Spending almost £200,000 on a car doesn't necessarily mean it's luxurious - other factors come in to play besides the price tag

At an awards event, the luxury car category is being announced, featuring Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Range Rover and Mercedes.

A guest – someone involved in the high-end luxury car business – pulls a face when the S-Class is mentioned. “That’s not luxury, that’s premium,” they say of a car whose base price can be as high as £192,805 – higher than the starting price of some of the luxury cars their own interests involve.

So I try to define luxury. Is it exclusivity? That’s part of it, but the fact that nobody else has one can’t alone be a reason, otherwise an MG 6 would be a luxury car.

Okay, that’s facetious. Sorry. Luxury also, presumably, means expensive. But clearly that’s not enough either, if the opinion of our expert is to go by, otherwise an AMG S-Class would be a luxury car, and apparently it isn’t. 

Is it craftsmanship? That there’s a personal mark on it? Possibly. Recently I watched a Bentley steering wheel being stitched together. The leather wrapping each rim is cross-stitched by hand. Before they start, the craftspeople who do it make a series of indentations in the leather, so they know where to put their stitches. To do that, they work their way around the rim, pricking it with a fork. Each of them has their own fork – any old kitchen fork – which means the pitch between the stitching is unique to whoever hand-stitched your wheel.

That is my steering wheel, made by that person. By hand. It took time. It is unique, to me, made by them. That, I will accept, sounds like the very definition of luxury, as opposed to premium.

So I’m getting closer to a definition, but that can’t be enough, otherwise Mercedes wouldn’t have thought it worthwhile to launch the Maybach brand (recently resurrected as a trim level). Just putting in time and effort would have been enough.

So is there also, for want of a better word, snobbery? A grim one-upmanship to which some people fall victim. Is it that there is no reasonably priced alternative available? You can buy a Seiko watch for £25,000 but also one for £250. You can have a Hublot watch for £25,000 but not £250. Does that make one a luxury brand and not the other?

Similarly, you can spend £200,000 on a new Mercedes and also £30,000, but there’s no new Bentley for the latter price. I’d dare say most people have no idea which £25,000 watch or £200,000 car is the better built or which involves more craftsmanship, but they will know which feels like luxury and which does not.

What makes me more uncomfortable than anything is that I know it too.

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the self-proclaimed ‘best car in the world’, is back. Or is it?

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Comments
18

27 May 2016
A lot of people who buy luxury cars are not very knowledgeable people i darw say. They don't know cars. How else do you justify paying so much money for a bentley thatis essentially a VW underneath? The Ghost is a BMW. They are not bespoke in that sense but since nobody can see nor care about what is underneath it doesn't matter then right?

27 May 2016
Sitikchai wrote:

A lot of people who buy luxury cars are not very knowledgeable people i darw say. They don't know cars. How else do you justify paying so much money for a bentley thatis essentially a VW underneath? The Ghost is a BMW. They are not bespoke in that sense but since nobody can see nor care about what is underneath it doesn't matter then right?

I could paint a picture using Rowney paints and so could David Hockney. Why pay more for a Hockney when it's made from the same stuff as a Beechie?

27 May 2016
All I am saying is what is underpinning the car should be bespoke as well. For Bentley to be truly a luxury car it needs to have its own unique platform and engines. The phantom is close to being bespoke but it still uses a BMW engine but you can argue that since the majority of BMW v12 engines go to rolls, the v12 is more rolls than bimmer. And the phantom has a bespoke chassis and body

27 May 2016
A whole article about 'premium'? %$$*&#@()$^*#@$!!!

27 May 2016
Yes, it's snobbery but the majority of S classes that I see are taxis / airport cars. That being said, it far out-sells other cars in it's class so I'm not sure it's necessarily a bad thing.

27 May 2016
I would say convenience and a feeling of comfort and ease rather than material plushness defines luxury for me. A C - Class with a chauffeur on call would be far luxurious than a Bentley I had to drive myself. If I had 200k lying around (or the monthly equivalent) to just spend on a car, I would get something like a hybrid E class and hire someone to do my driving. Getting a taxi isn't the same. You never know what car or who is going to turn up = less comfort. You can't leave stuff in it at the end of the journey = less comfort etc. Then I would buy a fun car purely to hoon around in / go on track days etc. I'd say 90% of my driving time is a chore (sitting in traffic, going to the supermarket etc.) rather than a pleasure. To have that chore taken off my hands...

27 May 2016
In the longer term, it will be self driving cars that will provide that luxury. Imaging being driven to show in central london, getting out at the doors of the theatre, clicking a button and having your car go park itself. Pure luxury! No hunting around for spaces, no navigating through city centre traffic and the maze of one way systems, just get in and relax and arrive. All the leather and metal and ye olde worlde craftsmanship in the world couldn't compensate for that.

27 May 2016
Soon self-drive cars will do the driving for you, and there wont be any more need for chauffeurs. I also look forward to the day of self-drive cars, and then I'd like to be at the back of a Ghost. The other 2 cars are beyond consideration - the Bentley interior is a vulgar mess (when the designers have no big ideas they resort to fussy details - hand-stitched steering wheel cover for God's sake), while the Merc-Maybach is no more than a tarted up and uglier S-class. Maybach seems to be a case of (to quote Samuel Beckett) "fail again, fail better"

27 May 2016
I think you would have just as much difficulty in trying to define what a small car is. Luxury and Premium are moveable descriptions, there being no definition with some magic formula. Premium is a buzzword that has sprung up in more recent times. I may be wrong, but wasn't "executive" the buzzword from decades gone by? Why does anyone need to try to differentiate - at the end of the day, the customer decides...

27 May 2016
This is a pub conversation, in that it just goes round and round with no hope of agreement or resolution. Everyone sort of knows what premium is and sort of knows what luxury is, but if you try to define either more closely the whole thing unravels and begins to sound a little ridiculous. As for that silly comment about the S-Class, well think of Evelyn Waugh who observed that everyone considers himself to be a gentleman and draws the line of demarcation 'immediately below his own heels'.

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