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What is a prestige car?

There is a common theme amongst all true prestige cars - price.

It’s not breaking news that Australians are buying cars in record numbers, but the kind of cars we’re buying may surprise you because it seems to suggest many of us have too much money.

While the usual suspects, like Toyota, Mazda and Ford, continue to dominate the top of the sales charts, a certain segment of society is buying prestige cars in volumes that were previously unthinkable.

Lamborghini sold 241 new models in 2023, Bentley managed 229 and even Ferrari moved 215 new cars. Those are huge numbers for these brands. Just do the math in your head what those numbers add up to when most of those cars sell for more than $500,000 - and it shows the strength of the economy at the top end of town.

But it does raise some pertinent questions. Namely, what is the definition of a prestige car? Do some manufactures only make prestige cars? And how much does a prestige car cost?

The answer to those questions isn’t simple, as the definition of a “prestige” car can vary wildly, given the different brands involved. However, there is a common theme amongst all true prestige cars - price.

Prestige cars sit above luxury cars in terms of price (amongst other elements), making it the easiest and most obvious way to differentiate between them.

Take, for example, BMW and Rolls-Royce, which are owned by the BMW Group but positioned very differently in terms of what they offer customers.

BMW is an iconic luxury brand, sitting above mainstream brands in price and quality, but Rolls-Royce is a step above it. Rolls offers a more premium and bespoke experience as a prestige brand, and therefore charges a much higher cost.

There are other examples, too, such as Porsche and Lamborghini. The former is best described as a luxury sports car brand, while the latter is a prestige maker of super sports cars.

And yet, confusingly, you’ll also hear brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz refer to themselves as prestige, possibly because it’s just such a great sounding term. And marketing types love to be part of prestige world.

Here, though, are the brands we’d consider to be properly prestige.

Aston Martin

2023 Australian sales: 157

2023 global sales: 6620

Even by its own high standards this British brand has endured a turbulent recent history. It celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2023 and has begun to reinvent itself for the next century. Key amongst these was a dramatic change in the models it offered.

For the first 100 years, Aston Martin made prestige grand tourers, front-engined sports cars with plush interiors. But with a booming market for prestige cars, in particular SUVs and mid-engine supercars, that’s what the brand has pivoted to. The DBX SUV now sits alongside the trademark Vantage and DB12 models, as well as its special offerings, such as the DBS and Valour.

The brand has its sights set on Ferrari, and under the ownership of Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, Aston Martin has entered Formula One and will launch the Valhalla mid-engined supercar in Australia soon.


2023 Australian sales: 229

2023 global sales: 13,650

Bentley is a great example of a prestige car brand, given its place within the broader Volkswagen Group, providing a clear demonstration of how the hierarchy works. Obviously, the German behemoth owns mainstream brands, such as Volkswagen, then you step up to Audi as a luxury brand and then further upwards to Bentley, as the prestige carmaker within the group.

It’s clearly working, with Bentley selling 229 new vehicles in Australia in 2023, which was a nearly 13 per cent increase on the previous year.

Much of the brand’s growth has been driven by the introduction of the Bentayga SUV, which has taken over as the British brand’s popular sales flagship, having previously forging its reputation with prestigious limousines.

Bentely also has a long history with large grand tourers, showing off its more dynamic side with cars like the Continental GT, which has been another sales success.


2023 Australian sales: 0 (officially recorded)

2023 global sales: Not reported

The Volkswagen-owned French brand sits at the upper-echelon of prestige cars. So much so that the brand does not officially operate in Australia, as so few cars are built every year that each is sold directly to its very wealthy, and frankly very brave, clients.

Under VW’s control Bugatti has specialised in building the fastest cars in the world, starting with the Veyron and then its replacement, the Chiron. Its current line-up consists of the Mistral roadster, which is priced from approximately $8 million (US$5.3m) and the track-only Bolide, from $6.5m (US$4.3m). But at this end of the market, that’s only the starting price and doesn’t include the endless levels of customisation and personalisation a prestige brand, such as Bugatti, offers.


2023 Australian sales: 215

2023 global sales: 13,663

The quintessential prestige performance car brand, Ferrari sets the standard by which all others are measured. It makes brilliant, fast and evocative cars, but it offers more than that - Ferrari has developed an aura.

Buying a Ferrari is seen as the ultimate sign of success. The Ferrari name sits alongside the best premium brands, like Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Rolex. Ferrari means prestige.

But even so, it has not escaped the modern demands for an SUV (although they don’t call it that), adding the Purosangue to its line up alongside its stunning sports cars - Portofino, Roma, 296 GTB, the 812 Superfast and the super hybrid SF90.

