10 Forgotten Luxury Flagships That Languished At The Top

Sometimes, things that are expensive… are worse.

Cadillac CT6-V Forgotten Luxury Sedans Cadillac CT6-V Forgotten Luxury Sedans

Flagship luxury cars usually provide a halo effect on their respective automakers. Companies know that not everyone is going to leave the dealership with the top offering, but customers might take pride in knowing their entry-level model shares the same badge as a car that costs two or three times as much.

But just because it has a big price tag doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. Some of the forgotten flagships on this list suffered for being worse than their predecessors. Some of them had kid siblings that were better cars overall. Some cars were the right choice at the wrong time. And some of them were just plain boring.

Whether undersung, underrated, or just plain unlovable, these 10 flagships clearly needed some more polish for those halos.

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Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

It’s hard to believe a model as legendary as, well, the Acura Legend would eventually become as forgettable as the RLX. Released for the 2014 model year, the RLX represented the first use of the company’s now-ubiquitous Jewel Eye LED headlights, but a complicated two-screen infotainment system and bland exterior were hard for consumers to stomach.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The front-drive RLX received "Precision All-Wheel Steer" on the rear axle, while the optional Super Handling all-wheel-drive system had a torque-vectoring rear differential to reduce understeer. There was even a 372-horsepower Sport Hybrid trim that ditched the conventional rear diff for two electric motors, with a third mounted between the engine and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission—similar to the Acura NSX, just rotated 180 degrees and sans turbochargers. But the snappy performance and a sharp 2018 facelift weren’t enough to save the RLX from oblivion. It was discontinued in 2020.

Cadillac CT6-V / Platinum

One of Cadillac’s best sedans in years, the 2016 CT6 almost had it all: handsome good looks, agile performance, tons of technology, and decent pricing. However, it was missing something all flagship sedans should have: lusty power and an even lustier exhaust note. Cadillac rectified that in 2019 when it introduced the Blackwing twin-turbocharged 4.2-liter V-8 to the CT6 lineup. Available in either the performance-oriented CT6-V or the luxurious CT6 Platinum, the Blackwing engine was divine. The 2019 CT6 Platinum was also GM’s first vehicle with hands-off Super Cruise driver assistance technology.

Despite that impressive hardware, consumers didn’t resonate with the Blackwing beauties. Consumers shopping for a $100,000 sedan may have been turned off by the CT6’s mid-size interior and parts-bin switchgear, as well as Cadillac’s Mary Kay reputation. Even though the Blackwing-powered CT6 was the automaker’s best luxury car in decades, Cadillac pulled the plug after 2020.

Hyundai Equus

Most people remember the Hyundai Genesis, which was the automaker’s first attempt at a luxury sport sedan. But there was also a full-size vehicle that the automaker intended as an S-Class and 7 Series rival, called the Equus. Arriving in the US as a 2011 model, the Equus was pretty much fully loaded right out of the box, with a 5.0-liter V-8 making 385 horsepower, air suspension, adaptive cruise control, a 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, and even an iPad in the glovebox instead of an owner’s manual. And true to Hyundai form, the Equus cost $58,900, $7,000 less than the Lexus LS460 and a whopping $30,000 less than the Mercedes S-Class.

However, the Equus was never a player in the serious luxury sedan space. Although it didn’t have any Hyundai badges inside or out, both it and its Genesis kid brother had a hard time rising above their plebeian branding to convince very many Lexus and Audi owners to trade in. It wasn’t until Genesis spun off into its own brand that consumers genuinely started considering shopping South Korean luxury.

Infiniti Q45

Upon its debut in 1990, the Infiniti Q45 promised a different, more subtle kind of luxury. The interior was free of wood trim and the front end didn’t even feature a grille—a clear shot across the bow at the chrome- and lumber-heavy Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar sedans. But while the contemporary Lexus LS400 offered luxury-familiar levels of poise and comfort with Japanese pricing and reliability, the first Q45 was too esoteric to be anything more than a blip on the flagship-sedan radar.

The second-generation car was even more anonymous, with less power and worse performance than before. The final, third-generation Q45 was bolder, with aggressive Gatling-gun headlights, modern birds-eye maple interior trim, and available laser-guided adaptive cruise control. But still, Infiniti products like the excellent G35 sedan and alien FX45 crossover overshadowed the Q45, and it was canceled after the 2006 model year.

Jaguar XJR575

Jaguar retired the stylish, stately XJ sedan in 2019, but not before sending it out with a bang via a 575-horsepower version of the XJR. Its supercharged 5.0-liter V-8, shared with the F-Type SVR, put it in the same class as the Mercedes-AMG S63 and BMW M760i, and it was cheaper than either with a base price of $124,325. It was also hundreds of pounds lighter than either, giving it sharp reflexes for such a spacious sedan. But despite its sharp steering, dynamic handling, and avant-garde styling, the Jaguar XJ wasn’t long for this world.

