Best Buy Awards Luxury Car 2015
Our Luxury Car Best Buy of 2015 demonstrates the category's most appealing mix of quality, value, features, driving dynamics, fuel economy, safety and lxuury appeal, as informed by yearlong vehicle testing, back-to-back comparisons and our industry-leading pricing and resale value insight.
Against a varied field, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class won us over not just with luxury, style and performance, but with surprising value as well.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class managed to beat out four other luxury cars, spanning three different luxury classes. Yet despite the widely varying equipment levels and prices, the new C-Class quickly rose to the top in our voting, proving itself a Best Buy in its class by besting such luxury stalwarts as the Lexus GS 350, Cadillac CTS, Audi A3 and even its longtime rival, the BMW 3 Series.
The 2015 C-Class performs in every way you can imagine. First, it raises the bar on its entire class when it comes to style, design, technology and luxury trappings. But it does this while simultaneously remaining price-competitive against rivals like the BMW 3 Series, Cadillac ATS, Audi A4, and others. Then there was the way the new C-Class drives, blending luxury and performance without sacrificing either, and clearly establishing itself as the car to beat in its class.
Style, Luxury and Technology
Historically, the C-Class has tried -- and failed -- to look like a miniature version of the more expensive S-Class sedan. Here, at last, the formula works, with the soft curves and smoothly integrated lines of the newest Mercedes flagship elegantly scaled down to C-Class proportions. The same is true inside, where the leather-swathed dash and doors, and the open-pore wood accents, all borrow from the design of the new S-Class. The result is a purely luxurious feeling car that still manages to fit inside a more modest luxury budget.
Inside is more available technology than you'll know what to do with. Our C300 4Matic test car included Distronic Plus active cruise control, a Burmester audio system, a multimedia system that includes an 8.4-inch color display, and the newest version of COMAND, which includes a touch-sensitive pad that will leave you as giddy as you were when you first laid hands on an iPhone.
Price & Value
Of course, many of those things are options on the 2015 Mercedes C-Class, yet even our fully loaded C-Class sedan was right around $56,000. While not cheap, the starting price for a 2015 C300 is a more manageable $41,325, and that includes standard all-wheel drive, a claim even Audi can't make. Beyond that, as-equipped our C300 test car felt like it should actually cost more, and when did anybody feel undercharged when looking at a Mercedes window sticker?
While many of the C-Class's competitors can also be stuffed with luxury and high-tech options, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was a clear winner in our 5-year Cost to Own calculations. Despite its high entry price, the Mercedes C-Class handily beat the competition, meaning that not only is the Benz a good buy, it's a solid long-term investment as well.
If you think all this luxury came at the expense of any sporting flair, rest assured that the 2015 Mercedes C300 sedan we drove was plenty sporty enough. With standard all-wheel drive, the optional Sport Package that added Comfort, Sport and Sport+ suspension modes, and snappy acceleration from the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the new C-Class will get your blood pumping, and keep it going. Don't worry, there's an even more powerful V6 available as well. In our full review of the 2015 C-Class, we praised the car as being "tossable and lithe." We especially liked the steering. Not only was it perfectly weighted, quick and precise, it was notably better than every other car we had assembled, including the BMW 3 Series. Put this steering in a purebred sports car, and it would be right at home.
2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Photo Gallery
One man's silk, however, can be another man's burlap. That makes it impossible to choose just one luxury car as the best value for absolutely everyone. It's hard -- like trying to pick your favorite Pixar movie. Harder actually, because no two discriminating luxury tastes will ever agree on everything. So while the C-Class takes home this year's Best Buy Award for Luxury Cars, we chose it from a rich pool of nominees, any of which belongs at or near the top of your shopping list. Here, in alphabetical order, are our four other Finalists:
2015 Audi A3
Tech It to the Limit
The 2015 Audi A3 competes in a new class of small, lower-priced luxury cars, priced closer to the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class than the Acura ILX. With a new sedan shape that's sure to appeal to more buyers than the old hatchback did in the wagon-wary U.S. market, the A3 offers three different engines -- either a 1.8-liter or 2.0-liter gasoline-powered turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, or a 2.0-liter diesel -- front-drive or quattro all-wheel drive, and even a 2-door convertible model. The A3 also offers available high tech features like a touchpad-enhanced Audi Multi Media Interface system that's easier to use. As we said in our full review of the 2015 Audi A3, "the new A3 feels like a real-deal premium car, just in a smaller package."
