The world’s most powerful leaders also have some of the most powerful official cars ever made. These mean machines are like weapons on the road, designed to protect their extremely important occupants from the most devastating threats.
Owned by presidents and prime ministers, the heavily modified cars are also epitomes of luxury. Some of them, like the US president’s The Beast, are the stuff of car folklore. Outstanding in brutishness and excellent in comfort, the official cars easily stand apart from their commercial cousins, if any.
Powerful yet classy
All official cars, whether made in their home countries or imported from outside for eminent dignitaries, have one common feature — power. Since the most powerful leaders of the world are also the ones whose security needs are the highest, their cars are equipped with the best of safety features, including body armour.
It is noteworthy that most of the powerful leaders have a cavalcade of multiple vehicles — some of which are similarly equipped — travelling with the state or government heads. The cavalcade forms an outer security perimeter, with the main vehicle carrying the dignitary at its centre. Thus, the car is akin to a last line of defence.
As we turn the spotlight to the chariots that ferry these world leaders around, we see some slick limousines, too, among the armoured brutes.
The United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth II’s Bentley State Limousine
The Queen of the United Kingdom has been on the throne since 1952. She’s also just a few years younger than British luxury car and SUV manufacturer Bentley, which recently celebrated its 101st birthday. On rare occasions, when Her Majesty makes a public appearance, she cruises in a royal Bentley State Limousine.
The company confirms that only two of these elongated Mulliner-built limos exist, and both are found in the Queen’s possession. She was gifted both 400hp chariots in 2002, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
The two cars are slightly longer than the Bentley Arnage, on which they are based. Each is fitted with a 6.75-litre V8 engine. The cars have airtight cabins and blast-proof doors.
Among its unique features are the doors that are tall enough for the Queen to stand before stepping out. When travelling, people can see the Queen from almost any angle. Inputs for the design of the car came from the Queen and her late husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as well as her head chauffeur.
However, the Bentley State Limousine is not the Queen’s only car. Quintessential British icons such as Daimler and Rolls-Royce cars line up in her garage. A custom 2015 Range Rover, a Bentley Mulsanne and a Jaguar XJ also feature in her collection of cars.
Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s Aurus Senat
Vladimir Putin cruises in an Aurus Senat, one of the finest presidential cars, whose civilian version can cost USD 245,000 (INR 18.3 million). Of course, Putin’s armoured vehicle with plush interiors would cost a lot more.
Aurus Senat is Russia’s first 598 hp all-wheel-drive luxury sedan, created on the orders of Putin.
The car weighs around seven tonnes and can withstand any kind of attack, including chemical gas, bombs and sniper fire. Its internal communication system and CCTVs make the car look like Putin’s command centre on wheels.
The car for the Russian President is made by Russia’s Aurus Motors, which claims to be the first luxury car maker in the country.
India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mercedes-Maybach S650 Guard
As the Prime Minister of India, Modi is certainly one of the world’s most powerful leaders and requires the highest level of security.
In December 2021, the Indian media reported that the luxurious Mercedes-Maybach S650 Guard has been added as an official vehicle in the Indian Prime Minister’s security detail. When it comes to security, the car is beyond outstanding.
It boasts a VR10-level of ballistic protection — the highest grade for civilian vehicles. The body shell and the glass housing can withstand 15 kg TNT explosions as close as two metres and bullets fired from military-grade assault rifles. The doors are heavy and require an electric motor for opening and closing.
The Maybach S 650 Guard comes with a 6-litre V12 engine, delivering an output of 650 hp. Its fuel tank is self-sealing. An internal emergency fresh air system keeps those inside the car safe from gas attacks.
According to reports, the car could have cost the government more than USD 1.60 million (INR 120 million). But according to Asian New International (ANI), government sources told the media house that the price of the car was a third of the price.
Previously, the Prime Minister moved around in a Range Rover Vogue or Toyota Land Cruiser.
North Korea, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un’s Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard
Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un — one of the world’s most authoritarian politicians — arrived in a Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard, along with the then US President Donald Trump, at a summit meeting in Singapore in 2018.
However, little is known about the limousine’s specifications. Reports say that it looked like a model that was made until 2013. This implies that it would have a 517 hp, 5.5-litre, bi-turbo V12 engine. Is it armoured? Of course, that’s Kim’s car after all.
The current starting price of a normal Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman Guard is around USD 1.5 million (INR 112.1 million).
