This is where automakers show what they can really do.
Most car brands have a flagship model. It's the one that they want influential people to choose and to be seen using, whether it's industry leaders, pop culture celebrities, political figures, or specific government agencies. Think the Cadillacs in the presidential motorcade, the vehicle Dwayne Johnson pulls up in as he arrives at a movie premiere, or the car that transports Jeff Bezos to the private helicopter waiting to take him to his island base hidden inside a volcano.
Flagship models are what manufacturers want dignitaries, business people, millionaires, and billionaires to choose for their chauffeured transport. That means they have to be spacious and luxurious in the inside, and smooth and powerful to ride in. On the outside, they need to be elegant or imposing, or, ideally, both. These are the greatest of the flagship models available now.
If you want some understated style with your high-tech luxury ride, the Audi A8 delivers on all counts. It provides leading-edge technology, cushy comfort in a well-isolated cabin, and a surprisingly entertaining drive if the owner chooses the front seat. In the US, only the long-wheelbase version is available, and under the hood lurks either a 335-horsepower V6 or a more potent 453 hp twin-turbo V8. Both feature a mild-hybrid system, an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive as standard. There's room to stretch out inside amongst the rich wood and leather, and passengers in the back can enjoy power-adjustable rear seats with heating, ventilation, and massage functions. The highlight for those into tech is the extensive infotainment system that's highly configurable and looks as good as it sounds.
Unless Toyota decides to bring the Rolls-Royce level of luxury that is the Century out of Japan and give it a Lexus badge, the LS is the carmaker's current flagship. It challenges the German brands with full-on Japanese styling, a quiet cabin with quality materials and design flourishes, and a twin-turbocharged V6 engine rather than a V8 option. The LS falls down in the infotainment stakes and the driving experience against the German rivals, but it shouldn't be written off by someone that wants a little flair in their style and comfort.
Not all flagships are cars, and certainly not when the brand in question only builds trucks and SUVs. GMC has been elevating the Yukon with its Denali line for a while now, and, for 2020, it has become something special. On the outside, the GMC Yukon Denali has an imposing presence. At the same time, the interior design is an elevation rather than an improvement, particularly when you realize what you're looking at comes from an American brand, not a European one. There's an incredible amount of space inside the behemoth of an SUV, and passengers get the pleasure of riding on a full air-ride suspension system that also uses magnetic ride control within each damper. It's big, it's plush, and under the hood is a massive 6.2-liter V8 generating 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque.
If you want the pinnacle of German automotive progress and luxury, then you want a Mercedes S-Class Maybach. A supreme amount of luxury and comfort is present, but the package lets people know the owner has prestige without making a song and dance about it. The V12 should be hanging around for the 2021 Maybach version of the S-Class, and it delivers a life-affirming 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. Inside you'll find every luxury feature you can think of while relaxing on premium leather and surrounded by the latest technology Mercedes has to offer.
If you don't have Mercedes S-Class money, or simply don't want to spend that much, then the Genesis G90 is an incredible car. If the badge on the front means nothing to you, then the G90 brings class, style, comfort, and build quality, and shows just what a South Korean car company can do. It falls just a couple of inches short of an S-Class in length but can make people wonder if those extra two inches are worth over ten grand each. The 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 engine, which produces 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, is a smooth and powerful piece of machinery, while the cabin is understated but crafted with care and attention to detail. On top of that, it comes standard with a bunch of luxury features you'll be ticking boxes and paying extra for on any other executive sedan in its class.
If you want your luxury sedan to have all the style trimmings, but also offer a thrill to drive, then look no further than the BMW 7 Series. BMW doesn't believe you have to decide between opulence and dynamics, so the 7 Series, in general, is a great choice. However, the M760i is the most ferocious yet composed and driver-focused sedan in the luxury segment. Under the hood is a turbocharged 6.6-liter V12 powerhouse laying down 600 hp and 627 lb-ft of relentless torque and corners like a car half its size. All the 7 Series models have great driving dynamics, but that doesn't mean passengers can't be driven to and from meetings or parties in serene comfort. To top off the experience, BMW reserves its halo technology for its halo car, so nobody is ever going to get bored in the back.
If you live in America, chances are high that you've never seen a Kia K900 on the road. Only 390 were sold here in 2019, and that makes it Kia's best car and best-kept secret all in one. While not quite hitting the highs of BMW's 7 Series or the Mercedes S-Class, the K900 is packed with high-quality materials, an exceptionally smooth ride, and an athletic twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 that produces 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. The K900 is not as expensive as the German rivals, but is still fun and pleasant to be driven around in. The K900 feels like an absolute steal at just $59,000 with its build quality and the level of technology coming as standard. Even if you add all of the available packages, it still comes in at $65,570 and well under what you would pay for a base 740i.
The Mulsanne name was resurrected in 2010 to replace the Arnage as Bentley's ultra-luxurious flagship model. Sadly, its time is coming to an end, along with the 6.75-liter pushrod V8 engine that has been continually developed for six decades. Bentley has been selling around 500 of its handcrafted luxury powerhouses per year, each one taking approximately 400 hours to build. It's athleticism, and elevated driving dynamics, make it the preferred vehicle over a Rolls-Royce for those that like to drive themselves at the weekend. The Mulsanne replacement will likely be an SUV, ending another era for Bentley as it finally buckles to the buying power of the freshly minted multi-millionaires wanting the latest and greatest.
Rolls-Royce's ultra-luxurious flagship model is built on what the British automaker calls its "Architecture of Luxury" platform. It starts at around $450,000, and for that buyers get a meticulously hand-built 563-hp twin-turbo V-12, the smoothest ride money can buy, and an interior that defines the word refined. Step inside, and you'll find umbrellas in the rear-hinged coach doors, a camera that spots rough road and pre-adjusts the suspension for it, and elegant leather covering almost every inch of the cabin. As for accessories, you can have whatever you damn well want if you have the money, but the backseat champagne cooler and glasses are an absolute must for us.
Once upon a time, Cadillac's sedans were the epitome of American luxury vehicles, but the Escalade has taken that designation and run with it. It has defined the Cadillac brand since 1990, but 2021 advances the SUV into a whole new world of luxury. It's stylish and beautifully designed with flourishes like stainless-steel speaker grilles, ambient lighting, and a 19-speaker AKG sound system as standard. An advanced Magnetic Ride Control system supplies the comfortable ride along with optional air suspension. A 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine dutifully provides 460 lb-ft of torque to swish around with, or a naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 with 420 hp is available for those that have cash to burn at the pumps.