Luxury is hard to define, especially in the automotive space. It takes more than soft leather and a stylish exterior to meet the mark. In our case, we looked at a number of different factors when deciding on the best all-around luxury vehicle as part of our first-ever Motor1.com Star Awards.
Comfort played a big role in that decision, naturally, but beyond that, the winner of this prestigious honor needed to have the proper equipment, offer sublime ride quality, and pack loads of style with equal amounts of tech. We should note that we limited our finalists this year to vehicles under $150,000 – so no Rolls-Royce, no Bentley, etc. Although most everyone associates luxury with the best of the best, it still needs to be somewhat attainable, at least for our purposes. Maybe we’ll have a “Best Uber Luxury Vehicle” category next year… we’ll see.
With that in mind, we narrowed down the category to the two highest-scoring luxury vehicles we drove this past year: The Genesis G80 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Both of these cars meet our definition of luxury and offer style, technology, and comfort in spades. But after vigorous testing in the hills of Santa Clarita, California, we editors gave the S-Class the Motor1 2021 Star Award for Best Luxury Vehicle in a near-runaway victory. Here’s why.
The Genesis G80 ascended in epic fashion into the luxury space. The slinky design is nearly perfect to our eye, the cabin is luxurious, and with a bevy of beautiful and functional technology inside, the G80 scored 9.7 out of 10 possible points in our review.
While you can get the G80 with a base turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, good for a modest 300 horsepower, we opted for the more powerful twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 for our test. That engine offers a robust 375 hp and 391 pound-feet, which propels the G80 to 60 miles per hour in about 5.6 seconds. But the G80 isn’t a performance car – it’s all about the experience, with a fully independent suspension delivering a sublime ride and excellent stability.
The latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class, unlike the Genesis, builds upon years of luxury dominance with a new user interface, an elegant exterior design, and inarguably the most upscale cabin outside of a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. The high-end sedan also scored 9.7 out of 10 points in our review, meaning this would be an interesting rivalry.
The new MBUX infotainment setup features a 12.8-inch display that projects beautifully out of the center console. Things like “Hey, Mercedes” voice functionality and augmented-reality navigation carry over from previous Benzes, and the new rear-wheel steering gives the S-Class an impressive turning radius and strong performance in the mountains. So while it may be the “old-school” option of the two – by name only – the S-Class still wows us after all these years.
How We Tested
Our testing took us to the mountainous roads of Santa Clarita, California, where each editor spent four days driving the Genesis G80 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class back-to-back. During that time, we monitored things like ride quality, comfort, and performance, while taking styling and technology into account at the same time.
The driving route itself spanned several varied 25-mile loops starting at our base of operations. The path included plenty of twists, different types of pavement, and even a few dirt pullovers (you know, for due diligence). Both cars also served as popular support vehicles while testing other vehicles, ushering editors to and fro shooting locations or serving as shuttles for dinner runs.
Although these two cars are priced far apart – the Mercedes costs double the Genesis – we looked at the options sheet and determined which one offered the best value for its asking price. And while both the G80 and S-Class delivered on their promise of features, comfort, and performance, the Mercedes stood out as the winner after a number of days driving it.
Why The S-Class Is This Year’s Luxury Vehicle
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class takes the iconic luxury formula and ups the ante. During our test, the one thing we noted immediately was the difference in ride quality between the two cars. The G80 has a slightly rougher but more responsive suspension, while the S-Class soaks up the pavement with cloud-like cushiness. Point to Mercedes.
The two cars drew relatively evenly in the seating department up front, both featuring high-quality leather on nearly every inch and ample support. But the S-Class has freaking pillows for headrests and a world-class massage system, while its ultra-comfy second row makes it the more luxurious option of the two, thanks to its ultra-supple leather and adjustable outboard seating positions, including a passenger-side seat that hides an available ottoman on certain trims. Although it still has a bench in the back, the folks sitting in the window seats are even more spoiled than those up front.
In terms of technology, the S-Class and its updated MBUX display proved nearly unbeatable – even as good as the tech inside the G80 was. Perched atop a gorgeous 12.8-inch central touchscreen, MBUX is even cleaner and easier to use for 2021, with a more streamlined home screen and better features. The screens responsiveness made navigation easier and faster, even if we liked the iPod-style clickwheel in the Genesis. Things like augmented-reality for the navigation and head-up display, the “Hey, Mercedes” voice command system, a bevy of ambient lighting options, and a truly stellar Burmeister audio system make the S-Class the easy choice.
And finally, performance. The Mercedes-Benz S580’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 makes 496 horsepower and 516 pound-feet, while the G80’s twin-turbo 3.5-liter engine only produces 375 hp and 391 lb-ft – there’s a 300-pound difference between the two, but at 4.4 seconds to 60, the Merc is half a second quicker than the G80. But power wasn’t the only thing that put the S-Class on top; with rear-wheel steering and a highly adaptive suspension, the S-Class felt more composed in the turns. Most importantly, the S-Class’ V8 is a paragon of refinement and smoothness while the G80’s V6 makes its presence more obvious in most situations.
All in all, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Genesis G80 are two of the best options in the luxury segment. These two sedans offer style, luxury, and performance in spades. But if you want the best of the best, Mercedes-Benz still does it better than anyone else.