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5 Over-The-Top Luxury Car Features

Massaging seats and leather from Swiss cows have become boring. Here are a few features that go the extra mile to do something ridiculous.

By Clifford Atiyeh Jul 3, 2012 9:54AM

What has the car market come to when heated and cooled seats, GPS navigation and 1,200-watt sound systems aren’t enough to keep us entertained? Yes, car shoppers are a spoiled bunch. But for the amount of money it takes to buy a car, insure it, fuel it, pay taxes on it and maintain it, shouldn’t they be? For most people, a car is the second most expensive purchase aside from buying a home. So it had better last -- and be able to serve grilled cheese on demand, thank you.

All jokes aside, it’s the money that does the serious talking. For cars costing upward of $50,000, automakers can afford to make splurges throughout the cabin in order to claim marketing one-upmanship. It’s a game where you -- if you’re a lucky, affluent car buyer -- can enjoy a constant trickle of over-the-top luxuries model year after model year.

Here are five such features, one of which I’d say is very over-the-top and not at all nice.

Adjustable mood and speaker lighting

LED accent lighting piped through the dashboard, footwells, cupholders and other interior nooks and crannies can make an interior come alive at night. According to studies, the soft glow surrounding a dash panel like on the new Dodge Dart or a roof-mounted, highly focused spotlight like on the Mazda3 can also help you stay awake at night. On the Mercedes S-Class, the driver can select three different colors and dim them accordingly. On certain Fords, the driver has about seven, including wild fluorescent purples and greens. However, if you’ve ordered the $3,700 Bang & Olufsen stereo on the new BMW 640i Gran Coupe, you’re allowed to adjust the accent lighting around the aluminum speaker covers, which glow in beautiful triangular wedges on the front and rear doors.

A/C that cools like wind-blown trees

With its Forest Air system, Infiniti claims to have “re-created the calming sensation of a natural breeze.” On its top-end M sedan, the system supposedly pulses the fan speed to keep a breezelike sensation and will automatically switch on the recirculation when it detects that you’re driving through New Jersey. I’ve tried it and didn’t notice anything different. However, other luxury cars try a similar trick by letting the driver adjust the overall system intensity, from soft to full-blast. How is that different from adjusting the fan speed on the dash from soft to full-blast? In practice, it’s not. It’s just there.

Automatic sun shades

Power-sliding window sun shades are nothing new, and even regular cars like the Ford Taurus and Hyundai Azera now offer them. On the Hyundai, however, the rear sun shade automatically deploys when you’ve set the car in park and then retracts it when the vehicle is in gear. Back-up cameras that display and side mirrors that tilt downward in reverse are common, but this is a luxury that shouldn’t be discounted in Texas or anywhere with parking lots that have no natural shade. I don’t know of another car that offers such a thoughtful gesture.

Exacting seat-heat distribution

A few luxury cars, such as the Cadillac Escalade and Range Rover, let you independently switch between one or two heated sections of the front seats. It’s a nice gesture when you have cold shoulders but would prefer not to have a fire lit under your rear. On the 6 Series, BMW takes this to new extremes, by allowing multiple degrees of heat distribution. Driver and passenger can save the settings, toggling through about 10 specific variances between the seat’s two sections and watching the graphic on the LCD display change its red zones. In a car that costs $80,000, something with that attention to detail is completely necessary.

Pop-out dash cupholders

In this Starbucks day and age, an automaker has to go out of its way to design a flimsy, unstable cupholder. And that’s exactly what Porsche continues to do on its latest 911 and Boxster models. While not over-the-top, it comes off as a bit demented that a car’s passengers can’t stash a bottle of water anywhere in the interior without wedging it between the door frame and the seat. The German automakers have long hated the American fashion of drinking and eating in the car, but most of their models have relented by serving us generous, cylindrical holes in the center console and doors for our coffees, sodas and other unhealthy junk. Porsche may be sending a subliminal message that while it may tolerate cupholders on its Cayenne and Panamera models, the real sports cars are still to be taken (and driven) seriously.

Clifford Atiyeh has spent his entire life driving and riding in cars he doesn't own. He was raised in Volvos and has grown to love fast, irresponsible vehicles of all kinds. He lives in Boston, is a member of the New England Motor Press Association, and has reported for The Boston Globe, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, and The Times of London.

Jul 9, 2012 12:01PM

How about passenger seats with built-in STD sensors?

That's what I'm waiting for.

Jul 5, 2012 7:19AM

A photo of the accent lighting would have been welcomed.  I know there's a lot of nice examples to show. 


And I fully support what Porsche is telling us....if you want to sip coffee, sit back and relax in a big SUV or some other plushy ride.  But if you're ready to drive...there is (indeed) no substitute.

Jul 3, 2012 10:41PM
  I was expecting something more extravagant, maybe like autopilot or educational tutoring services or pedicure as you ride or drive. It seems the gap between those who supposedly have and those who supposedly don't have is narrower than once believed. Especially in the automotive gap.
Jul 9, 2012 12:26PM
My 1999 Buick Park Avenue-- a true landboat that could go thru water and mud like a jeep--had downward tilting side mirors to help you see the curb when you parallel parked. Sun visors had built in visors to pull out and make the visor longer when you needed it. Some nice features that many cars don't have today.
Jul 9, 2012 7:33PM

Why hasn't any manufacturer developed a solar powered air conditioning system for cars parked in the sun? The technology already exists (percolate refrigerant with heat). It wouldn't completely cool the car, but 85 would sure beat 140!


Also... LCD darkening window glass. It would work like an auto-darkening welding hood, sun on the solar cell, darken the glass, sun goes away, glass is clear again!

Jul 9, 2012 1:54PM
Unless you are willing to lease a new car every three years and live with a lifetime car payment, all these doo dads are just another device to break down.   
Jul 9, 2012 12:19PM
Cars today have to many distractions. 
Jul 9, 2012 2:58PM
Oh for the days of the 1950 Ford - four doors - 3-speed OD - small V-8 - 90 hp, actual 32.5 HP....AM AC Power stearing ....  just dependable ... Miss that old first car....Regis 62

The Cadillac Brand has exactly the correct gee_gaws & doo_das that make for a happy WIFE :)~


Jul 9, 2012 7:10PM
Next will be toilets built in each seat for those long trips. Oh and they will convert the methane into fuel.
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