China, President Xi Jinping’s Hongqi N501
Hongqi N501 is the official car of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The name means ‘red flag’ in Chinese, a fitting one for the Chinese Communist Party chief’s car. Xi was seen in this car when he travelled to India in 2019.
The four-door sedan, which is around 18 feet long and 6.5 feet wide, has a wide front grill, quite like other official state cars by manufacturers such as Rolls Royce. The car reportedly has an automatic transmission and is powered by a 402 hp turbocharged V8 engine, with a maximum range of 800 km on a full tank.
Weighing around 3,000 kg, Hongqi N501 is heavily armoured. However, its specific details are unknown.
The Chinese marquee, being manufactured since 1958 by the state-owned First Auto Works (FAW) Group, makes some of the finest luxury cars in China that are reportedly driven around by senior government officials.
However, it is unclear if the line-up includes the N501. In fact, the official site of the carmaker doesn’t list the N501.
The USA, President Joe Biden’s The Beast
Perhaps the most talked-about official car of any world leader, The Beast — as the Cadillac One is popularly known — is designed to keep the president of the US safe.
The Beast first appeared during the presidency of George W. Bush in 2001. A new version of the car was introduced during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. The current Beast debuted in 2018 when Donald Trump was president.
The US president’s official car is often dubbed “the safest car in the world” by enthusiasts and for a reason.
Built by General Motors, this armoured limousine is reportedly even more secure than its predecessor. Its windows have five layers of glass and polycarbonate, which can withstand the largest bullets. The body is five inches thick and is made of military-grade armour. The doors are eight inches thick, with a weight equivalent to that of the cabin door of a Boeing 757 jet.
The fuel tank is protected by explosion prevention foam and can take a direct hit from an RPG. There is a secure environmental system to protect against chemical and gas attacks.
It comes with a steady oxygen supply and carries emergency blood banks of the president’s blood type. The tyres are Kevlar reinforced and cannot be damaged by projectiles or blasts.
The car is not only designed for defence but is also equipped with limited offensive measures, including pump-action shotguns, tear gas launchers and an oil slick. It also has a night vision camera.
Weighing almost 10,000 kg, The Beast is a veritable battle tank with best-possible luxurious features for the president’s comfort.
More than one Beast was bought from General Motors for a reported price of USD 22 million (INR 1.64 billion) during Trump’s time. Interestingly, when Joe Biden was vice-president, he enjoyed rides with Obama in the older Beast and is now the occupant of the new one.
Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Mercedes S680 Guard
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a 435 hp Audi A8 L Security as her official car. However, her successor, Scholz, prefers a Mercedes S680 Guard limousine.
Though it doesn’t look much different from its civilian counterpart, Scholz’s official state car weighs 4,200 kg primarily because its armour alone is around 2,000 kg. Additionally, the windshield weighs 120 kg.
It has the highest protection grade of VR10, which means that the car can withstand assault rifle bullets as well as explosions. Like other highly secure presidential cars, the Mercedes S680 Guard is equipped with defences from smoke attacks, and the car can run on flat tyres, too.
The heavily customised car has a 6.0-litre V12, delivering a powerful 604 hp. It has a nine-speed automatic transmission and is the first type to have 4Matic all-wheel drive.
A Mercedes S680 Guard is priced at around USD 650,000 (INR 48.5 million), but the exact price of Scholz’s four-wheeled protector, which would have additional features, is unknown.
The UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Jaguar XJ
Before he became Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was seen driving cars that were as diverse as the Toyota Previa and the Tesla Roadster. In fact, BoJo, as he is famously called, was one of the earliest endorsers of Tesla cars.
However, as the UK’s prime minister and one of the most powerful leaders, Johnson’s official state vehicle is a Jaguar XJ dubbed ‘Sentinel’.
The Jaguar XJ looks much sleeker than other official vehicles of world leaders. The Jaguar XJ has a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine, delivering around 544 hp. The car can go 0-96.5 km/h in 9.4 seconds and has a top speed of 195 km/h — not very high if speed is what one prefers, but its weight also must be considered as it is an armoured car.
It can withstand attacks from grenades and bullets from any direction. Even a 15 kg TNT blast can do little harm to the vehicle, whose body is composed of Kevlar, titanium and steel.
Bullet-proof glasses are the first line of defence. The car also has rear massage seats, which means the Prime Minister can unwind while moving around from one gruelling press conference to another. However, Jaguar XJ is out of production.
