QOTD: What Does American Luxury Even Mean?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

Nearly everyone was unanimous in their assessment that Lincoln’s re-branding campaign is an unmitigated disaster unfolding in slow motion; from the name change to Lincoln Motor Company to the bizarre tie-up with Jimmy Fallon and the marketing-buzzword laden BS the whole thing reeks of inaction disguised in the form of sophisticated marketing efforts.

The most interesting angle in this mess is the fact that American luxury cars are in such a shambles that Lincoln’s biggest threat doesn’t really come from Cadillac, but from Ford itself.

Cadillac and Lincoln are on two entirely different planets. Lincoln is stuck under the shadow of its sibling, the Blue Oval. Ford’s offering are mechanically identical, packed with nearly all of the same content and retail for thousands less – with the possibility of carrying a more attractive emblem on the hood. None of Lincoln’s product offer any kind of unique proposition. The best Lincoln on sale today is actually Korean, as the Hyundai Equus does a damn good job of approximating the driver and passenger experience of a Town Car. Make of that what you will.

At least Cadillac has some kind of vision. The Standard of the World really wants to be better than Europe’s finest, and the ATS is a fine effort, except for one small detail; the only reason it’s been able to grab the brass ring from the BMW 3-Series is because the current car is one of the weaker efforts put forth by the Roundel. Put an E90 328i next to any ATS and you understand that the ATS comes pretty close to being a great car, but misses the mark.

The rest of Cadillac’s lineup is doesn’t exactly hold to it though. The CTS is long in the tooth, the V Series are irrelevant to all but the most diehard car geeks and the XTS is still languishing in premium sedan obscurity. About the only car in the lineup with any kind of social capital is the Escalade, which endures as the vulgarian chariot of choice for those with more money than discretion.

The only real concrete vision of what an American luxury car should be comes from Chrysler, of all places. The 300 makes a bold visual statement, comes with a range of sophisticated powertrain options and finally has an interior that is worthy of being praised. And what value, too. A base 300, with the 292 horsepower V6 and 8-speed automatic transmission, starts at a hair under $30,000. I don’t even think I’d get the V8, heretical as it may be. It won’t have the driving dynamics of an import car, but when was an American car ever supposed to be able to clock off a sub 8-minute ‘Ring time? Best of all, it occupies that long-dormant niche that used to be the domain of Oldsmobile and even Pontiac. It was a luxury car that told everyone you’d arrived, but wasn’t sufficiently extravagant that your clients felt that they were being fleeced. No wonder both my Grandfathers were Mopar men.

But that’s just me. I’m not even American (though the 300 is built not too far from my home). Let’s consider this a thought exercise. Run wild with your ideas about American luxury, what it was, what it is and what it should be.

Join the conversation
2 of 94 comments
  • GiddyHitch GiddyHitch on Dec 05, 2012

    It means Tesla now.

  • DearS DearS on Dec 05, 2012

    Why can't American luxury just be common sense? A solid long lasting car that is comfortable; has a great interior, is not too large, and semi-fun to drive. The Hyundai Genesis, new Avalon, and, TL, ES/GS350, and CTS are good American luxury cars, especially the Lexus and Hyundai. I don't care about brands enough to care what American means.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)