THE BLOG
06/03/2013 10:33 am ET Updated Aug 03, 2013

What Really Defines a Luxury Car?

Luxury is about pleasing the senses. From cars to homes, quality construction, soft leather, thick carpet, open space and lots of light are just a few of the things that communicate luxury. People can't be fooled into believing something is truly luxurious just because of a marketing campaign or clever branding.

When it comes to cars, it's easy to identify luxury brands. Acura, BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz are known as luxury brands not because everything they make is luxurious, but because most of what they produce is high-quality and pleasing to the senses. The cars look and feel good.

However, the same company that builds Mercedes-Benz branded vehicles also builds the micro-sized Smart car. It's clearly not designed to be a luxury car, but that doesn't change the fact that Mercedes-Benz is a luxury brand. The company has earned that reputation by consistently producing high-quality, good-looking cars that have compelling features. The same is true of Audi, Lexus and others. Remove the Audi rings from an A6 or the three-pointed star from an E-Class and you still have a luxury car.

What about the opposite side of the same coin? Can a company like Kia, known primarily for economy cars, build a luxury car? You'd say no if your definition of luxury is primarily based on branding. But, if you define luxury as attractive, high-quality and pleasing to the senses, then yes, Kia can build a luxury car. In fact, it already has. Recently, Kia Motors introduced the all-new Cadenza sedan. It accelerates with authority, combines tight handling with a silky-smooth highway ride, the cabin remains quiet no matter what kind of road you're on and is visually appealing both inside and out. It also comes standard with many luxury features like heated leather seats and navigation.

There are other examples of luxury cars from what are considered to be non-luxury brands. I'd argue the Hyundai Equus and Hyundai Genesis are luxury cars. Also, the 2014 Chevy Impala LTZ, 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite and 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited look and feel like luxury cars when you choose the top of the line trim and add the available options. In base trim, the Honda Odyssey is practical, but not luxurious. But if you opt for the Touring Elite version, you'll get soft leather, power side doors, a host of connected apps thanks to HondaLink software, LED taillights, an adjustable rear-view parking camera and a built-in vacuum. Yes, a vacuum is built right into the car. There's a certain luxury in that level of convenience.

The idea that you can only get a luxury car from a luxury brand may be specifically American. Brands like Acura, Infiniti and Lexus were invented to sell luxurious Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas to Americans who probably don't think of Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas as luxury cars. However, in places like Korea and Japan, wealthy car buyers have no problem spending serious money on large, powerful and nicely equipped cars like the Nissan Cedric or Toyota Crown Majesta. If you can accept that one brand can sell everything from a budget friendly fuel sipper all the way up to a high-performance coupe or luxury sedan (like Chevrolet), it might change the way you shop for a new car.

If you're still thinking luxury means making a big impression by showing up to your high-school reunion in a borrowed Jag like Romy and Michelle, think again. Today, it's about quality, comfort, good looks and visually pleasing design. Modern luxury pays attention to the details, but ultimately doesn't care what logo is on the trunk.

What about you, do you think a real luxury car can only come from a luxury brand?