2004 Acura TL
Acura TL. Photo: Acura

BMW 5 series
BMW 5 series. Photo: Tony Whitney

2004 Audi A6
Audi A6. Photo: Audi

2004 Buick Park Avenue
Buick Park Avenue. Photo: GM

Cadillac CTS. Photo: Greg Wilson

2004 Lincoln LS
Lincoln LS. Photo: Lincoln

Chrysler 300M
Chrysler 300M. Photo: Grant Yoxon

2003 Infiniti M45
Infinity M45. Photo: Grant Yoxon

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type. Photo: Jaguar

2003 Lexus GS 430
Lexus GS 430. Photo: Lexus

Mercedes E-Class
Mercedes E-Class. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Volvo S60 AWD
Volvo S60 AWD. Photo: Grant Yoxon

2004 Saab 9-5
Saab 9-5. Photo: Saab

Click images to enlarge

by Tony Whitney

Automotive marketers call them “mid-luxury models” and to the rest of us, they’re the luxury sedans which fit between the reasonably-priced entry-level luxury class models and the “flagships” with hefty sticker prices to match.

Mid-luxury cars usually boast most of the technological bells and whistles of the flagship sedans without too much of the cost-paring that goes on in the entry-level luxury class. Perhaps Mercedes-Benz has the most clearly-defined products in this price class, so we’ll use the Stuttgart automaker as an example. MB’s entry-level cars are the C-Class models, its mid-luxury range includes various E-Class products and their top-of-the-line sedans are the opulent S-Class cars.

Since so many mid-luxury cars combine affordability with high levels of engineering and creature comfort, they tend to sell in greater numbers than the models above and below them. The mid-luxury class is hot right now and competition is intense. Happily, all-new models rarely feature significant price jumps, despite the addition of advanced technology and more desirable cockpit ambiance.

Acura has a new TL model for 2004 and it’s one of the best products ever from Honda’s upscale division. For starters, styling is a step above anything Acura has brought us before and adds sportiness to what was previously a rather bland design. With its potent V6 and choice of automatic or 6-speed manual transmissions, the TL is luxurious, fast and nimble and features one of the most reasonable pricetags in the segment.

Styling for the 2004 BMW 5-Series differs from anything we’ve seen yet from the Bavarian automaker and is a more successful effort than the new 7-Series, which did spark some controversy. The new “5” will certainly prompt comment because it departs from BMW’s “three box” approach and brings us a sculptured, more dynamic look. There’s a bold beltline that starts near the dramatically-styled front lights and runs the length of the car. The rear lighting is no less striking and presents drivers who’ve just been passed with a very identifiable “look.” The mid-size BMW comes with a wide range of technical innovations which should keep it ahead of the pack for quite a while. Most novel is what BMW calls its Active Steering system. Basically, this is an electronically controlled steering system with variable transmission and power assistance. The first models to arrive will come with in-lines sixes, but V8 versions will follow.

Also from Germany, Audi’s A6 is a stylish, performance-oriented sedan with a very high level of fit and finish. Audi does interiors exceptionally well and certainly the quality and ambiance of the A6 cabin is as good as anything in the industry. Buyers can choose from a range of six and eight cylinder powerplants and the car is also available with Audi’s remarkable continuously variable transmission. Like all Audis, the A6 can be ordered with all wheel drive.

Businesses with US ties often prefer their executives to drive domestic nameplate products and right now there are some excellent choices in this vehicle segment. The Buick Park Avenue is the old-established GM division’s top sedan and comes with a 3.8-litre V6 – with supercharging as an option. Real burl walnut trim is a feature of the interior of this sedan, which often tops researcher’s quality ratings.

Cadillac’s CTS is a more radical approach to a mid-size luxury sedan with its crisp lines and “wheel at each corner” look. This car is fast and comfortable and boasts a 3.2-litre V6 and supple suspension. Industry observers believe Cadillac is on track for a major comeback with products like the CTS.

From Lincoln, the LS is an understated compact luxury model with hidden talents in handling and response. Unbeknownst to most, the LS is built on the same platform as the Jaguar S-Type, so its pedigree is something special. Under the hood is a 3.0-litre V6 and the transmission is a 5-speed automatic with semi-manual mode.

Chrysler’s 300M is a performance version of the Concorde which has been cleverly shortened for a crisper look. With its 3.5-litre V6 and AutoStick auto/manual transmission, the car is sporty for a big Chrysler and roomier than most rivals in this class. Some analysts believe that Chrysler needs a V8 to really make an impression in the luxury segment, but in the meantime, the 300M’s 250-plus horsepower should please most buyers.

Infiniti’s M45 is a recent addition to this buoyant vehicle category and it probably deserves more attention from buyers who think the world begins and ends with Mercedes-Benz and BMW. V8 power sets the M45 apart from many rivals, though its price is more on a par with V6 powered luxury cars. The interior is especially well done and its rear wheel drive will please traditionalists.

The Jaguar S-Type was launched as a modern day version of a legendary Jag of the 1960s but of course, it’s now a very high-tech automobile. Styling is a wonderfully evocative rendering of sixties British sports sedans and seems to appeal to just about everybody. You can get this Jaguar in V6 and V8 versions and the top performance model puts out 370 horsepower.

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