Consumer Reports Says Buy These Cheap Luxury Cars Under $20K Right Now

  • The Infiniti Q50 is a psuedo-sports sedan with some kick
  • A Lexus ES is the best luxury car for the money
  • The Lexus IS tries to hard to be the Infiniti and fails

Usually, a $20,000 budget leaves you pretty hard-up as far as cheap luxury cars go. That money might go pretty far for, say, one of the best city cars you can buy, but luxury cars are another story. Thankfully, Consumer Reports has put together a small list of cars like the Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50, and Lexus ES that’ll help keep you riding plush for twenty stacks.

What’s the cheapest luxury car?

A silver Lexus ES 350 shot from the 3/4 angle at an auto show
A man named Honda photographing a Japanese car in America | Stan Honda via Getty Images

We’re starting at the top with the Lexus ES. Specifically, the 2012 era of cars. Back then, Lexus was still working to establish itself as a luxury brand, despite the groundwork laid by the game-changing Lexus LS 400. Suffice to say that the 2013 and 2012 Lexus ES helped cement that reputation a good bit. Currently, you can expect to pay a maximum of $19,000 for a nicely equipped ES model. There’s even a hybrid.

Life with the Lexus ES lineup is pretty sweet, too. Consumer Reports rates the Lexus ES at a 5/5 for reliability and a 4/5 for owner satisfaction. That means you’ll be happy and maintenance costs will be low. All good news, and there’s also an AWD version for those of you in snowy climates. However, be aware that this is a luxury car. Don’t expect any semblance of sportiness here, especially with the sedan’s middling 268 hp V6.

The Infiniti Q50 is a hit or miss sedan

A grey Infiniti Q50, an excellent cheap luxury car shot from the front 3/4 angle
The Infiniti Q50 is a sportier luxury option | Infiniti

However, should you want a little sport with a side of luxury, that’s practically the entire premise of the Infiniti lineup circa 2014. While there’s no manual transmission, the Infiniti Q50 spins all four wheels via a 7-speed automatic gearbox and develops between 328 and 360 hp from either a 3.7L or a 3.5L V6. While the Q50 doesn’t hold up against true-blue sports sedans like the Audi S4, it does blow both Lexus’ out of the water with its acceleration.

Unfortunately, things fall apart dynamically from there. CR bemoans the Infiniti Q50’s lifeless steering, and the ride is a touch too harsh for most luxury buyers. Finally, a small cargo area hurts the Q’s practicality a good deal. But, should you want a cheap luxury car with a side of Audi S4, the $18,000 Infiniti Q50 is worth buying.

Lexus makes some of the best cheap luxury vehicles

A silver Lexus IS luxury car shot from the front 3/4 in Japan
Some facelifted 2013 Lexus IS models can be had for under $20K | Toshifumi Kitamura via Getty Images

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Finally, that brings us to Lexus’ sportiest offering: the Lexus IS. A facelifted 2013 model is pictured above, but expect to end up with pre-facelift 2012 models for around $20,000. The 2.5L V6 is sporty, but not as much as the Q50’s sixer, with either 204 hp or 306 hp on tap. Like the ES, the IS is better off as a luxury car. Ride and interior comfort are stellar, but for some unknown reason, owner satisfaction is rated at a 2/5. Test drive one first.

That said, it turns out you’re spoiled for choice if you want a cheap luxury car under $20,000. Consumer Reports put together a hell of a list, and the Lexus ES came out on top. But we’d rather have the pseudo-sporty Infiniti Q50.