Currently reading: Top 10 best luxury cars 2021
Luxury cars are not just defined by their cosseting ride, extensive levels of technology and refinement, but the level of prestige they bring. But which one has the most class to top our best ten list?
Autocar
News
13 mins read
19 July 2021

Luxury cars – a class comprised in significant proportion of large traditional limousine saloons with one or two oversized hatchbacks and demure SUVs included – are the cars in which high-end executives choose either 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, excellent drivability and refinement, ample performance – and they must also serve as better status symbols than most things on four wheels. 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. For our super luxury top ten, meanwhile, where you’ll find the even pricier Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Mercedes-Maybachs of this world, click this way.

10 best luxury cars currently on sale

1. Range Rover

The current, fourth-generationRange Rover is as revolutionary as any in the car’s history, with an aluminium monocoque chassis and an unashamedly luxurious agenda. Its imperious driving position, superlative luxuriousness and enduringly special cabin make it our top pick in this sub-£100,000 luxury car category. 

That it is a luxury car first and 4x4 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 brisk progress enjoyable should the need arise; because just about any rate of progress feels special in a Range Rover.

Land Rover's engine range still includes six- and eight-cylinder petrol and diesel options, without a weak or under-endowed-feeling option among them. Solihull’s lately-added straight-six diesel engines ought to be a real draw for private motorists, but the one fleet operators will be interested in is the plug-in hybrid P400e (77g/km, 25 miles EV range) which qualifies for company car tax at just 19% BIK.

The Range Rover is big and heavy but its weight and size are small prices to pay for a car of its incredible breadth of ability. Few make you feel as special to ride in, none has better visibility or a more commanding or assured driving position, and very few put a better complexion on your day.

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2. 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; simple as that. It has done on every single occasion that this defining ‘big Benz’ has been redesigned over the decades, and the last time that happened in 2020, in a more challenging and fast-changing luxury car market than the car has ever faced, Stuttgart very likely did just the same.

This time, however, Mercedes didn’t quite hit its target right in the bullseye. What could be considered the tenth-generation S-Class risked much in a bid to level up with the digital technology of a Tesla, but to keep its recognisable high-quality feel, its opulent luxury and cabin quality and its uncompromising comfort and refinement. 

It almost worked. The S-Class is still one of the most comfortable, enveloping and genteel cars in the world. But its new in-car technologies, though numerous and impressive in some ways (among them is an infotainment screen big enough to belong in the cockpit of an A380), aren’t all easy to operate; they don’t all integrate seamlessly into the car’s driving experience; and some of them feel like they’re affectations rather than enhancements. 

While customers of the pricier Mercedes-Maybach S-Class get a choice of V8 and V12 powerplants, the regular limousine can be had as a -350d or -400d diesel, or as a -500 petrol - the latter also getting mild hybrid assistance. The diesels are pleasingly real-world frugal and smooth, and the S400d has all the performance that a car of this brief would ever need in any case; but the S500 offers an even quicker (and yet still suitable quiet and smooth) 400bhp+ option should you want it. 

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The S-Class is engineered to operate quietly and comfortably at all times. On both town roads and motorway it rides in isolated comfort and with plenty of trademark waft, although the biggish alloy wheels of current cars make them just a little prone to thumping over raised ironwork and broken Tarmac.

Mercedes’ very latest rear-seat entertainment solutions and sleeping-seat cabin configurations will likely come to the standard S-Class later, once they’ve been rolled out on the pricier Maybach derivative. Even without those accoutrement, though, this remains a mighty luxury conveyance. 

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3. Audi E-tron Quattro

We’re now entering reasonably well-established times for the premium electric car. There have been fast ones, very fast ones, big ones, small ones, expensive ones and cheap, and some that even attempt a bit of four-wheel driven versatility. 

But never has an electric car come along and done onboard luxury better than Audi’s first stab at the zero-emissions template: the E-tron Quattro. This car combines four-wheel drive and a commanding outright performance level with SUV-typical space, convenience and usability, and also with Audi-brand desirability. But what really makes it stand out is how superbly hushed, comfortable and refined it is. When we road tested one, our decibel placed its cabin noise level closer, at a 70mph cruise, to that of a Rolls-Royce Phantom than a Tesla Model X.

