How Can You Tell if a Vehicle is Luxurious? The Lieberman Test.
As United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart might have said about automotive luxury: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“luxury”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the 10 vehicles involved in this slideshow have that.”
Inspired by the late Supreme Court justice, I endeavored to determine what might indeed be reasonably considered “luxury.” I came up with three criteria that together I call the Lieberman Test (also called the Three-Pronged Luxury Test). The criteria are as follows:
- Would Jonny Lieberman, applying contemporary community standards, find the vehicle to be luxurious?
- Is the vehicle well-built, or is it finished in what appear to be high-quality materials?
- Does the vehicle’s options list come with features that could reasonably be considered unnecessary for getting from A to B?
Audi has positioned the A3 as its entry-level luxury offering, and indeed it looks the part as a nine-tenths scale A4 or A6. Really, from 100 feet it’s hard to tell them apart. But using the Lieberman Test, can it be considered luxurious? In a market filled with plastic, the knurled aluminum surface of the various volume, MMI, and climate-control system knobs is an elegant small touch. Each control, buttons included, has a quality feel (we’re moving into criterion two) and leaves no question in your mind whether your request was registered. This, my friends, is high-quality and the definition of well-built. A features list that includes a touchpad capable of accepting handwritten letters and numerals, an extra-large panoramic sunroof, and heated, auto-dimming, power-folding exterior mirrors points to some measure of excess above and beyond what’s necessary. The verdict? Fairly Luxurious.
The baby of the Mercedes-Benz lineup has been a bigger sales success than anticipated for a nearly $30,000 USD Benz. Step inside the CLA250 and you’re treated to an interior that’s been finished to the standards of the Mercedes lineup, with instruments and vents that could have been lifted from the SLS and with standard MB Tex vinyl that could pass as leather to most derrieres. With positive marks for the first two criteria, I turned to the options list: Distronic cruise control (adaptive cruise control), satellite radio piped through a Harman Kardon sound system, and several optional woods to complement the stitched upper dash? Most unnecessary. But taking all that together, I’d call the CLA250 Quite Luxurious.
The BMW 320i is one of the most affordable BMWs in the current lineup, but is it luxurious? It possesses a nicely built interior with high-quality materials, but it isn’t quite as special in build construction as the Audi of Mercedes compacts. It’s merely good, but it makes up for it with a number of technology-enabled touches: softly dimming and illuminating LED interior lighting, puddle lamps, auto up/down for all the windows, and a generous optional features list. The 3 Series options list includes such frivolities as a head-up display, multicamera parking assistance, and interior packages with wood trim and rich leathers. Despite the 320i being merely good instead of great, I’d say it’s Fairly Luxurious.
With Honda Civic Si roots, the Acura ILX is certainly sporting, but could it be called luxurious? Although the cabin is nicely trimmed in leather and has a clean, ergonomic layout, I’d have to twist Jonny’s arm quite hard for him to call it luxurious. Is it well-built from premium materials? You better believe it! Fit and finish is impeccable, as you no doubt expect from the Japanese automaker, and material choice is likewise logical and premium. Consider options with me: Passive keyless entry and start allows you to unlock the doors with a simple touch of the handle, and ignition is achieved by a mere button press; Jewel Eye LED headlights are both effective and beautiful; and a suite of active safety technology enable an adaptive cruise control system, lane keeping assistance, a blind-spot monitor, and a rear cross traffic monitoring system. All of these? Certainly not expressly necessary to get to B. I’d call the ILX Fairly Luxurious.
Cadillac‘s smallest sedan, the ATS, comes in several flavors, from the economical 2.0T to the powerful ATS-V, but we’re concerned with luxury, and for that I considered the non-V model. Sit Jonny Lieberman in the driver’s seat and ask him if the compact sedan was luxurious, and he’d likely answer in the affirmative. The comfortable leather seats are matched by a handsome dash flanking the unique CUE infotainment system. Without commenting on functionality (which, dear reader, is merely a matter of familiarity) it’s plain that the center stack is elegantly designed and logically laid out. Material choice is top notch, but looking around the edges you’ll notice that this is still a General Motors product, as evidenced by a chrome ring on what is otherwise the same turn signal stalk found in the base Camaro. The features list is likewise filled with the excesses associated with luxury: magnetic ride control that adapts to the road surface, a Bose premium stereo with active noise cancelling, stitched leather on the dashboard and door panels, and several fine wood inlays. I’d call it Quite Luxurious.
