We've got a bit of a luxury theme going on this week: Maserati, Jaguar, Rolls-Royce and Maybach all in one plutocratic edition. (Sorry there's no Bentley this time.) I ought to apologise in a way, because such fun seems at odds with the miserabilist spirit of our times. We ought not, you might argue, be giving even a line of coverage to such extravagances when the planet is dying because of them. One trip to the shops in the twin turbo bored-out sports-tuned 6-litre V12 Maybach would probably melt an ice cap.

So why do it? Well, like it or not, it's where a lot of the action is at the moment and you can't wish away these cars, and disinvent them. They're quite an interesting phenomenon. The world - by which I mean contemporary capitalism - has bred so many super-rich folk that the demand for these cars is at an historic high. It seems wrong, as excesses of wealth in an ocean of poverty always do, but it's where we are at. The people at Maybach, for example, tell me that many of their sales are made to our friends the Russian oligarchs, a totally new breed of moneyed individual that didn't exist before the end of Communism, a mere 15 or so years ago.

One of these chaps flew in lately, and inside a week needed to buy a fancy house in London (usually £5m plus), a suitable motor (long wheelbase Maybach) and a jet (as comfy as you like). He got his limo at any rate.

I find it much better when driving these cars not to think for too long about their real customers, because that would just make me all bitter and twisted about the social injustice they represent and envious that I'm not a beneficiary of that injustice (in which case I might not think it an injustice, or at least I'd lobby President Bush about the third world or something).

I prefer to wallow in their big comfy leather seats, play with the toys and enjoy the effortless power. Of course, we can kid ourselves, or not, that we'd make a much better job of specifying these cars than all these mega-rich types. Would you want your family crest embroidered on the seats? Or the badge of your football team? (Whether or not you owned it.) Would you want a claret and black two-tone paint job?

When contemplating these cars you have to ask yourself whether, impressive as it is, you really need 21 concealed speakers for your stereo or leather for the entire roof-lining. Hopping into a new (and very tastefully done) BMW 335 coupé immediately after driving the Maybach I did wonder why anyone would need more in a car than that.

The other good thing about these top-end cars is that many of the features you find in them "trickle down" (in that awful phrase) the market. So now on a Mini, Fiesta or Corsa you can find stability control, electric windows, anti-lock brakes and multiple airbags, just as you did on the most expensive Mercs 20 years ago. Maybach today, Mini tomorrow, it would seem.


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