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Did You Know: Bang-for-the-Buck Luxury & Performance Sedans

Affordable top-notch luxury performance experience By ,

“Justin, where’s that story you were supposed to file last week?” 

That’s a question from the boss.  

Or how about, “OK… Sir… you want how many cheeseburgers?!” 

That’s a question from the drive-thru people at the nearby Wendy’s. 

I’m a man. I have needs. One of those needs is sequential cheeseburgers. 

“Why haven’t you called me today?!” That’s a common question from my mom.

I get asked a lot of questions.

I also get asked this one a lot: “What’s the best luxury performance car?”

A simple reply follows: There is no best car. It all depends on what you want. So, I get to ask some questions back: How much can you spend? What are your priorities? Are you driving it all year round? How much do you care about fuel bills? And so on.

Some fairly standard criteria are typically offered. The luxury performance car in question can’t cost excessive amounts of money, should be half-decent on fuel, and be flashy, affordable and quick and fun, and styled to give the owner instant baller status with a big-deal look that tells fellow motorists what’s up. 

Apparently, value is a big thing that people like, and it’s trendier than ever to get a ride that looks good, drives fast, is comfortable, and makes you look like a big-dollar shot-caller on the cheap. 
When these criteria are offered, I find myself frequently coming up with the same short list of rides I tell the folks asking the questions to check out on a test drive. 

Here’s a look.

Cadillac ATS
The ATS puts everything Cadillac knows about technology, lightweight performance and styling into a striking and compact package. And, unlike those massive Cadillacs from years gone by (typically driven by folks who are a thousand), this one’s compact, light and eager to please.

In any case, you get a sumptuous cabin lined in high-tech interfaces, metallic accenting and stitching, and creamy smooth leather that’s so fragrant you can smell it on your clothes hours after you get out. There are gadgets, too. Key among them is the slick CUE infotainment system which provides fingertip access to numerous entertainment and communication functions. You can get a heads-up display, a wireless cellular phone recharging interface, and a big-ass stereo system, if you like. 

The big value draw here is the performance. From the first twist of the ATS steering wheel, you can feel that engineers were serious about making this one a performance weapon with instantly accessible dynamic capability. The ATS turns, accelerates, slides, squirms, and brakes with an engaging level of precision and immediacy. Magnetic Ride Control suspension enables all of that without abuse of occupant spinal columns. Brembo brakes help ditch forward momentum metres earlier than a comparable BMW 3-Series, too.

The shrill, full-throttle wail from the 321-horsepower 3.6L V6 engine is not to be missed, though the 2.0L turbo is the engine to get. It offers the highest available torque output for the ATS, makes a not-too-shabby 272 horsepower, and puts less weight on the front wheels, which enhances the lightweight feel. Plus, you can get it with a manual gearbox -- which you will, because you’re awesome. 

So, with the ATS, key Cadillac traits along with a highly tuned, highly engaging feel serve up a fantastic sports luxury driving experience for the money.

Hyundai Genesis Sedan
Since it launched originally, the Genesis has been all about huge performance and luxury value. The just-launched, totally redesigned second-generation model takes all of that even further. Provide your local dealer with about $43,000, and they’ll provide you with a great big cruiser that offers features, power and luxury to rival cars that cost twice as much. The Genesis is built perhaps not as much to challenge established big, fast luxury cars as it is to prove that Hyundai can pull off a similarly top-line product for a whack less money.

Go fully loaded, if you like. A Genesis 5.0 Ultimate only comes completely packed with everything, including a $62,000 price tag. Not a bad deal at all, as you get everything. Literally. Including 420 horsepower. All at a price that barely opens the door on comparably sized European competitors. This level of equipment, power output and technology in a BMW or Mercedes or Audi is going to start approaching double the price, really quickly. 

There’s a buttery-smooth direct-injected V8; an 8-speed transmission; all-wheel drive; radar cruise; a stereo system normally reserved for Bentleys; plus thick, plush carpets, a suede ceiling, and plenty of wood on board. The Genesis looks and feels like it should cost a lot more. 

