Luxury Cars on a Budget - Don't Settle for Less
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
You’re looking for a new daily driver, something that you just drive around town on the grocery run and go to work in. Maybe it’s your only car. Well you don’t just have to settle for a Camry or a leased Sonata. You can travel in comfort with an older luxury car, you might even get some street cred as an added bonus. You might be scared off by any risks of high maintenance costs but with most of these cars, you can either work on them yourself or go to a smaller mechanic to be serviced. They’re cheaper to buy than a new or certified pre-owned car as well. Lots of people own second hand luxury sedans, many new drivers even have them as their first car.
Up at the beginning of this segment is really what started Japan’s entry into the cheap luxury market, knocking Chrysler off of its podium, the original Lexus LS400. These came with a 4.0L V8 making 250bhp mated to a 4-Speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately that costs a bit in fuel economy, a combined score of 18MPG according to Edmunds. You will see these at various car meets with various modification styles. A popular style in Japan is the VIP style and the Lexus is certainly no stranger to it.
The next consideration is a Chrysler. Just listen to that name, Chrysler, they really did lose their way. But anyways, enough with the reminiscing, this is about the Chrysler LeBaron. It was built on the legendary Chrysler K platform and shared its platform with the Aeries/Reliant K twins. The K platform changed Chrysler for the better and saved them from extinction. It’s FWD layout revolutionized American automotive technology. But what does that mean for LeBaron? It means more interior space, coupled with the Soft Corinthian Leather™ makes a soft car for soft people. This was cheap luxury at its finest. And being smaller than the New Yorker means that it’s easier to park. As an added bonus, famous automotive entrepreneur, Tyler Hoover owned a LeBaron as well. There are so many possibilities in Chrysler’s lineup, too many to talk about in this article so this is Chrysler’s final entry in this particular segment.
Okay, this is a weird suggestion but anything and everything made by Infiniti? For this particular bit, I interviewed the man who knows the most about Infiniti, he even owns one himself and he thinks it’s the best thing that has ever graced this planet. Famed and talented musician, Samuel Glorioso. He recommends any V6 Infiniti from ~2005-2010, such as the FX35. On the economic standpoint, he says, “They’re fairly reliable vehicles and can be had for cheap. Most parts are [N]issan parts so they aren’t insanely expensive to fix either. I actually looked up the yearly maintenance costs for an F[X]35…$650 for the F[X].” So, as you can see, they’re cheap and reliable. In fact, Sam prefers his 16 year old SUV over any Lexus. Now, he doesn’t recommend more powerful cars such as the FX45 and the M45 due to them apparently being too much to handle for a new driver but what does he know? I know him and he’s a bit of a looney.
Now, onto the next entry, the BMW 7-Series. More specifically, the E65 generation. You may think you can’t afford a fancy German luxury car but you can certainly afford the E65 7-Series. They can be all yours for a little over $3,900. Regarded by E65 enthusiasts as the most attractively styled BMW 7-Series to date, it’s also the most reliable one. You would only need to send it off to repairs for standard maintenance, of course if you wish, you can do that maintenance yourself. The only vehicle theoretically more reliable would be a Northstar Cadillac with a Chrysler automatic transmission. Take this to any car show and you’ll be showered with applause by any other car enthusiast. No other car has such high regard among enthusiasts, it really is the Cadillac of luxury cars. It’s opulence doesn’t stop at the exterior however. Inside, you’ll find comfortable leather seats and an innovative infotainment system, known the world over for changing the standard of automotive technology. Now, if you’re the shy type, this car will certainly change your personality for the better. There’s nothing girls like more than a man with big enough balls to own a BMW, besides a Miata of course.
The next contestant in the luxury car segment, the Saab 9000. This brick of Swedish excellence may look ugly to the untrained eye but I assure you, it is beautiful. Some Saab enthusiasts may tilt their heads up at you because this isn’t a 900. The 9000 was a joint venture between Saab, Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo. It could be had with various turbo and non-turbo I4 engines and a naturally aspirated V6. It was originally just a 5-Door hatchback but a traditional sedan was added for 1988. Motorweek gave this car much praise, but they did address some issues, such as non-visible dashboard controls. The only problem with the 9000 is that it isn’t very common. Prices are anywhere from $500 to $5000, depending on condition and whether or not the owner “knows what he’s got”.
