Comfort, style, and convenience isn't cheap or easy.
There are some key ingredients that need to go into a luxury car beyond just feeling good to sit in. There has to be an above par level of craftsmanship, the use of quality materials, a higher level of equipment installed, and it has to carry a sense of style in its design. The term luxury car is, to a degree, subjective, and there’s not a fixed definition or industry standard that draws the line between premium and luxury. To that extent, we are going to keep this selection fairly broad because, well, Rolls-Royce doesn’t make a habit of disappointing its customers. But there will, of course, be a Roller on this list because they made one ugly SUV recently.
We’ll kick off with the Cullinan and the vehicle Rolls-Royce proudly markets as the company's first SUV and everyone else looks at asks "Why is it so ugly?” Inside it’s beautiful. The ride is amazing. The Cullinan leaves anyone that has driven one or ridden in one wanting to love it, but from every angle it’s just awkward or ugly.
Nothing says "I’m trying too hard," like a Cadillac Escalade. We were going to narrow it down to the second generation because of the reliability issues but, let’s face it, people only buy an Escalade because they want to be seen in an Escalade. Otherwise, they would buy something German.
The Hummer H2 is the SUV that makes a pimped-out Escalade look classy. The H1 had something going for it as it was a road-going version of a military vehicle and had the muscle to back up its menacing looks. The H2, however, is insecurity on wheels with a cheap plastic interior. If the H2 was a bad implementation of a bad idea, the H3 cranked it all up another notch.
There are two ways of looking at Chris Bangle’s stint as Chief of Design at BMW. He’s either an under-appreciated genius or the man that made BMWs ugly. More people appear to believe the latter than the former, and it wasn’t just the controversial looks of the E65 generation 7 Series that has left it in the bargain basement of the used luxury car market. The E65 has a reputation for a check engine light that likes to come on to let the owner know they are about to pay their mechanic's boat payment that month, or just going ahead and committing mechanical suicide. Justified or not, that reputation and the looks put the E65 on this list.
The Porsche fanboys really did not like the Cayenne when it came to market. However, the reality is that in the 1990s Porsche was in the toilet business-wise and the company needed to do something. The Cayman helped, but Porsche did the math based on the fact two-thirds of its customers owned at least two or more cars and one was likely an SUV. Add to that how Porsche owners tend to be very loyal to the brand, and the Porsche SUV was a no-brainer. Some people still haven’t gotten over it, but every Porschephile should thank every Cayenne driver they see for helping keep the brand alive so it could make more amazing sports cars.
Maserati used to be the definition of style and exclusivity and the Quattroporte name has been around since 1963. As a full-sized luxury sports sedan reborn, expectations were high and the Quattroporte delivered in style, refinement, power and handling. Unfortunately, the Ferrari based DuoSelect transmission that came with the fifth generation was both unsuitable for the car and suffered problems, and reports of electrical faults, amongst many others, leaving owners without a car for long periods of time are legion and the fit and finish doesn’t age well at all.
BMW’s Sports Acti… Sorry. It's hard to type those words without laughing. I’ll start again.
BMW’s Sports Activity Coupe wasn’t designed by Chris Bangle. Instead, everybody shook their heads and rolled their eyes at the design of Pierre Leclercq. It basically takes the practicality of an SUV and the joy of a sports sedan and throws them away to deliver something buyers look at briefly before going ahead and buying the X5 they came to look at in the first place.
Aston Martin rebadged the Scion IQ, gave it a nice paint job and some leather seats and called it as a job well done. The job was to help Aston Martin comply with European fleet average emissions regulations, and possibly highlight just how absurd those regulations are. It didn’t sell well, and people hated it and saw it as anathema to the Aston Martin name. But, Aston Martin did make some lemonade out of the Cygnet for a customer by somehow fitting a 4.7-liter V8 from a Vantage S into one.
The MKS was Ford Taurus in fancy clothes and did a terrible job of hiding it from 2009 until it was put out to pasture in 2016. Hardly anyone liked the waterfall grill but its biggest crime was being such a watered down version of what Lincoln used to be and mean.
When it comes to chauffeur driven luxury cars for the city, Mercedes is the standard and screwed with Volkswagen by releasing the sub-compact and low-cost A-Class in Europe. The Phaeton did everything right to take a piece of Mercedes' high-end market except for two basic things. On the correct side, it was on the same platform as three Bentley models, it was hand assembled, it had high-end new technology that included a draft-less four-zone climate system and car reviewers were impressed with it. Unfortunately, it had a VW badge on the front and looked nothing special at all from the outside.