What really is a premium car? How is it different from a generalist?

Gourmet extra virgin olive oils, gran reserva wine, high-end telephones and, of course, premium cars. In these times many desirable or aspirational products carry the premium surname. But what really is a premium car? What elements differentiate it from a generalist vehicle? In this article, and in the accompanying video, we will try to find out.

By definition, a consumer product with the surname premium is a product whose characteristics, quality or performance distance it, for good, from the market average. The paper supports everything, but when it comes to practice, and focusing on the automotive sector, we are going to tell you the keys, which, from our point of view, turn a car into a premium vehicle.



A premium vehicle must have a prominent presence in traffic. The elements that make up this presence can be very varied, inclined towards elegance or sportsmanship, and of course, subject to the subjectivity present in any design. However, certain patterns or certain elements can be established that we will only find in premium cars. One of them can be “prestige gap”the space between the driving position and the front axle.

A premium vehicle should feel premium at a glance. It may seem intangible, but that neural response responds to a series of attributes.

It is only present in longitudinal engine vehicles – and therefore, with greater power and performance. It makes the relatively rearward position of the cabin offer us a greater sense of speed. Another of them are the chrome elements, distributed throughout the bodywork in a balanced manner, without falling into excesses. The image of stability and firmness that emanates from the design language also differentiates premium vehicles, in many cases imitating the figure of a moving animal.

The calender it is another aesthetic resource to which car brands associate their image (think of the classic BMW kidneys), and it is usually both large and with a strong presence. These distinctive design elements may be accompanied by special paints, such as those used by Mazda with several layers of lacquer. The paint is able to highlight the shapes of the car body, achieving contrasts especially in the low light of sunset.

Brand image

According to the “Premium Consumer” report by the consulting firm Nielsen, a quarter of consumers believe that a premium product makes them project an image of personal success, shows their social status and makes them feel successful. The purchase of a premium vehicle has a strong emotional component associated with it, and the brand image has a great influence on the purchase decision. A brand with a more polished, more reliable or more luxurious image, and by extension, its products, will be considered more premium – more desirable than a brand with the opposite attributes.

The brand image is cultivated for decades, but its maintenance must also be accompanied by a heavy investment in marketing. And as often happens, a bad product cycle or cost-cutting decisions can upset the perception that a manufacturer has been cultivating for decades.


A premium car must be more refined than a general car. This is especially noticeable in your cabin. It is where we spend more time, and in premium cars it boasts higher quality. This is patent in the materials selection, pleasant and soft to the touch, but also in its smell, and origin. Some premium brands make use of craft traditions from their countries of origin and apply them to the construction of their interiors. I am thinking, for example, of seams, patterns in textile fabrics or marquetry.

A not so trivial detail: the materials used in the rear doors should not be of lower quality than those of the front doors just because they will be used less.

The adjustments between materials They have no imperfections and should be, in a premium vehicle, at the same level even in areas that are not very visible or that we are going to touch sporadically. Slightly more subjectively, the refinement of a premium car is also in how it makes us feel to be on board. The design of a dashboard or seats can be welcoming, clean and minimalist, as well as projecting solidity. The soft ambient lighting makes us feel protected from the outside world and comforts us at night.


engine range

As we said at the beginning of the video, a premium product performs better than a general product. Applied to cars, this means, first of all, that a premium car has a more varied range of engines, different or with the presence of high-performance sports versions. A generalist car will rarely have engines with more than four cylinders, with high-power sports versions, permanent all-wheel drive, independent rear suspension or the latest generation automatic gearboxes.

It stands to reason: your target customer has a more limited budget. An in-line six-cylinder engine, without going any further, not only offers better performance than a simple four-cylinder, but its operation is very refined and smooth. This comfortably brings us to the next point.

driving dynamics

When we’re behind the wheel of a premium car we should feel that the ride quality is superior. In some cases, we would be talking about greater ride comfort, thanks to superior insulation, quieter rolling thanks to double glazing or a suspension that filters out irregularities in the road surface to a greater extent. However, that higher quality of rolling, in other cars, can translate into a firmer, more direct or sportier behavior.

The technique that enables a better driving experience can be really advanced.

In any case, it should always be a qualitatively superior experience to what we would experience in a conventional car.

Technology and active security

Some premium products can be differentiated by their technological load, higher than that of a generalist car. You will all be thinking, for example, how Mercedes popularized the double screen in their cars as a distinctive feature of their interior. The active safety It is another element that requires more care in a premium vehicle. Beyond the driving assistance elements required by law, a premium vehicle may have driving assistance systems that we would hardly see in a basic vehicle.

For example, as a “clear bonnet” technology, consisting of 360° vision cameras that expand the field of vision during low-speed driving and show areas impossible to see from the driving position. We can also talk about hill descent control, adaptive cruise control with speed limiter based on the recognition of traffic signs or safe exit systems, which detect vehicles approaching from behind when we open a car door.

These systems can also be present in some generalist cars, of course.



One of the keys, in my view, of a premium car is the ability to customize it to our liking. A premium car usually has more shades in its color palette and the possibility of equipping equipment items that are not common in other vehicles. Beyond the car buying process and the physical customization of the vehicle, we also want to highlight the ability to customize both the driving position and the driving experience.

We can do the last one through configurable driving modes, with parameters such as the hardness of the shock absorbers or the throttle response. Some vehicles may even be able to recognize us personally through a camera or a unique user profile, and adjust dozens of vehicle parameters – such as seating position, steering wheel or ambient lighting, among many others – to our preferences.

In some luxury brands, we can even choose the exact color of our body from thousands of possibilities. But we will have to pay dearly for it.

Pamper the occupants

Hedonism is an inseparable attribute of any premium car worth its salt. The premium car is forgiving of its driver and occupants, allowing them to enjoy premium sound equipment such as hi-fi systems with dozens of speakers, large panoramic roofs, blinds for the rear windows, air conditioning of more than two zones, 220-volt plugs or reclining seats. Elements, in short, incompatible with budget rationalization and the most adjusted cost of a generalist vehicle.

Post-sale and customer service

A premium brand must also differentiate itself in customer service. Your experience should be above average from the moment you first walk into the dealership, and it’s especially important after the sale. Although some general brands also offer it, the free transfer of a replacement car during maintenance or repairs is a differentiating factor that we must take for granted in a premium brand. It should also be an extended mechanical guarantee and a legal guarantee of more than 3 years required by European regulations.

A clean car, inside and out, after maintenance.

For the peace of mind of their customers, some premium brands have remote diagnosis services, in addition to the possibility of scheduling maintenance and interventions from the smartphone applications of their vehicles. The truth is some after-sales elements that we consider premium also exist in generalist brandsbut in the premium ones they should always be closely linked to the user experience.


Hoping that this article has revealed the differences between a premium car and a general car, we want to make a brief reflection. The premium car is considerably more expensive for the final customer, and although its manufacture is more expensive, it is also more profitable than a generalist car for its manufacturer. The reason is that your trading margin is higher. The proof of this is that in a difficult market context and problems in the supply chain, many brands are trying to enter the premium segment.

A segment where they sell fewer cars, but as a whole, they obtain greater profits as opposed to a pure and simple volume model.

About Alicia Peters

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