Does the car you want to purchase qualify as a 'luxury' vehicle?

If you are planning to shell out a great deal of cash on a luxury vehicle, do your research

By George Kuruvilla

Published: Thu 3 Feb 2022, 11:29 PM

It’s 7 pm and Sally rushes into the BMW showroom after a long day’s work to pick up her brand new car. A white compact sedan sits glistening under the showroom lights promising her the highlife of Dubai that she once dreamed about whilst living the small-town life in the UK. The only problem is the vehicle she has bought is a base level 3-Series, a 316i to be specific. And while to most eyes it looks like a premium vehicle, thanks to the BMW badge, the truth is far from it. First off, it irks one’s internal organs to call a vehicle with a 3-cylinder motor a luxury car. And even with forced induction, the 316i puts out a measly 134 horsepower, losing the battle of the bulge even to the humble Honda Civic, a car that costs about half as much. And it’s not just the numbers! In the days to come, Sally takes heed of the lack of power every time she tries to merge with the fast-moving highway traffic. It also came with fabric seats with manual adjustments, both of which she feels embarrassed about every time her friends exclaim, “So how much did you pay for this car?”. Further on, it lacks several other niceties and even a rear camera, which she so dearly misses while trying to make that car fit between the columns of her basement parking lot without incident. And even the unrefined thud the door makes when being shut due to the lack of compliant insulation isn’t what she expected from a luxury car. Something she quietly ignores as she walks away into the lift lobby of her apartment building.

The thing is cars like the 316i aren’t bad cars by any measure. They are great commuter vehicles that serve the purpose of hauling a family of up to five down to the creek or mall at a rather leisurely pace. But they can’t be deemed “luxury”… except by virtue of the badge.

Then you have Maya, a South Asian woman who is a successful executive at a firm and a mother of two, who somehow manages to find a slot in her schedule to do some luxury car shopping but is left waiting on the showroom floor and is even ignored for a good part of an hour. Whether it is the play of biases that some salespeople have against certain races or the slacking enthusiasm due to the heavy influx of customers, no one knows. But what is certain is that this is not the kind of service Maya expected when she first planned to buy the luxury brand. Does this count as part of the “luxury” car experience? Of course not!

So, you see the term “luxury” also extends beyond the vehicle itself. It is also about service and professionalism. And if the preferential treatment is not there, then much like Sally, Maya too is buying into the misinformation that she is about to purchase a luxury car.

So, what is luxury?

Luxury could mean different things to different people. Luxury could mean space — enough of it to accommodate a designated number of passengers in total comfort. Luxury can be defined as a plush ride — how well your vehicles soften the judders that arise through tyres and suspension from the uneven tarmac. Luxury can also mean having enough power to keep up the stream of highway vehicles without a fuss. Alternatively, luxury can also be the convenience of having the latest technologies that allow you to locate, start and stop your car via an app, without missing out on essentials like Bluetooth and a rear camera. Luxury can also be having soft plastic surfaces at key touchpoints and even softer leather upholstered seats to rest your backs. It can also mean not having to wait the long queues at the service centre or having the option of concierge services that pick up and drop the vehicles while you go about your day’s business. And when you do make it to the service centre, being treated well and not as just a number on a task list.

So essentially, “luxury” in the automotive market is paying the high price that both the car and brand demands, and getting the bells and whistles that sets it apart from banal commuter vehicles along with the preferential treatment that comes with it.

Examples of not-luxury and atypical luxury vehicles

It is not just the aforementioned 316i (currently unavailable), there are several other vehicles that are guilty of being posers. In BMW’s current roster, the 218i Gran Coupe comes to mind with the same 3-cylinder with ludicrous starting price of Dh175,000. The Audi A1 supermini from about a decade is another example — the mediocre aesthetics and the lack of heritage didn’t cut it, unlike the MINI Cooper.

The GMC pickup trucks, whilst being capable trucks, are nothing but rebadged vehicles that offer nothing more than their Chevy brethren. Slapping a badge on and calling it luxury would be like adding a Garrett turbocharger decal on your modified car and thinking it would add another 10 horsepower.

The past generations of the Lexus ES sedan weren’t considered luxury simply because they were victims of the fleet syndrome and were often jokingly referred to as “taxis”. The INFINITI vehicles were great overall vehicles but struggled with quality, specifically fit and finish. And that is something you don’t want in your car when you pay a premium. Then we have to make the sacrilegious point about the haloed Range River Sport. Sure, it is “luxury” SUV, but just make sure everyone in the backseat agrees.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have vehicles like Nissan Patrol. While it may bear the humble Nissan badge, both the price and the product indicate that it is more luxurious than most rides. The same goes for the top variants of the RAM 1500 pickup trucks, which may have a flatbed in the back but come with 15-inch infotainment screen and lavish leather upholstery.

Also, a fully loaded Honda Accord is more luxurious than an entry-level Mercedes-Benz C-Class. It is quicker, rides better, is better equipped, and even looks better.

Moral of the story

So, if you are planning to shell out a great deal of cash on a luxury vehicle, do your research! Compare your favourite vehicles to direct and indirect rivals. Ask around! Getting a second opinion is almost always the better way to go. Test drive the vehicles and see if they fit into your garage and your driving style. And if you are getting one just for the badge, know that the cheapest vehicle in the range — no matter the make, be it German, Italian, American or Japanese — is probably not a genuine luxury car.

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