Luxury cars – a class comprised in significant proportion of large executive saloons, but with one or two hatchbacks and SUVs included – have to display a broad range of skills. These are the cars high-end executives choose to drive or to be driven in. That means they need to offer outstanding comfort both in the front and back seats, a silky smooth ride and excellent drivability and refinement.
High levels of in-car technology and infotainment are a must, and connectivity systems that will allow such machines to be used as mobile offices are increasingly important.
This list takes in cars that are both incredibly comfortable, great to drive and great to be driven in; and the ones at the top of our rankings are capable of more besides.
Best luxury cars 2018
1. Mercedes-Benz S-Class
When Mercedes-Benz sets out to make a new S-Class, the brief is to make the best car in the world. While it might not visually seduce like a Jaguar XJ, the big Merc offers an ownership experience that should be even more appealing.
This car does what it’s supposed to do superbly and is functionally exceptional. It was conceived as a long-wheelbase saloon, giving it unprecedented torsional rigidity, and the ride is helped by standard air suspension with adaptive dampers.
There’s a choice of three petrol and one diesel engine, with a nine-speed automatic ‘box standard equipment and advanced 48v hybrid electric powertrain technology used to boost both performance and efficiency in some derivates.
The S-Class is engineered to operate quietly and comfortably at all times. On both town roads and motorway it could hardly ride better, and it steers directly and precisely, with luxury-appropriate isolation.
The interior is spacious and supremely comfortable, and festooned with technology, including a 12.3in infotainment screen and Mercedes’ Comand Online system as standard, and a suite of rear-cabin infotainment equipment available as an option.
On ride comfort alone, the S-Class even challenges the likes of the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Where the S-Class leads, the rest of the car-making world follows.
2. Range Rover
The latest Range Rover, the fourth generation of the model, is as revolutionary as any in history, with a new aluminium monocoque chassis and an unashamedly luxurious agenda. That it is a luxury car first and 4×4 second is not to run down its capability offroad one jot, however.
The spacious interior exudes quality and luxury, the seats are excellent and the driving position is first-rate, making it easy to drive for a car of its size. The heavy bodyshell provides excellent isolation from rough surfaces and, while it doesn’t offer the driving engagement of a Porsche Cayenne, it’s easy to make enjoyable and brisk progress in when the need arises.
The car’s heavy but its weight is a small price to pay for a car of its incredible breadth of ability. Few cars make you feel as special to ride in, none has a more commanding or assured driving position, and very few put a better complexion on your day.
3. Jaguar I-Pace
The Jaguar I-Pace is the first electric vehicle from a mainstream manufacturer to take on the likes of Tesla Models S and X.
More SUV than saloon, the I-Pace majors on interior quality and striking design, while offering a touring range of around 215 miles. With two 197bhp electric motors – one at each axle – it’s quick too, and not just in a straight line; with the I-Pace Jaguar has also engineered a fine-handling car.
It’s infotainment could be better, though, and a lack of 100kW chargers in the UK does hamstring its long-distance touring credentials somewhat. But overall, this is an impressive take not just on an EV, but on a pioneering luxury car too.
4. Tesla Model S
The first bespoke creation from electric car pioneer Elon Musk’s firm, the Model S is the machine that brought credibility, luxury and useful range to the electric car market.
There are four battery options, topped by a 100kWh pack with a credible 393-mile range. The Model S can take off with the ferocity of a super saloon, but even more wonderful is how precisely and effortlessly you can meter out its pace, and how quietly it can be delivered.
The Model S delivers a hugely credible steer, a large, quiet, premium cabin and massive load space, with a futuristic feel. For a select niche, it will make financial as well as environmental sense.
5. Audi A8
The latest Audi A8 features even more advanced chassis, powertrain and in-car technology than the latest Mercedes S-Class including, when it’s switched on, the greatest capability for autonomous driving of any production car in the world.
There’s a choice of turbocharged engines – a 282bhp diesel or 335bhp petrol – with four-wheel-drive as standard and a 48V electrical system that gives it mild hybrid status.
The quality interior feels like it was built to outlast civilization itself, although it lacks the elegance and ambient warmth of the S-Class. The ride is smooth and the car is easy to drive, although it’s not quite as pillowy and luxurious as its key German rival, and not quite the Mercedes’ equal in the ways that matter most
6. BMW 7 Series
Since launch in 1977, the 7 Series has been in the shadow of the Mercedes S-Class, but this latest version is BMW’s most committed attempt yet to fully crack the luxury saloon market. The car combines optional adaptive air suspension with pioneering infotainment and convenience features, and offers a choice of two wheelbase lengths and rear- or four-wheel-drive.
The interior trim conjures a sense of space, integrity and usability, although the fascia is perhaps a bit too similar to that of lesser BMW saloons and lacking in lavish material flourish. Engines are quiet, powerful and efficient, and handling is more poised and precise than rivals – although the ride isn’t.
An unexpectedly appealing driver’s car, then, but it falls behind rivals in the luxury stakes.
7. Jaguar XJ
There has been a Jaguar XJ at the pinnacle of the firm’s saloon range since 1968, and the most recent version is a confident, forward-looking expression of the firm’s revival.
The sportiness hinted at by those sleek lines is reinforced by an excellent-handling chassis. The XJ’s cabin offers a sense of style and drama German rivals can’t muster, even if it doesn’t compete in terms of sheer material quality and trails in terms of interior tech.
But the XJ is defined by how it drives – possessing something of the sportiness of a Maserati Quattroporte and the aloofness of a Mercedes S-Class. The result is a car with rare poise and decent performance, without too many compromises, and a really likeable GT car to boot.
8. BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo
A large five-door hatchback, the 5 Series GT replacement is an interesting, if oddball, choice of luxury transport.
The 6 Series GT has the same wheelbase as the 7 Series and, despite a lowered roofline, retains the raised seating position of the 5 Series GT. The interior feels comfy, upmarket and well-appointed, with plenty of room for four.
The 296bhp diesel engine confidently transmits power through the all-wheel-drive system, although you need to rev it to hear the six cylinders. Add a strong though slightly brittle ride and, while it might not be as elegant as an Aston Martin, the 6-Series exceptionally roomy and qualified as a leftfield executive GT.
9. Lexus LS
The LS has always been a niche choice in the UK, but its success elsewhere has guaranteed this latest version a seat at the top saloon table.
The car’s had a major styling overhaul, and the interior feels both modern and luxurious in a likably unconventional way. There are four trim levels, the top one coming with plenty of equipment.
Dynamically, the LS is less convincing as a luxury item. The 3.5-litre hybrid V6 has to work hard to cope with the car’s 2420kg weight, and while the car’s handling is quite impressive, its noisy and slightly brusque runflat-shod ride is quite the opposite.
Against the latest S-Class, 7 Series and A8, the LS is an interesting alternative but still not the most credible of rivals.
10. Maserati Quattroporte
With a longer wheelbase, the latest Quattroporte is now a full-sized executive limo, and taking aim at the Jaguar XJ in combining high-end comfort with a sporting drive.
It comes with plenty of kit and the interior is a class above its stablemates – although a step behind the German class benchmarks in both quality and space.
The Maserati flair helps, but it’s not a match for its rivals in several key areas.