The luxury car no longer exists – except as a badge and a price. And a memory. There being increasingly little, if any, meaningful difference between luxury-badged (and priced) vehicles and those that aren’t.
What is the difference, for instance, between a loaded Toyota Camry and a Lexus ES350? Or a VW Atlas and an Audi Q5? It is nothing like the difference between A Chevy Chevette and a Cadillac Sedan de Ville. That latter comparison is helpful in understanding the differences that no longer exist.
The Chevette was an economy car made by GM’s Chevrolet division made for about ten years, between 1976 and 1987. It was a car almost as basic a Model T Ford, except that it was available in more than just one color. That’s a stretch – but not much. A Chevette did not come standard with air conditioning or even a radio. The latter two were available as options, but most of the equipment that is today taken for granted – that is standard – in literally every new car, irrespective of price, such as climate control AC, power windows and locks, intermittent wipers, a stereo, electric rear defroster, cruise control and full instrumentation – was either optional or unavailable.
You could not buy a Chevette with power-adjustable leather seats and so on because why would you? If you wanted such luxury features, you were willing to pay extra for them. The whole point of a car like the Chevette was to avoid paying for such things.
And things such as heated seats, LED headlights and interior mood lighting weren’t available in Cadillacs when Chevettes were available. Today, such things are standard in Sedan deVille equivalents – and they are usually available (often standard) in today’s Chevette-equivalents.
But it is bad for the luxury car badges. Because why bother?
Or rather, why spend?
Most significantly – most definitively – the Chevette and all other economy cars were powered by four cylinder engines. A Sedan de Ville came standard with a V8. So did practically every other luxury-priced car. It was what defined such a car. Or rather, it is what separated one from an economy car.
It is the same kind of difference that separates hamburger from steak. If you’re paying steak money, it’s unsatisfying to find hamburger on your plate.
Or a four cylinder engine under the hood.
Yet almost every 2023 model year luxury-badged – and priced! – vehicle comes standard with the latter. This includes models like the Mercedes E-Class and the BMW 5-Series, the Audi A4 and A6, the Jaguar XF, the Genesis G70 and – bringing things around full circle – the Cadillac CT5.
Interestingly – depressingly – every one of the above comes with the same four cylinder engine. A 2.0 liter four cylinder engine. It is not the identical 2.0 liter four cylinder engine; each is made by its respective manufacturer and they vary – slightly – in terms of the parts being not interchangeable and the output being different. But is this a difference with much distinction?
When you bought a Sedan de Ville, you got at least a 7.7 liter (472 cubic inch) V8 engine. This was quite a difference vs. what you got when you bought a Chevette – which you could not get with a V8 engine, at all.
Today’s Chevette analogs, on the other hand, almost all come standard with – here it comes! – a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine. The 2.0 liter engines in modern Chevettes (which aren’t anything of the kind, really, if you define Chevette-ness by the absence of luxury amenities such as climate control, power windows and locks, cruise control, a good stereo and – in almost every case – a standard automatic transmission) aren’t as powerful as the 2.0 liter fours that come standard in luxury-priced cars.
The luxury brands seem to be aware that it is, evidence of that being the absence of advertising of the hamburger they’re selling at steak prices.
One does not see “2.0” badges on the flanks of modern luxury-brand cars. Indeed, one often sees a badge that reflects what you used to get when you paid steak prices – and didn’t get hamburger.
For example, the current (2023) Mercedes E-Class sedan still carries badges that read “E350” – which used to signify the 3.5 liter V6 that was the least you got when you paid for steak. If you paid more, you got exactly that – in the form of the V8 that’s no longer offered with the E-Class sedan.
It’s not even standard anymore in the S-Class sedan, Mercedes’ top-of-the-line (and six-figures to start) luxury sedan. $114,500 will buy you the S450 – which comes with a V6. The “450” used to denote a V8.
But the memory fades.
At least you can still get a V8 S-Class, the S580 . . . if you can afford to pay $124,000.
As for the rest, they might as well be Chevettes. At least insofar as the hamburger under their hoods.
. . .
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