Far from being just objects of desire and aspiration, luxury cars have a more important job to do than merely providing indulgence and prestige for the wealthy and privileged. These models also serve as technological showcases for car manufacturers. Think of them as as statements of intent, as much of the technology these cars introduce to the market soon ‘trickles down’ to more affordable models.
Even cars from this rarefied end of the market aren’t immune to the pressures of environmental responsibility and economic pressures, so many can be chosen with efficient, low-emissions engines, in order to ensure affordable day-to-day running costs. Some emphasis sportiness, while others place their focus on comfort, but each makes its own distinct claim for the title of ‘best car in the world’.Mercedes S-Class saloon Often imitated but never quite equalled, the Mercedes S-Class is the definition of ‘flagship’. For decades it’s been the luxury car to beat, with the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and many more all trying to wrestle the crown from its head. As the first production car to have anti-lock brakes and an airbag over the years, the S-Class has pioneered a long list of technolgy that we now take for granted. Today’s S-Class is a high-tech masterpiece and even has the ability to optimise ride quality by reading the road surface ahead. There’s a choice of silent-running petrol or economical diesel and hybrid engines, as well as muscular AMG versions for the plutocrat in a hurry. The S-Class’ cutting-edge interior rivals a private jet for design and opulence and places the Mercedes firmly at the head of the luxury-car table. Read more. Key points 4.2 / 5 Price £68,870 - £183,560 read review watch video BMW 7 Series saloon The BMW 7 Series sets out to prove that big luxury cars can be as rewarding to drive as they are cosseting to sit in. It has always had a knack of ‘shrinking’ around the driver, somehow managing to feel as nimble and agile as a much smaller car. Yet the entertainment it provides behind the wheel isn’t at the expense of comfort. With the aim clearly being to unseat the Mercedes S-Class from its luxury-car throne, the latest 7 Series has an incredibly pliant ride and a beautifully finished, tactile interior dripping with technology. It can be incredibly economical, too, with up to 60mpg possible from the 730d, or offer supercar-humbling speed in 592bhp M760Li xDrive form. Whichever model you go for, the 7 Series is fairly discreet to look at, described more accurately as ‘handsome’ rather than ‘beautiful’. It’s not as likely to impress onlookers as it is those travelling inside it.Read more. Key points 4.1 / 5 Price £63,530 - £80,330 read review watch video Audi A8 saloon The Audi A8 takes understatement to another level, being barely distinguishable from other Audi saloons apart from by its sheer size. It’s actually a measure of the success of Audi’s identity that even the less expensive models are allowed to resemble the A8, and indeed share its fantastic quality. For its flagship model Audi has pulled out all the stops, with a restful double-glazed interior with temperature-controlled seats and the Audi Drive Select system that allows the driver to prioritise sporty handling over feather-bed smoothness when the mood dictates. The A8 has always had a low profile in the luxury car market, but those who choose the Audi seldom regret their decision. Read more. Key points 3.7 / 5 Price £63,520 - £99,265 read review watch video Jaguar XJ saloon Today’s Jaguar XJ is a far cry from the old-fashioned British bruiser of the past. The latest model has cutting-edge looks inside and out, trading its previous formal and stuffy image for one of crisp modernity and high-end style. No passenger could want for a more finely crafted interior, nor more technology to help pass a journey, while the driver is treated to a responsive engine and a chassis that holds true to the Jaguar’s long-held reputation as a sports saloon of fine standing. Some might say that sportiness has the upper hand and the ride is slightly too firm as a result, but we think it’s well judged and both the popular 3.0-litre diesel and rapid supercharged XJR strike an expert balance between ride comfort and driver involvement. Key points 3.5 / 5 Price £58,690 - £99,370 read review watch video Porsche Panamera hatchback The Porsche Panamera is best enjoyed from the inside. As a driving machine, it’s extremely hard to beat among luxury-car rivals, with steering precision, power and tenacious grip that Porsche 911 enthusiasts will