What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Luxury car contenders

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Best buy less than £60,000
Mercedes-Benz S350 CDI Blue Efficiency
List price £57,110
Target Price £52,947

This sort of budget buys the beautifully made Audi A8 as well as BMW’s technologically advanced 7 Series. Unfortunately, both of these cars has its flaws: the A8 looks rather anonymous and its depreciation is scarier than a shark attack, while the 7 Series fidgets too much over poor road surfaces and isn’t as quiet as it really should be.

By contrast, the recently revised Mercedes-Benz S-Class is hard to fault. It combines a sumptuous ride with fine body control, the cabin is beautifully made and there’s so much space inside that there’s little danger of the occupants ever rubbing shoulders with fellow passengers.

Our favourite version is the S350 CDI, which holds onto its value better than most luxury cars and is the automatic choice for business users thanks to its comparatively low CO2 emissions. Even without the compelling financial reasons for choosing it, though, it makes a strong case.

The S350 CDI is as smooth and refined as any S-Class, and can be specified with the same mind-boggling array of high-tech options. What’s more, its healthy 399lb ft of torque makes for effortless performance and, because you’ll stop less frequently for fuel, it can get you to where you’re going quicker than the most lairy petrol models.

Mercedes S350 performance
0-62mph 7.8 seconds Top speed 155mph
Running costs
Economy 37.2mpg CO2 199g/km Insurance group 48

What the testers thought...
Inside, the S-Class bears little resemblance to any other Mercedes, giving it a bespoke feel. The Art Deco-style aluminium switches are particularly eye-catching. Peter.Lawton@whatcar.com


Best buy £60,000-£100,000
Range Rover 3.6 TDV8 Vogue
List price £66,101
Target Price £61,252

Surely there's been a mistake – the Range Rover is a 4x4, right? Well, yes, it’s perfectly at home in terrain that would make a tank commander think twice, thanks to massive ground clearance and extensive off-road technology, ut it’s also a genuine alternative to luxury saloons, both in the way it drives and the quality it exudes.

The pillowy ride sets the tone, soaking up the worst bumps and potholes, yet body lean is well controlled if you get electronically controlled suspension (which is standard on Supercharged and Autobiography models).

Then there’s the cabin. It’s impeccably trimmed, and with a real sense of style, plus there’s plenty of space for five to relax in comfort. True, such a big, boxy car does generate some wind noise, but it’s never loud enough to become tiring.

Land Rover recently freshened up the Range Rover, so you can now have it with a supercharged 5.0-litre petrol engine that pumps out a whopping 503bhp – but the punchy yet refined 3.6-litre V8 diesel remains our pick of the bunch here.

For the same money, you can have a long-wheelbase petrol version of the BMW 7 Series. Or there’s Lexus’s hybrid LS600h and Maserati’s stunning Quattroporte. Yet the cool British charm of the Range Rover is particularly appealing.

Range Rover performance
0-60mph 8.6 seconds Top speed 124mph
Running costs
Economy 25.4mpg CO2 294g/km Insurance group 48

What the testers thought...
The Range Rover proves that not all luxury cars have to be saloons. It gives you all the usual limo virtues – great refinement, gorgeous cabin – but with extra style. Euan.Doig@whatcar.com


Best buy more than £100,000
Rolls-Royce Phantom
List price £269,739
Target Price £269,739

Later this year, Bentley will try to tempt money-no-object buyers with its new Mulsanne limo, while Rolls-Royce will respond with the slightly smaller Ghost. However, it’s another Rolls-Royce – the Phantom – that currently rules this end of the luxury car market.

Like Rollers of the past, the Phantom is built by skilled craftsmen using the finest materials, but fit and finish have been massively improved and it’s a surprisingly high-tech car. The body is made from lightweight aluminium – but, at 2.5 tonnes, the Phantom won’t float away – and you won’t want for performance thanks to its 6.8-litre V12 engine.

For all the technology and pace, though, it’s the cocooned feeling you get as your chauffeur wafts you down the motorway that most impresses. The air-sprung ride is so comfortable you’d swear Rolls-Royce had developed hover-travel. What’s more, all the mechanical components work smoothly and silently, and there’s little wind- or road noise.

The only slight pity is that many owners will experience all this only from the back seat, because being in control of the Phantom makes you appreciate it even more. It’s far more agile than it looks, the steering is light yet accurate and you feel like the king of the road from behind the wheel thanks to the throne-like seat and lofty driving position.

Rolls-Royce Phantom performance
0-62mph 6.0 seconds Top speed 149mph
Running costs
Economy 18.0mpg CO2 377g/km Insurance group 50

What the testers thought...
You’ll probably spend most of your time in the back but, even when you get behind the wheel, nothing makes you feel more at ease with the world than a Rolls. Peter.Tullin@whatcar.com


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