As you have seen by now, we have a tendency to rank cars differently than other car sites. While we love practicality as much as the next site, at TopSpeed, we put speed, performance, and that certain sparkle above the size of the trunk and the back seat.

With entry-level luxury cars, finding the gems between the boring sales rep vehicles can be a pretty hard task. We have so many terribly dull sedans that are only good for taking you down the motorway to work and that’s about it. We aren’t looking for that. We don’t care about sales, we don’t care about popularity, we care about how these cars drive on the track and in the real world. We are aware that a point to point car is what most people will like, but we want an entry-level sedan that provides excitement on that everyday journey. Something that can make you smile and enjoy the drive home. A car that will make you take the back roads.

Over the course of this series we have jumped price by $10,000 each time, starting from $20,000 with the small cars and then $30,000 with the midsize. For this test, we are jumping by $15,000, to make the price cap at $45,000.

Hit the jump to see what our top ten entry-level luxury vehicles are.

10) Lincoln MKZ

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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There aren’t many things that are good about the MKZ. It’s basically a Ford with a fancy badge and some glitz, not to mention a higher price tag. The interior is well equipped and the ride is fairly smooth, but that’s about all the positives we can think of for this Lincoln. The V6 motors lack refinement and it seems the car is designed for the older generation. The kind who like loose steering and a boat-like ride. The exterior looks decent, but it sure won’t stand out and for $34,225, it should be better than it is.

9) Lexus IS250

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The IS250 looks good and there is no mistaking that. This is one of the best lookingLexus models in a long time. Even on the inside this car looks good. Sadly, that is were the praise stops. The engine is a bit lackluster and the suspension and handling are just too soft for our liking. We know that Toyota models are generally soft and this is no exception, but if you’re going to build a sports sedan, it needs to be a bit firm. Prices start at $33,315. It’s not cheap, but it’s not bad either.

8) Acura TL

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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Looks matter in this test and frankly, no matter how long we drive this car we still can’t find that weird front lip thing attractive. It’s a real shame, because if it wasn’t for that, this car could be ranked in the top five. Well, actually, probably around sixth, but you get the point. We love the way the Acura cruises effortlessly on the motorway and we love all the neat toys that you can get. That being said, the TL does suffer from numb steering. The base TL is soft and takes bumps very well, while the SH-AWD is more of sports sedan. Yet, sports sedans can’t have numb steering and sadly, this car does. Prices start at $35,105 and the SH-AWD is around $38,665.

7) Infiniti G37

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The G37 Coupe is a fantastic car, but the sedan isn’t as wonderful. The 3.7-liter V6 puts out 328 horsepower and it feels muscular and powerful on the roads. This is without a doubt a fast performance sedan. The handling is sharp and crisp and brakes are very good. This is a very good driver’s car. That being said, we aren’t too big on the looks and the controls are very hard to use. The setup that is used inside the G37 is a bit outdated. The rear seats are cramped and the engine does get loud at the higher rpms, which normally we like, but loud noise is something that you shouldn’t have to experience in a luxury car. Prices start at $33,250, which is pretty good if you ask us.

6) Buick LaCrosse

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The Buick LaCrosse is the middle child of the range, slotted above the Regal and below the terrible Lucerne. The Regal is too cheap to put in this test and the Lucerne would have ranked below the Lincoln, which is last. The new LaCrosse was rated one of our under the radar cars and with good reason. It looks better than the old version and the interior is one of the best in its class. The ride is quiet and smooth, but sometimes a bit too smooth, and the V6 motor is pretty decent. That being said, performance is just adequate and there is little space in the rear, which is shocking for a car of this size. Prices start at $26,245, cheaper than the rest of the cars on this test.

5) Cadillac CTS

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The new CTS is far better than the old one, but you don’t go from bad to first place in one generation. It takes time to do something like that and, although the CTS is a step in the right direction, it still isn’t as good as its German rivals. The exterior of the CTS looks to have been designed by a man who only had a ruler, as you would be hard pressed to find any curves. Inside, the CTS is nice and easy to use, but we would have liked the build quality to be a bit better. The handling is good and the motor is decent, but the Cadillac lags behind its rivals in those two categories. The front seats force you to be in a weird driving position and the suspension on the sport models is really hard. Prices start at $35,165 for the Cadillac.

4) Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The old C-Class was mediocre. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t all that great. The new Mercedes C-Class is a massive leap in the right direction and a big step to catching the top three cars on the list. The exterior is gorgeously gaudy. There are chrome accents, big wheels, and that massive emblem on the front grille. This car stands out and in a good way. The build quality is back to where it should be and the ride is very comfortable. There is little noise on the motorway and the engine is very refined. On the downside, the cabin is a little dull and the price is a bit more than the competition. The base C-Class starts at $33,600.

