Best luxury cars 2019 UK: the finest premium saloons on sale

Published: 16 October 2019

► The most luxurious cars you can buy
► Ranked by CAR
► From Goodwood to Ingolstadt

‘Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.’ So said Coco Chanel, and some cars here could readily disprove that theory – at least if one gets creative with the configurator. In this sector, particularly its upper echelons, you can have any colour, upholstery or accessories you desire. The only prerequisite is your own lack of poverty. Sorry, Coco.

Luxury comes in many shapes and sizes, from posh superminis to super-SUVs. For the purposes of this page, we’ve concentrated on traditional luxury cars: upscale saloons that major on comfort and refinement. Not so long ago, such machines handled like lifeboats on a stormy sea, but clever chassis technology has changed all that. Now you can switch from calm to combative at the click of a switch.

Best luxury GT cars

Cars in this class also excel when it comes to safety, autonomous driving capability and infotainment. Many of features seen here first will filter down to more mainstream models in years to come. Talking of the future, our selection also includes the all-electric Porsche Taycan. Battery power – silent, instant and effortless – seems to suit the luxury car well, so expect many more EVs to eventually populate this list.

Now, sit back, relax and read on for buying tips and bite-size summaries of our favourite luxury cars.

  1. Rolls-Royce Phantom 
  2. Mercedes-Benz S-class
  3. Bentley Flying Spur
  4. Porsche Taycan
  5. BMW 7-series
  6. Audi A8
  7. Bentley Mulsanne

Best luxury cars 2019: a buying guide

Firstly, are you reading the right guide? Most luxury cars offer four-wheel drive, but if you want true cross-country ability, you probably need an SUV. A lofty driving position and more practical boot are further benefits of that breed. Alternatively, if rear-seat space isn’t a concern, the sleeker styling and sportier manners of a GT may appeal.

Assuming you’ve settled on a saloon, the main limiting factor here is budget. There’s an invisible dividing line between premium brands such as Audi and true luxury marques like Bentley. And once you smash that glass ceiling, the sky really is the limit. The good news is that, objectively, there’s little difference between, say, an A8 and a Flying Spur. But luxury is also subjective and it’s difficult to put a price on feelgood factor.

Unless you have a blank cheque, diesel still makes sense in this sector, not least because of its muscular torque delivery. However, plug-in hybrids, which offer similar low-down oomph, are gaining popularity fast. If you want the ultimate, though, only a petrol-powered V12 will do. Buy one while you still can.

For cars that will be chauffeur-driven, a long-wheelbase version is frequently an option. You might also consider the premium hi-fi options in this class. They’re not cheap, but the best offer genuine cinema-quality sound. 

Best luxury cars 2019

Rolls-Royce Phantom 

‘Best luxury saloon car in the world? Yes, and by some margin.’ Thus concluded CAR’s Gavin Green after driving Rolls-Royce’s second BMW-era flagship. The Phantom is also the longest current production car, at 5.98 metres in extended wheelbase guise, and very probably the quietest. Its 563bhp 6.75-litre V12 is so serene that only a glance at the power reserve dial – Rolls can’t abide anything as uncouth as a rev counter – confirms the pistons are actually pumping. Yet bury your brogue in the lambswool and this 2.5-tonne leviathan will breach 62mph in just 5.3 seconds.

Precise steering and active anti-roll bars mean the Phantom handles with more decorum than you’d hope. Nonetheless, this car is best experienced from the back seat, isolated from the outside world in a cocoon of pillowy-soft leather. Draw the curtains, recline in La-Z-Boy style and gaze at the twinkling starlight headliner while quaffing champagne from the drinks cabinet. It all feels gloriously decadent. The option to commission a bespoke artwork on the dashboard speaks of next-level luxury, too. No wonder many buyers (sorry, ‘patrons’) spend more than a million pounds after options.

Read our Rolls-Royce Phantom review

Browse Rolls-Royce Phantom cars for sale

Mercedes-Benz S-class 

The Mercedes S-class is both the benchmark and the bellwether here. Over the decades, it introduced ABS, seatbelt pretensioners, front airbags, cruise control and blind-spot monitoring. Today, the S-class range stretches from S350d to Mercedes-Maybach S650. The former’s 282bhp diesel six makes for an airport taxi par excellence. The latter packs a 621bhp V12 and is more akin to a private jet. Stentorian S63 and S65 AMG models are also offered, along with a new 470bhp S560e plug-in hybrid. If luxury is about choice, you won’t be left wanting.

Inside, the S-class feels more techno than a sweaty Berlin nightclub, with widescreen infotainment and multi-colour mood lighting. The array of driver assistance systems includes adaptive cruise that slows for bends and changes lanes if you indicate, plus a concierge service to book a hotel or find parking. Drivers benefit from light, incisive controls, while passengers can revel in superb ride comfort and refinement. Aboard an S-class, the miles simply melt away.

