Archive for the ‘Luxury cars’ Category

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Cruising in a Luxury Liner: The Lexus GS 350

December 9, 2012

13 Lexus GS-350 - side

By Roger Witherspoon

 

 

Peel me a grape, crush me some ice

Skin me a peach, save the fuzz for my pillow

Talk to me nice, talk to me nice

You’ve got to wine me, and dine me

Don’t try to fool me, bejewel me.

Either amuse me, or lose me

I’m getting hungry,

Peel me a grape.

The highway was empty, the road was hard and dry, and the New England sun was setting in a warm, orange cloudscape that seemed out of season on a cold winter night.

My wife leaned forward in the passenger seat, her head cocked at an angle, listening intently. She glanced periodically at the back seat through eyes that were at half mast as she nodded to the beat of the music. She had heard Diana Krall croon “Peel Me a Grape” before. But not like this.

Pop me a cork, French me a fry

Crack me a nut bring a bowl full of bon-bons

Chill me some wine. Keep standing by

Just entertain me. Champagne me

Show me you love me. Kid glove me

Best way to cheer me. Cashmere me

I’m getting hungry.

Peeeeel me.

“I don’t understand,” said Marilyn in a voice barely above a whisper, as if trying not to interrupt a performance. “It sounds like we’re in a live cabaret, and she’s in the back seat. How is that possible?”

“Well,” I whispered back, so as not to break the mood. “It’s an 845-watt sound system, and there are 17 speakers and a sound leveler to balance the music coming to each seat.”

“Aaaah,” she sighed. “That explains it. We don’t have 17 speakers in our whole house.”

At that point,  (  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfJ_c2tyfQ0    ) the pianist and bassist took off in a tight, syncopated dance of their own – each note, crisp, clear, soft, and the vibrations from the bass could be felt through the thick leather padding in the Lexus’ arm rests. She was so engrossed in the private concert that she didn’t notice the speedometer had crept to 110 – an occupational hazard when driving a musically enhanced living room.  Instead of admonishing me to slow down or commenting on the absence of wind noise inside the sedan, she closed her eyes, sighed and said “play it again.”

And the voice-activated audio system did just that.

Send out for scotch, boil me a crab

Cut me a rose make my tea with the petals

Just hang around, pick up the tab and

Never out think me. Just mink me,

Polar bear rug me. Don’t bug me

New Thunderbird me. You heard me

I’m getting hungry.

Peel me a grape.

Slooooowly

One doesn’t buy a car for the amenities.

But if you are going to shell out more than $60,000 for a sedan, you have a right to expect a lot more than basic, comfortable transportation.   The Lexus GS-350 is a sport sedan aimed squarely at the upscale, market regularly patrolled by the BMW 535i, Mercedes E-350, Cadillac CTS, and Audi A6. It’s a tough crowd with cars justly known for performance and very high levels of comfort. In this case, the high quality sound system is just one of many items Lexus hopes will let the GS stand out in a demanding marketplace.

So far, Lexus’ designers seem to be doing something right. According to surveys of owner satisfaction conducted by J.D. Powers and Associates, Lexus is the highest ranking, high end nameplate in 2012, followed by Jaguar, Porsche, Cadillac and Honda, in that order. That’s a tough crowd to lead, and aside from the price, they have nothing in common.

13 Lexus GS-350 - red front

The look of the GS starts with its split, black, angular grill featuring sharp edges pointing towards the center and flaring widely towards the bottom. It’s an image vaguely reminiscent of ancient Samurai headgear, which flares towards the neck and shoulders. From that aggressive face follows a sleek, flowing silhouette, with soft lines along the sides resembling the tracery of water droplets across a fast-moving plane. The lines aren’t all for subliminal design – they serve to channel the airflow past the car and are part of the reason the interior is a silent theater.

Under that sloping hood is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine capable of cranking out 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. That places the Lexus about in the middle of t the V-6 power plants of the BMW 535i, Mercedes E350, Cadillac CTS, and Audi A6, which put out between 300 and 310 horsepower. And with a top speed of 142 miles per hour, the Lexus is likely to run with, rather than ahead of its competitors.