The Towncar, you may think of it as a cushy grandpa-mobile but that’s a bad attitude. This is built on the Ford Panther platform, sharing it with the legendary Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis. It’s used by taxi services, executive fleets, and even limo services because of its body-on-frame construction. They’re durable and built to last. The only problem is the fuel economy. It has a V8 which sprints it up to 60 in 8-9 seconds while drinking a combined rating of 15-18 MPG. Lincoln Towncars can be on the pricier side because of their desirability but they can still be found for a few thousand dollars, still cheaper than a Mitsubishi Mirage.
Buick in the 90’s and early 2000’s was all about making soft cushy cars for old people and their piles. Think about it, the LeSabre, the Century, the Park Avenue, the Regal, the Roadmaster, they’re all large soft luxury sedans that you can buy on the cheap. The LeSabre, Park Avenue, Regal, and Century are FWD like most 90’s sedans while the Roadmaster is RWD, like the Towncar. Of course the FWD cars are cheaper to buy, maintain, and have better fuel economy than the V8 RWD Roadmaster since they seem to have a following now. They can still all be found for a few thousand dollars or even less if you want a beater.
The first three generations of Lexus ES are fantastic vehicles. It’s comfortable, reliable, cheap, and many are low mileage and in good condition. The first generation (1989-1991) was essentially just a rebadged second generation Camry, that doesn’t mean it isn’t comfortable though. Plush seats are evident in the first generation Camry. It came with a 2.5L V6, hence the name “ES250”. Fuel economy for the ES250 was rated at 19 city and 25 highway. The second gen ES (1992-1996) was again Camry-based but it was widened and lengthened, giving it more interior space. They came with a larger 3L V6, hence the name “ES300”. A 5-Speed manual transmission was a rare option, famous YouTube personality Tyler Hoover having owned one. Again comfort is great and fuel economy is acceptable at 18 city and 24 highway. Now for the third gen ES (1997-2001), same situation as the second gen ES, just updated. Mileage and engine displacement was pretty much the same as the previous generation, 19 city and 26 highway from a 3.0 V6. Comfort is again exceptional with a smooth cushy ride. Prices for these ES’s are fairly cheap, only ever maxing out at a few thousand dollars.
Back to the American continent with this entry, the Chrysler Concorde. Despite its name, yes it is very American and no it cannot fly, please don’t destroy it trying to. Anyways, the Concorde, it’s built on the revolutionary Chrysler LH “Cab Forward” platform, shared with the Dodge Intrepid, the Eagle Vision, the slightly worse Chrysler LHS, and the fatter Chrysler New Yorker. This means you get more room in the interior. Comfort is typical for 90’s American luxury vehicles. The styling of the first gen is arguably handsome but the second gen is going to put more people off. The second gen Concorde may look like a bloated catfish but it’s still a Concorde. These were fairly cheap when new and that means they’re fairly cheap now, which also means there are tons of beat up ones with falling trim, clearcoat failure, dents and scratches, and rust if you live in the north.
“Can an Acura really be all that good?” you may ask. Acuras today may not be very good but they were much better in the 90’s and 2000’s. Many of those Acuras, such as the RL are still in fairly good shape, due in part to the original demographic for this car. Is the RL the correct car for you? Sure, if you want trouble free luxury and want something newer than a Lexus LS400. Acura made two generations of RL, 1996-2004 and 2004-2012, succeeding the Legend and being replaced by the RLX. Costs for these are around $2500 for an earlier higher mileage first gen, ~$5000 for an early model second gen, and ~$6500 for a nice first gen. Of course, it isn’t the fastest thing in the world but it scoots along just fine with a late 8 second 0-60 on a first gen and a mid 6 second 0-60 on a second gen. Comfort is good, as this was the top model in Acura’s range, being more luxury focused than the TL. Knowing this information, I hope you make the right choice in your next comfortable daily driver.