3) Volkswagen CC

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The CC earned the honor of being in our top ten midsize sedans rankings and now, it’s in the entry level one too. We love the way this car looks. It’ just sensational. The build quality is very good because it’s German and the interior is a fun place to go for a drive in. The engine is peppy and because it’s a four-cylinder turbo, it’s pretty fuel efficient as well. There is even a V6 that is very good. The ride feels balanced and the handling is crisp, not to mention you can get all-wheel drive. On the downside, the coupe-like styling means that rear headroom is not so good and the trunk is a bit small. Prices start at $27,760, but if you want the luxury version, that starts at $33,080.

2) BMW 3-Series

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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We bet most of you thought that we would put the BMW in first place. Well, it’s a fantastic car, but there are problems that hamper it. The price seems good, but BMW will take you for every penny you have on options. The interior space is a bit cramped as well. That being said, we love the way this car drives. The steering is nice and tight and the handling is perfectly balanced. The cabin is very upscale and the motors are perfect. This really is the ultimate driving machine. Prices start at $33,150 and go up from there for the 3-Series.

1) Audi A4

Top Ten Entry-Level Luxury Cars Under $45,000 Exterior
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The Audi A4 takes the top spot in our test for a few very important reasons. We love the way it looks and we love the interior and its top notch build quality. It feels like a piece of engineering perfection. The motors are good and the handling is brilliant. Plus, you can have the A4 with all-wheel drive. Trunk space is massive and the A4 scored top-notch marks in the crash tests. There are a lot of buttons to get used to in the interior, but once you figure it all out, it becomes like second nature. The MMI system is actually easy to use. Prices start at $31,450 and you can get the Quattro version for just $32,350.

The entry-level luxury segment is one of the toughest segments to break into. The Germans have dominated for so long and although GM and the Japanese are trying to catch up, they aren’t quite there yet. As we always say, go out and drive these sedans and judge for yourself which one is the best.

We’ll be conjuring up our top ten list of pure luxury sedans soon so stay tuned.

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  (248) posted on 08.22.2012

Cadillac is the best on the list for me though it has a tag price of $35,165.

  (201) posted on 08.21.2012

With the budget of $45,000, I will choose Acura TL among others. I love the way this car is built. Amazing.

  (382) posted on 12.13.2011

I’m really glad that these luxury vehicles were on a reasonable market price only. However, I never thought that Acura TL could be on this list for I truly don’t find it an opulence just like the other cars here.

  (399) posted on 10.18.2011

It doesn’t matter if whose on the number one, because these cars are really deserved to be in these lists, and I must say that I’m so impressed with the angst and aggressiveness that these cars had and I must say that it is a very nice list. smiley

  (242) posted on 09.29.2011

All these cars here seem so fun to drive even if they are not really looked like a ’luxury car’ smiley Anyway, it’s really a good thing that the price of these are very reasonable and affordable, nice category and list!

  (592) posted on 09.22.2011

I have to agree with you Alex black. Audi A4 seems not really in a $45,000 but its a good thing to know that it is not so pricey just like what I thought before. smiley

  (363) posted on 06.9.2011

It is good to know that if you have $45,000 you can really buy a nice looking car. If you look at the Audi A4 you can’t tell that is under $45,000.

  (157) posted on 07.27.2010

The TL showing in the Top 5 searches is surprising. The model is 4 years old. But it sells well enough.

  (80) posted on 07.23.2010

Every carmaker has issues, but Toyota’s benchmark is quality. They can’t let anything compromise that, which is why they are more prompted to issue a recall, even for rare faluts. If the IS 350 was on the list, it would be my choice. As it is, it would be Audi A4 or the BMW 3 series, allthough they are not really comparable. Audi uses FWD(which is more comparable to Saab 9-3 than the BMW 3 series) or AWD, while BMW uses RWD. Like the Mercedes too, but they are normally the most expensive of the 3.

  (868) posted on 07.23.2010

The recall does not affect 2009-present model year vehicles.

  (80) posted on 07.23.2010

Like the Audi. Like the Merc and BMW too. That said, i agree with Uncia. Why pick the IS 250, which IMO is pretty pointless, when the IS350 is within the price range? The article covers the intire Audi A4 range, as well as the intire Merc C class and BMW 3 series. Why then only pick the slowest petrol car of the Lexus IS series, excluding the much faster IS 350? There is after all a 100 horsepower difference. Also miss the swedish brands here.

  (868) posted on 07.23.2010

It seems as if you guys stage these comparisons to make Toyota vehicles look boring. First came the mid-size sedan comparison in which you ridiculed the Camry for being boring even though you could easily have included the sport model in your tested price range. And now you’re testing the IS 250 and saying that it’s too soft? Um... Hello? The IS 350 is also under $45K, and is faster than any of the cars here. Did you purposefully choose the slowest version of the IS to test or did you not bother to do any research first?

Also, reliability should be included in these tests. Sure, the A4 and 335i are fun, exciting sedans, but the reliability is not acceptable. According to Consumer Reports, the IS and G37 are the only cars on this list with above-average reliability, and they should be at the top.

  (92) posted on 07.23.2010

I agree completely... Audi has been doing really well as far as performance and luxury... Before it was all BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but now they have a new manufacturer to worry about. The A4 is a phenomenal car!

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