On the road the Lexus, with all wheel drive, yields nothing to its competitors in terms of performance.  It has a six-speed automatic transmission which shifts without any noticeable or audible lag. And for an extra boost in passing, particularly uphill, there is a sport manual mode and paddle shifts on the steering column providing the type of instant response one finds in a quality sports car.

Where Lexus hopes to make its mark is inside, where the people are. And they gave more than a little thought to that experience, punctuated by a real, analog clock in the 13 Lexus GS-350 - clockcenter of the dash.

The décor is leather and dark, polished wood, accented by brushed aluminum trim and, at night, set off by soft traceries of light. While the exterior design is aggressive, the interior is all soft surfaces and rounded edges.  The armrests, for example, curve outward and resemble padded leather shelves rather than the standard door appendage. This is an all-weather car, and the seats in the front and rear can be heated if it’s cold or the passenger is just sore and seeks a soothing, hot compress. In the summer, the ventilated leather front seats can also be air cooled.  A push of a button also heats the steering wheel. The front seats and the wide sunroof are all power adjustable.

The rear seats have enough legroom for a pair of women basketball players and enough headroom to accommodate any variety of hair styles. There is a push-button sunscreen for the rear windshield, and manually operated screens for each of the rear windows. There are also separate climate controls for the occupants in the back seat.

The centerpiece of the rolling dashboard is a 12.3-inch color screen, which is split into a seven-inch navigation screen and a five-inch section for the active systems in the car, such as the climate and audio. It’s a thoughtful adaptation which is appreciated on trips through strange cities since you do not have to drop the on-screen map in order to adjust the music or temperature. And, for old eyes, it’s extremely easy to see.

There is a backup camera, but the placement is a bit awkward. The camera is near the dual exhaust, and the view is cloudy at night when the exhaust fumes are more pronounced. During the day, however, the view is crystal clear.

13 Lexus GS-350 - interior front

The GS also comes with a number of safety features. The Lexus’ heads-up display, an amenity normally found in GM’s Cadillac and Corvette, provides a hologram that appears on the hood in front of the driver, displaying the speedometer and changes in music or temperature. There is a dynamic cruise control, which adjusts to the speed of the car in front of the Lexus. In addition, there is an infrared camera focused on the driver’s eyes. If the distance between the Lexus and another car is closing too fast, and the driver is not looking forward, the car sounds an alert. If the driver does not respond the Lexus will automatically begin braking, tightening seat belts, and readying air bags 1.2 seconds before the actual collision to lessen its impact.

Lexus’ redesign of the GS sedan was necessary if it is to keep up with an innovative, high performing pack. The GS has a lot going for it. To what extent it can outmuscle the competition remains to be seen.

2013 Lexus GS 350

 

MSRP:                                                                        $63,232

EPA Mileage:                        19 MPG City                          26 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.8 Seconds

            Top Speed                                                      142 MPH

 

3.5-Liter,  DOHC, direct injection, V-6 aluminum engine producing 306 horsepower and  274 pound-feet of torque; all-wheel drive;  6- speed automatic transmission; electronic manual mode with paddle shifters; independent double wishbone front suspension;  independent multi-link rear suspension; 4-wheel, ventilated disc brakes; stability and traction control; b-xenon headlights with automatic leveling; fog lamps; heads-up display; blind spot monitor; lane departure monitor; 18-inch alloy wheels; driver and front passenger knee bags;  dual front airbags;  side impact  and curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 17-speaker, 835-watt, Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound, Bluetooth; iPod, MP3, and USB ports; CD player; voice activated navigation system with 12.3-inch split color screen; backup camera;  heated front and rear seats; leather and wood, heated, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls;  powered sunroof.

13 Lexus GS-350 - rear

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The Infiniti M-35 Hybrid: Sometimes a Gas Saver

February 21, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            I knew it was a hybrid. I just didn’t care.

