Luxury car contenders
* 17 categories of awards * All the winning models featured here * What Car? Car of the Year 2011 revealed...
Best buy less than 65,000
Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 CDI Blutec
List price 58,440
Target Price 54,702
This price point is where the luxury car battle is at its hottest. The Audi A8 came along this year, offering top-notch build quality, loads of kit and strong, refined performance. However, it was hampered by having less room than its rivals and being fairly underwhelming to drive.
Thats not an accusation you can level at the Jaguar XJ. It is undoubtedly the luxury car to choose if you like to give the chauffeur the day off. It steers and handles like a car half its size, and is genuinely entertaining on any road.
Its also comfortable, with a stunning interior. However, the excellent handling comes at the expense of the ride, which is too firm.
The Jag is a touch snug in the rear seats, too.
The Mercedes S-Class has ruled the roost since it was launched in 2006, and the latest improvements make it an even better proposition.
The S350 CDI Bluetec model is smoother, more powerful and more efficient than ever, and thats all backed up by a fantastically well-crafted and roomy interior, plus sublime ride quality.
0-62mph 7.1sec Top speed 155mph
Economy 41.5mpg CO2 177g/km
Insurance group 48
Best buy 65,000-100,000
Range Rover 4.4 TDV8 Vogue
List price 68,945
Target Price 64,942
New engine, same stunning ownership experience.
The Range Rover now comes with one of the best big diesel engines you can buy. Its strong, no matter how much you ask it to do, its smooth at all times and itll achieve an average of 30.1mpg not bad in a car with the aerodynamics of a house.
The interior is stunning, too, being beautifully built and subtly stylish. Its
the sort of place you go just to spend time in. It also has more toys than even the most committed tech fan could wish for.
Of course, gadgets arent exactly in short supply in another contender, the Lexus LS600h. It includes a gadget-fest that would make even NASA blanch.
For a start, it has a hybrid powertrain that marries a 5.0-litre V8 engine to an electric motor to stunning effect: performance is punchy, and its virtually silent no matter what you ask of it.
Its just a pity that the interior isnt special enough and that the comfort brings soft, stodgy handling the big Lexus is one luxury car that doesnt like to be hustled.
0-62mph 7.5sec Top speed 124mph
Economy 30.1mpg CO2 253g/km
Insurance group 48
Best buy more than 100,000
List price 275,990
Target Price 275,990
The best choice in this price range has to be the Rolls-Royce Phantom. It personifies everything that luxury car motoring is about: its stunningly well built and there isnt a more comfortable way to travel on the road. Its also wonderfully refined, and even relatively nimble.
The new Ghost is billed as the Rolls-Royce for the owner-driver and, with 563bhp to call on from its 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 engine, its certainly a rapid way to cross the country.
It even handles pretty well, although the cars sheer size makes low-speed manoeuvring a faintly daunting affair.
The problem is that the low-speed ride is too firm, while at high speed theres a bit too much wind noise from the huge door mirrors.
So what about the new Bentley Mulsanne? People who buy Bentleys want performance, and the Mulsanne delivers itll hit 60mph from rest in a ridiculous 5.1 seconds.
It handles well, too, and matches that with decent ride quality at all speeds, but its let down by a small boot and some controls that look worryingly similar to those in common-or-garden Audis.
0-62mph 6.0sec Top speed 149mph
Economy 18.0mpg CO2 377g/km
Insurance group 50
By rights, the Mercedes S-Class shouldnt still be in with a shout of retaining its title. Almost everything else in its category is newer and fresher, and able to benefit from the relentless advances in technology. How can a five-year-old car live with that?
Well, Mercedes hasnt exactly sat on its hands with its flagship. A programme of improvements has kept the S-Class not just on the pace with more recent arrivals, but ahead in many ways. A new diesel engine, seven-speed auto transmission and engine stop-start are just some of the big changes in 2010.
The big disappointments for me this year were the Jaguar XJ and Rolls-Royce Ghost. Both are great to drive, with magnificent engines and stunning interiors, but neither rides as a limousine should.
Roger Stansfield Associate editor