When you have a taste for the finer things in life but lack the budget to afford them, sometimes you have to get a little creative. Luckily, the magic of depreciation means that used luxury cars are available within any budget. Maintenance is more expensive, as is insurance, but if you buy a car that’s had all the major maintenance done already and are willing to learn how to do some basic work yourself, owning a used luxury car can be surprisingly affordable.
Some luxury cars are better buys than others, and sometimes one of the older generations is a better car than the redesigned one. Even if you have to do a few repairs and some more expensive maintenance work, it’ll be a long time before a $10,000 luxury car ends up costing you more than a more expensive economy car. How can you beat that?
10. Lincoln LS
Lincoln might not be the most prestigious luxury brand right now, but because of that, depreciation has hit the Lincoln LS hard. It’s still a luxury sedan with surprisingly sporty handling, though, and neither the available V6 nor V8 will break the bank. Even a fairly low mileage version should cost less than $5,000.
Next: The signature car from a luxury brand.
9. BMW 3 Series
BMW’s signature car, the 3 Series has been around for years, which means that a used version can be found to match nearly any budget. No matter which one you buy, it’s going to be fun to drive and instantly recognizable as a BMW. An early version of the previous generation, a car that ran from 2005 to 2011, can be had for around $10,000, and the generation before that is even cheaper.
Next: Luxury and reliability in one package.
8. Lexus IS
While the BMW is a better-performing car, the Lexus IS has it beat in an area that matters a lot to the budget-conscious buyer: reliability. The second generation proved to be far more popular than the first, but the first generation is still cool. Both will be inexpensive to maintain, and while the Lexus badge isn’t quite as prestigious as the BMW badge, it’s still a luxury brand. Plus, it only takes around $15,000 to put a clean version of the second generation in your driveway.
Next: An underrated car with the same bloodlines as a Bentley.
7. Volkswagen Phaeton
Mechanically, the underrated Volkswagen Phaeton is a Bentley Flying Spur with different bodywork. That alone makes it interesting, but getting your hands on a Flying Spur takes some serious cash. The Volkswagen badge on the hood means that the Phaeton is much more affordable, with some of the V8 models dipping below $10,000. It will probably cost more to maintain than the rest of the cars on this list, but none of those cars have a Bentley underneath.
Next: Fast and affordable.
6. Acura TL
From 2004 to 2008, it was hard to beat the Acura TL, especially if it was the fun to drive Type-S. Today, the TL Type-S sells for somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000. For your money, you get a powerful car that’s one of the fastest Acuras, is incredibly fun to drive, as reliable as any Honda, and a classic design that’s aged surprisingly well. Newer TLs are fairly affordable as well, but looks-wise, Acura took a huge step backward after 2008. Stick with the classic.
Next: The redesigned look provides luxury and looks.
5. Infiniti G37
The original G35 coupe was gorgeous, but its sedan version was a bit frumpy. For 2006, however, the G35 got a new design that majorly improved its looks, and later, it received a larger engine as well. With a nicer interior and a powerful V6 engine, the G37 is a great used car buy even if it didn’t quite have the handling to take down the BMW 3 Series when it was new. For a little under $15,000, it’s hard to pass up, especially with its superior reliability.
Next: Arrive safely, and in style.
4. Volvo S60
For the budget-conscious luxury car buyer who also cares about safety, Volvo is the go-to automaker, and its first-generation S60 is still a spectacular car. It lets you drive a powerful car but arrive in style. The S60 R is the true star of the lineup, but even that only should cost a little under $10,000. More basic versions can be had for closer to $5,000, but if you can afford the better-handling, more powerful Volvo S60 R, why not spring for it?
Next: This car has comfort in spades.
3. Lexus LS
The Lexus LS was the first car made by the new Japanese luxury car company, and it launched with a bang. You expect comfort along with the luxury, and the LS is one of the most comfortable, according to Consumer Reports.
Aimed at taking down the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class, it proved to be one of the best cars ever built. For buyers truly on a budget, buying a first- or second-generation LS will cost less than $5,000. Early versions of the third generation can be had for close to $10,000, though, and that was the version that introduced adaptive cruise control, a feature that’s still a luxury today.
Next: One generation won’t give you many problems.
2. Mercedes S-Class
While the Mercedes S-Class is a very prestigious car, a new one also starts at nearly $100,000, and gently used ones have major reliability issues. The version of the S-Class that Mercedes made from 1998 to 2005, however, is one of the best ever built, and it turned out to be surprisingly reliable. Early versions cost well under $10,000, and while the LS will probably last longer, being able to say you drive an S-Class carries serious prestige that Lexus just can’t match.
Next: One of the best luxury cars ever won’t cost you a fortune, if you buy used.
1. BMW 530i
From 1995 to 2003, BMW built what was arguably the best and was one of the highest-ranking cars in the world. By the time the 530i was introduced in 2001, the 5 Series was nearly perfect, and even all these years later, one that’s been well taken care of will still ride, drive, and handle like a new car. Even better, a clean one will only cost you around $5,000. For even more fun, upgrade to the BMW 540i. Its torquey V8 made it just as quick as the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. No matter which version you get, you just can’t beat that generation 5 Series if you’re looking for luxury on a budget.
Writer Jason Rossi also contributed to this article.