7 used luxury sedans at mainstream prices.
The IS has been an important mainstay in the Lexus lineup since 1999, acting as the brand's entry-level sedan. But with sedan sales plummeting due to the rise of crossovers, offering a rival to the BMW 3 Series doesn't seem nearly as important as it did at the turn of the century. Perhaps that's why the new 2021 Lexus IS offers updated styling but still uses carryover engines and a copy-and-paste interior. We were hoping the facelifted IS would offer improved drivetrains and a new platform but with the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V6, it doesn't seem like the car will be as competitive in today's compact luxury sedan market.
Pricing has not been revealed yet for the 2021 IS but we assume it will be close to the 2020 model, which started at $38,560. If you are a bit disappointed by the lack of new engines in the IS, there are plenty of used options that may appeal to you within this price range. Since the IS has always been an interesting alternative to a 3 Series, we've decided to leave the obvious German options off this list.
Back in the mid-2000s, Lexus ventured into new territory by attempting to compete with the BMW M3. It created a sporty new version of the IS, dubbed the IS F, which later spawned its own performance sub-brand with models like the RC F and GS F. The IS F came powered by a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 producing 416 horsepower. While it was heavier and a bit slower than the E90 M3 at the time, time has proved the IS F to be the more mechanically reliable car, making it a great used purchase.
Used IS F prices range from the low-$20,00 range into the low-$30,000 range. These cars are all past the point of being covered by a factory warranty but we'd be inclined to trust their reliability. As with most performance cars, tires and brakes will be expensive.
In many ways, the modern-day Genesis G70 does exactly for South Korea what the original IS did for Japan: stick it to the Germans. The G70 has been heralded for its excellent driving dynamics, pretty styling, and pricing that undercuts its European rivals. On the used market, you can now pick up a Genesis G70 with the 252-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine starting in the high-$20,000 range. Examples with the 365-hp twin-turbocharged V6 are pricier but you can still get one in the mid-$30,000 range, which will likely be a lot less than a brand-new, V6-powered IS.
The Lexus IS may have begun Japan's attack on the BMW 3 Series but the Infiniti G37 is the car that truly turned the tide in Japan's favor. The subsequent Infiniti Q50 model has never enjoyed the same level of admiration as its predecessor but it is still a great used purchase. Early examples of the Q50 with the carryover 3.7-liter V6 can already be found for as little as around $10,000 with high mileage. Even the most powerful variant, the 3.0t Red Sport 400 with the 400-hp twin-turbo V6, can now be found starting at around $20,000.
It has been decades since American consumers could buy an Italian luxury sedan at affordable prices. With the return of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, there is finally a cool Italian alternative to a 3 Series, A4, and C-Class. The Giulia is arguably the best-looking and best-driving vehicle in its segment and the base 280-hp four-cylinder engine is more potent than most of its competitors, including the IS.
If a standard Giulia offers enough oomph for you, used prices currently sit at around $25,000. But if you can spend a bit more then used Giulia Quadrifoglio models with the 505-hp twin-turbo V6 start in the mid-$40,000 range. This would be towards the upper range of IS pricing but the Quadrifoglio offers much higher performance.
Lexus once had to claw its way towards being recognized as a true luxury alternative to the established European brands and not just a gussied up division of Toyota. Kia has similarly struggled to ditch its reputation as purely an economy brand with more premium models such as the Stinger. So long as you are fine with missing out on the prestige of a luxury brand, the Kia Stinger offers much of the same experience but at a lower price point.
The Stinger uses the same engines found in the Genesis G70 but it offers a longer wheelbase, granting it a softer ride and more storage space in the back seat and trunk. Four-cylinder models can be found for less than $20,000 while V6-powered GT models start at around $25,000 on the used market.
For a brief period, Cadillac competed directly with the BMW 3 Series and the M3. Standard versions of the Cadillac ATS used either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder (202 hp), 2.0-liter turbo-four (272 hp), or 3.6-liter V6 (335 hp). Used examples start below $10,000, making the ATS a great option on a budget, but if you want more performance, the ATS-V offers a 464-hp twin-turbo V6 with used prices starting just under $30,000.
When talking about luxury sports sedans, many people forget that Volvo once has its own performance sub-brand called Polestar. For a brief period, Volvo offered a sportier version of the S60 sedan called the S60 Polestar. It was originally powered by a 346-hp turbocharged inline-six but later used a 362-hp twin-charged four-cylinder. Used examples can now be found starting at around $25,000.