Chicago—April 11, 2008—The word "luxurious" is typically synonymous with "expensive," but in today's automotive market, there are more options than ever that offer consumers the look and feel of luxury without the hefty price tag. The experts at Cars.com looked at dozens of cars in a variety of body styles to develop their list of the best luxury impersonators available for under $30,000.
"Most automakers have upgraded the interiors in their cars so even the bottom trim levels in most cars have a more upscale look and feel," said Cars.com editor in chief Patrick Olsen. "When you start getting into higher trim levels, consumers might be surprised by the type of luxury features they can find for less than $30,000."
The Top 10 Luxury Impersonators:
2008 Volkswagen Jetta
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Jetta SE, $19,850
Premium features like one-touch power windows and mirror-integrated turn signals are the stuff of big-league luxury cars, and they put the Jetta a cut above a Civic or Corolla. The Jetta SE gets a moonroof, 16-inch rims, a 10-speaker stereo and heated leather seats.
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Mazda3 Grand Touring, $20,195
Like the Jetta, the Mazda3 is another car that feels richer than its compact size suggests. Here the emphasis is on sportiness, not all-out luxury, but the dashboard's contrasting textures look suitable enough. The Grand Touring trim's perforated leather seats feel exceptionally rich for a $20,000 car, and with this trim you'll also get seat heaters and automatic climate control.
2008 Chevrolet Malibu
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Malibu 2LT, $22,485
When you equip the new Malibu with leather seats, like in the 2LT package, the entire interior seems to move up a notch on the luxury scale. Seventeen-inch wheels and heated seats are also part of the deal, while the Malibu's bold grille and European styling outside really make it stand out in the midsize market. The more expensive LTZ package's leather seats are nicer than the 2LT's, but most people won't mind this midrange trim level.
2008 Honda Accord
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Accord 2.4 EX-L, $25,160
Swap the Honda emblem for an Acura logo, and some passengers might think the latest Accord comes from Honda's luxury division. The EX model's 190-horsepower engine feels refined enough for a premium car, but we'd bump up to the leather-clad EX-L, which also has heated seats and dual-zone climate control.
2008 Honda CR-V
Cars.com's suggested trim level: CR-V EX-L FWD, $25,500
In cheaper trims, the CR-V is a solid grocery-getter. Bump up to the EX-L, its heated leather seats and seven-speaker stereo system, though, and the cabin transforms into something that could pass muster at most country clubs. Interior refinement is on par with the best of the small-SUV crowd, and you can pile on a navigation system and AWD and still stay under $30,000. Sadly, there's no upgrade over the CR-V's anemic four-cylinder engine.
2008 Nissan Altima Coupe
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Altima 2.5 S w/Premium Package, $25,770
Muscular rear haunches are a surefire sign someone in the design department wanted to add a touch of luxury to the Altima coupe's looks. The rich leather and its impressive stitching have a sports-car feel, and the dashboard and instrument panel controls are of Nissan's usual high quality. If you want the quicker V-6, you still come in at $28,270.
2008 Saturn Vue
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Vue XR FWD w/Premium Trim Package, $25,875
Saturn's new Vue is the epitome of a luxury impersonator. Classy finishes of brushed metal and rich leather catch the eye immediately, and even the backseat and cargo area seem high-end. It's probably the most European-styled American car on the road, mainly because GM borrowed the design from its German Opel division, and that's not a bad thing. A solid ride and eye-catching exterior make the Vue even more alluring.
2008 Hyundai Santa Fe
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Santa Fe Limited FWD, $28,100
The Santa Fe's exterior design borrows heavily from Lexus and Infiniti luxury SUVs. The lines flow smoothly from front to back, and even the grille makes a bold statement -- like luxury SUVs are supposed to do. A smooth, nearly silent ride also makes you think of Lexus' best attributes. The leather isn't the richest out of the group, but other amenities -- from the crisp blue-and-white gauges to the well-finished A/C controls -- create the ambiance you're looking for.
2008 Buick Lucerne
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Lucerne CXL, $29,400
Sporty it is not, but upscale it certainly is. The dashboard employs GM's latest materials, and the high-rent controls achieve tactile excellence. Step up to the CXL for sumptuous leather that you'll wish every chair in your home were made of, and, if you can stretch your budget a little more, consider the Northstar V-8 engine. It's relatively effortless to drive, and for some people that's the whole point of luxury.
2008 Ford Edge
Cars.com's suggested trim level: Edge SEL FWD w/Premium Package, $29,405
If you get a Ford Edge without the leather interior, few people will mistake it for a luxury vehicle. Make the upgrade, though -- especially with black leather -- and you're riding in one slick SUV. The bold chrome grille and stylish overall design turn heads, and this SUV's substantial size also adds to the impression that it has a lot of value.
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