When we think about luxury motoring, it usually has to do with sinking into sumptuous leather seats, running one’s hand over hand carved wood, turning an exquisitely milled dial and letting your feet nestle into thick woollen carpets. Add access to plenty of power beneath the bonnet and the traditional formula of luxury is complete. However, that’s changing because, in some aspects, tech is becoming the new luxury.
Take the clock in the new Maserati Grecale that was unveiled this week. It’s always been an exquisitely crafted analogue timepiece sitting in the top of the dashboard, now it’s gone digital. It still has a beautiful milled frame, but now it’s a smartclock, with screens to show you a compass, g-force meter, a graphical representation of the voice control and of course, the time.
Bentley hasn’t dispensed with its analogue clock just yet, but it has integrated it into a clever rotating display that features three handcrafted dials on one panel, an infotainment touchscreen on another and finally an unblemished piece of beautiful wood. It’s the perfect way to incorporate tech without compromising on the traditional luxury that owners appreciate.
Even the exquisite metal switch or dial is potentially under threat from touchscreen icons, the wood in which they are elegantly placed swapped for glass panels.
That’s apparent at Mercedes-Benz, long renowned for the luxurious interiors of its S-class. The seats are still sumptuous, the legroom vast, but the dashboard is now available with one huge glass panel containing a number of digital screens. For some it will be too much, for others it’s a reflection of the tech that they are incorporating into their daily lives.
Here, too, we can talk about head-up displays. Generally they have been able to give us essential info in our line of sight, such as speed and navigation instructions, but even these are looking old-school compared with the augmented-reality displays that are coming. You will look out of the windscreen of your luxury sedan and see the Tripadvisor rating for the boutique hotel you are driving past, graphics that show what restaurants are around the next junction or even a notification that your friend is in the car a few hundred metres ahead of you. Much of this will require a higher level of automated driving, but as we have said before, the future of luxury driving could well be not having to drive at all.
Then there’s the tech of sustainability, with leather being replaced by recycled fishing nets, door materials made from recycled plastic bottles. R&D departments are constantly using technology to find new and more sustainable ways of creating the materials that luxury owners desire.
Luxury has also been about power, or rather the presence of a V8 or V12 under a long bonnet. Here, too, tech is set to play a part as automakers switch to electric. Mercedes has its EQS, BMW is developing the electric version of its coming 7 Series, the i7, and Rolls-Royce is in the final stages of development on its electric Spectre. Electric tech is coming and while it will be whisper quiet and emission free, it will still deliver the same power numbers that owners of luxury sedans and SUVs are accustomed to.
Of course, none of this means a complete end to traditional luxury. It might be changing, but there will still be craftspeople making the finest leather, hand-carved wood or elegant brightware. Much as many people who own a Rolex, Panerai or IWC sport an Apple Watch during the week, it’s quite possible that tech might become the daily symbol of luxury, while the traditional aspects are kept in the garage for the weekend.