Saving money in a hybrid is mostly a matter of with fulfillment: you want better mileage, so you drive differently than you normally would. Instead of burning rubber, you take off slowly, allowing the electric motor to accelerate the car at a rate slow enough to allow you to finish your morning cup of tea before reaching the nearest intersection.

On the highway, you avoid the passing lanes and go with the slow flow. If you have to change lanes, you wait till there is an opening rather than hitting the accelerator and jumping into a small, moving slot.  All the while, you are watching a luminous dial by the speedometer giving you a second by second reading of your gasoline miles per gallon – and you really, really like the number to be north of 50. It’s a sensible, safe, self-taught, economic way to drive – but only if you are in the mood to be sensible, safe, and economic.

Which brings this discussion back to a sunny day with a dry, nearly empty highway, and the 2012 Infiniti M-35 hybrid. At the push of a button, the eight-inch, color navigation screen  readily shows you where the power is coming from – the 302-horsepower, V-6 gasoline engine, the 67 horsepower electric motor, or both if you mash the pedal to the floor.  The latter move, of course, defeats the purpose of a gas saving hybrid.

But then, the hybrid combo can be viewed as a gasoline engine enhancer, rather than a gas saver – and the nearly 200 pound-feet of additional torque provided by the electric motor directly to the axels pushes this hybrid, family sedan into the category of a sports car.

So I floored it. The 18-inch rear wheels dug in as the M shot forward, the speedometer hitting 60 in just over five seconds and passing 100 and the quarter mile in just over 13 seconds. And then, since one can’t go too far or fast on the Northeast highways without upsetting the guys with the sirens and guns, it was time to slow down, act responsibly, and enjoy the ride.

One can actually get a speeding ticket while acting responsibly in the M-35 – its electric motor is capable of pushing the car past 60 miles per hour, about twice the norm for most hybrid electric motors. The combined system provides the power of a V-8 engine while sipping gasoline like a more sedate 4-cylinder, Audi A-4. The sedan has an EPA rating of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 miles per gallon on the highway – but if you drive for fun the actual mileage is likely to be considerably lower and you’ll just have to grin and pay at the pump.

      There are a number of thoughtful features in the M, beginning with the notion that if you pay $65,000 for a car you want a lot of comfort and amenities in addition to speed. Buyers in this range are looking for more than mere transportation: The car, as an art form, has to have an irresistible, aesthetic appeal. With the M-35, you can start with the sculptured theme of flowing raindrops. The outer shell is wide with a hump over each front wheel, tapering towards the rear as if the car were comprised of a flattened bubble flanked by two stretched raindrops. It is a theme repeated inside, with oak wood grain flowing in gentle curves across the dashboard and around the chrome door handles.

Infiniti’s designers also gave some thought to pedestrians, who might not hear the car coming if it is in electric mode. The biggest danger to pedestrians comes when cars are slowing down to turn, and those who listen but don’t look are particularly threatened by hybrids and plug-in electrics. So the electric motor has a built-in whine which comes on when the car starts, and gets louder as the car drives, cutting off at 15 miles per hour on the assumption that pedestrians aren’t in the middle of fast moving traffic.

The central console is nine inches wide, containing a cup holder designed to securely hold two large cups or water bottles side by side, and a thickly padded arm rest over a deep storage bin. The arm rest is wide enough to be comfortably shared by the driver and passenger, and adds to the spacious feel of the interior.

The wide leather seats are power adjustable, have powered lumbar supports and as expected, the may be heated. The leather-wrapped steering wheel telescopes and tilts, contains fingertip audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls and at the touch of a button is also heated – which is really appreciated at this time of year. The leather padding on the dash and side walls are offset by generous use of wood trim made from Japanese ash.

Like most cars of this era, the M-35 uses an “intelligent” electronic key, which merely has to be inside the vehicle in order for you to start it by pushing the ignition button. But this key is a bit smarter than most. Once you have set your seat, mirrors, climate controls and turned on the audio system to your preferred sounds, the key memorizes it and makes any necessary adjustments as soon as you start the car.

