Automotive fashions may wax and wane – currently, the love of SUV and crossovers shows no end – yet despite this, the large opulent sedan still holds flagship status among luxury vehicle purveyors. Indeed a small slice of the market, but these four-door conveyances have historically introduced a manufacturer’s latest forward tech and luxury appointments, be it something as important as electronic stability control (Mercedes-Benz) or something as frivolous as a cabin fragrance dispenser (Mercedes-Benz again). Germany has essentially ruled this roost for decades, but this year we see not one, but two cars from Genesis – the Korean “upstart” whose unblinking laser focus on this segment surely has the established players sweating in their lederhosen. And not just because the Genesis G80 and G90 are so good. They also undercut the Europeans by many thousands of dollars.
The big Benz is considered the grand poobah of this segment. It’s been that way forever and probably will remain so, such is the S-Class’ gravitas and historical heaviness. Yes, it’s expensive, but with that comes exceptional build and road presence, and a cabin that blends Mercedes’ latest digital technology with sumptuous luxury.
And you can’t put a price on the ability to “arrive” behind the three-pointed-star. Okay, you can. The current S-Class lineup spans from the six-cylinder $109,000 S 450 4Matic to the V12-powered 621-horsepower $261,500 AMG S 65 sedan. A 2021 S-Class refresh adds available four-wheel steering, 3D display graphics, a plug-in hybrid model, and power flush-mounted door handles.
Those seeking more sport in their large luxury car will look to Porsche’s Panamera, a swoopy low-slung number that carries the brand’s DNA in no uncertain terms. The seating position is sports-car low, and the cabin, while immaculately crafted, forgoes the cushiness and gimmickry of most competitors for clean, no-nonsense simplicity. You will not find fragrance dispensers or “exercise programs” within the infotainment system. Nor a floaty Novocain ride. What you will find is poise, engagement, a very useful hatchback configuration and, depending on budget, great gobs of speed. There’s even an uber-cool Sport Turismo wagon version.
The base rear-drive 325-hp V6 is the entry point at $99,300, and this stretches to the longer wheelbase $226,500 Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive that sends 690 horsepower and 641 lb-ft to all four wheels thanks to a 4.0L biturbo V8 paired with an electric motor. For us, the Panamera sweet spot is the $154,400 GTS Sport Turismo – immensely functional, stylish, and plenty quick with its 473-hp biturbo V8. The Panamera won this category in last year’s autoTRADER.ca Awards, but will a repeat win be in its future?
Why not the flagship 7 Series? Maybe the big gaping grille put some voters off. Or maybe it’s the 5 Series’ more manageable size (still plenty roomy) that makes it more of an engaging driver without sacrificing the all-important comfort quotient. A 2021 facelift gives the 5 Series a more upscale appearance, upgraded driver assistance features, and a 12.3-inch infotainment system. BMW’s iDrive controller and logical ergonomics are a plus.
Engines range from 2.0L four-cylinder (530i xDrive) to 3.0L straight-six (540i xDrive) to 4.4L V8 (550i xDrive) and all move the car with authority. The heroic M5 Competition pulls out all the performance stops, baring 600 hp, 533 lb-ft of torque, and an inspired chassis. Pricing starts at about $70,000 and stretches to $121,000 for the M5. We like the silken and efficient 335-hp 540i that for 2021 gets a 48-volt mild hybrid system.
This mid-size luxury sedan from Genesis is more than just a cut-price offering aimed at undercutting the established players. It stands on its own, delivering a cushy ride, lovely interior appointments, all-wheel drive, sensible ergonomics, and a strong turbocharged V6 engine. A 2021 refresh incorporates Genesis’ latest styling revolution, elevating this luxury sedan from ho-hum to stunning. The new interior gets standard quilted leather, a 14.5-inch touchscreen, 21-speaker Lexicon audio, and all the expected connectivity. Factor in the full complement of safety and driver aids along with the all-in price of $66,000 for the 300-hp 2.5L turbo four model and $76,000 for the 375-hp for the biturbo V6-powered 3.5T Prestige AWD, and we have a segment disrupter of the highest order.
As with its smaller sibling the G80, the full-size all-wheel-drive G90 comes at us with Genesis’ latest design language that stands on its own – no longer a pastiche of styling cues from other established players. With its big mesh grille and striking mesh alloys that echo said maw, the stately 2021 Genesis G90 announces its arrival as a legitimate contender in no uncertain terms. Powered by a silken 5.0L V8 making 420 horsepower, the G90 comes in one, fully loaded trim level carrying an all-in price of $89,750. Not only is Genesis putting the boots to the competition value-wise, it challenges the notion that buying such a vehicle requires wading through an endless – and expensive – sea of packages and options.