Autocar’s super-luxury chart takes in the best of the very best on four wheels: only the ultra-rare, ultra-expensive and ultra-luxurious get in.
Most of the contenders here are limousine saloons large enough to make the average three-bedroom semi-detached house look small, but one or two of the most demure and desirable SUVs in the world make the cut also.
If you want the very last word in opulence, sophistication, sense of occasion and conferred status from your choice of car, this is the niche you’ll be shopping in. There isn’t a car here that you can buy for less than a six-figure outlay, and one or two might even cost you seven figures. For regular super-luxury class clientele, after all, to be denied the opportunity to double the cost of your car in making it absolutely your own would be the ultimate turn-off.
So, if you like the idea of being chauffeured around like Lord Sugar in a car special enough to make you feel ten feet tall and you can afford the very best life has to offer, well, lucky you. Here’s what your driver should be ordering. Best super-luxury cars currently on sale
1. Rolls-Royce Phantom
The grandest and greatest luxury conveyance in motordom was replaced by Rolls-Royce in 2017 and given a glittering five-star road test welcome by our road testers shortly thereafter.
Owners will love it at least as much for the extravagant statement of wealth and status it endows and for the unmatched sense of occasion you enjoy when travelling in one. But, while many won’t ever know as much, the latest Phantom is also an utter joy and a rare pleasure to drive.
Its superbly comfortable and singularly isolating ride comfort can be sampled from the back seats, of course, and is like nothing else you’ll encounter in a car: gently loping and deliciously indulgent-feeling but also supremely quiet and smooth, despite Rolls-Royce’s fitment of the latest run-flat tyre technology.
Yet the precision feel and perfect weight of the car’s large-rimmed steering wheel is remarkable, likewise the ease with which you can place such a huge car on the road; the tolerance it has for whatever rate of progress suits your trip; the supreme refinement and flexibility of its V12 engine; and the progressiveness of its throttle pedal on step-off.
Even though it’s a near three-tonne love song to splendid isolation, this car will accelerate from 0-100mph and from 30-70mph through the gears quicker than the last Ford Focus RS. The integrity of its engineering is simply breathtaking.
2 Rolls-Royce Ghost
The Ghost was a line in the sand for Rolls-Royce when it appeared in 2009: the beginning of a transformation that took the company’s annual production volume from hundreds of to several thousand cars per year.
Now in its second-generation, the Phantom’s understudy has evolved substantially. Where the Ghost’s mechanical underpinnings were once adapted from those of the BMW 7 Series, it now shares the same ‘Architecture of Luxury’ platform as the Cullinan and Phantom. There are also innovations such as Rolls-Royce’s mass dampers for the front suspension, and an active anti-roll bar for the rear axle, both of which help bring ride-quality closer than ever to that of the Phantom.
However, while the Phantom is very much a car in which to be driven, the Ghost was intended as a car for the well-heeled driver, and its dynamic character reflects that. Slighter tauter-riding and more agile than the Phantom (partly by virtue of its more compact proportions), it lends itself more readily to the cut-and-thrust of daily motoring on traffic-clogged UK roads than its bigger brother.
And yet in terms of interior space, luxury ambience and sheer material quality, the car sits only the smallest of rungs below its bigger brother, adopting as it does Rolls-Royce new ‘post-opulence’ design approach both inside and out. It’s a Neoclassical fortress on wheels, but a useable one.
3 Bentley Flying Spur
Bentley’s four-door ‘Continental’-series limousine started off its modern life as the Continental Flying Spur in 2006, only dropping the nomenclative prefix that links it with Crewe’s current two-door GT with its biggest model overhaul yet in 2014.
But the Flying Spur is now in its third generation – something that’s not difficult to detect from the prouder, more muscular design, which borrows heavily from the most recent, attractive Continental GT coupe. Crewe’s ‘junior’ saloon also benefits dramatically from a new platform, which was co-developed with Porsche and uses four-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars. It also better insulates the fantastically opulent cabin from the road, and provides the basis for genuinely good driving dynamics. Grip, balance and steering are all noticeable improved.
Of course, there is the same calling-card 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12, which makes 626bhp plus bottomless torque and fires the car to 62mph in comfortably less than four seconds and on to a top speed of more than 200mph. Versions of the Spur equipped with Bentley’s lighter, more freely revving V8 and a six-cylinder hybrid powertrain are also due.
Never before has the Spur felt so complete, then, and so able to execute the role of supersonic, luxury drivers’ car. And much of that is still down to the cabin. Even though it’s Bentley’s entry-level limousine, the Flying Spur offers an interior of genuinely luxurious ambience and feel, kitted out as it is with soft, beautifully stitched leathers, authentic, natural veneers, and eye-catching and tactile metal brightwork.
4 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class
The richest and most special car in what might be the most universally respected and admired limousine range in the world, the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class is the modern standard-bearer for Daimler’s Maybach super-luxury brand.
To judge by appearances, you’d say it was at least as much S-Class as Maybach, and that’s the result of Daimler’s strategic decision, taken a few years ago, to broaden the reach of the Maybach marque by creating ‘halo’ Maybach models across some of its more normal Mercedes passenger car ranges. The ultra-rare, Simon Cowell-spec, Maybach-only 57 and 62 limousines were at the same time consigned to history.
And so that fact that this car is ‘only’ an S-Class may be at once its biggest strength and its key vulnerability. Compared to a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, an S-Class might not cut a lot of mustard for drool-worthy kerbside appeal; but being an S-Class also makes this car the recipient of the all those advanced active suspension and driver assistance technologies and helps to make it so brilliantly refined, rich and cosseting.
The flagship S650 model’s 603bhp twin-turbocharged petrol V12 (though the UK will also get the 496bhp 4.0-litre V8 S580) is barely audible, and its dedication to comfort and good manners is outstanding. At 18cm longer than even the long-wheelbase version of the standard S-Class, you can guarantee that even the longest-legged passengers will have space aplenty.
5 Bentley Mulsanne
A limousine that’s singularly aristocratic, whose presence announces itself from hundreds of yards away and whose agenda is all about serving the interests of the passenger first and the driver a definite second may sound appealing in theory. But if you suspect the reality of ownership of such a car might not appeal quite as much, don’t worry, because the super-luxury class has something for you too: the Bentley Mulsanne.
Deliberately more modest and discreet in its appearance than a certain key British limousine rival, the Mulsanne is a top-level luxury four-door that’s grand with a small g. It feels less formal than the Rolls-Royce Phantom, and its interior ambience is more like that of the paneled smoking room of an old gentleman’s club than the Phantom’s chandeliered ballroom. The material quality, the lustre and natural appeal of its wood veneers and the tactile allure of so many of its fittings are second to none.
A good helping of driver appeal has always been part of this big Bentley’s motive character. And so while the Mulsanne doesn’t ride quite as serenely as some of its closest competition, it handles and responds with more vigour and verve, thanks not least to its torquey turbocharged petrol V8.
What results is a car that may not hit quite the same luxury high-notes as the very best cars in the class, but that you might end up using more often: not just for special occasions, but because it feels ready to enrich a wider range of journeys.