applaud. Passengers don’t get a rough deal, either. There’s little road noise and the ride is smooth for a car so sporty, while there’s plenty of on-board technology to inform and entertain. A lack of space in the back constantly reminds passengers that the Panamera prioritises the driver above all else – while onlookers are left in little doubt of its performance, either. The styling is a little contrived, with Porsche’s design language looking a little stretched on a car this long, so stop looking at it, get in and drive. Read more. Key points 3.2 / 5 Price £88,700 - £113,075 read review watch video Rolls-Royce Ghost saloon The Rolls-Royce Ghost has always attracted criticism for its close relationship with the BMW 7 Series, and indeed the two cars have much in common. But we can’t think how that can really be a disadvantage, given the proven quality and capability of the German car. In any case, the similarities are purely below the surface. Everything you touch, see and even smell is purely the work of Rolls-Royce, meaning unparalleled craftsmanship and a sheer feeling of occasion that’s hard to find elsewhere. Monumental performance is ensured by a 6.6-litre V12 engine, and the looks are as imposing yet tasteful as you’d expect. The Ghost isn’t cheap, but quality of this standard is difficult to put a value on. Read more. Key points 3.2 / 5 read review Bentley Continental Flying Spur saloon Continental is the name given to the less expensive Bentley models, but in no way does that mean you’re buying less of an experience. Indeed, the Continental Flying Spur is one of the most impressive saloon cars you can buy. It combines a plush and tactile interior with excellent handling that really tempts you to make full use of the engines. And what incredible engines they are, with a brutally powerful 6.0-litre W12 rushing the Flying Spur from 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds. However, we prefer the 4.0-litre V8. It’s twin-turbocharged and still produces enough power for effortlessly breathtaking performance, while costing significantly less to run and buy. As strange as it sounds, this really is a Bentley that offers good value for money. Read more. Key points 2.5 / 5 Price £132,800 - £154,900 read review Lexus LS saloon When the Lexus brand first appeared in the UK in 1990 it came from nowhere yet quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the luxury-car market. Without image or prestige to rely on, the brand’s success is built on quality and attention to detail, and the loyalty of Lexus customers confirms this reputation has been justly earned. It’s borne out by the product, too – the LS 460 is a beautifully assembled technological masterpiece that imparts a real sense of well-being in drivers and passengers alike. While it doesn’t engage and entertain like a BMW or cosset like a Mercedes, it carries an aura of engineering strength and prowess that continues to be the envy of the industry. Read more. Key points 2.3 / 5 Price £71,995 - £101,510 read review watch video Maserati Quattroporte saloon The Maserati Quattroporte is exactly what you’d expect to see when a company famed for building world-class sports cars turns its hand to designing a luxury saloon. The long bonnet and svelte profile give the game away that the Quattroporte is all about performance, and anybody lucky enough to take a seat on board gets to share a fantastic experience with the driver. Italian flair abounds inside, with fine leather and wood finishes, and continues under the bonnet, where you’ll find engines developed with the input of Ferrari. There’s a 3.0-litre V6 and 3.8-litre V8 to choose from, both of which provide the speed and sound that Maseratis have always been famed for. Read more. Key points 2.3 / 5 Price £70,510 - £110,405 read review watch video Bentley Mulsanne saloon Many luxury cars can match the performance of the Bentley Mulsanne, some can provide similar comfort and indulgence and a good deal more can trump it with advanced electronics and on-board technology. But hardly any come close to offering such a feeling of absolute hand-crafted perfection as the big Bentley. Beautifully assembled by a team of skilled artisans, using materials of the finest quality, the Bentley is a bespoke item among a sea of off-the-peg imitators. Every visible detail underlines the passion and thought put into the Mulsanne’s design and build, and there’s no doubting the engineering, either – an athletic 6.75-litre V8 heart beats under the Bentley’s tailored suit.
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