Automotive Style

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Posted by Don Adair on Nov. 28, 2018, midnight

Most years, more luxury cars are sold in December than any other month.

Dealers want to clear their inventories. Sales people want to hit their year-end targets. And customers want something fun and flashy for the new year.

So let’s go shopping.

Car with a red bow

Luxury can be found in every corner of today's market, from compact crossovers to full-size SUVs. Whatever the size or body style, though, pampering is the point.

The earthy fragrance of a leather-trimmed cabin. The appeal of real wood trim. The tactile pleasure of switchgear that works with fine-honed precision.

Here are cars that soothe with cabin-infusing fragrances (Mercedes-Benz); with vivid displays that bring Google Earth imagery to the dashboard (Audi); and gearshift knobs that rise magically from the center console (Jaguar).

Most luxury-level cars are outfitted with premium audio systems that deliver your music with mind-blowing fidelity. 

Massaging seats soothe the body and relax the soul. Adaptive suspensions adjust in real time to changing conditions, balancing handling precision and ride comfort.

The luxury segments are home to several species of performance. Porsche is here, of course, and BMW built its brand on sport sedans, a legacy it continues with its M Series vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz contends with its AMG sub-brand and Jaguar is clawing its way back into relevance with its unique British blend of elegance and sport.

EV-pioneering Tesla stormed the luxury battlements this year, with three top-selling models. The Model S, Model X and Model 3 command lofty sticker prices but deliver freedom from the gas pump – and stunning levels of performance, comfort and technology.

Tesla has moved boldly – too boldly, perhaps – into the emerging self-driving car market. Autonomous driving is years away but even now manufacturers are equipping their cars with supportive technologies like automated emergency braking, lane-departure prevention and adaptive cruise control.

They save lives and they are on tap throughout in the luxury classes.

The latest infotainment systems unite navigation, smartphone integration and related functions under a single control system. Their touchscreens, touchpads and various knobs impose a learning curve but enable owners to manage and personalize many comfort and performance features.

High-resolution display screens grow larger every year and are the focal point of many luxury cabins. Volvo’s tablet-style display stands out, and so does Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.

The price of entry-level transportation starts at around $40,000. Various compacts list for less, but their luxury trims quickly escalate into the $40,000 arena and beyond.

The midsize arena, represented by cars like BMW’s 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz's E-Class and Lexus’s GS, starts at around $50,000 and can run past the $80,000 mark with high-end upgrades. These cars traffic in spacious, top-shelf accommodations, advanced cabin tech and countless luxury indulgences.

Expect to spend a minimum of $70,000 on a large luxury sedan – the Tesla Model S, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Genesis G90 – start at around $70,000 and can easily top $100,000. Look to them for ultra-luxury.

Thrifty four- and six-cylinder engines – many of them hybrids and may fitted with power-boosting turbochargers for power and efficiency – outnumber old-school V-8s.

Tesla’s success portends a bright future for luxury-class EVs, while an older technology, diesel, still finds takers.

Jaguar’s exquisite XF sedan and wagon are available with a choice of four engines, including a thrifty and powerful four-cylinder turbocharged diesel.

No matter its size, drive wheels or power source, a proper luxury car possesses a sense of style and exclusivity that justifies its price. Exteriors please the eye. Cabins envelop occupants in opulence. Drivetrains are smooth, strong and often surprisingly efficient.

Which elegant auto should you add to your Christmas wish list? Here are three prime candidates:

Tesla Model S
$74,500-$134,000

Through August, Tesla’s Model S was the country’s best-selling large luxury sedan. Buyers can’t get enough of its 250-mile range, standard AWD and semi-autonomous capabilities. Though slightly less elegant than its prime competitors, even the entry-level 75D is faster with better handling than you need it to be. The $135,000 100D is good for 359 miles and is even crazier-quick.

Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class
$40,050-$69,900

Even in its base form, the GLC’s roomy cabin exudes luxury-class elan. It grows pricy as options boxes are checked, and its high-powered AMG variants are dearer still – but right out of the box, the little Benz satisfies luxury expectations.

Porsche Panamera
$85,000-$194,800

Let’s pick Porsche’s odd-duck sedan for its outrageous performance envelope and tech-heavy twin-cockpit-style cabin. Available in three body styles and five trim levels, Panamera’s powerplants range from a 300-horsepower turbocharged V-6 to a 680-hp turbo-hybrid. If Santa parks a Panamera in the driveway with a big bow, you’ll no doubt be tempted to find a place where you can drive fast. Really fast.