Rumors of a battery-electric XJ redux have been around for a few years now, but so far, the gossip has failed to materialize an actual product. That means that today, Jaguar’s flagship four-door is the four-cylinder, 300-horsepower XF. Here’s hoping the cat gets back in the big sedan game soon.

Kia K900

Kia’s come-up in the last decade or so has been the result of many different vehicles: the Optima and K5 sedans, the Telluride family SUV, and a stellar lineup of electric crossovers. One vehicle that likely won’t go down in history as one of Kia’s all-time greats is the K900 luxury sedan. Like its Hyundai Equus platform-mate, the 2015 K900 offered lots of features and amenities for the price and had a hard time convincing long-time luxury buyers to go Kia.

However, the automaker took a second chance on the K900, introducing a new generation for 2019. Gone were the naturally aspirated V-6 and V-8 engine options, with a twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 as the only available powertrain. Exterior styling was a bit more sophisticated and traditional than the almost-fastback first gen, but consumers still didn’t care much for Kia’s big sedan. The K900 was quietly axed in the US after the 2020 model year.

Lexus LS600h L

The fourth-generation Lexus LS was the automaker’s first genuine effort to introduce some emotion into the full-size luxury sedan. It was also the first time the automaker tried its hand at a hybrid flagship, the LS600h L. However, it was less of an efficiency play than a rival to the 12-cylinder models offered by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. The hybrid LS had a 5.0-liter V-8 (not the 4.6-liter used in the LS460), and it made 439 horsepower thanks to a single electric motor. The LS600hL’s beady LED headlights and blue-tinted badging hinted at its gas-electric power, but otherwise, it was a subtly designed hybrid.

But Lexus’ aspirations for V-12 performance with V-8 fuel consumption didn’t quite land, especially at the price. By the time it was discontinued in 2016, the LS600h L’s base price exceeded $120,000, yet its power output was down around 100 relative to those aforementioned German flagships. But the electrified luxury formula didn’t die with the 600—the fifth-generation Lexus LS still offers a hybrid powertrain in the 500h model.

Lincoln MKT EcoBoost

The Lincoln Town Car is probably the most frequently encountered luxury car out there thanks to its long lifespan and sterling popularity with limousine and taxi companies. So when it came time to replace the four-door sedan, Lincoln went with—wait for it—a three-row SUV? That’s right. Limousine and livery companies accustomed to a body-on-frame sedan now had a unibody crossover to contend with.

The MKT was pretty dull, all things considered. The front- or all-wheel-drive, 3.7-liter V-6–powered CUV offered a bland driving experience, although it livened up considerably if you got the optional twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter, which boosted power to a frisky 355 horsepower (365 on 2013 and later models). Still, few people took a second look at the unusually styled MKT. Between 2009 and 2020, Lincoln moved 50,000 units of the MKT, peaking at 7,094 in 2012.

Lincoln Continental Coach Door Edition

Initially limited to 80 units for the 2019 model year, Lincoln brought the Continental Coach Door Edition back for 2020. Produced in conjunction with Cabot Coach Builders, the Coach Door Edition had a 6-inch-longer wheelbase and rear-hinged doors with a power soft-close feature.

Compared to the $300,000-plus Rolls-Royce Ghost—the next-cheapest car with rear-opening doors—the special-edition Lincoln Continental is a bargain. But asking more than 100 grand for something that shares a platform with the Ford Taurus may have been too big a pill to swallow, which is why Lincoln was offering discounts on the Coach Door Edition as late as 2021, a year after the Conti ended production.

Volvo S80 V8

Yamaha has had its mitts on some of the best engines in history, ranging from the Toyota 2000GT to the Lexus LFA, with stopping points at the Ford Taurus SHO along the way. But the Japanese engineering firm also joined up with Volvo to build a 4.4-liter V-8 intended for the 2005 XC90 SUV, making 311 horsepower and 325 pound-feet. Within a few years, the V-8 also showed up under the hood of the S80 luxury sedan. An unusual 60-degree bank angle was necessary for the engine’s transverse mounting in both the XC90 and S80, but it also gave the engine a raucous snarl that was thrilling and un-Volvo-like.

Still, the S80 was a heavy beast, and it carried most of its weight over the front axle. And the V-8’s character was at odds with the sedan’s otherwise tame, safe personality. An unusual offering for a company that at the time wasn’t known for taking risks, the S80 V8 is a neat luxury sedan with a sterling engineering pedigree if nothing else.

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