Bentley Flying SpurClick to enlarge picture

This elegant Bentley Flying Spur is the latest luxury sedan from the prestigious marque, employing a powerful 550-horsepower engine and all-wheel drive.

According to R.L. Polk and Co., the "super luxury" segment (cars costing more than $100,000) is one of only two to show market growth over the last five years. R.L. Polk and Company is a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries.

"The popularity of super luxury sedans among affluent American consumers has opened the door for automakers to roll out a whole new generation of innovative, amenity-laden models," said Eric Papacek, analytic consultant for Polk. "New models and concepts recently announced by Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce and Cadillac are clear signs that the uber car has returned to the American auto scene."

Photo Gallery: Ultra-Luxury Cars

Highlights of the Ultra-Luxury Lineup
At the top of the luxury car market are two models that arrived on American shores in the last few years—the Rolls-Royce Phantom and the Maybach 57/62.

Five years ago BMW AG became the owner of the prestigious Rolls-Royce name, and in January 2003 the new owners showed off a new car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Phantom has a design instantly recognizable as a Rolls-Royce, with only the finest materials used throughout the vehicle. As many as 16 hides of leather go into each Phantom, and the automaker claims it to be the softest in the industry. Base price for a new Phantom: around $330,000.

Not to be outdone, Mercedes-Benz has brought back the Maybach name and put it on a set of ultra-luxury sedans. Named the 57 and 62 (based on vehicle length: 5.7 meters and 6.2 meters, respectively), the Maybach is quite different from the Rolls. Styling is more modern and the interior feels more high-tech. The 57 is considered a driver's car, while the 62 would likely be chauffeur-driven, referred to by the automaker as a "business jet on wheels." Featuring power-closing rear doors, a 600-watt audio system and reclining rear seats with power footrests, the Maybach 62 goes for around $375,000.

The Bentley brand stakes a time-honored claim in the ultra-luxury class. The sleek Continental GT is one of the fastest 4-seat coupes available in the world, boasting a 552 horsepower twin-turbo W12 engine that powers all four wheels. Not only is it the first all-wheel-drive Bentley, the Continental GT also is the least expensive, with a starting price at a mere $159,900. Joining the Continental GT coupe last year was the 4-door Flying Spur. The Flying Spur shares styling with its coupe sibling, as well as the powerful W12 engine and all-wheel drive.

The ultra-luxury sedan from Bentley—the Arnage—received a freshened look and a number of enhancements last year. The front fascia now features round headlights and revised hoodlines, both of which bring the sedan's looks in line with the new Continental GT. Inside, the Arnage gets a new dashboard top, fresh instruments and a new DVD satellite navigation unit. The already outstanding ride quality and handling have been enhanced with a revised rear suspension. The 2005 Arnage is available in R and T trims, as well as the long-wheelbase RL.

Aston Martin rides high with the all-new DB9. The two-plus-two sports car offered in both Coupe and Volante (convertible) versions replaced the DB7 for the 2004 model year. The hand-built DB9's 450-horsepower 6.0-liter V12 engine is available with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. Aston Martin is also considering a sleek 4-door sedan based on the DB9. A concept 4-door called the Rapide was shown at January's North American International Auto Show.

Mercedes-Benz and BMW both offer high-end sedans and convertibles that break the $100,000 barrier.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class, CL-Class coupe and SL-Class roadster are all lavishly equipped, but it's their powerplants that distinguish them from their lesser-priced siblings. The S55, CL55 and SL55 all sport supercharged V8 engines producing an impressive 493 horsepower. The S600, CL600 and SL600 get the same power output from a twin-turbo V12 under the hood. Look for details of an all-new S-Class coming soon.

BMW recently joined this elite group with its 760 luxury sedan. The top-end of the 7-series lineup, the 760 (and long-wheelbase 760Li) offers an expansive rear seating area, impressive handling and excellent performance from its 438-horsepower V12 engine.

Audi now brings an entry to this list with the A8 L W12. This extended-wheelbase version of the A8 sports a 450-horsepower W12 engine teamed with the automaker's legendary quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Jaguar has also moved up into the $100,000-plus arena with the all-new Super V8 Portfolio sedan. This limited-edition XJ Sedan features a sporting style, with sculpted aluminum power vents in the front wings, a distinctive mesh grille and polished 20-inch alloy wheels. Inside are such amenities as a DVD system with twin rear display-screens, four-zone air conditioning and an Alpine Dolby Prologic II surround-sound audio. Under the hood is the latest version of Jaguar's supercharged 4.2-liter V8 putting out 400 horsepower.

Maserati also steps up to this elite group with the introduction of the new Quattroporte. Priced just below $100,000, the Quattroporte features a shape and styling cues, as well as the famous trident badge, that identifiy it as a Maserati. Rosewood, briarwood and mahogany are standard interior treatments; however, buyers can personalize the cabin, even specifying a titanium finish if they wish. The new Maserati sedan boasts a compact 4.2-liter V8 engine producing 400 horsepower. It gives this luxury sedan the performance expected of a Maserati: 0-62 mph comes up in just 5.3 seconds.

Volkswagen currently offers the high-end Phaeton—the first vehicle to break the $100,000 mark wearing the VW brand. However, the automaker has announced that it will no longer sell this vehicle in America due to slow sales.

A number of other vehicles sell for well above the $100,000 mark but wouldn't necessarily be categorized as luxury automobiles. Many of these are ultra-high performance cars from brands such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. Details about these can be found in our overview of the Magnificent Exotics.

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