Like any truly great prestige brand, Ferrari works on always maintaining more demand than supply, so its sales are carefully managed to maintain that all-important aura and mystique.

Just because you want one doesn’t mean you can have one.


2023 Australian sales: 241

2023 global sales: 10,112

Ferrari’s arch-rival, fellow Italian supercar specialists Lamborghini, is another prestige brand with a long and illustrious history, and a promising future. Lamborghini may have started out making tractors but it evolved to build some of the world’s most striking supercars with dramatic and memorable styling.

Its present is also particularly impressive, the brand’s 241 local sales in 2023 was a nearly 40 per cent increase (36.9%) over the previous year - showing incredible demand for such expensive machines.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the majority of the sales were not the Urus SUV, despite the obvious popularity of the current breed of super SUVs. Instead, the brand’s iconic supercars, the Huracan, Aventador and its replacement, the Revuelto, helped to spur another strong sales year for the brand.


2023 Australian sales: 85

2023 global sales: 4000 (estimated)

McLaren battled Ferrari on the F1 circuit for decades, often having the upper hand as the two famous teams duked it out for world titles. In the late 2000s, former McLaren boss Ron Dennis decided the time was right to try and compete against Ferrari on the road as well, and created McLaren Automotive.

It wasn’t the first time the company had dabbled in road cars, building the iconic McLaren F1 V12 hypercar in 1992 and then helping its former F1 partner to create the Mercedes-McLaren SLR. But Dennis wanted bespoke McLaren supercars and that’s what he did, starting with the over-complicated named, MP4-12C in 2012.

It has been a bumpy ride for McLaren since then, thanks to some financial challenges, but with a recent buy-out from Mumtalakat Holding Company, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, the future should look more stable. It will allow the brand to build on its current line-up, which includes the GTS, Artura, 750S, 765LT and more.


2023 Australian sales: 49

2023 global sales: 6032

Rolls-Royce is arguably the benchmark for prestige carmakers. No other brand can quite match the British marque for its opulence and historic appeal. Like Ferrari, Rolls-Royce is a brand that makes a statement about the owner, and therefore has an enduring, timeless appeal.

While, like the rest, Rolls has joined the SUV set, its vast Cullinan maintains the traditions and philosophies that have made Rolls-Royce the pinnacle of prestige car buyers for the past 118 years.

That’s not to suggest Rolls-Royce isn’t capable of changing and appealing to new audiences. The Cullinan sits alongside the smaller Phantom models, in particular, the Black editions, in trying to lure a younger, dare we say, cooler audience to the brand.

Where can you buy prestige cars in different Australian locations?

There are prestige car dealers in most major cities in Australia, but if you live outside of those areas you may need to travel. Of course, just going to the dealer with enough money isn’t a guarantee you’ll be able to buy one of these cars. This is another element that separates prestige brands from mere luxury ones. Whereas an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz will be happy to take your money and put your order in, prestige brands are often so tightly constrained on supply that new owners need to get in line behind existing customers.

Sometimes that may mean buying used prestige cars from the dealer to begin your relationship with the brand. Or it may mean putting down your money and waiting years before you see a car. But prestige car buyers have to be willing to wait to ensure they get exactly what they want. It’s the price of success.

What hire or rental options are available for prestige cars?

Prestige car hire is a growing business in Australia, offering anyone the chance to at least have a taste of what it’s like to live like the rich and famous.

While you can get behind the wheel of a BMW or Audi through recognisable car hire companies, such as Avis, Sixt and Europcar, if you want something more prestigious you’ll need a specialist company. As we’ve previously detailed here there are outfits all around Australia that can help get you into a Ferrari, Bentley, McLaren and more. You’ll pay a high price for the privilege, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying one.

Stephen Corby
Contributing Journalist
Stephen Corby stumbled into writing about cars after being knocked off the motorcycle he’d been writing about by a mob of angry and malicious kangaroos. Or that’s what he says, anyway. Back in the early 1990s, Stephen was working at The Canberra Times, writing about everything from politics to exciting Canberra night life, but for fun he wrote about motorcycles. After crashing a bike he’d borrowed, he made up a colourful series of excuses, which got the attention of the motoring editor, who went on to encourage him to write about cars instead. The rest, as they say, is his story. Reviewing and occasionally poo-pooing cars has taken him around the world and into such unexpected jobs as editing TopGear Australia magazine and then the very venerable Wheels magazine, albeit briefly. When that mag moved to Melbourne and Stephen refused to leave Sydney he became a freelancer, and has stayed that way ever since, which allows him to contribute, happily, to CarsGuide.
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