How do you define luxury?
Based on this category's vastly different entrants (diesel-powered rear-drive sedan; midsize all-wheel-drive sedan; a hybrid and even a station wagon), even the organizers of this year's Canadian Car of the Year awards seem to have had a hard time answering the question.
With higher fuel and road tax costs on the Continent, it's easy to see why diesels are the definition of luxury in Europe. In fact, BMW says 71 per cent of its European sales are now diesels. And this 335d is a good example why.
Compared to the 335i gas model, the rear-drive "d" has 35 less horsepower (265), yet a tree-stump-pulling 425 lb.-ft. of torque.
And despite bettering the Lexus HS's highway fuel consumption rating (5.4 L/100 km or 52 m.p.g.) at 7.0 seconds, it's the quickest entrant here.
No need to worry about the "d" on the trunk. The 335d drives just like a 3 Series.
Communicative steering, a nice balance of ride and handling, and a great driver's environment are all part and parcel.
If BMW saw fit to put this excellent diesel engine in the 3 Series wagon, it would have easily won this class.
Price as tested: $53,350
Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC
The new Mercedes mid-size E Class sedan is the definition of old-school luxury.
As expected, the big Benz delivers excellent ride quality, a hushed cabin at speed, and tracks down the highway like a freight train. But compared to the Caddy, the all-wheel-drive E 350's premium pricing doesn't deliver extra interior room, performance or driving fun.
Its carryover 268 hp 3.5-litre V6 can only match the CTS wagon in the 0-to-100 km/h run. Plus it sounded coarse in doing so. And the Merc's luxury-oriented suspension means the E 350 rolls heavily in the corners, right before the over anxious electronic nannies cut in.
Oh, and don forget the traditional luxury quality of numb, vague and uncommunicative steering.
Price as tested: $70,825
Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
Forget Generation Yers, status seekers, or diesel freaks: my definition of luxury is having it all.
And the new wagon version of Cadillac's excellent CTS sedan offers the most for the least in this group.
The CTS sedan is General Motors' most competitive product. And now with the addition of a fifth-door, it has the ability to take on the likes of the BMW 3 Series Touring and Audi A4/A6 Avants.
For such a roomy vehicle (more than the E Class), the CTS Sport Wagon can be thrown into corners aggressively without upsetting its balanced chassis.
My only wish is for more feedback from the steering wheel.
The CTS's 3.6-litre V6 is technically contemporary with direct-injection and variable-valve-timing. Its powerful, with 306 hp, and can haul the wagon from 0-to-100 km/h in 7.4 seconds: quicker than an A6 Avant.
(If that's not enough oomph, there's 556 hp Sport Wagon version of the CTS-V sedan coming next year.)
Why anyone would consider Caddy's slower, poorer handling and more expensive SRX crossover over to this new CTS Sport Wagon, I'll never know.
Price as tested: $60,870
Lexus HS 250h
To make a long story short, the Lexus HS 250h isn't expensive enough.
After this year's event had started, organizers decided that the Lexus's $41,400 as-tested price (it starts at $39,900) didn't meet a minimum $50,000 price stipulation and disqualified the car.
In truth, I drove a fully loaded HS this week to and from the event, and I live in Ottawa. It topped out at over $48,000.
However you define "luxury," or what it should cost, the latest Lexus hybrid offers some fresh ideas in a segment that traditionally demands room, power and a prestigious hood ornament.
Based on a European Toyota front-drive sedan platform, the HS is about the same size as a Volkswagen Jetta.
It's as nicely finished as other Lexus products. Plus it has the mouse-like central interface from the RX crossover and the unique PRND gear selector from the Prius.
Front passengers are treated well. But the HS has less rear legroom than a Corolla.
With a combined 187 hp from its hybrid powertrain (borrowed from the Camry Hybrid), at 8.5 seconds, the HS is 1.5 seconds quicker to 100 km/h than a Jetta TDI diesel. It's rated at 5.6L/100 km city, 5.9L hwy (I saw a combined 7.1L).
And it's quiet on the highway, too, without the suspension float over bumps other Lexus products give into.
Compared to the others here, the Lexus may not be considered "luxurious" enough.
But for Generation Yers â€“ those born somewhere between 1976 and the early 1990s â€“ ready to embrace new brands, new technology and alternative power trains, cars like the HS 250h may be the new definition of luxury.
Price as tested: $48,750