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Remember When a Quality Car Meant Having Airbags and Leather Seating?

Car fans have rediscovered an advertisement from 1993 that feels especially dated, creating both nostalgia and a look at how far we’ve come. In the advertisement, two men are riding in a Pontiac Bonneville and referencing how the driver usually only drives luxury cars, like BMW or Lexus cars.

The background music and the shots of the interior of the car clearly intend to showcase the beauty of the leather seats and even mention: “airbag? leather? This is quality.” It’s clear that what matters to car owners has evolved substantially in the past 26 years.

What counts as a luxury or quality car?

While Reddit users commenting in 2020 on this commercial had plenty to make fun of, such as the idea of driving an affordable car to a helipad to get into a helicopter that likely cost millions of dollars, they also had plenty of nice things to say about their own cars from the ’90s.

While many people think of their old cars with fondness for their reliability and comfort, few would claim that the luxury of 1993 can compare with what can be had in modern cars.

These days, the features that the commercial’s characters would talk about to claim a car as ‘luxurious’ in 2020 would be more like. For instance, complex infotainment systems that combine music options with navigation systems allow for an online connection for emergency assistance and taking phone calls through the speakers.

Lots of leather still impresses in an interior, along with creative and sturdy stitching. Luxury car owners have grown to expect Alcantara suede, exotic woods, and carbon fiber trims as well.

While innovations in plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars are not automatically luxurious, they are considered an extra benefit in a car that already has a luxury design. Unique grille designs and contoured edges in the design of the car can signal characteristic brand-name luxury.

The “smart” revolution has also affected luxury cars. Advanced “smart safety” features that go well beyond having airbags are important. Automated features for smoother and safer driving also matter, like automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control with steering assist.

Materials and design features are still top of the list when it comes to identifying luxury on sight, but these days, every luxury car also has to contain an advanced, high-power engine that fits the acceleration needs of the car lover who will buy it.

New trends in standard features

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These days, many of the features that would have once been considered luxury are available on standard versions of very affordable cars. There are features that have become near-standard for the average car, like sunroofs and moonroofs, that were luxury add-ons in the past.

Parking cameras and navigation systems, LED lights, and power-operated front seat movement all are the kinds of “included luxury” that standard editions of cars commonly showcase. A few decades ago, even heating and cooling vents for front and back seats were fancy, but now they are standard.

Even a very modest, small car with a standard array of features these days would likely awe a viewer from 30 or 40 years ago. Imagine the character from that Pontiac commercial sitting down in a standard 2020 Honda Civic. They’d be inspired as they walked to their helicopter!

What is the future of luxury?

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Luxury car manufacturers do keep moving the line forward for what is considered luxurious in a car. The features that are still in development tend to involve the ways that a car’s interior shape can change when it is an all-electric vehicle, with distinct load-bearing needs and shapes compared to traditional engines.

When self-driving or autonomous cars truly come on the market, not the current offerings for some adaptive steering and semi-autonomous features, the possibilities for altering the interior of a luxury car are vast. They will be changed to be more comfortable for relaxing or working rather than adjusted for maximum comfort while driving. 

It’s interesting to think about what people in the year 2047 will think of our current car advertisements and what mattered to us in a quality car in 2020. Many innovations are likely to crop up before then!