Read our Mercedes-Benz S-Class reviews

Browse Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars for sale

Bentley Flying Spur 

Bentley’s brief for the Flying Spur was ‘supercar performance with limousine luxury’. That it delivers is testament to both bleeding-edge technology and olde-worlde craftmanship. Whether you’re driving or being driven, it’s an utterly immersive experience. Behind the redesigned Flying B lurks a 626bhp 6.0-litre W12 – ‘probably the world’s most advanced internal combustion engine’, says Bentley. It too serves up stark contrasts, shifting from waft to warp-speed with effortless ease. And the chassis follows suit, with air springs and 48V active anti-roll bars serving up a cosseting ride and iron-fisted cornering control.

 

Nobody does knurling quite like Crewe, and the Flying Spur’s cabin is a feast for the fingertips. As the soft-close doors seal shut, you enter a place that’s part panelled drawing room, part touchscreen tech-fest.  Traditional organ-stop air vents sit alongside digital dials and an infra-red night vision display. A smartphone-style remote control allows those in the two individual rear chairs to move the front passenger seat, set the navigation or adjust the audio system. Speaking of which, the optional Naim hi-fi is just jaw-dropping, and £6,500 well-spent.

Read our Bentley Flying Spur review

Porsche Taycan  

Hold the Liam Neeson jokes because Porsche isn’t laughing. The Taycan is its Tesla-killer and the top-dog Turbo S earned five stars in our review. Its very particular set of skills include 800-volt tech from the Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid for ultra-rapid 270kW charging: 62 miles of range in just five minutes. For electro-geeks, that’s more exciting than face-melting acceleration, although the number of 270kW public charge points is tiny. Still, the potential is there. 

You’re more interested in the acceleration, right? Well, 751bhp and 774lb ft from standstill mean 62mph in 2.8 seconds and 162mph. But enough stats, this Porsche is also covetable and cool, with svelte styling and a futuristic cabin (five digital screens if you tick enough options). Meanwhile, a veritable arsenal of chassis trickery – rear-wheel steering, electromechanical anti-roll, torque vectoring, three-chamber air suspension – gives this 2.3-tonne EV handling that befits its badge. Best electric car in the world? That title is Taycan.

Read our Porsche Taycan review

BMW 7-series 

With more chrome than a classic Cadillac and nostrils like Tubbs from The League of Gentlemen, the latest 7er ain’t subtle. Get past that grille, though, and you’ll find a luxury saloon that – despite being a facelift of a car launched in 2015 – ably stands comparison with the S-class and A8. True to BMW’s ethos, it’s also the sharpest steer of the trio. Dial up Sport mode and even Sevens with XDrive 4WD (standard on all bar the entry-level 730d) feel decidedly rear-driven. The pay-off is a ride that lacks the sumptuous squidge of the Mercedes.

You can power your Seven with six, eight or twelve cylinders, and with petrol, diesel or plug-in hybrid tech. We sampled the 523bhp V8 750i and enjoyed its zingy response and full-bodied burble, if not its mid-20s fuel economy. The BMW’s interior can’t match the A8 for wow-factor and its glitchy Gesture Control still feels like a gimmick. Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful way to travel assuming your driver doesn’t get carried away...

Read our BMW 7-series review

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Audi A8 

Big Audis used to feel stodgier than a plateful of sausages and sauerkraut. Not the A8. Perhaps the biggest surprise about this fourth-generation D5 model is how well it handles. Precise steering, a loose-limbed ride and Quattro traction make for a deft and engaging experience. If you’re not in the mood, though, the A8 can pretty much drive itself. Level three autonomous control can be complemented with road-reading active suspension, remote-control parking, ‘car-to-x’ capability and more. Who needs a chauffeur anyway? 

The A8’s relatively subtle styling also conceals one of the most tech-tastic interiors available. The now-familiar Virtual Cockpit is joined by two huge haptic touchscreens, which replace the old MMI interface. Rear-seat passengers, meanwhile, can stretch out in a space that embodies every Teutonic build quality cliché. The eager 334bhp 3.0-litre petrol V6 (badged 55 TFSI) is our pick of the range – at least until the 4.0 diesel and excess-all-areas W12 arrive. 

Read our Audi A8 review

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Bentley Mulsanne 

If you enjoy leisurewear and loafers, the Flying Spur is probably the Bentley saloon for you. If your style is more Savile Row, consider spending your quarter-mill on the Mulsanne. Old-money, old-school and just a bit, well... old, the Mulsanne debuted in 2010, then was facelifted in 2016. However, while it doesn’t bristle with technology like its (slightly) smaller sibling – witness the analogue dials and modest media screen – it reeks of cultivated cool. It has aged like a single-malt Scotch. 

For all its affable charm, the Bentley’s 6.75-litre V8 punches like a Henry Cooper left hook. In flagship Speed spec, it serves up a titanic 811lb ft from a toe-tickle above tickover. The eight-speed torque converter auto is butter-smooth and the air suspension, coupled with a 2.7-tonne kerb weight, crushes the road surface into submission. The Mulsanne doesn’t isolate you as completely as a Phantom, but that’s part of its appeal. Provided you have enough road, it’s a genuine joy to drive.

Read our Bentley Mulsanne reviews

Browse Bentley Mulsanne cars for sale

We’ll be updating this page regularly, so keep checking back for our latest thoughts on the best luxury cars. 

By Tim Pitt

Long-time CAR reader turned contributor, with love for all things fast and German

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