THERE’S A subtle shift going on in this class. Historically if a car was to win here it needed goosedown-pillow ride quality and a limousine-style smoothness— which is why the Mercedes-Benz S-class has ruled supreme for a generation or more.
It is now under threat from cars that add a touch of individuality to their luxury, such as the Range Rover, the Rolls-Royce Ghost and the Porsche Panamera. It’s not what they do, but what they say about their owners that makes them desirable.
Clarkson says… “Normally when I drive an expensive car, people hate it and me. They make people cross. Porsches especially”
Bad news for conventional luxury cars such as the BMW 7-series and Audi A8. Owning a car that looks like it should be driven by a chauffeur is no longer enough.
1 Mercedes-Benz S-class
You can’t accuse Mercedes-Benz of failing to make the most of the S-class. It is already available in two wheelbases as a saloon and coupé, and a convertible and a super-stretched version are on the way.
Even if you restrict your search to saloons, you’ll find your dealer happy to sell you one with 4, 6, 8 or 12 cylinders. From the 2.1-litre hybrid-assisted S300, said to be capable of more than 60mpg, to the 6-litre, 621bhp, twin-turbo V12 S65 AMG, which won’t do the claimed 24mpg, there is an S-class to suit every plutocrat.
In ride and luxury it is the benchmark that most other car makers aspire to: just how does Mercedes make the interior so smooth and silent? Innovation is one answer: most recently the company came up with a camera that reads the road and tells the suspension how to react to what’s coming up.
This is not a perfect car, but what it doesn’t get quite right is largely subjective: chiefly, its lack of character compared with its more eclectic rivals. But if you just want the most capable luxury car in the world, the S-class continues to reign supreme.
- Price: £66,910-£179,985
- Our pick: S 350 BlueTec SE L, £66,910
- Engine: 2987cc, V6
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 6.8sec
- Top speed: 155mph
- Fuel | CO2: 50.4mpg | 148g/km
2 Land Rover Range Rover
In the 44 years since the Range Rover proved the concept of the luxury SUV (though Land Rover did not come up with the idea), no manufacturer has come close to producing a car to rival it. Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Audi have made full-sized, leather-lined 4x4s, but none has approached the sheer class or the sense of occasion that comes as standard with every Range Rover.
This looks set to continue for the foreseeable future. The current car, still in only its second full year on sale, is universally acknowledged to be one of the finest machines you can buy.
- Price £73,950-£146,900
- Our pick Range Rover 4.4 SDV8 Vogue, £80,850
- Engine 4367cc, twin-turbo, V8
- Acceleration 0-62mph: 6.5sec
- Top speed 135mph
- Fuel | CO2 32.5mpg | 229g/km
3 Rolls-Royce Ghost
The new Ghost, or Ghost Series II as Rolls would like you to call it, has a few improvements over the original: new bumpers and bonnet, LED headlights and re-engineered suspension. Beyond such details, the main event is as compelling as ever thanks to the car’s massive presence, effortless V12 motor and sumptuous cabin. The only thing counting against it is its price.
- Price £221,000
- Our pick Ghost Series II, £221,000
- Engine 6592cc, V12
- Acceleration 0-60mph: 4.7sec
- Top speed 155mph
- Fuel | CO2 20.2mpg | 327g/km
4 Jaguar XJ
The XJ is probably the best-looking mass-produced luxury car on the road. Five years after launch, it is still staggeringly beautiful. So why is it not dislodging the Mercedes, which has boring styling in comparison? Sadly, the Jag has been left behind in too many other areas, particularly ride quality and engine choice. It’s still a gem, but somewhat flawed these days.
- Price £56,870-£95,895
- Our pick XJ Luxury 3.0 diesel, £56,870
- Engine 2993cc, V6
- Acceleration 0-60mph: 6sec
- Top speed 155mph
- Fuel | CO2 46.3mpg | 159g/km
5 Porsche Panamera
You might think the Panamera has a face only a mother could love — and even Porsche’s chief executive recently admitted that the design of the car has room for improvement. Even so, more than 100,000 buyers have been able to see beyond the looks and appreciate it for the superb long-distance cruiser that it is. Pick the naturally aspirated, V8-powered GTS.
- Price £63,913-£131,152
- Our pick Panamera GTS, £93,391
- Engine 4806cc, V8
- Acceleration 0-62mph: 4.4sec
- Top speed 179mph
- Fuel | CO2 26.4mpg | 249g/km
6 Aston Martin Rapide S
For Those looks; that noise; the sumptuous interior
Against Awful ergonomics and unreadable dials; cramped rear
7 Mercedes-Benz CLS
For The comfort of an E-class with more driver involvement
Against Sloping roof reduces rear headroom
8 Bentley Flying Spur
For People who’d rather sit in the back
Against Not exactly pretty
9 Mercedes-Benz GL-class
For Seven seats (two more than in the Range Rover); huge boot; comfortable ride
Against Feels too big for British roads; thirsty
10 Maserati Ghibli
For It’s a Maserati, and with diesel power also quite a workhorse
Against Doesn’t thrill like a Maserati should, nor ride like a luxury car must
Vote for your favourite!
Top 100 Cars 2014 sections
- Introduction by Jeremy Clarkson
- Top 10 4x4s & SUVs
- Top 10 Electric Cars & Hybrids
- Top 10 Supercars
- Top 10 City Cars
- Top 10 Sports Cars & Convertibles
- Top 10 Family Cars & Estates
- Top 10 Superminis
- Top 10 Executive & Prestige
- Top 10 Hot Hatches & Coupés
- Top 10 MPVs
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Vote for your favourite of Top 100 Cars 2014
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Used alternatives to the winning cars
Top 100 Cars 2014: the fine print
Top 100 Cars is compiled by Andrew Frankel, Joseph Dunn, Dominic Tobin and James Mills. Prices are correct at the time of going to press; fuel-economy figures are for the combined urban and extra-urban cycle (source: Newspress); electric-car prices quoted include government grants where applicable.