Luxury, by its very nature, is utterly unnecessary, but that’s not to say it’s without its uses. Luxury cars like the ones on this list have more power, equipment and comfort than is strictly necessary, but they fulfil a vital role in the car industry.
As showcases for what can be done, luxury cars point to the future direction carmakers may take. It was only a few decades ago, for instance, that the expensive Mercedes S-Class was one of the first cars in the world to come with anti-lock brakes – a safety feature all cars must have today.
It’s also likely your current or next car will have Bluetooth connectivity, sat nav and a DAB radio; again, these are all systems that initially featured on high-end models, before trickling down to more attainable cars.
True, it remains unlikely that lambswool carpets and bespoke oak veneers will feature in a budget city car anytime soon, but the latest Peugeot 3008 SUV is available with a massaging driver’s seat, so such indulgent extras are becoming democratised as the years go by.
Something else that luxury cars have in common with their more run-of-the-mill cousins: economy. While a few of the models on this list come exclusively with powerful and thirsty petrol engines, others have relatively parsimonious diesels. Because many luxury car brands are owned by larger parent carmakers, the fuel-saving technologies are often put to arguably better use further down the line in more affordable models.
So read on to find out the 10 best luxury cars today, and if you’re in an indulgent mood, head over to our rundown of the top 10 sports cars. Meanwhile, if you’re after luxury at a slightly more palatable price point, our list of the best executive, best large executive and best luxury small cars are all well worth a look.
Top 10 Best luxury cars:
1 – 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 wrest 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 technology 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 and a long-wheelbase version for added space. 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 – somewhere it’s sat for some time.
2 – 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.
3 – Porsche Panamera hatchback
The old Porsche Panamera was a competent and quick car, but it had ‘challenging’ looks, to put it politely. This latest version, however, is now handsome and sleek, as well as being even better to drive than the previous model, with improved performance and economy. 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: the rear seats sit either side of a cool colour touchscreen if you go for the four-zone climate control. While those in a position to afford a Panamera may have another car (or, indeed, staff) to head to the dump in, a hatchback boot and individually folding rear seats mean the Panamera is almost as practical as it is luxurious. Choose the 4 E-Hybrid for low running costs and London Congestion Charge exemption, the diesel for effortless motorway cruising or the Panamera Turbo if you want to go faster than 99% of other cars on the road. There’s a Panamera for everyone, then – well, everyone with at least £88,000 to spend on a car.
4 – 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, beautifully built and double-glazed interior that includes temperature-controlled seats and the Audi Drive Select system. This allows you to prioritise sporty handling over feather-bed smoothness when the mood dictates. If you’re planning on driving the A8 yourself, consider the high-performance S8 and S8 Plus versions, which are faster than any car of this size arguably has a right to be – although they cost £20,000 and £35,000 more than the standard car respectively. The A8 has always had a low profile in the luxury car market, but those who choose the Audi seldom regret their decision.
5 – 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. All models are well equipped, but the options list allows for near-limitless personalisation, while the long-wheelbase version has long been a favourite of government departments and ministries.
6 – 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. While it’s undoubtedly a car designed with comfort in mind, when required, the Ghost is actually thoroughly enjoyable and surprisingly sporty to drive, and it’s here that those BMW underpinnings come into their own. The Ghost isn’t cheap, but quality of this standard is difficult to put a value on.
7 – 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. If you go for the W12 S version, you’ll also be getting one of a very select group of cars that’s able to transport four people at 200mph – assuming you’ve a spare airfield or autobahn to try this out. 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.
8 – 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 hi-tech prowess that continue to garner both praise and loyal customers. This is borne out in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys, where Lexus came second out of 32 carmakers this year, being knocked off the top spot it enjoyed in 2015 by relative newcomer Tesla.
9 – 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. The Quattroporte isn’t perfect, being less comfortable and spacious than some of its rivals, but what it lacks in some areas, it makes up for in others. There are few cars as stylish as the Maserati, for example, and only the Italians could make a car whose name means “four-door” sound cool.
10 – 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 handcrafted 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. It costs the best part of a quarter of a million pounds, drinks fuel like it’s going out of fashion and that 6.75-litre engine can trace its roots back to the 1950s, but Bentley’s near century-long history holds timeless appeal.