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Audi-brand modern luxury comes with state-of-the-art onboard technology too, of course, while the potential for 150kW public rapid charging, combined with an everyday range of between 200- and 250 miles on a charge, also makes the E-tron a more usable electric car than some of its ilk. Right now, there is no more luxurious electric car in the world than this one.

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4. Audi A8

The latest Audi A8 features some of the most advanced chassis, powertrain and in-car technology in the luxury class including, when it’s finally switched on, what promises to be the greatest capability for autonomous driving of any production car in the world. The car represents Audi doing classic ‘vorsprung durch technik’ in a properly committed way.

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. Higher up the model range you'll find the tax-saving six-cylinder petrol '60 TFSIe', whose refinement and effortless responsiveness really boost the appeal of the car's driving experience - as well as the range-topping V8-powered S8 executive express.

The A8's quality interior feels like it was built to outlast civilization itself, although it lacks the sense of occasion of the class-leading Range Rover. 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.

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5. Mercedes CLS 

Whether Mercedes invented the modern hybrid vehicle bodystyle that, for a while, was amusingly dubbed the ‘coupoon’ (a four-door saloon crossbred with a more tapered silhouette and a swooping coupé-like roofline) or whether it was Maserati with the fifth-generation Quattroporte is a matter of contention. Either way, it’s fair to record that the original Mercedes CLS of 2004 was one of the originators of what still seems a fairly new vehicle type; also, that that vehicle type has become an important part of the modern luxury-car landscape; and that Mercedes has probably done more than any other car maker to popularise it.

Now in its third model generation, the CLS has always proved significantly better than most 2+2s for practicality, hitting a high point for it with the Shooting Brake version – a favourite CLS derivative at Autocar Towers that Mercedes regrettably decided would be discontinued with the current third-generation version of the car.

The CLS has never looked better than in its first trend-setting model generation, but the slightly awkward looks of the second-generation version are now behind it, and the car’s technology-packaged, leather-bound cabin has never been more inviting than it is today.

The engine range includes both four- and six-cylinder turbocharged petrols and a couple of six-cylinder turbo diesels, with the four-wheel-drive CLS 53 performance hybrid having replaced the firebreathing V8-powered old CLS 63 at the top of the pile, and bringing an appealing different flavour to the AMG armoury. The chassis juggles involvement against isolation well – although bigger-rimmed versions fitted with run-flat tyres can suffer from iffy rolling refinement and are certainly worth a test drive before purchase.

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The CLS doesn’t quite offer limo-like rear seat space, but in every other respect it is a luxury car worth seriously considering.

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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 BMWsaloons and lacking in lavish material flourish. Engines are quiet, powerful and efficient, the range opening up with the familiar six-cylinder turbodiesel option, but also taking in the most BIK-tax-friendly plug-in hybrid option in the limousine class in the shape of the 745e, and culminating with one of only a handful of remaining twelve-cylinder limousine options in the M760Li; and both are impressive works of engineering. Handling is more poised and precise than rivals – although the ride isn’t quite as well-isolated.

An unexpectedly appealing driver’s car, then, even if it falls behind its very best rivals in ways more core to the mission and identity of the luxury car.

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7. BMW X7

Don’t think of this as an enlarged X5, says Munich, but rather a jacked-up 7-Series that’s been readied for limited off-roading work. That description doesn’t much account for the fact that the X7 is a seven-seat, two-box passenger car with an extended roofline, of course – but it does tell you about the priorities that BMW’s designers and engineers had when it came to refining and tuning the car.

The car comes with a choice of one turbodiesel (the 40d) and two turbo petrol engines (the entry-level 40i and range-topping M50i) in the UK. The ‘M50d’ version of the car used to offer fully 394bhp and more than 500lb ft of torque but has since been dropped, while the V8 'M50i' petrol winds the performance dial all the way out to 523bhp.

On the road, the X7 handles its size and bulk well, feeling surprisingly precise and athletic when cornering. Even the car’s diesel engine is smooth and refined, developing enough torque to move the car along easily, while its ride is comfortable without running out of control. The car manages its mass better than big luxury SUV rivals, and feels more intuitive to drive.

A slightly ordinary cabin, light on special material touches and differentiation from BMW’s lesser SUVs, and that controversial front-end styling are the car’s biggest disappointments. With that oversized grille, some would call the X7 ugly – but few would deny its competence or its completeness as a luxury car.

