Surprise fact: the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series were the second and third best selling sedans in the country last month, behind the dominant Toyota Camry.
Mainstream buyers have deserted the sedan in droves in recent years but luxury buyers are still partial to the formula. Audi’s A4 also attracts a reasonable numbers of buyers.
But not every prestige buyer wants a German sedan. Now, more than ever, they’re spoiled for choice as other brands muscle in on the established trio.
Lexus is the clear No. 4 in the prestige game, although its IS sedan is getting long in the tooth and is due for replacement soon.
So what’s out there for buyers who want a luxury sedan with a less familiar badge?
Volvo’s recent sales resurgence has been on the back of its excellent range of SUVs.
Sedans have proved harder to move for the Swedish brand but that could change when a new S60 arrives next month combining handsome Scandinavian design with first-class safety tech and efficient engines.
In Australia, Volvo will spec the car in upmarket T8 and T6 versions but the more affordable T5 will be the biggest seller.
Powered by a 184kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, it’s a quick and lively car.
Our European correspondent John Carey drove it overseas and says the engine is “quiet, smooth and muscular”, while ride comfort is a highlight.
The car’s great strength, though, is its interior. Ample room, a decent boot and classy design make it a smart alternative to the Germans. The T5 is expected to be priced between $60,000 and $65,000.
Tesla Model 3
Tesla’s newest sedan has the German prestige brands in its crosshairs.
It’s $66,000 entry point places it in the same ballpark as the C-Class and 3 Series, while more expensive models have acceleration claims that better the high-performance BMW M3 and Mercedes C 63S.
The Tesla is sleek, innovative and sharp to drive, with a minimalist cabin that will appeal to tech-heads with its tablet-like centre screen.
It brings arguably the most advanced driver assistance aids in the class, although marketing them as “Autopilot” when they require human intervention is a controversial call.
The claimed electric range of 460km for the cheapest model is optimistic, especially on the open road, but with its growing network of superchargers Tesla had finally made it possible to travel between capital cities with only a couple of stops along the way.
Luxury cars are all about perceptions — and the Tesla nameplate is associated with technology, innovation and a modern relevance few rivals can match.
Jaguar has struggled to shrug off the stuffy legacy of wire-spoked legends such as the E-Type but its best-selling model, the E-Pace, is swiftly changing perceptions.
The brand’s XE sedan remains a slow seller, which is a shame because it’s an attractive, dynamically polished machine.
Updated for 2019, the new XE has a simplified range intended to make it much easier for customers to compare trial rivals. Priced from $65,670 plus on-roads, the XE is available with a single 2.0-litre turbo (221kW/400Nm), paired with an eight-speed auto transmission.
Inside, larger digital screens, the availability of smartphone mirroring and smarter finishes and materials narrow the gap to the leaders in the segment.
Road tester Iain Curry describes the driving experience as “exceptional”, delivering an excellent balance between nimbleness through corners and comfort over bumps.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Beautiful to behold and brilliant to steer, the Alfa has a bootful of historical baggage, good and bad. Yes, it’s one of the most storied marques on the road but its recent history — of utterly forgettable cars and unforgettable quality concerns — has made the Giulia a slow seller in Australia and beyond.
That’s a shame, as it deserves a second look. The range spans from the $60,900 Giulia to the fire-breathing $145,900 Quadrifoglio with its Ferrari-built, 375kW twin-turbo V6. Split the difference with a 206kW Giulia Veloce for $72,900 and you’ll find the sweet spot in the range, with more engaging road manners and Italian flair that makes the Germans look dull.
Changes for the range in 2019 include the addition of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity and such driver aids as blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
If you want to go fast on a budget, the Genesis G70 has you covered. Available with four or six-cylinder turbo power, Hyundai’s luxury spinoff can be had with the same twin-turbo 270kW engine as Kia’s Stinger for $72,450 — well less than the $100,000 you’ll need to take home a German luxury sedan with turbo six potency.
The G70 harnesses that power with more poise than its sister brand. Surprisingly comfortable for a car with a sporting bent, the Genesis is fun to drive along a winding road, especially in sports mode, which allows you to dial up stiffer suspension, sharper throttle and transmission responses and a meatier steering feel.
It’s let down by a cabin that shares too many components with its mainstream donor brand, a legacy of introducing a car that’s at the end of its product cycle. The G70 may be new to Australia but overseas it is due for replacement next year.
Genesis balances that with a better ownership experience than established brands, from a boutique Sydney showroom with no-hassle pricing to a concierge service for scheduled maintenance.
The same is true of Infiniti’s Q50. Sharing little with the Nissan parent company, which has abandoned passenger cars in this country, the Q50 brings strong equipment levels in a conventional sedan shape.
It’s cheaper than most with an official asking price of $54,900 plus on-roads for the 155kW entry-level sedan. The brand is doing red-hot deals on the Q50 — for now, from as little as $41,888 drive-away.
Better still, the 298kW Q50 Red Sport is available from $63,888 drive-away, giving potential owners access to proper performance, as well as a head start on sharp depreciation when they want to move it on.
The Q50 isn’t the most engaging car to drive but the interior quality is on par with these rivals.
Originally published as Surprise cars to shake up luxury market