Vintage Reviews: The Best [1994] Car In The World

(first posted 10/24/2017)        I was searching my parents’ house the other day to find the most treasured mementos from my childhood – my collection of every issue of Australian Which Car? magazine – when I stumbled across a storage crate of brochures. When I was a kid, my parents would take me to the Brisbane Motor Show each year (when it still existed) and I would dart from stand to stand to collect all the brochures and swag I could get my hands on. Some of the best marketing collateral on hand were reprints of my favorite kind of car magazine article: comparison tests. Mercedes-Benz was happy to reprint this 1994 comparison from British Autocar magazine where their S500 was deemed to be the best car in the world.

Luxury sedans have long fascinated me and this is an intriguing lineup. Just looking at this fleet, you get a strong sense of what each car brings to the table… Mostly.

The S-Class had solidity and technical brilliance. The 7-Series had dynamic poise. The XJ was brimming with old-world charm. The LS was the epitome of smoothness and refinement. The Fleetwood was big and simple. But then there were the Continental and Q45.

The Ford Taurus-derived Continental was out of its league here but countered with a much lower price than all bar the Fleetwood. Autocar found it to be a disappointment, however, with its sleek styling, modern interior design and trick suspension and features failing to adequately disguise the family sedan underneath.

British car magazines can be notoriously critical of American and, to a lesser extent, Asian cars. However, the author of this piece fondly recalled the Seville STS of the previous year’s comparison test. Incidentally, I’d love to get my hands on that comparison test.

This generation of 7-Series looks lean and athletic for a flagship luxury sedan, but just a tad too much like the 5-Series for my liking. The 7-Series sported the only five-speed auto of the group. How quaint. Aren’t we up to 10 speeds now?

The tested Fleetwood was seen as a relic. Going against the grain, I liked the styling of the 1993 Fleetwood a lot more than the dated Brougham it replaced. But, sadly, Cadillac really phoned it in with the interior. It had been stripped of the brightwork that made the old car’s cabin so distinctive (if not exactly tasteful). In its place was plastic, plastic and more plastic, making Cadillac’s biggest sedan look more like a LeSabre inside. At least the new Fleetwood had more grunt than before (from 1994), as well as a big Caddy should, with its powerful LT1 V8. Still, despite the Fleetwood’s outsized and somewhat crude charm, perhaps the new ’94 DeVille Concours would have been a better entrant in this comparison with its smooth DOHC Northstar V8 and more tasteful interior.

The Infiniti seemed to be pursuing the BMW model of driving excitement but couldn’t achieve quite the same balance of ride comfort and handling ability. The 1994 facelift may have added conservative wood and chrome accenting but it arguably made the Q45 more handsome and more in keeping with the general feel of the segment. Sadly, Infiniti lost confidence in the brand image it was initially pursuing and the next-generation Q45 would be softer and more conservative. Infiniti got their mojo back with the 2003 G35; the third-generation Q45 was also a more compelling offering but by then the Q45 line had become irrelevant and unnoticed.

The Jaguar looked lithe and classically handsome. Unfortunately, that athletic styling restricted cabin space.

The LS has faded into the background as of late, so it’s easy to forget just how impressive the first-generation was.

Not to sound like a broken record but, y’know, maybe if Lincoln had built a sedan off of the MN-12 platform…

Finally, the Autocar crew had some very kind words for the Audi A8, which couldn’t be featured in this comparison as it wasn’t yet available in North America. They were absolutely right about one thing: the first-generation Audi A8 was a beautiful car. It also made Audi relevant in the full-size luxury segment for the first time, the preceding Audi V8 having gone fairly unnoticed by the public.

All in all, this was a fantastic comparison test. Do you agree with Autocar’s verdict? Which luxury sedan would you have preferred, had you won the lottery in 1994?