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.
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.
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.
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