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The changing shape of luxury

Stately sedans give way to sleek new forms at Singapore Motorshow 2018.

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Volkswagen Group Singapore managing director Ricky Tay with the VW Arteon.

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Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo.

Singapore

WHAT comes to mind when you think of a luxury car?

If it's a plush, stately sedan, a visit to the Singapore Motorshow at the Suntec Singapore International Convention And Exhibition Centre might just change your mind. Some new models at the event, which ends tomorrow, hint at how luxury cars are evolving and starting to take on relatively unusual forms.

Volkswagen's new flagship shows how the new approach to luxury might work.

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The Arteon eschews the normal, boxy, sedan shape that you might expect of a car that now serves as VW's top model. Instead, the Arteon is billed as "high performance art", and aims to win customers through a combination of sporty design, comfort and practicality, and a dash of excitement from its 280hp engine.

"A car like the Arteon meets the definition of luxury because it doesn't compromise on performance or practicality," said Ricky Tay, managing director of Volkswagen Group Singapore.

Volkswagen calls the S$221,900 (with COE) Arteon a five-door "gran turismo", implying that it is designed for high-speed touring. It certainly looks the part, with grille and headlamps designed to make it look aggressively wide. It also has a sleeker silhouette than that of a sedan, thanks mostly to a low roof that swoops gracefully to meet the car's tail.

To increase interior room, manufacturers tend to simply bulk up a car's body, but the Arteon makes clever use of proportions instead. Its elongated shape not only adds to the overall slinkiness of the design, but also creates plenty of cabin space.

The Arteon's shape is also meant to say something about its driver. "When it comes to cars, the choice of vehicle has to communicate the driver's personality in just one glance," said Mr Tay.

Yet, the Arteon's unconventionality might be the result of a painful lesson for Volkswagen. The brand took a more normal approach to luxury with its previous flagship, the Phaeton.

That was a large sedan with the size and advanced features to match such formidable rivals as the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it was discontinued in 2016 after never once meeting its production target in 15 years.

The Arteon's smaller size makes it a less ambitious car, but its gran turismo shape also means it avoids clashing directly with established sedans from BMW and Mercedes - perhaps giving give it much better chances than the Phaeton.

Meanwhile, a new car from Porsche encapsulates luxury in a form that's far wilder.

Taking part in the Singapore Motorshow for the first time in 14 years, the sports car specialist is showing off the Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo, a car that's part sports coupe, part station wagon.

The Turbo model costs a whopping S$733,288 (without COE), mainly because it has the eye-popping performance to match. Its 550hp engine hurls it to 100km/h in only 3.6 seconds, on the way to a top speed of 304km/h.

The least powerful version of the Sport Turismo starts at S$398,388.

The new model is so unusual, it has no direct competitors, but that could be something of a double-edged sword. Perhaps there are no rivals because there is no market for such a car?

Yet, the Sport Turismo has a 4+1 seating configuration (standard Panameras seat four people) and a 520 litre boot, which might help to win over pragmatic Singaporeans.

"I'm convinced there are buyers for this. The design is in general really nice, and it provides additional functionality. So, why not?" said Henrik Drier, general manager for Singapore at Porsche Asia Pacific.

Perhaps Porsche can afford to take risks, with its sales at an all-time high. The brand sold a record 615 cars in Singapore last year, and models with new shapes such as the Sport Turismo can help it cast an ever wider net over the prospective buyer pool.

But a gentler departure from the norm can be found at the Lexus booth, where the brand's new flagship, the LS, is being shown to the public for the first time.

The very first LS was a neat but straightforward design that aped the Mercedes S-Class of the time.

The latest one is still a large four-door limousine, but it borrows styling cues from coupes. It's longer and wider than its predecessor, but also lower, giving it a meaner, racier look.

By sticking to a sedan's form but making it sleek, Lexus is able to play it safe yet sexy with the new LS.

That approach may not be a radical as those taken by Volkswagen and Porsche, but it does tell us one thing: The shape of luxury is changing - at different speeds.

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