SUVs may rule the sales charts in these times, but when it comes to flagship status, luxury manufacturers still bestow than honour upon the big, opulent sedan. Nothing says you’ve “arrived” more than rolling up in lengthy four-door that bristles with all forward tech and luxury appointments that its German manufacturer can throw its way. Yes, German. Indeed, there are some fine executive sedans from other parts of the world, but the Germans have essentially owned this rare slice of the automotive market for as long as memory serves, so this fact is reflected in our finalists for this category.
Here we examine the elements that make for a convincing flagship sedan: leading edge technology, opulent appointments, composed speed, and outrageous comfort. Our judges aren’t too concerned with value or fuel economy in this segment, but rather pomp and circumstance. A winning luxury sedan should be effortless to drive but also very comfortable for those who prefer to be chauffeured. These sedans should represent the very best of what a luxury automaker has to offer and the statement it makes must be grand. Our jury of more than 20 automotive experts considered every single large luxury car available, enduring heated armrests, massaging seats, and extended autobahn blasts, and voted to shortlist these finalists.
A winner will be announced on January 20, 2020.
All new for 2020, the BMW 5 Series sedan trades in some of its past sportiness for a more relaxed, luxurious experience and a whole lot of cutting-edge technology. It has a roomy, sumptuous interior, and, as expected, a ton of tech is on the menu. A 10.2-inch screen is standard and we like BMW’s iDrive infotainment interface that still uses an ergonomically sensible central control knob and lots of well-marked buttons. The 2020 5 Series gets a wide range of powertrain choices – a turbocharged four-cylinder, turbocharged inline-six, a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a twin-turbo V8. All deliver the classic smoothness and efficiency we’ve come to love from BMW powerplants. Starting prices range from $63,000 to $83,000. The top dog 617-hp M5 Competition will lighten your wallet to the tune of $121,500 and blast you to 100 km/h in 3.3 seconds.
Available in coupe, convertible, and four-door Gran Coupe format, BMW’s new swoopy luxury conveyance replaces the outgoing 6 Series. Is 8 better than 6? Absolutely. The 8 Series is elegantly sculpted, the cabin a sumptuous blend of fine leather and exquisite detail, and underhood lies a beast of a 523-hp 4.4L twin-turbo V8 that purrs and pounces in equal measure. Perhaps more importantly, BMW has found some of its old driving mojo here. The 8’s steering is sharp and feelsome, and the car dispatches corners with real vigor and a delicious dynamic harmony. M adaptive suspension, electronic locking rear differential, active roll stabilization, rear wheel steering, and rear-biased all-wheel-drive are all standard. The sexy M850i xDrive Gran Coupe starts at $121,600.
Icon is a much-overused descriptor, but when it comes to the S-Class, it is wholly fitting. Mercedes’ big executive sedan has been the benchmark, the king, the full-size luxury sedan that all other aspire to be. The S-Class has always been known for introducing the most cutting-edge technology to the automotive industry: A few highlights in today’s model includes one of the industry’s most advanced driver assistance and safety systems, wireless phone charging in the front and rear, heated armrests, massaging seats all around, quilted leather seating, a self-levelling air suspension, and more. Always lavish and always coddling, the current S-Class ranges in price from the six-cylinder $108,100 S 450 4Matic to the V12-powered $258,000 AMG S 65 Sedan. The S-Class’ ultimate expression of luxury would be the V12 Maybach that starts at $209,000. There is also a droptop version of the S-Class available should you prefer open-air motoring, or a coupe for something sleeker and more stylish.
This mid-size offering feels like a scaled down S-class in every respect. It has an exquisitely rendered cabin, a bevy of available tech, and it goes down the road in a decidedly luxurious fashion. It’s clearly tuned for comfort – not a lot of sport – but isn’t that what luxury sedans are all about? The base $63,100 E 300 4Matic gets a 241-hp turbocharged four-cylinder that is adequate, but we’d opt for the $71,700 E 450 4Matic with its 362-hp bi-turbo 3.0L V6. Speed mavens can choose between two AMG models – the AMG E 53 gets a 429-hp version of Benz’s new 3.0L turbo straight-six, or the bonkers AMG E 63 S with with its masterpiece of a 603-hp 4.0L bi-turbo V8. Pricing is $83,900 and $117,000, respectively. The E-Class is unique in that it’s also offered as a convertible, a coupe, and a more practical wagon format. No matter the format, the E-Class offers a compelling luxury experience.
Redesigned for 2017, Porsche’s low-slug executive four-door got a prettier profile and new interior sporting plenty of digital real estate. It also took a step closer to the luxury side of the equation, but make no mistake, the Panamera is still all Porsche, meaning it’s one of the best driving vehicles in this class. The low seating position has sports car written all over it, and all the controls fall to hand just like in a 911. Front and centre is a big analog tachometer. Depending on your budget, Panamera performance spans spritely to supercar, and you’re not lacking for choice. The Porsche website shows 21 Panamera models ranging from the base turbo V6 ($99,300) to the Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive ($226,500) that whips up a massive 677 horsepower and 626 lb-ft of torque. For us, the sweet spot is the wagon-like Panamera Sport Turismo in GTS guise – $154,400 with a healthy 453-hp twin-turbo 4.0L V8.