For sound, the M comes with XM satellite radio, as well as a USB port and iPod connections. The Bluetooth, which is easy to set up for cell phones, also serves to provide music from a smartphone or other Bluetooth music system. It has a single disc CD player and surround sound provided by a 16-speaker Bose system. In addition, there is a 9.3 Gigabyte hard drive music box to store 1,000 or so of your favorite jams. The XM satellite system also serves to provide real-time traffic updates for the navigation system, which is both easy to use and see on an 8-inch color pop-up monitor.

The M-35 offers a lot for those interested in a comfortable, fuel efficient, luxury sedan. It also offers a lot for those who are primarily interested in performance sports sedans and consider gas mileage a secondary consideration.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have choices.

2012 Infiniti M-35 Hybrid

 

MSRP:                                                                        $65,395

EPA Mileage:                        27 MPG City                          32 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.2 Seconds

            ¼ Mile                                                            13.9 Seconds at 103 MPH

            Top Speed                                                      140 MPH

3.5-Liter DOHC aluminum alloy V-6 engine producing 302 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque; 50 KW electric motor producing 67 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque; hybrid net power 369 horsepower;  rear wheel drive; 7-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual shift mode; double-wishbone, independent front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; regenerative brake system; 4-wheel vented disc brakes; anti-lock braking system; 18-inch, 5-spoke, aluminum-alloy wheels; rear view camera; high-intensity, bi-functional Xenon headlights; traction and stability controls; side impact airbags; roof-mounted curtain side impact air bags; blind spot and lane departure warning systems; blind spot intervention.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; Bose digital audio system with 16 speakers; single disc CD player; MP3, iPod and USB ports; Bluetooth phone and audio; 9.3 GB hard drive Music Box; 8-inch video screen; backup and forward monitor; heated steering wheel and front seats; voice activated navigation system; leather, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio, cruise, and phone controls;  Japanese white ash wood trim; front and rear seat climate controls;  power, tinted sunroof; power rear sunshade.

Competition: BMW 5 Series; Mercedes Benz E-Class

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Mercedes C-300: The All-Purpose Luxury Car

December 31, 2011

 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The snow was no problem.

It was only about two inches deep and, at that level, most cars would ignore it. But the temperature kept skipping just above freezing, producing cold rain, and then heading back south, turning the white stuff into a two inch glaze. It was the kind of road conditions made primarily for snow plows, tow trucks, and Jeeps and if I didn’t have to take a low riding, sleek, Mercedes sports sedan out during the middle of this mess I wouldn’t have.

Not that it mattered. With some cars, icy conditions are problematic and the only way to move is by disconnecting the electronic traction control because the continuous, unpredictable, uneven skidding among the tires crashes the wheels’ computer system. That was not a problem here. While the five-spoke, 18-inch aluminum wheels and  all-weather radials looked good on the four-wheel drive Benz, they were also quite functional and treated the ice as just another hard surface.

That was helpful on the Taconic Parkway rolling through the Franklin D. Roosevelt State park behind a fast moving Jeep Cherokee. We entered a slight curve in the highway and the rear of the SUV began to sashay back and forth. The driver, panicking, hit the accelerator in an effort to bull his way through the ice – which was precisely the wrong thing to do. The Jeep did a slow 360 across the three-lane highway and ended up on the shoulder.

            I eased up on the C-300’s accelerator to give the Jeep space to dance across the lanes, and then easily cruised around him and continued on my way. There is a lot to be said for having four-wheel drive, traction control and appropriate tires.

            The new Mercedes Benz C-300 is a four-door sports sedan whose long, sleek, low silhouette is intended to turn heads. But its exterior design, for all its eye-catching details, is always second to its primary function providing safe, sure, extremely comfortable transport in all conditions. In that regard, the Mercedes C-300 is a petty package on a really efficient, versatile, sports sedan that offers a lot for about $48,000.

