Cadillac CTSClick to enlarge picture

Cadillac's sporty CTS gets a complete redesign for the 2008 model year.

Consumer demand for affordable luxury has placed more focus on the near-luxury category of passenger cars. This category includes cars from upscale brands such as Lexus, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lincoln, as well as upper-end models from manufacturers such as Chrysler, Toyota and Hyundai. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices range from around $24,000 for a Hyundai Azera to approximately $34,000 for an Infiniti G37 Coupe.

MSN Autos defines near-luxury cars as well-appointed sedans and coupes with starting MSRPs at or below $34,000. Near-luxury cars offer trim configurations and option packages that provide luxury features and performance in price ranges that are lower than traditional luxury or high-performance cars.

If you do not find a particular vehicle you would expect to see on a list of near-luxury cars, please check our article on traditional luxury vehicles.

Photo Gallery: Near Luxury Cars

Hot Entries for 2008
Cadillac is bringing a redesigned CTS to market with fresh styling and several updates under the skin, including an available all-wheel-drive setup. Power for the new CTS will come from the current 258-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, or GM's new 300-horsepower 3.6-liter direct-injected V6 that produces 270 lb-ft of torque. A more luxurious interior features DVD-based navigation with a telescoping touch-screen, a Bose 5.1 Cabin Surround audio system, and an Easy Key system with remote start. For maximum comfort, front passengers are treated to heated and ventilated "thin-seat" technology, enhancing rear-seat leg-, knee- and foot-room.

Also sporting more power and a new look is the Infiniti G37 Coupe. The former 3.5-liter mill in the G35 Coupe has been bumped to 3.7-liters in the new G37, and power output jumps with displacement to 330 horsepower. Lower, longer and wider than its predecessor, the second-generation coupe's ride and handling is enhanced by a stiffer platform, optional 19-inch wheels, standard Vehicle Dynamic Control and an optional 4-Wheel Active Steer system.

From Germany, Mercedes-Benz has introduced an all-new C-Class for the 2008 model year. Offered in either Luxury or Sport versions, the Sport is easily identified by the three-pointed star incorporated into the front grille. With elegant new styling and a number of feature and powertrain upgrades, the new C-Class is quite a jump over the previous generation.

Features Are Plentiful
As their name implies, near-luxury cars can come extremely well equipped. Heated and cooled front seats — like those found in the CTS and Lincoln MKZ — are becoming more common, as is dual-zone climate control, available in models such as the Audi A4 or the Buick Lucerne. Even the Hyundai Azera can be equipped with a leather-trimmed interior. Technology such as bright, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, which a few years ago were found only on expensive, top-line luxury cars, has made its way into the near-luxury segment. Other near-lux tech includes Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, and high-end audio systems. The Acura TL sports all three, and its ELS audio system will also play DVD-Audio discs with impressive fidelity.

Enthusiasts will be happy to hear that several models in the category continue to offer the choice of manual or automatic transmissions. Among them are the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G37, Cadillac CTS and Lexus IS.

Front-, Rear- or All-Wheel Drive?
The near-luxury segment reflects broader changes in the overall car market, including the proliferation of drive systems. As consumers have become accustomed to all-wheel drive on their SUVs, they've shown interest in having this feature on their cars as well.

Audi's A4 and Volvo's S60 have front- or all-wheel-drive trims, while BMW's 3-Series and Infiniti's G35 are rear- or all-wheel drive. Subaru's top sedan, the Legacy 2.5 GT spec.B comes standard with all-wheel drive, its only configuration. Chrysler has made all-wheel drive an option available on its 300 sedan. All-wheel-drive versions generally command a $1,200 to $2,400 premium over their two-wheel-drive counterparts.

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