Ignition Summer 2016 (#15)

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You can’t just look at a car’s price tag to establish whether it’s a luxury car these days, although granted that’s still the largest clue. There are $70,000+ pickups on the market, as well as Audi and Mercedes-Benz models that will cost you less than a fully loaded Honda Accord. Is a loaded Ford F-150 more of a luxury vehicle than a cheaper BMW 5-Series? Is the Accord more of a luxury car than a base Audi A3 since it offers more space and features for the money?
Our three cover cars this month highlight the changing faces of what luxury vehicles look like in 2016. The all-new Acura NSX (page 24) may be an exotic performance car meant to provide a shining performance beacon to all Acura vehicles, just as the original NSX did when it was introduced way back in 1990. But it’s also now an all-wheel-drive hybrid-electric vehicle that offers standard Milano leather seats, active noise cancellation, nine-speaker surround sound, as well as 573 hp and a 307 km/h top speed. So is it a luxury car or performance car or ‘green’ car?
For the Bentley Bentayga (page 30), it’s the luxury brand’s first SUV ever, so it surely seems a luxury SUV. Or does its huge 600 hp 12-cylinder engine make it a performance vehicle? The 624 hp Rolls-Royce Wraith (34) is similarly more powerful than the vast majority of sports cars or even exotic cars, and a two-door to boot, but it’s clearly a luxury car through and through – even with some fairly common luxury features mysteriously missing.
We battle internally here at the office often with such distinctions when planning our annual Buyer’s Guide: “Of course the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S should be in Performance Car section, it has 570 freakin’ hp!” We scoff at automakers who insist on calling their four-door cars coupes, or their SUVs and minivans anything but SUVs and minivans. Humans like labels, and once we’re accustomed to something, we’re wired to resist change.
But in the end, this ever-evolving definition of automotive luxury makes for a fascinating whirlwind of design choices, experiences, options and potential memories. Even without being able to afford any of these three cover cars, the possibilities they represent, and the potential for them to show the way forward for other vehicles, make them all worthy of our attention.