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The Lap of Luxury

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They are automotive aristocrats with one-of-a-kind styling and mechanical prowess. Luxury and performance in one exclusive, top-of-the-line package aimed at an elite buyer who wants only the best.

And automakers are pulling out all the stops to meet the needs of this affluent market, creating machines that make knees go weak, hands tremble, and eyes tear up: super-exotic luxury vehicles like Porsche Carrera GT at $440,000, the Ferrari Enzo at $643,330, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren at $450,000, or the Lamborghini Murcielago at $282,000.

And there's something for every taste. Looking for a rock-crushing off-road vehicle? Try the original Hummer from General Motors. Craving a sporty luxury coupe? The Jaguar XKR or the Mercedes-Benz SL600 fit the bill. How about the lap of pure luxury? A Bentley Arnage shimmers into view.

European luxury? A Volkswagen Phaeton (yes, a luxury Volkswagen.) Wind in your hair with spectacular acceleration times? The BMW 645Ci does it with a soft top and the Cadillac XLR with a retractable hard top. Want an SUV with the taste of a race car? There are the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg.

Hispanic Business reviews some of the cream of the crop, with an eye not only toward looks but performance and value as well. Ultimately, these luxurious vehicles all share one sterling automotive virtue: They are honest vehicles. They don't just appear to be upscale, they are upscale. There's no hiding the hefty price tags. But who can say what a dream is really worth?

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Mercedes-Benz SL600

Base price: $125,950
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 4.9 seconds
Estimated mpg: 13 to 19
Standout: Electrostatic dust and pollen interior air filter

With a five-speed electronic touch-shift automatic transmission, this car harnesses 493 horsepower from a 5.5-liter twin turbocharged 36-valve aluminum V-12 engine.

The Mercedes-Benz SL600 has enough power and get-up-and-go to it hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds without breaking a sweat. Its traction and handling make it hold the road like it invented asphalt.

That superb handling also comes with almost unlimited legroom, although a drawback could be that it does decidedly limit storage.

This fine-driving machine offers a wood and leather steering wheel that is electrically adjustable to telescope and tilt – and it's heated.

Meanwhile, the seats in this two-passenger coupe are adjustable 12 ways and heated and cooled.

The convertible's metal top retracts effortlessly. The variable speed-control maintains its distance even in heavy traffic. And overall styling is typical, high-quality Mercedes.

Volkswagen Phaeton

Base price: $64,000
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 6.1 seconds
Estimated mpg: 16 to 22
Standout: Four interior power outlets

There are three surprises. The first is the W12 model powered with a 429 horsepower 6L V-12 engine instead of an air-cooled 4 cylinder. The second is a $106,616 VW – quite a bit up-market compared with the old Beetle. The last is what appears to be a cigarette lighter is actually a little flashlight.

Amazement aside, what VW has wrought is a luxury, high-speed cruiser that shares some mechanics with sibling Audi. Front-seat buckets include a massage function. The 18-way power adjustable seat could rise higher but there is almost superfluous legroom. At 80 mph, it feels like it's doing 40 mph. Around curves it tracks closely but not surgically.

The V-12 Phaeton glides to 60 mph in a quick 6.1 seconds. The "entry level" Phaeton is a V-8 of 4.2L and 335 horsepower that can get to 60 a full second slower. Its base price is $64,000, but togged-out it's more like $94,600. Either model comes with interiors swathed in leather and chestnut wood trim.

Volkswagen Touareg

V-10 base price: $57,800
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds
Estimated mpg: About 15 to 20
Standout: Electronic parking assistance

Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Base price: $89,665
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 5.6 seconds
Estimated mpg: 13 to 18
Standout: Easily fords deep water crossings

The Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg are almost twins. Both share a 112-inch wheelbase platform. The Cayenne is a full inch longer at 188.2. It's in the power department that the Porsche pulls away.

The top-of-the-line Cayenne Turbo houses a 4.5L V-8 with twin turbochargers that exudes 450 horsepower and 0-60 figures of 5.6 seconds. That's faster than some sports cars.

While both are all-wheel drive, Porsche sends 62 percent of the power to the rear wheels for that Porsche 911 feeling. There also are bigger tires that add to the feeling of power.

Those goodies like three-way adjustable suspension, navigation, six-speed automatic transmission, heated steering wheels, and headlights that track around a curve can quickly kick the base price of the Turbo from $89,665 to the $100,000 range.

The S model starts at $56,665 which is in the neighborhood of the VW Touareg's $57,800 base for the V-10 model. Other Touaregs start at $39,500.

But it doesn't take long for that V-10 VW to shoot up to $62,765. That buys the premium-package navigation system and leather and wood-trim interior.

The V-10 5L engine develops 310 horsepower and gets to 60 mph in a respectable 7.5 seconds. And it's a diesel that produces 17 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway.

Cayenne is tuned more for on-road handling but doesn't slight off-roading. It still is able to handle most rough-and-tough options. Touareg's smoother ride speaks to on-road manners but it's at home when the pavement ends. That smooth ride stiffens up with the optional suspension setting on sport. Touareg takes curves flatly.

Comfort settings increase the softness of the lean as well as the ride, while the automatic seems just right. Steering is precise and Touareg goes where it's pointed.

It's a nice cross-country cruiser for those drivers seeking a luxury experience with some oomph.


