“A premium car is tricky,” said motoring broadcaster Steve Berry when we asked exactly what might define a premium car. “I suppose it’s very different from saying a car is a classic. For instance I would say that Giugaro’s design and its innovative manufacture for the original Fiat Panda qualifies it as a classic but its certainly not a premium car.” And he’s right. Whilst design plays a part, some of the most innovative designs have steered well clear of the P-word. Take a look at the Mini for a kick-off. So if it’s not design Steve, what is it? “That would be a car that by its equipment, design and technology is a cut above the common herd. Its quite possible for a car to occupy both the mass market and the upmarket. A BMW E36 316 is a mass market car, whereas an E36 M3 is absolutely a premium car.”
Steve raises an interesting point there. Previously if asked whether a car could occupy the mass-market and premium sectors, we’d have said that the Rover 600 was the ultimate example. A mass-market car with a bit of tinsel and a slab of tree nailed to the dash – a commendable effort on paper, but it never really felt enough of a cut above to justify the premium badge. Somewhere in the chasm between 316 and M3 lies the blurred grey line which delineates a premium car, and like a poor attempt at supermarket parking the E36 straddles the line with a pair of tyres in each camp.
Mike Brewer, used car expert, doesn’t think that the lines can quite so easily be blurred. “A premium car makes the driver feel that he or she is in a higher class of car that shows better quality, is better built and feels more than a budget car. If it fails to do that, you could end up with an expensive cheap car!” But where should the line be drawn? If the materials are key, then it can’t be midway through a range. A 316 and an M3 share the same dashboard, for instance – and it’s not made from eggshells or myrrh depending upon the spec of the car it’s going into. Should we drawn the line at the D-segment? The E segment? Particular brands?
We asked William Woollard how he would define premium, as we felt valid points had been raised by Steve and Mike. “Doesn’t the whole problem about defining a premium car arise from the fact that the word premium is so ubiquitous? It’s so totally overused, slapped onto everything but everything by the marketing people, that it can mean anything you want it to mean. Or nothing indeed. And that’s the problem. It no longer conveys any clear message. Above all it carries absolutely no emotional message, which is so important in the aspirational world of motoring.”
“It has basically become a supermarket word. You can buy, for instance, premium butter and premium fish fingers. It vaguely means good. Possibly very good. But certainly not gourmet. What happens when you translate all that into the world of cars? Well perhaps it helps to work by exclusion. We know certainly it’s got nothing to do with those cars for which we’ve already got some really meaningful and emotionally charged words like VINTAGE or CLASSIC. We know certainly that it’s got nothing to do with those totally out-of -our-reach machines that we rightly call ubercars or SUPERCARS.”
“So we’re left pretty much with that premium butter and fish fingers analogy. Premium cars are good. Possibly very good. But certainly not gourmet! Give you an example? I would suggest the 750 certainly, the S500. The very good looking Range Rover.”
But Messrs Berry, Brewer and Woollard are not necessarily the end users of these premium products. It’s equally likely to be you. So your views are just as important as those listed here, and we’d love to hear each and every one. Your insights will be crucial in helping to determine a true definition of premium, and we’ll only know what you think if you get in touch. Whether you think an S-Class a trifle downmarket or see your Talbot Tagora as the pinnacle of premium perfection, we want to know where the line should be drawn for you. Follow us on Facebook, comment here, or get in on the action on Twitter with hashtag #PremCar2013.