels from standard models, either. We’re talking about distinct product lines specifically designed to furnish a premium ownership experience. Yet because they aren’t sold by traditional luxury marques, they cost less when new than a car with similar content but a fancier brand name on its trunk. This pricing differential carries over into the used-car side of the business, and if you care more about comfort than you do about which company is providing it, the result can be a nice opportunity for savings.
2011-2016 Hyundai Equus
Although the Hyundai Motor Company recently spun off the Genesis brand as a stand-alone luxury division, the automaker’s first modern-day flagship sedan, the Equus, launched in 2011. The original Hyundai Equus offers the expected standard premium features, including leather upholstery, climate-controlled front seats, a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel and a rear-wheel-drive V8 powertrain. But to prove that Hyundai isn’t just horsing around here, the car also checks in with standard ultra-luxury cues like a massaging function for the driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped dashboard and real-wood cabin trim. The Equus Ultimate trim comes with a limo-class rear-seat package that provides back-seat occupants with heated and cooled seating that reclines and massages. Equus Ultimate models are also equipped with a dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system and a refrigerator.
The Equus continued to add fresh content over the years. By the time it was discontinued in 2016, customers could order the sedan with a head-up display, soft-close doors and a handsfree power-opening trunk. The most recent models also come standard with driver-assistive features such as blind spot warning, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
2009-2016 Volkswagen CC
The Volkswagen CC is more of a premium sport sedan that an out-and-out luxury model, but it’s more upscale than your typical mainstream car. For one thing, it shows off the same sort of “four-door coupe” exterior design as stylish entries from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
CC models are available with exterior features such as xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, LED daytime running lights and adaptive headlights with a heated washing system. Within the cabin, you’ll find an attractive design and high-quality materials such as leather upholstery. More recent editions of the CC offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration, as well as a strong lineup of driver-assistive technology, including adaptive cruise control and forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking.
2016 Nissan Maxima
The 2016 Maxima kicked off the model’s eighth generation. It debuted with Nissan’s dramatic new design language, complete with blacked-out rear pillars that create a floating-roof appearance. LED daytime running lights and integrated LED taillights are standard, while a dual-panel panoramic sunroof is on the car’s options list.
As for the cockpit, here Nissan brings a noticeable driver focus with an angled center stack. There’s equal attention paid to luxury; for instance, the instrument panel, inner door panels and console are all padded for comfort. Available interior features include leather upholstery, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
A 300-horsepower V6 engine and sport-sedan performance are standard. The Maxima offers innovative technology—like a navigation system that allows users to “swipe” a map from the car’s infotainment screen to a large display in the instrument panel, where it’s easier for the driver to see.
2013-2016 Toyota Avalon
The Toyota Avalon is a long-time favorite among full-size sedans, and models from the current generation, which premiered in 2013, are especially well-suited for modern-day drivers. These cars carry forward the Avalon’s tradition of roomy and comfortable interiors, backed by standard heated front seats and available ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and leather upholstery. The car’s exterior is complemented by available LED headlights.
The Avalon is available with blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and frontal collision warning and mitigation.
A 3.5-liter V6 is standard. Fuel-conscious buyers can choose the Avalon’s optional hybrid powertrain, which has an EPA rating of 40/39 mpg city/highway.
2015-2016 Kia K900
We’ll wrap up this story the same way we began, with a flagship luxury car from a Korean brand. The Kia K900 reached dealerships for the first time in 2015. Despite sharing a platform with the Hyundai Equus, it represents a unique package for customers, with a sportier aesthetic and assertive styling. Base models come with adaptive LED headlights, LED fog lights and a panoramic sunroof.
Meanwhile, the K900’s cabin comes standard with heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear outboard seats. Ventilated rear seats that recline for maximum comfort are available.
The K900 seals the deal with an array of tech content that includes a 9.2-inch display screen, navigation and Bluetooth connectivity as standard equipment. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a surround-view camera are available.