Luxury automakers' 12 most deluxe cars

Upscale carmakers rely on these dozen autos to carry prestige as well as passengers.

2014 mercedes s550 dash

The arrival this fall of the technology-laden 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 will set off a new debate about who is at the peak of the premium luxury pecking order. Mercedes will have a strong argument. The $100,000 sedan is festooned with more gadgets and gizmos than a Christmas tree has ornaments, all in an effort to keep M-B ahead of top-shelf rivals BMW, Audi, and Lexus.

One ranking will not be in dispute, however: As it has since 1972, the S-class sedan will remain the flagship of the Mercedes car line: the grandest, lushest, and most prestigious car coming out of Stuttgart.

Flagship cars represent the pinnacle of achievement for a particular brand. They set the tone for an entire line. They are not to be confused with halo cars -- attention-getting though often impractical designs intended to draw customers into a showroom but that few people are expected to buy. The Mercedes SLR is a halo car; the S-class is the flagship.

As sales accelerate in the U.S, and particularly in China, more attention is being paid to flagships as an attraction for upscale customers. A look at recent developments:

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated August 07 2013 01:50 PM ET
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