Base price: $111,911
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 16.8 seconds
Estimated mpg: About 11
Standout: Front winch

This is the bully on the block, weighing in at 6,400 pounds on a 130-inch wheelbase with a width of 86.5 inches. The 6.5L turbo diesel isn't the well-mannered VW motor but a raucous party of 205 horsepower. It's especially loud getting to 60 mph in a decibel-building 16.8 seconds – an automotive eternity.

On road, the Hummer handles curves surprisingly well, following the track nicely. It's going straight that sometimes requires a lot of steering tweaking. There's a 25-gallon main gas tank and a 17-gallon auxiliary. You'll need both.

Off-road nothing can stand in the Hummer's way. There's 16 inches of ground clearance, and the tires can be inflated or deflated from the driver's seat. The $2,600 front winch is worth it, just for its massive look. It's a pittance in a $111,911 vehicle ($116,483 is tops.)

There's not a lot of room in the four-seater. The driver faces a small steering wheel with the Y-shape made popular by the 1936 Chevrolet.


Base price: $218,108
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 6 seconds
Estimated mpg: 10 to 14
Standout: Laser-cut, stainless steel front matrix grille

The most upscale Volkswagen just might be the Bentley Arnage R at $218,108 (upper reaches: $256,990.) The British flagship has been owned by VW for a while but it still does the Sceptered Isle proud. It' a London clubroom on the inside while the front has been updated with four round headlights instead of the traditional six. The powerplant is still the massive 6.75L V-8 of 400 turbocharged horsepower. That' enough to send the nearly three-ton luxury lion to 60 mph in six seconds.

The sport setting lets the Bentley dance through curves like a heavyweight sports car. The ride firms up but is never harsh. The regular suspension ignores road blemishes. There are all of the bells and whistles like stability control, adaptive automatic transmission, and not one but two turbo chargers.

Interior is premium leather. Rear seats are powered, and optional equipment includes veneered picnic tables, two umbrellas, two-stage heated rear seats – but no butler.


Base price: $75,385
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 5.9 seconds
Estimated mpg: 17 to 25
Standout: Automatic retractable hardtop

Like some other super-luxos, the $75,385 (top and bottom) Cadillac XLR owes a debt to an automotive relation. In this case it's the Chevrolet Corvette that provides the platform. The engine is the highly respected Caddy Northstar, a 4.6L V-8 of 320 horsepower. It drives the rear wheels with a tractable five-speed automatic transmission.

Styling is the best execution of the new chiseled Cadillac look. Where the Corvette is curvy, the XLR is straight-edged. Where the Corvette convertible has a soft top, the XLR has a retractable metal roof. There's adaptive cruise control that keeps its distance. There are hidden headlamps and nice applications of eucalyptus wood trim.

The response isn't as sharp as Corvette but the ride is smoother. Zero to 60 is achieved in 5.9 seconds. An active handling system and ride control keep it flat on turns. A heads-up display puts plenty of info on the windshield in front of the driver. Call it a Corvette in a tux.


Base price: $81,330
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 5.2 seconds
Estimated mpg: 16 to 23
Standout: Steering wheel controls audio and telephone

The Jaguar XKR is all dressed up and ready to go and go and go.

It hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds without breathing hard thanks to a 390 horsepower 4.2L supercharged V-8. The smooth highway seems to endlessly unroll for the XKR while comfortably cosseting the driver and passenger in leather-clad bucket seats amid burl walnut trim.

There's an almost superfluous handling package. Overall styling remains the traditional sculptured crouching cat, and that's how the XKR pounces on curves –it seems to gather itself and leap into and through the corners.

The adaptive cruise control does everything but brush a driver's teeth. It keeps a set distance from the car ahead and resumes highway speeds when the road is clear. It brakes when necessary.

But the XKR rewards more-personal driving with a stunning combination of sports car luxury — at a base of $81,330 and togged-out version at $96,495.


Base price: $76,300
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds
Estimated mpg: 18 to 26
Standout: Display projects data onto windshield

This soft-top convertible shines with new and crisper styling direction that doesn't abandon traditional looks. Some purists are offended but the 645Ci is a standout both in looks and performance.

And performance is what the 645Ci is all about. It's not a luxury ride or even luxo-sporty. It's all about sporty. That gets the ragtop to 60 mph in a brisk 5.8 seconds with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission. (A six-speed automatic also is available.) Both are teamed with a 4.4L V-8 of 325 horsepower driving the rear wheels.

On the road, there's dynamic stability control for curves and a steering system that electronically controls steering ratio and throttle response.

Goodies include real birchwood trim, parking-distance controls, a navigation system, and supportive bucket seats. An iDrive system with an LCD screen allows drivers to use a single control to access dozens of operations such as climate, entertainment, and on-board navigation system.


Base price: $85,542
Acceleration: 0-60 mph in about 4.9 seconds
Estimated mpg: 11 to 17
Standout: Button-activated hard-top roof

Blue-blood vehicles can also come in exotic, albeit quirky, flavors. Take the Maserati Spyder ($85,542 base). The convertible seats two, a hardtop has down-market ($81,013) room for four. An automatic transmission pedals through six speeds like the shifting of a race car driver – or the driver can shift using paddles on the steering wheel. The tranny won't let you commit sins like over-revving and stripping gears.

Then there's leather everywhere including the dashboard, door, and center console. The soft-top convertible opens and closes in 30 seconds, without any need to lift a finger.

And while the Spyder is decent looking on the outside with a sleek bullet-like shape, it's the inner mechanics that are really special (it's not under the Ferrari umbrella for naught). The 4.2L V-8's 390 horses whip the Italian convertible to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds in a smoothly silken power curve. Top speed is a factory-measured 176 mph.

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