Range-toppers may be a tempting option but even one step down the trim hierarchy can yield big savings.
Range-topping models tend to get all the attention in car magazines. After all, big numbers and big price tags are what gets people interested. But when it comes to sales figures, they represent just a fraction of the other models in the range. Sure, a halo model can get shoppers interested in the rest of the manufacturers' offerings, but are they really that much better in the real world? We take a look at some top-end models and their closest stablemates to find out.
The BMW M760i xDrive is currently one of the fastest accelerating BMWs you can buy. In fact, only the brand new all-wheel-drive M5 can best its 3.6-seconds to 60 mph. This ferocious speed is thanks to the 601-hp 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V12 that resides under that long hood. The interior is a symphony of technology and expensive materials. The base price is perhaps unsurprisingly a steep $156,700, and that is before you add the $5,750 Executive rear seating package or the $1,700 driving assist plus package. Tick the very exclusive BMW Individual Composition package, and you can choose from the very finest paints, interior trims and leather upholstery. Yours for $5,600. A fully loaded M760i can get close to $180,000.
Now a BMW 750i xDrive retails for two-thirds less than the M760i's base price. At $99,400 it is still not exactly cheap but other than slightly slower acceleration (4.3-seconds to 60 mph is still super quick) you still get a lot of standard kit and can spec it up to very nearly M760i levels too. The 445-hp 4.4-liter V8 sounds great and you will rarely want for more power. Adding the Executive and Interior design package enhances the luxury levels while the M Sport and Autobahn packages add some sporty visual touches as well as a sports exhaust and active steering. The whole lot adds $16,000 to the price which is still well short of the V12 models base figure.
The S-Class is another huge German luxury barge that pushes the boundaries of what is technologically possible with a huge four-door sedan. The Mercedes-AMG S65 presides over the rest of the range with its 621-bhp 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12. Its rear-wheel-drive only layout means that it struggles for grip a bit when all those horses are called upon and takes 4.2-seconds to get to 60 mph. Grip is not an issue at higher velocities where the massive torque launches the S65 down the road with undiminished force. Twin digital instrument clusters, Nappa leather, active safety assists and even heated armrests are all standard, as they should be. The base price is $229,500.
Of course, an Executive rear seat package and self-tinting sunroof are among the options list but you do get just about everything else included in the price. The S65 AMG has precious little competition save from its very own stablemate, the AMG S63. It may give up four-cylinders to the range-topper but the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 is a more modern design and is almost as powerful with 603-hp on offer. The standard all-wheel-drive system allows it to launch to 60 mph 0.8-seconds quicker too. The 9-speed automatic transmission is newer too and you get practically all of the equipment that comes with the S65. At $147,500, the choice seems like a no-brainer.
Closer to home we have the Corvette Z06, a 650-hp supercharged exotic car beater that has been honed to provide the very best lap times. The 0-60 mph time of 2.95-seconds sure is quick enough to see off some much pricier European machinery and when you are not in the mood to blast lesser cars into the weeds, the big 6.2-liter V8 is perfectly happy idling along in the traffic. The convertible 3LZ starts at $94,530 though, and that is before you add the Z07 performance package for $7,995 which includes adaptive dampers and carbon ceramic brakes. The Carbon 65 Edition package is an even steeper $15,000. That could mean a $117,525 final price tag.
Equipped with an LT1 6.2-liter V8 that makes an impressive 460-hp, the Grand Sport can't quite match the Z06 in a straight line but it will still take something very special to match its 3.6-second 0-60 mph time. It does feature some of the Z06's aerodynamic components though and can also be had with the Z07 performance package. At a base price of $66,590 for the coupe, you will be getting a car that offers more performance than you can realistically deploy outside of a racetrack while boasting looks and specification levels that are very similar to the far more expensive Z06.
Let's take a look at a car that is far more attainable and see whether the same rules apply. The Camry regularly tops the sedan sales charts in the US and its combination of refinement and solid build quality are tough to match. The top XSE V6 is $34,950 before options. You do get a panoramic sunroof, 10-inch color head up display and 19-inch wheels as standard though. The 301-hp 3.5-litre V6 is a peach too and provides effortless performance. A driver assist package includes navigation and a $1,990 price tag and you can even have illuminated door sills for $299. That is a lot of money to outlay for a mid-sized sedan.
The benefits of owning a car such as a Camry tend to focus on their efficiency, spaciousness and value proposition. All of these traits can be found further down the trim range, the gap between the most expensive Camry and the base L trim is a big one but you don't have to step into the cheapest one to realize significant financial savings. The Camry SE is fitted with a 203-hp 2.5-liter motor that may not offer the straight-line punch of the V6 model but it is far more fuel efficient and provides smooth progress in most situations. The base price of $25,200 provides a big saving over the XLE V6 and while you forego some luxuries, many can be added back.
Even with the available sunroof, additional safety features and keyless entry you will only add $2,125 to the base price. So, the range-toppers may be a tempting option with their powerful engines and comprehensive standard specifications but in many cases, even one step down the trim hierarchy can yield big savings. Many features can be added on too (some tend to be gimmicks anyway) and in real-world driving conditions the lower power outputs are not as noticeable as you might think. What you will notice is the improved fuel economy and lower running costs, a win-win scenario then for those willing to find the sweet spot in a model range.