You don’t just look at the specifications list these days to judge whether you are dealing with luxury car. Real luxury in motor vehicle lies as much in the feeling that driving it gives you as in any particular features it may possess. I rate luxury car as one which gives me an extra sense of wellbeing – the product of variety of individual sensations based on underlying quality and thoughtfulness of design – whether I’m the driver or the passenger.
Refinement is key, along with space, well-weighted controls, feeling of effortlessness in progress, of vehicle whose ultimate limits are really never being stretched.
Premium prestige models, the sorts of cars business leaders are likely to find themselves choosing, are of course those in which designers and engineers embody the latest in technologies and comfort options.
These are the features whose high development costs initially confine them to the top-of-the-range cars amongst the top manufacturers. Already top cars like BMW’s new 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class have hundreds of clever features, and handbooks the size of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
I’ve taken slightly provocative approach to compiling this list of luxury vehicles. It makes no attempt to be comprehensive, rather offers broader-ranging approach to luxury car buying than might be conventional. Because I have only chosen 10 models, that means some genuine luxury models, such as the Mercedes S-class and Lexus LS430, are not included. That’s not meant to diminish their claims. There’s no doubt such makes will be on any seriously-considered luxury shopping list anyway.
Audi Allroad quattro
After record 2001 in New Zealand, Audi sales this year are continuing to blitz previous figures, thanks largely to the much-improved new compact A4. Top of the range is the storming $220,000 all-aluminium S8 sedan. But it’s small seller compared with the Allroad, clever variation on the mid-sized A6 Avant wagon, but with adjustable air suspension which when raised gives it decent ground clearance for medium off-road ability but which at higher speeds drops for excellent roadholding. Its clever rally-proven quattro 4WD system is as important for the all-weather security it gives on the highway as it is for extending its range in the rough. The top 2.7-litre twin turbo petrol version is very lively but the 2.5-litre turbodiesel is deservedly popular with its tonne of torque and extraordinarily quiet and free-revving engine.
Price: 2.5 TDi quattro, $110,900; 2.7T quattro, $125,900;
Engine: Front-mounted V6 2.5-litre turbodiesel with 132kW of power at 4000rpm, 370Nm of torque at 1500rpm; or 2.7-litre twin turbo V6 petrol, with 184kW at 5800rpm, 350Nm at 1800rpm;
Transmission: Five-speed auto with permanent 4WD;
Performance: Petrol: 0-100km/h, 7.7s; Top speed 234km/h. Diesel: 0-100km/h, 10.2s;
Top speed 205km/h.
It’s easy to be over-awed by the technological tour de force which is the new flagship of BMW’s range. The new iDrive control system which controls hundreds of separate luxury functions, the pushbutton parking brake, the tiny lever behind the steering wheel, smaller than an indicator lever, which replaces the normal central gear selector – they’re all part of an out and out bid by the Munich builders to show that they can outdo any other car company in the market. The new 7-Series is very swift, roaring away like sports car rather than sedan, thanks to its lusty but ultra-smooth 4.4-litre V8 Valvetronic engine. It’s also as nimble in the corners as much smaller vehicle. But it’s also amazingly quiet, with real luxury car’s magic carpet ride. There’s been little controversy about the styling of this bold new BMW. Forget it – this is luxury car which has huge presence on the road while being instantly recognisable.
Price: 745i, $208,900; 745Li, $219,900;
Engine: Front-mounted 4398cc Valvetronic V8, 245kW power at 6100rpm, 450Nm torque at 3600rpm;
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive;
Performance: 0-100km/h, 6.3s; Top speed 250km/h (governed).
Citroen C5 hatch and wagon
Maybe the quirkiest of all the choices in this top 10 list, the handsome new C5, and particularly the C5 wagon, makes strong case for itself, as something of local sales rush is showing. When you start seeing new model from relatively low volume importer in some numbers around Auckland’s plush eastern suburbs you realise this roomy new model must have something going for it.
The C5 looks imposing and the wagon has an irresistibly upmarket look. This is Citroen being its individualistic self once again. While there are two-litre petrol and diesel versions, the obvious choice for luxury car shoppers is the three-litre V6 Exclusive. This is substantial car, so 150kW doesn’t give it more than adequate traffic lights takeoff. But the torquey engine makes highway progress swift, and the sure handling and smooth ride of the latest Hydractive 3 version of Citroen’s ingenious oleo-pneumatic suspension means there’s no reason to slow down for bumps or corners.
Luxury equipment is generous in this version and the cabin, though still slightly quirky in its instruments layout, feels quite special. The choice of individuals not afraid to show their individualism.
Price: C5 3.0 V6 Exclusive, $64,990; Exclusive Estate, $67,990;
Engine: Front-mounted transverse 2946cc V6 with 152kW at 6000rpm, 285Nm torque at 3750rpm;
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front drive;
Performance: 0-100 km/h, 10.6s; Top speed 232km/h.
Ford Falcon T-Series
There’s no denying the attraction to top businesspeople of the big sedans from across the Tasman. But attention in recent years has been turning from the long wheelbase luxury versions of the Ford to the high performance models. Still lots of metal for the money but now with their Bathurst-like body kits, great deal of street credibility as well.
More recently as many as one in three of local Falcon buyers have opted for the sporty XR6 and XR8 models. Meanwhile in the upper performance bracket it’s the recently released 250kW T-Series range, as modified by its performance partner, Tickford Engineering, that’s creating interest.
With bigger capacity (5.6 litres) version of the venerable Windsor V8 and variety of race-style tuning modifications, the winged and spoilered TS50 has tonne of wick from almost anywhere in the rev range as well as Velcro-like grip from its low-profile 18-inch tyres. It also majors in ride comfort, thanks to sensitive suspension tuning, and offers premium equipment levels, including manual gearchange option via buttons on the steering wheel. Inside there are very supportive sports seats garnished with Tickford emblems. This is serious sports sedan which doesn’t lack refinement. Something of coup for our Aussie cousins.
Price: From $77,000 (TE50 automatic) to $105,000 (TL50, long wheelbase with electronic sports shift);
Engine: Front-mounted 5598cc overhead valve V8, 250kW power at 5250rpm, 500Nm torque at 4250rpm;
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed auto, rear-wheel drive;
Performance: 0-100km/h, 6.8s (auto); Top speed, 240km/h.
The old motto for Jaguar used to be: “Grace, space and pace.” Standards for space have changed and the biggest problem facing Jaguar’s XJ range when it’s up against the top Germans is that neither its rear seat space or boot cut the mustard today. That’s product of its graceful shape – still instantly recognisable for its links with the XJ6 saloon of the late ’60s. In every other way however the current XJ models provide completely different take on the luxury car. There’s no doubt the traditional wood and leather cabin will not be abandoned when the all aluminium XJ-replacement model, codenamed X350, arrives here in March or April next year.
My pick of the XJ range is the supercharged XJR, which at just over $170,000 makes one of the gran