Lexus CT 200h
At the core the Lexus CT 200h is a white-collar take on the Toyota Prius, but does that mean it’s luxurious? The seats can be finished in perforated leather, and the steering wheel and shift knob are also finished in hand-selected stitched leather. Like the Acura ILX, the CT 200h is impeccably built with materials of exacting quality, although that quality can remind you that this is the gateway drug of the Lexus brand. Lexus does, however, go the distance on the features list, with a memory system that recalls not only seat setting but also outside mirrors and steering wheel position, auto-dimming mirrors, a premium sound system with no less than 10 speakers, and a proximity approach system that illuminates as you near the car. How do all of these measure up? I’d say the CT 200h is Pretty Luxurious.
The Infiniti Q50 is a technological wonder. I did, however, begin to question whether it would pass the Lieberman Test and thus could be considered luxurious. Would Jonny call it luxurious? I think the Stone leather interior with a darker upper dash and complimentary wood and aluminum trim make an elegant statement. That the materials are high-quality and the interior well-built are apparent at first sight and reinforced when touched. Of course the features list includes a few “not necessary” items, but I do want to mention a few of the standouts: a comprehensive suite of active safety technology, a controversial (but nonetheless impressive) steer-by-wire system, and the ability to not only read Facebook messages but also respond with a pre-generated response. I have to say, especially after considering the rigorous criteria of the Lieberman Test, the Q50 is Downright Luxurious.
Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive
What if you crave the versatility of a hatchback and zero-emission street cred but don’t want to give up your luxury? I looked at the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, a full electric. The cabin and materials are all Mercedes-Benz, which is to say not only would Jonny find it luxurious, but he’d also find no fault with the handsome two-tone topstitched dash, open pore eucalyptus wood trim, or any of the controls. Even the infotainment screen seems less tacked on than in some other Mercedes-Benz models. The options list is likewise excessively excessive, the most luxurious features including a cruise control system that varies the regenerative braking for hills and approaching traffic, the ability to park itself, and interior ambient lighting that can change between three hues based on your preference. I have to say, good show, Mercedes-Benz. The B-Class is Downright Luxurious.
Buick’s compact sedan, the Verano, is perhaps the most luxurious compact around. Let me explain: Open the door and you’re treated to real leather, seats as comfortable as the thrones found in a Volvo, and veneer wood trim. (It is a Buick, after all.) Close the door, however, and you’re enveloped in something not found in many compacts: silence. This is one of the hallmarks of true luxury vehicles. Would Jonny call the materials high-quality or perhaps wax eloquently about the build quality? I think he, as well as many others, would enjoy the uncommon quietness of the Verano, but he might mistake the wood and metal trim pieces to be Ebay additions instead of factory craftsmanship. A premium Bose stereo, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot built into the infotainment system, and heating for the front seats and steering wheel certainly fall into the “not needed to get from A to B” criteria. After applying all three criteria of the Lieberman test: Rather Luxurious.
Ford Focus Titanium
I asked the same question many of you would like ask: What about the top trim level of a more mainstream vehicle? Could that be considered luxurious? Ford has been raising the bar with its premium trim levels, so it was obvious to look at the Ford Focus Titanium through the lens of the Lieberman Test. I’m confident Jonny wouldn’t say “no” when applying the first criteria, at least immediately. The interior is trimmed in leather, which includes heating for the seats and steering wheel, a 10-speaker premium stereo that even comes with a subwoofer, and an intelligent access key that lets you unlock the doors and start the car without taking the key out of your pocket. How about those materials? There are touches of high-quality, and I certainly would call it well-built, but the Titanium trim does not take the Ford out of the Focus. The options list contains many of the same unnecessary offenders as on the upmarket vehicles, such as that 10-speaker sound system and a park assistance system. Like the B-Class, the Focus provides colored ambient lighting, though it far surpasses the German EV by offering not three but seven hues. Thus, having scrutinized the Focus Titanium, I must say it is Fairly Luxurious.