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8. Audi Q8

A great many modern car enthusiasts have taken against the modern luxury car buyers preference for the SUV, but when you drive a car like the Audi Q8 it’s easy to appreciate why they are so liked. This designer take on a Q7 has more visual presence and kerbside appeal than its dowdier, boxier relation, but the same brilliantly rich- and solid-feeling, inviting interior. 

It offers generous space for four adults conveyed at a height that makes you feel like you’re lifted above the melee of traffic below; and enough versatility and capability to deal with whatever else your daily routine is likely to throw at you, with plenty left in reserve.

Comfort and refinement are first class. The driving experience is light-feeling and filtered, with stable and secure handling being delivered like it might be on a less advanced four-wheel drive estate car. And the car’s engine range is wide. You can have six-cylinder petrol or diesel power; there’s a choice of two emissions-saving plug-in hybrid petrol engines, one with as much as 457bhp; and then there are the SQ8 and RS Q8 performance models, which allow you to mix as much urgency into the Q8’s driving experience as anyone could want.

SUV or not, the Q8 is undeniably one of the best luxury vehicles that Audi makes at the moment.

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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 and, spec-depending, also a rare kind of material richness that few cars in the world can match.

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.

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10. Maserati Quattroporte

Our final ranking luxury class contender is a car with plenty of soul and brand-based exotic desirability, but perhaps not the substance needed to back it up by climbing any higher on this list. The Maserati Quattroporte is one of the oldest cars here, and is certainly beginning to feel like it; but it still offers an alternative, charismatic route to a luxury-car experience, and one thing it’s not lacking in is cabin space. 

The Quattroporte grew a lot for the 2014 version. Having been more mid-sized in its previous generation, it’s now fully limousine-sized - no doubt because the company’s management thought that a bit more interior space and presence might sell a few cars in export markets like China, North America and the Middle East. This is now a car to stretch out in the back of; but the influence its size has on the way the car drives makes it a different prospect to how its predecessors used to be.

Maserati offers V6 and V8 petrol engines for the car, the latter being available with up to 572bhp if you want it. But even with it, the Quattroporte doesn’t have much sporting soul anymore. It’s become a car for loafing gently around in, and probably being driven in rather than driving yourself, with skewed right-hand-drive control ergonomics spoiling the impression of quality that the car conveys somewhat.

Maserati has never traded on the built-in quality or digital technological allure of the German luxury car power, and it’s no surprise to find a bit of a gulf between the apparent sophistication of the Quattroporte’s interior and that of some of its opponents. Modena counters with smooth-feeling leathers and some unusual and appealing material treatments, though.  

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COMING SOON

Tesla Model S 2021

The first bespoke creation from electric car pioneer Elon Musk’s firm, the Model S is the machine that brought credibility, luxury, pace and useful range to the electric car market - and the latest version, due for launch in the US market soon and to arrive in the UK later in 2021, has benefitted from the biggest revision in the car’s history.

A far-reaching interior redesign looks like it might finally bring some lavishness to the car’s cabin, with the car’s portrait-orientated infotainment screen being replaced by a landscape alternative. Meanwhile, range-topping three-motor ‘Plaid’ versions of the car will take power output beyond 1000bhp, with electric range due to close in on 400 miles.

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Mercedes EQS

Mercedes is hoping to redefine the luxury car for the electrified age with its flagship EV, the EQS. It’ll be the first car to use the firm’s first dedicated, all-aluminium electric-car platform, and will come in two versions initially, only one of which (the 329bhp, lesser-powered EQS 450) will be sold in the UK; although a more potent AMG version of the car will ultimately offer more power to those that want it.

A full-width digital dashboard should be catnip to fans of touchscreen electronics, while the car’s exterior design is optimised for perfect aerodynamics.

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We’ve only ridden in the car thus far, but were greatly impressed with the car’s performance and its comfort and isolation. UK sales are expected to start in late 2021.

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Range Rover

Land Rover’s fifth-generation Range Rover is due to be unveiled this autumn and enter production before the end of 2021. Based on a new platform architecture called MLA, it’ll adopt a mix of BMW petrol engines and JLR’s British-built diesels, and combine air suspension and four-wheel drive with four-wheel steering. A choice of standard and long-wheelbase bodies is expected.

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