If you Google the words “famous flagship,” you’ll discover that the H.M.S. Victory, launched in 1765, was the biggest, most powerful ship in the British Royal Navy. Stretching 227 feet in length and armed with more than 100 guns, the Victory carried the admiral of the fleet and literally flew his flag to signal its importance.
In the same way, automotive flagships are the biggest, most powerful cars in their own fleets. These sedans, have horsepower instead of firepower, and they’re a lot more luxurious, too. After all, though the admiral of the Victory had a fairly nice cabin, it can’t compare to the cabins of today’s range-topping luxury sedans. The Victory didn’t offer air conditioning. And consider the changes in technology: Navigating in a new car can be as easy as telling the GPS system where you want to go; in an 18th-century ship, you had to break out a sextant, try to measure the angle of a star above the horizon and then use actual math to figure out your location.
Of course, doing the math can be an important part of shopping for an automotive flagship as well. Pre-owned alternatives like the ones listed below, for example, can save you thousands of dollars while still delivering serious luxury.
2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class comes from the last model year before the current design was introduced, but you can’t tell it’s age. That’s because this five-year-old Mercedes S-Class offers the kind of luxury equipment that would make it a fitting flagship for some brands today. Among the highlights are heated and ventilated seats with a massage-function, a dual-screen infotainment system with 8-inch displays, and a 1,200-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Because the 2013 S-Class cars was on the cutting edge of technology when first introduced, it provides many of the high-tech safety features that are only now commonly found in mainstream vehicles, including adaptive cruise control, forward automatic braking, a drowsy-driver alert, a blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assistance, a rearview camera and a night-vision system with pedestrian detection. Yet the car’s elegant interior offers traditional luxury cues and premium materials such as hand-polished wood and stitched leather.
Mercedes wraps things up with a 5.5-liter V12 twin-turbocharged engine that produces 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque for the ultra-high-performance S 65 AMG, although most models will be fitted with a twin-turbocharged V8. Both a diesel and hybrid variant were offered as well.
2015 Lexus LS 500
With the redesigned LS 500 arriving, expect used inventory for the current Lexus flagship to increase, making the car increasingly affordable. That’s good news for those considering the 2015 Lexus LS.
That model year saw Lexus introduce a new infotainment system for the lineup, complete with a 12.3-inch widescreen display, standard navigation and a suite of smartphone-style apps. A 386-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic transmission are standard. Lexus also offers a hybrid model with a 5.0-liter hybrid V8 that produces 438 horsepower.
Returning for the 2015 LS, and continuing to make it a strong choice for customers in 2017, are the usual flagship comforts such as heated and ventilated seats, leather surfaces, LED exterior lighting, numerous safety measures and real wood and aluminum cabin trim. Setting the LS apart from its rivals are a rear-seat upgrade package, with a massaging, reclining right-hand rear seat, along with innovations like the “Climate Concierge.” This automatically maintains the selected temperature not just for the cabin but also the climate-controlled seats and the heated steering wheel.
2013 BMW 7 Series
The German penchant for V12 power also rears its head in the 2013 BMW 7 Series. More specifically, the 760Li trim has a standard 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 that supplies 535 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. All 7 Series trims from 2013 also benefit from freshened style details that can include full LED headlights, LED foglights and circular LED accent rings that acts as the car’s daytime running lights and parking lights. Inside, the 7 Series is available with a new-for-2013 iDrive infotainment system that bundles a 10.2-inch display, BMW’s console-mounted controller, 3D navigation and a 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Needless to say, the 2013 7 Series satisfies customer demand for interior luxury, thanks to massaging multi-contour front seats with 20-way adjustability, heating and ventilation. High-quality materials like black ceramic, real wood and supple leather also help create an upscale environment, and other high-end content includes a hands-free power trunklid, a rear-seat entertainment system with two 9.2-inch display screens and driver-assistance technologies ranging from a night-vision system and automatic parking, to a head-up display.
2015 Audi A8
As is the case with its BMW and Mercedes rivals, the 2015 Audi A8 is distinguished by an available 12-cylinder engine. It’s a naturally-aspirated 6.3-liter unit that delivers 500 horsepower and 463 pound-feet of torque, the most powerful of the car’s five engine choices.
The A8 also matches up well with its compatriots in terms of premium technologies and luxury cues. In fact, Audi’s optional night-vision system goes beyond the pedestrian-detection function capability of the Mercedes, to further recognize large animals. Additional safety features for the A8 extend to adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitor, a head-up display, lane-keeping assistance, and forward-collision warning with partial automatic braking. As for additional Audi tech advantages, those include a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot that can enable online access for up to eight wireless devices. Audiophiles can enjoy a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system that’s backed by 1,400 watts of power.
Bolstering the A8’s flagship-luxury credentials are climate-controlled massage-function seats for both front and second rows, with 22-way power adjustability for the driver and front-seat passenger.
2014 Jaguar XJ
We’ll finish our story the same way we started it: by discussing a British flagship with quite a long history of success. The 2014 Jaguar XJ traces its roots to the 1968 XJ6 and, more directly, to the 2010 XJ. Indeed, the 2014 model shares the same advanced aluminum body structure, many of the same design cues and a similar approach to coddling its owners.
But 2014 also brought a variety of updates to the Jaguar XJ, including premium details such as soft-close doors and an enhanced front-seat massage system with both five modes and five intensity settings; the rear seats are “limited” to a three-mode massage function, although they can be paired with individual 9.2-inch display screens as part of an optional rear-seat entertainment system. Up front, the XJ has two more displays, combining an eight-inch infotainment touchscreen with a 12.3-inch virtual instrument cluster.
Finally, the 2014 XJ is notable for the debut of the XJR trim at the upper end of the roster. This model packs a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 to provide flagship levels of performance, allowing drivers to call on 550 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque.