Best in class

Sales of lux­ury brands just won’t stop, as buy­ers pay for plush ride, pre­mium ma­te­ri­als and per­for­mance. This is the pick of the 2016 crop

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - PRESTIGE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

THE ap­peal of pres­tige cars, as in mo­bile phones, is part brand, part styling and part rep­u­ta­tion.

For some, lux­ury cars aren’t worth twice the price of a com­pa­ra­ble main­stream brand, while oth­ers are happy to pay a pre­mium for the ma­te­ri­als used in con­struc­tion, at­ten­tion to de­tail and user-friendly in­ter­faces.

Car buy­ers are adopt­ing the lat­ter ap­proach, as ev­i­denced by the con­tin­ued growth of lux­ury brands. They are also spoiled for choice, which helps ex­plain why BMW and Mercedes-Benz are en­joy­ing dou­ble-digit growth this year, Jaguar sales have more than dou­bled, we’re buy­ing more McLarens, Fer­rari and Lam­borgh­i­nis than ever and Porsche is out­selling Mini.

These are some of the bet­ter mod­els re­leased in Aus­tralia this year.

BEST HATCH Audi RS7 Per­for­mance

The rear win­dow opens with the boot, so tech­ni­cally Audi’s in­sanely fast Sport­back is a hatch. It is a smok­ing hot one, us­ing a 4.0-litre V8 twin turbo and all-wheel drive to sling­shot to 100km/h in 3.7 sec­onds. The price is equally eye-wa­ter­ing at $258,000 but there’s a lot of tech­nol­ogy un­der the stylish skin. It misses out on Audi’s dig­i­tal cock­pit dis­play and the lat­est con­nec­tiv­ity apps for Ap­ple and An­droid. Ca­pa­ble of city cruis­ing or back roads blast­ing, the RS7 is hard to beat.

BEST SEDAN UN­DER LCT Audi A4

The looks aren’t out­stand­ing but the value is. Audi comes clos­est to match­ing the fea­tures in the seg­mentlead­ing Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the A4 is a re­al­is­tic ri­val if your taste runs to classy min­i­mal­ism rather than the Benz’s in­te­rior flair. All A4s are fit­ted with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, rear crosstraf­fic alert, re­vers­ing cam­era, 8.3-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen and Ap­ple Car Play/An­droid Auto. Prices start at $55,500 for the 1.4-litre en­gine in fron­twheel drive guise and run out to $70K for the AWD ver­sion with a 2.0-litre en­gine.

BEST SEDAN OVER LCT Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Un­til the new BMW 5 Se­ries ar­rives, the lux­u­ri­ous EClass vir­tu­ally has the mid­sized seg­ment to it­self. The range starts at $89,900 for the E200 and winds out to $159,900 for the E43 AMG. There’s a re­fine­ment in the E that you have to sit in to ap­pre­ci­ate. The pair of 12.3-inch screens is a visual high­light but the semi­au­to­mated driv­ing — the car steers it­self on high­ways for up to a minute — is an­other stand­out fea­ture.

BEST SUV UN­DER LCT BMW X1

Sold in front and all­wheel drive ver­sions, the X1 is es­sen­tially a Mini mor­phed into a mini SUV. That’s not a bad thing in this con­text and has pow­ered the X1 ahead of Audi’s Q3 and the Benz GLA in sales (even if the prospect of a front-drive Beemer is anath­ema to purists). The 1.8litre diesel starts at $49,500; a 2.0-litre petrol ver­sion is $51,600. Stan­dard gear in­cludes dual-zone cli­mate con­trol, eight-speed au­to­matic, 6.5-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen with sat­nav and pow­ered tail­gate.

BEST SUV OVER LCT Mercedes-Benz GLS

The SUV flag­ship of the Mercedes range is an im­pos­ing beast, both in the metal and in sales — GLS vari­ants ac­count for two in five large lux­ury SUVs sold. That’s a dom­i­nant per­for­mance in a hotly con­tested seg­ment that in­cludes Range Rovers. The GLS line-up starts at $116,615 and runs to $217,615 for the AMG vari­ant. Stan­dard gear in­cludes air sus­pen­sion, pow­ered third-row seats, mul­ti­ple drive modes via the “dy­namic se­lect” switch and a full suite of ac­tive driver aids.

BEST SPORTS CAR UN­DER $100K BMW M2

Pay two-thirds of the cost of an M4 to get 95 per cent of the pace and poise. That’s the propo­si­tion that has made the M2 one of the year’s most de­sir­able new cars. At a start­ing price of $89,615 the BMW de­liv­ers in ev­ery as­pect, from styling to sprint times. Stan­dard fare in­cludes an 8.8-inch screen with sat­nav, cruise con­trol, lane-de­par­ture alert and cityspeed light brak­ing. The reardrive M2 has no di­rect ri­vals but in per­for­mance and price, the all-wheel drive Audi RS3 and

Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG are clos­est.

BEST SPORTS CAR OVER $100K Porsche 911 Car­rera

You no longer need to buy the 911 Turbo to get a tur­bocharged 911. The switch to forced in­duc­tion was made to meet emis­sions reg­u­la­tions. The ex­haust note may not be as crisp but the com­bi­na­tion of 3.0-litre en­gine and now­stan­dard adap­tive dampers en­dows a more re­laxed daily drive with­out de­tract­ing from the Porsche’s abil­ity to con­tort around cor­ners at ridicu­lous speeds. The cost of en­try to the 911 club is now $217,500 with a seven-speed man­ual gear­box. That gives you the en­gi­neer­ing and me­chan­i­cal ba­sics … the fancy fin­ish­ing touches are in the op­tions cat­a­logue.

BMW M2

AUDI A4

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