Luxury cars are not just defined by their cosseting ride, extensive levels of technology and refinement, but the level of prestige they bring. But which one has the most class to top our best ten list?
Luxury cars – a class comprised in significant proportion of large traditional limousine saloons with one or two hatchbacks and SUVs included – are the cars in which high-end executives choose either to drive or to be driven in.
That means they need to offer outstanding comfort both in the front and back seats, a silky smooth ride, excellent drivability and refinement, ample performance – and they must also serve as better status symbols than most things on four wheels. High levels of in-car technology and infotainment are a must, and connectivity systems that will allow such machines to be used as mobile offices are increasingly important.
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When Mercedes-Benz sets out to make a new S-Class, the brief is to make the best car in the world. While it might not visually seduce like a Jaguar XJ, the big Merc offers an ownership experience that should be even more appealing.
This car does what it’s supposed to do superbly and is functionally exceptional. It was conceived as a long-wheelbase saloon, giving it unprecedented torsional rigidity, and the ride is helped by standard air suspension with adaptive dampers.
There’s a choice of three petrol and one diesel engine, with a nine-speed automatic ‘box standard equipment and advanced 48v hybrid electric powertrain technology used to boost both performance and efficiency in some derivates.
The self-proclaimed ‘best car in the world’ gets a touch more luxury, a heap of new technology and a mild hybrid electrical system, but is it enough to hold off the latest attempts from BMW and Audi? The S-Class is engineered to operate quietly and comfortably at all times. On both town roads and motorway it could hardly ride better, and it steers directly and precisely, with luxury-appropriate isolation.
The interior is spacious and supremely comfortable, and festooned with technology, including a 12.3in infotainment screen and Mercedes’ Comand Online system as standard, and a suite of rear-cabin infotainment equipment available as an option.
On ride comfort alone, the S-Class even challenges the likes of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Where the S-Class leads, the rest of the car-making world follows.
The latest Range Rover, the fourth generation of the model, is as revolutionary as any in history, with a new aluminium monocoque chassis and an unashamedly luxurious agenda. That it is a luxury car first and 4×4 second is not to run down its capability offroad one jot, however.
The spacious interior exudes quality and luxury, the seats are excellent and the driving position is first-rate, making it easy to drive for a car of its size. The heavy bodyshell provides excellent isolation from rough surfaces and, while it doesn’t offer the driving engagement of a Porsche Cayenne, it’s easy to make enjoyable and brisk progress should the need arise.
The car’s heavy but its weight is a small price to pay for a car of its incredible breadth of ability. Few cars make you feel as special to ride in, none has better visibility or a more commanding or assured driving position, and very few put a better complexion on your day.
We’re now entering reasonably well established times for the premium electric car. There have been fast ones, very fast ones, big ones, small ones, expensive ones and cheap, and some that even attempt a bit of four-wheel driven versatility.
Never has an electric car come along and done onboard luxury better than Audi’s first stab at the zero-emissions template: the E-tron Quattro. This car combines four-wheel drive with a commanding outright performance level, with SUV-level space, convenience and usability and with Audi-brand desirability; but what really makes it stand out is how superbly hushed, comfortable and refined it is. When we road tested one, our decibel placed its cabin noise level closer, at a 70mph cruise, to that of a Rolls-Royce Phantom than a Tesla Model X.
Audi-brand modern luxury comes with state-of-the-art onboard technology too, of course, while the potential for 150kW public rapid charging, combined with an everyday range of between 200- and 250 miles on a charge, also makes the E-tron a more usable electric car than some of its ilk. Right now, there is no more luxurious electric car in the world than this one.
The first bespoke creation from electric car pioneer Elon Musk’s firm, the Model S is the machine that brought credibility, luxury, pace and useful range to the electric car market.
There are four battery options, topped by a 100kWh pack with a claimed 393-mile range. You’ll need to drive the car pretty conservatively to reproduce that range figure in real-world use, but even getting within 80 per cent of it would make this the longest-range electric car on the market.
The Model S can take off with the ferocity of a super saloon, but even more wonderful is how precisely and effortlessly you can meter out its pace, and how quietly it can be delivered. The car’s credentials as a luxury car are very good, while its large, quiet cabin and massive cargo spaces are also key selling points. For a select niche, it will make financial as well as environmental sense.
