The Bentley Mulsanne has a deceptively smooth 505-horsepower engine and enough hand-stitched leather to outfit a motorcycle gang. It costs $285,000 to buy even the base model. But like the $285,000 McLaren MP4-12C and the $214,990 Spyker C8 Aileron, Mulsanne doesn't even come close to qualifying for this year's list of the most expensive cars in the world.
That distinction belongs to an even more extreme range: Think along the lines of the $1.4 million Maybach Landaulet, the $1.5 million Koenigsegg Agera, and the $2.6 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport.
These cars have the über-engineered carbon fiber bodies, obscene amounts of horsepower and excessive creature comforts (silver champagne flutes and lambswool carpeting, anyone?) that draw big price tags. And for more than a million dollars apiece, they'd better get them all exactly right.
Extreme speed or extreme luxury
To compile our list of the most expensive cars going on sale next year, we scoured price lists from well-known manufacturers like Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Maybach, and from lesser-known companies like Saleen and SSC. Some expected entrants (Aston Martin, Spyker, McLaren) didn't quite have the stuff to make our list. Others, like Koenigsegg, had a few models that might have qualified, so we limited our list to the most expensive car from each manufacturer, otherwise noting a few entries from the ubiquitous Bugatti and a bonus future entry from Ferrari.
These cars seem to go one of two ways: super-luxurious touring sedans like the Landaulet and the $447,000 Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe, or screaming street fighters like the $455,400 Lamborghini LP 670-4 SuperVeloce and the $728,000 LeBlanc Mirabeau.
One standout: The $1.3 million Pagani C9. Due out late next year, it'll sport a new Mercedes-Benz AMG 6.0-litre V12 engine that produces 700 horsepower and 737 foot-pounds of torque. A specialized carbon-titanium chassis and Pirelli tires will add to the overall appeal of this Pagani Zonda replacement.
Another stunner is the $750,000 SSC Ultimate Aero, a 1,287-bhp racer made by Shelby Super Cars in Tri-Cities, Wash. The Ultimate Aero will do 0-60 in 2.78 seconds and has a top speed of 273 mph. But it's not all skin and bones. It comes with air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, tilt-steering, 10-speaker premium audio, a CD/DVD system with a 7.5" DVD screen, automatic backup camera and navigation. The carbon fiber dashboard incorporates a digital temperature control unit and tire pressure monitor to ensure optimum driving conditions.
Also from SSC, look out for the as-yet unnamed "Next Generation" SSC due later next year. It's sure to make our list of Most Expensive Cars 2012.
Who's buying these cars when the auto industry has suffered disastrous sales in the last few years? The same wealthy people who have always bought them. They might wait a few more months than usual before making a purchase, but they're still there in full force, automakers say. And things are certainly looking up.
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"The crisis cannot keep a Bugatti buyer away from buying a car for financial reasons--he would have enough money to buy a car even in the middle of a crisis," says Franz-Josef Paefgen, the current CEO of Bugatti (Paefgen is retiring in February). "Obviously they were not in the mood to do that as long as the crisis was an uncertain situation. We are doing well now."
The Middle East and Asia represent a significant chunk of the market for many of these vehicles from the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Spyker. John Hill, a spokesman for Bugatti, says more than 30% of current sales are going to the Middle East, with strong growth expected. And several of the Super Sport cars have already sold there.
Ferrari just opened a theme park in Abu Dhabi. Lamborghini added two more dealerships to its seven existing ones in China last month, and the automaker has seen 100% growth in sales there over 2009, according to CEO Stephan Winkelmann.
"China continues as one of our most important markets where we continue to forecast growth," Winkelmann says, noting that the iconic Italian and extreme-design aspects of the car have strong appeal with luxury consumers in China. "The Chinese luxury market continues exponential growth in line with the country's economic development."
© 2012 Forbes.com