10 things to look for in a luxury car
From massaging seats and auto-tinting roofs to big-screen displays and soft-close doors, no driver should leave home without these frills.
Here are 10 state-of-the-art features discerning buyers can expect to find in their next luxury car:
Just like home TVs, automotive infotainment screens are getting bigger and sharper. BMW launched a 10.2-incher in its 650i luxury coupe last year, but Lexus trumps that with a 12.3-inch unit in its new GS 350.
More than just about size, these screens can be split to provide a full navigation display along with other selected info. You can also watch DVDs when the car is stopped.
In some Audi models, a 7-inch screen flips up out of the dash on start-up and, if equipped with MMI Touch, a backlit touch pad recognizes fingertip writing for entering letters and numbers for navigation.
Nothing speaks of luxury like horsepower, and there?s plenty of that out there for those with deep pockets.
Mercedes? AMG products have always adhered to the ?iron fist in a velvet glove? philosophy ? even more-so now that its new 5.5 L biturbo V8 is finding its way into the E, S, SL, SC and SLC class cars, wearing the 63 AMG badge. Output ranges from 518 to 571 hp and torque can reach an oh-my-gawd 664 lb.-ft.
The BMW M5 sports a twin-turbo 4.4 L V8 making 560 hp, and the $209,000, 550-hp, all-wheel-drive Porsche Panamera Turbo S I tested did a stellar job of compressing my eyeballs at every opportunity. It needs just 2.6 seconds to close the 80 to 120 km/h gap.
Perhaps my favourite missile is the gorgeous and sure-footed $131,000 Jaguar XJL Supersport, with 510 hp from its supercharged 5.0 L V8.
Many of the safety features we now take for granted first saw the light in luxury vehicles.
A new batch of driver-aid systems is showing up on high-end vehicles. With help from cameras, radar, sonar and infrared sensors, you?ll know when you wander from your lane or when a car is in your blind spot, you?ll see further into the dark, the car will automatically keep a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front, and it will apply emergency braking if you don?t.
Mercedes? active lane and blind spot systems can even brake selected wheels to nudge the car back in line or discourage a dangerous lane change.
One of the more-forward-thinking systems is Volvo?s Pedestrian Detection, which automatically brings the car to a halt from a moderate speed when someone steps out in front of it.
Lexus? Closed Eye Detection studies your peepers with a camera mounted on the steering column. It detects how frequently the eyes are opened or closed, as well as facial characteristics, and if it thinks you?re inattentive, fatigued or falling asleep, alerts will sound or, worst-case scenario, the Advanced Pre-collision System is activated. Feeling a little self-conscious are we?
Drawing from aerospace technology, Heads-Up Displays project selected info at the lower half of the windshield in the driver?s line of sight.
BMW has one of the more comprehensive systems and it works like a charm. In addition to the vehicle speed, you can add navigation instructions, driver-assist warnings, speed limit and the status of active cruise control. With the sharp image hovering at what appears to be the end of the hood, drivers process the information 50-per-cent faster, without taking their eyes off the road.
Most high-end manufacturers offer adaptive bi-xenon light packages that use small servomotors to steer the headlights into corners.
Sensors detect the vehicle?s speed, steering angle and, in some cases, yaw forces, to determine how far to turn the beam ? usually up to 15 degrees each way. By law, xenon lights must be self-levelling to prevent blinding oncoming drivers.
Audi and BMW both offer full LED front lighting in some models, which is brighter, lighter, compact and more energy-efficient. However, if Junior whacks a baseball through your R8?s lens, there goes about three year?s allowance.
When heating, ventilation and countless adjustments are not enough, go for the massage.
Audi wins the prize with its optional seats in the A8L. Ten separate air chambers in the backrest inflate and deflate according to a preset sequence, with five intensity settings and five options: wave, pulse, stretch, lumbar, and shoulder.
Mercedes? multicontour seats with seven air bladders are also quite impressive.
Conversely, BMW only offers butt massage in its front seats, but riders in the back of the long wheelbase BMW 7 Series will get a back massage, as will those in the stretched Lexus LS and Hyundai Equus.
While this might seem like the apogee of indulgent frippery, doors that use electric assist to quietly complete the act of closing allow us to sidestep the inelegance of having to muscle the things shut on our own. Slamming is just so crass.
A big part of the luxury-car experience is concert sound, and automakers love to align themselves with big-name audio companies.
Lexus has Mark Levinson, Bentley uses British audiophile supplier Naim, Audi and BMW are with Bang and Olufsen, Rolls-Royce has Lexicon ? the list goes on.
Pricing for some of these multi-speaker, megawatt systems is eye-watering. The Bang and Olufsen Advanced Sound System in the Audi A8 runs $7,000 and the Porsche Panamera can be fitted with an optional $4,560 Burmester surround sound.
Audio quality is not always proportional to money spent. One of the best I?ve heard is the standard Harmon Kardon system in the Land Rover LR4.
Available in the latest Mercedes-Benz SLK and SL hardtop/convertible roadsters is a roof panel the automaker dubs Magic Sky Control.
If you wish to gaze into the sky without having to deal with wind, UV rays or the occasional bird dropping, the roof will instantly go from opaque to clear at the touch of a button. It uses Research Frontier?s SPD-Smart light-control technology, which realigns light-blocking crystals embedded within the glass panel.
If you have the time and inclination, the purchase of your luxury ride can also include a holiday in the country of its origin.
Most of these kinds of automakers offer a European delivery program, wherein you pick up your shiny ride at the factory, tootle about the continent for as long as you like (Autobahn blasts are mandatory) and then have your vehicle shipped home.
Volvo goes all out with complementary flights to Gothenburg, hotel accommodation and free return shipping.