The latest Audi A8 features even more advanced chassis, powertrain and in-car technology than the latest Mercedes S-Class including, when it’s finally switched on, what promises to be the greatest capability for autonomous driving of any production car in the world.
There’s a choice of turbocharged engines – a 282bhp diesel or 335bhp petrol – with four-wheel-drive as standard and a 48V electrical system that gives it mild hybrid status.
The quality interior feels like it was built to outlast civilization itself, although it lacks the elegance and ambient warmth of the S-Class. The ride is smooth and the car is easy to drive, although it’s not quite as pillowy and luxurious as its key German rival, and not quite the Mercedes’ equal in the ways that matter most.
Since launch in 1977, the 7 Series has been in the shadow of the Mercedes S-Class, but this latest version is BMW’s most committed attempt yet to fully crack the luxury saloon market. The car combines optional adaptive air suspension with pioneering infotainment and convenience features, and offers a choice of two wheelbase lengths and rear- or four-wheel-drive.
The interior trim conjures a sense of space, integrity and usability, although the fascia is perhaps a bit too similar to that of lesser BMW saloons and lacking in lavish material flourish. Engines are quiet, powerful and efficient, and handling is more poised and precise than rivals – although the ride isn’t quite as well-isolated.
An unexpectedly appealing driver’s car, then, but it falls behind rivals in the luxury stakes.
There has been a Jaguar XJ at the pinnacle of the firm’s saloon range since 1968, and the most recent version is a confident, forward-looking expression of the firm’s revival.
The sportiness hinted at by those sleek lines is reinforced by an excellent-handling chassis. The XJ’s cabin offers a sense of style and drama German rivals can’t muster, even if it doesn’t compete in terms of sheer material quality and trails in terms of interior tech.
But the XJ is defined by how it drives – possessing something of the sportiness of a Maserati Quattroporte and the aloofness of a Mercedes S-Class. The result is a car with rare poise and decent performance, without too many compromises, and a really likeable GT car to boot.
Don’t think of this as an enlarged X5, says Munich, but rather a jacked-up 7-Series that’s been readied for limited off-roading work. That description doesn’t much account for the fact that the X7 is a seven-seat, two-box passenger car with an extended roofline, of course – but it does tell you about the priorities that BMW’s designers and engineers had when it came to refining and tuning the car.
The car comes with a choice of two turbodiesel and one turbo petrol engine in the UK, with the V8 petrol model offered elsewhere denied to us Brits. Allthesame, the ‘M50d’ version of the car offers fully 394bhp and more than 500lb ft of torque, should you feel you need either.
On the road, the X7 handles its size and bulk well, feeling surprisingly precise and athletic when cornering. Even the car’s diesel engines are smooth and refined, developing enough torque to move the car along easily, while its ride is comfortable without running out of control.
A slightly ordinary cabin, light on special material touches and differentiation from BMW’s lesser SUVs, and that controversial front-end styling are the car’s biggest disappointments. With that oversized grille, some would call the X7 ugly – but few would deny its competence or its completeness as a luxury car.
A large five-door hatchback, the 5 Series GT replacement is an interesting, if oddball, choice of luxury transport.
The 6 Series GT has the same wheelbase as the 7 Series and, despite a lowered roofline, retains the raised seating position of the 5 Series GT. The interior feels comfy, upmarket and well-appointed, with plenty of room for four.
The 296bhp diesel engine confidently transmits power through the all-wheel-drive system, although you need to rev it to hear the six cylinders. Add a strong though slightly brittle ride and, while it might not be as elegant as an Aston Martin or as outwardly desirable as the luxury car norm, the 6-Series exceptionally roomy and qualified as a leftfield executive GT.
The LS has always been a niche choice in the UK, but its success elsewhere has guaranteed this latest version a seat at the top saloon table.
The car’s had a major styling overhaul, and the interior feels both modern and luxurious in a likably unconventional way. There are four trim levels, the top one coming with plenty of equipment and, spec-depending, also a rare kind of material richness that few cars in the world can match..
Dynamically, the LS is less convincing as a luxury item. The 3.5-litre hybrid V6 has to work hard to cope with the car’s 2420kg weight, and while the car’s handling is quite impressive, its noisy and slightly brusque runflat-shod ride is quite the opposite.
Against the latest S-Class, 7 Series and A8, the LS is an interesting alternative but still not the most credible of rivals.