There is also a Range Rover ‘Sentinel’ version that Johnson has been seen in when on official visits. The car has similar security features as the Jaguar XJ but comes with an additional escape hatch beneath the rear seats. It is powered by a 380 hp V8 petrol engine. The car is reportedly worth around USD 543,000 (INR 40.5 million).
France, President Emmanuel Macron’s DS 7 Crossback
Macron is the first French president to have the DS 7 Crossback as his official car. Following his inauguration in 2017, Macron appeared before the public, who had lined up at Champs-Élysées. He waved at his supporters from a customised open-roof car.
Unlike other world leaders who ride either saloons or limousines, Macron’s DS 7 Crossback is an SUV.
The car that Macron moves around now is an upgraded Crossback, specifically the Crossback Élysée. What’s the difference? The armoured Élysée is around 20 cm longer than the one Macron rode in 2017.
Crossback Élysée serves as the ideal machine for Macron because the French president is hailed as a champion of climate change. The French manufacturer fitted the 4×4 machine with its E-Tense plug-in hybrid powertrain. Two electric motors and a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine deliver up to 300 hp power.
The Crossback Élysée debuted in November 2021. The highest-priced commercially available DS 7 Crossback E-Tense is the 4×4 300 model named Opera, whose on-road price in the UK would be just around USD 74,000 (INR 5.5 million). But the one that Macron goes around in would cost a lot more.
Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s BMW 7 Series
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a white BMW 7 Series sedan with a nose-mounted Australian flag as his official car.
The exact security specifications of the Australian PM’s car are unknown, but reports say that it could top the three levels of the high security certified vehicles produced under labels — VR4, VR6 and VR7/9.
BMW 7 Series VR7/9 can protect its occupants from grenade attacks, as well as assault rifle fire and gas attacks. Its body is made with 10-cm-thick armoured plates and has polycarbonate windows that are 6 cm thick. Even if bullets damage the vehicle and its Michelin tyres, the car can continue at a speed of 80 km/h for up to 80 km.
The BMW 7 Series has a 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 engine, producing high power of 400 kW. It can go from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.2 seconds. Given the fact that the total weight of the armoured vehicle comes to around 3,700 kg, the acceleration is highly impressive.
Like other cars of heads of states and governments, the high-security 7 Series models can provide emergency oxygen support, onboard fire-fighting capabilities and have a self-sealing fuel tank.
On request of buyers, BMW can also fit explosives in the windscreen, which blast it out in times of emergency for a quick getaway.
South Korea, President Moon Jae-in’s Hyundai Nexo
Moon Jae-in’s predecessor, former President Park Geun-hye, was known for being the first South Korean president to have picked an official limousine made by a local automaker — the Hyundai Equus Stretch.
The car was equipped with a Tau 5.0-litre V8 engine, producing 430hp. Being a presidential vehicle, it was designed to withstand blasts caused by 15 kg explosives. Thus, when Moon came to power in 2017, he was expected to inherit the heavily armoured official car.
However, in 2018, The Korea Times reported that there was only one locally made car in the cavalcade of official state vehicles of the President when he went to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a historic summit at Panmunjeom.
According to the report, the President himself was in a Mercedes-Maybach, though did not elaborate the exact model name. The report also said that there were General Motors Cadillac Escalades, Mercedes-Benz S-class sedans, GM Chevrolet Starcraft and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in the main convoy. The only local car was a Hyundai Genesis police car.
In 2019, however, Moon Jae-in became the first South Korean president to include a fuel-cell car in his official fleet. The inclusion of the Hyundai Nexo, a hydrogen fuel cell four-wheeler, was Moon’s push for a hydrogen economy and emissions reduction.
Whatever may be the government’s own take on high-security vehicles for the president, Moon won the hearts of people when he purchased a compact Hyundai Casper — the first mini car from the company in 19 years.
The Hyundai Casper is cute-looking and comes with a 1-litre naturally aspirated or turbocharged inline-three engine that can deliver 75 hp to 99 hp. The four-wheeler micro SUV’s baseline model starts at around USD 11,800 (INR 882,235).
When the car was delivered in October 2021 at Cheong Wa Dae (the Blue House, official residence of the South Korean President), Moon took a test drive with First Lady Kim Jung-sook.
(Main image: Thomas Samson/AFP; Featured image: MFA Russia/@mfa_russia/Twitter)