There’s not much special – or even especially luxurious – about modern luxury cars. This is not to say they aren’t luxurious; of course they are. The problem – for luxury car sellers – is that everything is luxurious.
Just not as expensive, the main distinguishing feature of a modern luxury car.
Visit a new car showroom and see – and judge – for yourself. On the one hand, it is almost impossible to find any new car that does not have or offer electronic climate control air conditioning, power everything – including usually cruise control (often, adaptive – which means it automatically adjusts speed in relation to traffic) as well as intermittent wipers (rain-sensing, increasingly) heaters for the seats (becoming common as optional equipment even in “entry level” cars), LED headlights, interior ambient lighting and even fully LCD/digital dash displays.
Practically everything that’s new – regardless of price – comes with or is available with – the very latest “advanced” driver “assistance” technology, such as Lane Keep Assist, Automated Emergency Braking, Automated Self-Parking and so on. Assuming you want such “assistance.”
On the other hand, luxury cars – which also have these things – no longer have the things that formerly set them far apart from their lower-priced relations:
Exclusive engines. That is to say, different engines. The kinds of engines you could not get, period, in a lesser car. This being of the same principle that prevents a townhouse from being built adjacent to a proper home, in the better neighborhoods.
It was once expected that the very least you’d get for your money if you bought a luxury car was a six cylinder engine. So as to have more engine than a Chevy or a Toyota.
Well, what now? Unless you’re ready to spend really big money – as in six figures and up money – most of the current crop of luxury-priced cars come with the same – literally, in terms of their displacement and layout – turbocharged four cylinder engines.
An astounding number of these are 2.0 liters in size, the same size as the 2.0 liter fours that abound in everything these days.
A $36,995 (to start) 2021 Cadillac CT5 comes standard with a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine – and so does a 2021 Chevy Malibu Premium, which stickers for $33,370. The Malibu’s 2.0 liter turbo four actually makes more power (250 hp) than the Cadillac’s (237 hp).
An Audi A4, which stickers for $39,100 to start, comes standard with a 2.0 liter turbo’d four – and so does a $23,995 VW Passat, which is also a larger car with more backseat legroom. It also comes standard with leather trim, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and an LCD touchscreen.
Granted, the Audi’s LCD touchscreen is bigger. But $15,105 (the difference in price between the Audi and the VW) seems like a lot to pay for it.
$50k-plus luxury sedans like the 2021 Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 5-Series both come standard with . . . 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engines. So does the $31k Honda Accord sedan. Its 2.0 liter turbocharged four makes 252 horsepower; the $54,200 BMW 530i’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four makes 248. The $54,250 Benz E350’s turbocharged four musters 255.
It’s more than slightly depressing – especially if you can remember when paying ten or twenty thousand dollars more for a car usually got you a lot more engine – and not just in terms of horsepower or even physical size.
There was real exclusivity in having the keys to a car with a V12 under its hood in your pocket. Jaguars used to offer these. Current Jags ,like $49,995 to start F-Pace (which is a crossover SUV) comes standard with – can you guess? – a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. It makes 246 horsepower – slightly less power than the 252 hp 2.0 liter turbo’d four that’s available – for $30k – in the Chevy Equinox, another crossover SUV.
A Jaguar without a V12 – or at least a V8 – is like a cat without the purr. The purr was once expected when you paid Jaguar money for a car. Of course, you also generally got the climate control AC, the leather seats, the upgraded stereo, the nicer trim and a better-quality paint job.
Now, everyone – just about – can get those things. Because just about every new car either comes standard with them or can be ordered with them. Build quality – and paint quality – are generally excellent now.
This really closes the meaningful gap between the luxury-priced car and just cars, especially when you have a look under what’s under their respective hoods.
It leaves not much reason to spend luxury car money, since you can get the luxury without spending the money. It also suggests something, which luxury cars might want to consider, before too many buyers figure out that what they’re paying for isn’t getting them more – or even much different.
It is probably impossible for luxury car-makers to bring back V8s and forget V12 – not because luxury car buyers don’t esteem them but rather because the government doesn’t want anyone to have them, even those who can afford them. It is not because of cost that cars like the BMW 5, the Benz E and other such that cost $50k-plus come standard with 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engines. Rather, it is because of government decrees – especially as regards that deadly inert gas, carbon dioxide – that are making it de facto illegal to build larger engines no matter how willing and able people are to pay for them and (as in Europe) to drive anything with an engine at all, in some areas – with more areas to follow.
This is why engines have been getting smaller – and the same. It serves the dual-fold purpose of getting rid of engines and homogenizing cars, so as to make the electric car – the most homogenous car imaginable – a kind of fait accompli.
But that still leaves the problem of the luxury car. Or rather, of its price – and how to convince people to continue paying it.
Well,if we can’t have V12s, V8s – or even sixes and maybe not even fours, soon – how about some chrome, again? Billet and hand formed metal trim bits? Real cowhides, stitched by hand – as opposed to politically correct ersatz “leather,” stitched by a machine on an assembly line? Fine jeweled works in the dash rather than a cheesy – and cheap electronic displays?
Why not let luxury car buyers order their car – and select their color, not from a roster of colors but painted any color they wish? Bring in a sample – the factory will make it so. Such exclusivity – and individuality – might make it worth spending luxury car money on a new car again.
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