2010 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 - Tim Stevens, editor in chief
For just a tick over our $25,000 cap, you can get yourself into one of the most lovely modern luxury sedans on the road, a Mercedes-Benz CLS. OK, it'll have to be the first generation of the car, but you can at least get it in its final form: the 2010 CLS550.
The CLS550 is yours with a 5.5-liter V-8 making 388 horsepower, driving the car up to a limited 155 mph top speed.
For your money, you'll get plenty of safety features and an advanced (for the time) pre-collision system. However, you'll have to make do without any pricey options, like HID headlamps or GPS navigation. Given how clunky that ancient implementation of Comand will feel today, though, perhaps that's for the best.
Lexus' LS initially took share from the Germans as the smarter buyer's luxury car, and it has never looked back. 2008 is the second full model year of the LS460 (replacing the LS430), so first-year bugs are avoided.
As with any used luxury car, look for a low-content examples -- cars in this class are all very nicely appointed, don't ask for trouble by gilding the lily with exotic extra tech. In the case of a 2008 LS, that means searching for a car without the optional adaptive air suspension.
You may not quite get a long-wheelbase variant of the LS460 for our $25K, but try to. Similarly, covet Mark Levinson audio, but don't sweat getting the navigation option; remember: 2008.
The 460's V-8 engine is as smooth as its eight-speed automatic is perfect, just don't expect a German ride. A 2008 LS predates Lexus' recent obsession with matching Germans in the tautness department, and that's actually fine by me. Make sure the car's two main recalls for fuel pressure management and valve spring breakage have been addressed by a dealer.
2011 Lincoln MKS -- Wayne Cunningham, managing editor
Lincoln launched the MKS in 2009 as a new generation of luxury flagship, loading the car with its cutting-edge technology. It may have not made the impact that Lincoln had hoped, but it remains a very good-looking car. Further recommending it is all-wheel drive and a twin-turbocharged, 355-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 from Ford's EcoBoost engine line.
Look for an example with the THX audio option, an excellent sound system worthy of a luxury car. Parking assist, which controls the steering during parallel parking, is also an option to look for, while leather power seats and other cabin comfort features come standard.
For a 2011 model, you will be looking at just under our $25,000 limit, but take it back a model year with the same equipment, and you are paying even less. Either way, the MKS is a great used value.
A new generation of Infiniti's M sedan landed for the 2011 model year that was available with a 5.6-liter, 420-horsepower V-8. The more potent engine, tighter suspension with double-piston shock absorbers and sleeker styling helped make the M more of a serious threat to the usual-suspect German offerings like the BMW 550i and Mercedes-Benz E550.
Available technology inside included a drive-mode controller to adjust throttle and transmission behavior, active noise cancellation, blind-spot monitoring and blind-spot intervention (the latter uses the brakes to help the driver stay in his or her lane if the system senses the car wandering unintentionally). You should be able to find a 2011 M56 with 60,000 miles for around $25,000.
Those living in areas that experience real winters may want to spring for the all-wheel-drive version badged "M56X."
Two things to love about the 2014 Chrysler 300C: Its Hemi V-8 and its Mercedes-derived, rear-wheel-drive platform. Sure, you could get a V-6 for less money, but the bigger engine still puts us within the $25,000 price cap. Besides, selecting optional all-wheel drive puts us about $1000 over the price point, and where's the fun in stability, anyway?
The 300C pictured here still gets a lot of goodies, including Chrysler's excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen-based Uconnect system, heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats. In all honesty, it's the heated and cooled cupholders that do it for me. My soda will stay cold for my entire summertime commute? Yes, please!
By selecting a 2014 model, you're looking at a mere 24,000 miles on the odometer. You could jump down to a 2013 model and get a few more luxury touches like a complete leather interior for the same price, but that would mean more miles on the clock.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD -- Chris Paukert, managing editor
For 2012, Acura somewhat softened the prodigious, pointed proboscis on its TL sedan, the model's most controversial feature. Beyond this car's still-questionable nose, there's very little not to love on this premium midsizer.
The TL SH-AWD features torque-vectoring all-wheel drive for improved handling, and with 305 horsepower out of its 3.7-liter V-6, there should be few complaints about available power. The latter is paired with a new-for-the-year six-speed automatic or, less commonly, a quite-lovely manual gearbox. Find the latter, and you'll both save money at purchase time and add some driving involvement.
There's plenty of lux inside, too. Available heated and ventilated Milano leather seats and an eight-inch display supervising both navigation and the 10-speaker, 440-watt ELS surround sound system (with 60-gig hard drive) helps the TL feel surprisingly up to date. There's even an available blind-spot monitor.
The best part? Acura's reliability and lower service costs means you'll likely spend a lot less over the course of ownership than if you bought a more obvious German luxury competitor.
If you want a hulking behemoth of a luxury sedan, look no further than the 444-horsepower Audi A8L W12. This 12-cylinder leviathan rides atop an extended wheelbase, giving rear-seat occupants even more room than a traditional A8. With 120,000 miles on the odometer, expect to pay about $25,000 even.
The second-generation A3 (code-named D3) featured a number of innovations, including the first application of Audi's MMI infotainment system, the first use of four-wheel adaptive air suspension and Audi's first six-speed Tiptronic transmission.
Of course, being the first to possess all these new technologies means it's not the most reliable car -- expect to sock away plenty of cash for maintenance if you pick up one of these bad boys.
The Equus' cabin is comfortable and quiet when cruising, which gives the standard 17-speaker Lexicon audio system a good space in which to work.
Also standard is Hyundai's European-inspired infotainment system, which will probably look a bit dated six years post-launch, but it should still get the job done with a reasonably modern list of sources and features.
Often overshadowed by the smaller Genesis and recently folded into the new sub-brand of the same name, Hyundai's Equus is the South Korean automaker's largest and most ambitious entry into the global luxury sedan market. With a blend of appointments and value seemingly unique to Hyundai, the Equus stole some of the wind from the sails of the more established Japanese luxury players.
The 2011 Equus' lower Signature model squeaks in beneath our $25,000 cap, but don't mistake it for a "base" model. Every Equus rolls out fully loaded with an adaptive suspension plus modern driver aids like adaptive cruise control and a lane departure warning system. The best part? Hyundai's hearty 4.6-liter Tau V-8 engine sending 385 horsepower to the rear wheels. The only features missing from the higher-end Ultimate model are massaging rear buckets and a small refrigerator in the rear console.