So, the big bang for the buck here comes from the creamy ride, the beautifully refined and very potent available V8, and the comfort-first, agility-second chassis that’ll impress even seasoned luxury car buffs used to spending a pile more money.

Mercedes CLA 45 AMG
This one’s luxury performance, heavy on the performance. The CLA 45 AMG is the entry product to the automaker’s line of custom-tuned snort-monsters, and amounts to a helluva deal that puts world-class, track-validated performance into its driver’s hands for less than a loaded Mitsubishi Evo.

The CLA 45 isn’t the type of performance-enhanced luxury car popular with drivers who wear fish-print shirts from Costco and call their grandkids every few hours for help with the iPad. It’s loud, fast, hardcore, obnoxious, and buried very, very deeply into the performance side of the spectrum. You get a full body kit with aerodynamic upgrades; super sporty wheels and super sticky tires wrapped around a massive AMG braking system; the list goes on.

The CLA 45 is also all-wheel drive, so you can use it in the winter, and it comes with a dual-clutch paddle-shift transmission that changes gears at literal blink-of-an-eye speeds while making exhaust noises usually reserved for Hollywood movie gunfights. Plus, with 360 horsepower coming from a 2.0L turbo engine that hits hard, the acceleration could make your church-going grandmother drop in sequential f-bombs. Best part? It’s excellent on fuel, too.

On board, there’s the typical slathering of leather and suede and aluminum and quality materials, so it looks the part of a luxury performance car, too. But, really, it’s performance first, and everything else a distant second. So, with the CLA 45 AMG, the bang for the buck factor comes hard and fast from what’s probably the highest all-out performing luxury car available for the money.

Chrysler 300 SRT 8
A Chrysler 300 SRT 8 is a gentleman’s rocket sedan ideal for use in sophisticated business, and where priorities in a new ride include comfort, handsomeness, and the ability to do on-demand burnouts when you kill the traction assist and leave the office parking lot early on a Friday afternoon. As easy to drive gently as it is to drive hard, this one gets a 6.4L HEMI SRT V8 with a heaping 470 horsepower, Brembo brakes, track-tuned suspension, and more. 

All of that in the most discreetly up-styled SRT model out there: most people can’t tell an SRT 8 from that V6-powered base model their neighbour’s wife drives to yoga. Neither can the cops, unless they hear the machine-gun exhaust note. Look for a kickin’ stereo system, navigation, heated leather, and plenty more. With moves to give twice-the-price machines from Europe a run for their money, the bidding on a brand-new 300 SRT 8 starts below $50,000. 

Audi S4
Could this be the ultimate luxury performance machine for the Canadian shopper? The S4’s standard supercharged engine makes 333 horsepower that feel suspiciously athletic. Winter-busting Quattro AWD is standard. Classy looks are modern, dynamic and upscale without excessive chrome or ornamentation. Best of all, from a respectable $54,000, the S4 delivers luxurious and refined performance that’s usable all year round, on any road, track or surface. Ready for long-haul cruising, a lapping day at your local track or a blast to the slopes in a blizzard, the S4 loses nothing between tasks. It’s a surface-to-surface missile.

Drivers can pick a 7-speed S-tronic automatic transmission or a proper 6-speed manual, both of which work with TFSI injection technology for very decent fuel economy. The S4 makes heaps of sense for shoppers after a luxurious and discreet high-performance experience that’s usable 365 days a year.

Infiniti Q50S Hybrid AWD
The big draw to this sporting hybrid is a flagship level of technology and design, without the flagship pricing. You get Infiniti’s steer-by-wire system, which has numerous benefits to steering feel, refinement, and confidence while driving in the winter, where the steering never plays tug-of-war with the driver as slush-stripes pass beneath. The interior is gorgeous, and so are the instruments, and so is the body. 

Ditto the performance. At about 6,500 rpm, the efforts of the free-breathing V6 and electric hybrid motor combine within the 7-speed automatic to push all four wheels along  at a nearly alarming rate when you jam on it. The sound is lovely, and despite packing the highest output of any currently available Q50 variant, my mileage landed at just 10.5L/100km over a week of driving in extreme cold and heavy snow.

Here’s the first hybrid I’ve ever told anyone they should consider as a priority sports sedan test-drive.