While we all enjoyed driving the new Audi A3, the $37,000 price of our base-level sedan felt a little high. The plain interior design and mid-level materials quality made the A3 feel like an outlier in the company of the rest of the Audi lineup, such as the not-much-pricier A4 sedan. Things that should be standard were optional, like a backup camera that's only available as part of a $1,400 option package.
2015 BMW 3 Series
A Classic Choice
Let's make this clear: The BMW 3 Series is still a fun car to drive, one that offers a thrilling inline-6 cylinder engine, a great transmission, excellent suspension, and sharp steering. It can seat four people in comfort, five in a pinch, and offers a dizzying array of options that includes all-wheel drive, three different engines, and more body styles than you can shake a stick at, if you include the 4 Series coupes and 3 Series wagons and Gran Turismo hatchbacks. Our full review of the 2015 BMW 3 Series summed up its enduring appeal like this: "While there are alternatives from Lexus, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, none are as coveted by enthusiasts."Yet after driving the similarly priced Mercedes-Benz C-Class, we noted an unmistakably dated feel to the BMW. The interior felt less luxurious, and not because our test car was lacking an option package -- if you want a stitched dash on the 3 Series, you're out of luck. Many of the materials inside felt lower grade than the Mercedes-Benz as well. But what really sunk the BMW is that the Mercedes C300 was simply more fun to drive, a domain that used to be a BMW hallmark. Sure, the 6-cylinder 335i we drove was quicker in a straight line than our 4-cylinder C300, but around a corner or just steering through a parking lot, the Mercedes-Benz felt sharper and crisper than its BMW rival.
2015 Cadillac CTS
High Style and Performance
By a nearly $10,000 margin, the 2015 Cadillac CTS we drove was the most expensive car in this test. Our test model featured the 3.6-liter V6 engine with the Performance Collection trim level, which included leather seats, an enhanced audio system, 3-zone climate control, and performance upgrades like magnetic ride control and Brembo front brakes. There was no disputing that the Cadillac CTS was a fun car to drive, with great dynamics in turns or just cruising down the road. This impression was reinforced in our full review of the 2015 CTS, where we said it "boasts superior control and agility under all conditions." The engine and transmission responded quickly to inputs, the V6 sounded wonderful at full throttle, but muted at cruise, and the brakes were simply excellent. We also loved the styling's bold, uniquely American lines.
But several factors conspired to knock the Cadillac out of the running. The car's CUE infotainment is far slower than the iPad that inspired it, and the touch-sensitive buttons should be replaced with actual clickable ones. The impact of the high-quality interior materials was offset by a busy design, and the rear seat was also far too small for a car in this class. Throw in the high asking price that didn't include features like dynamic cruise control, plus the poor resale value, and the Cadillac was simply outclassed.
2015 Lexus GS
A Driver's Car from Lexus
We all love driving the 2015 Lexus GS, and it remains one of the best-driving cars in a midsize luxury car class that includes the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Cadillac CTS. The simple truth, as we've learned from our long-term Lexus GS 350, is that this is a driver's car, with steering that combines precision and feedback, a suspension that's both supple and controlled, and an engine that provides excellent thrust along with a thrilling wide-open-throttle soundtrack. Couple that with luxurious surroundings that includes stitched trim on the dash and doors, an enormous color display for navigation and infotainment, and the kind of effortless elegance on which Lexus has built its reputation, and the GS 350 remains a strong contender.
However, this Lexus is in need of a technology update, pronto. While it certainly boasts plenty of high-tech features -- the Remote Touch system's haptic feedback is intuitive and easy to learn -- the GS comes up short on modern features like dynamic cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and other features available on competitive vehicles. Additionally, when comparing the Lexus back-to-back, we became conscious of little things, like the busy design of the dash, and the surprisingly inelegant drone of the V6 at cruising speeds. Changes are due for the GS soon, and we have a feeling that alongside a long-rumored GS-F high-performance edition, the GS will close the gap on high-tech feature availability. But if you're willing to look beyond those things, you'll be treated to "a harmonious blending of luxury and performance in a sleek sedan full of surprises," as noted in our full review of the 2015 Lexus GS, as well as an out-and-out luxury bargain.