Under the hood is a relatively small power plant for a sports model, producing just 228 horsepower. But it is mated to a seven speed, automatic transmission which seamlessly gets the most torque out of each gear and effortlessly shifts among them. The quality of the transmission is particularly evident when used in electronic manual mode on an open road. It is not a car for drag racing – the top speed is just 130 miles per hour, and it accelerates from 0 – 60 in just over seven seconds. But except for Saturday night drag racing on certain urban streets, you really don’t use maximum acceleration unless you are already on the road and need to pass something in a hurry or get out of the way. And when it matters, the C-300’s power plant can deliver.

The ability to maneuver on icy terrain is part of a package of road condition safety features Mercedes hopes will steer buyers to its showrooms the same way Volvo cars have traditionally drawn those who view safety and stability as primary features.  In addition to the relatively standard traction and stability controls, Mercedes’ engineers have added capabilities, such as cross wind sensors which actually shift the angle of the car’s chassis to slightly tilt into the wind. The effect of the innovation is particularly noticeable on mountain curves, where you can hear the wind howling down the side of the mountain towards you, only to flow harmlessly over the changed silhouette.

This Mercedes has side radar alerting the driver to the presence of cars on either side when changing lanes – a feature that is becoming common in upscale cars. But Mercedes has changed it from a passive system noting objects in the area, to an active safety system calculating how fast the distance between the cars is closing. The system can do two things: alert the drive to a possible pending collision and, if a crash is imminent, apply safety features such as tightening safety belts, reducing speed, and readying airbags.

            Inside the sedan is what you would expect to find in a luxury car: a powered sunroof and rear window sunscreen; soft, powered, leather seats which are heated in front and can fold in the rear; and a host of electronic gear. The leather-wrapped steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and has fingertip controls for cruise, information, audio, and easy to use Bluetooth. There is a 7-inch pop-up color screen for the navigation and entertainment systems.

For music there is a 6-disc CD player, as well as connections for USB drives, iPods, and MP3 players, as well as a six gigabyte hard drive to carry 1,500 or so of your personal favorites. The music emanates from eight speakers, producing a smooth surround-sound blanket which could lull you to sleep – except there is an alarm which goes off if the car drifts into another lane or onto the shoulder.

Whether one is driving through snowy, seasonal Nor’easters or watching the speedometer hit triple digits while rolling past mountaintop windmills in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts, the C-300 provides quite a ride.

 


2012 Mercedes Benz C300

 

MSRP:                                                                        $47,850

EPA Mileage:                        17 MPG City                          24 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

3.0-Liter DOHC V-6 engine producing 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque; 7-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; 4-matic all wheel drive; 3-link independent front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; 18-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels; 4-wheel disc brakes; electronic stability program; dual 2-stage front airbags; side airbags; head protection curtains; dual front pelvic airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio ; voice controlled 7-inch retractable color display;  6-disc CD/DVD player with 6 GB hard drive; iPod, USB, and MP3 connections; Bluetooth  phone and music connection; 8 speakers;  tilt and telescope steering wheel with fingertip cruise, phone and entertainment controls; voice activated navigation; power sunroof; heated front seats; split, fold flat rear seats; powered rear sunshade.

 

 

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Dodging Arrows and Raising Dust: Revving the Horses in a CTS-V

October 15, 2011


 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The hawk sat motionless, like death on a holiday, in the arms of the elm tree, its brown wings blending in to the yellow and brown fall canopy billowing over the Taconic highway rolling through the Hudson River Highlands.

It was easy to tell it was a teenage predator, by the color of its tail feathers, and the unmistakably cocky attitude as it cocked its head and slowly surveyed the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe on the grassy knoll below it. There was a grudging sense of approval as it gazed at the sharply angular face, with the short open-mouthed grill over an aggressive, low scoop with the Cadillac emblem resting in the middle. As a bird of prey, the hawk’s nose has a center mounted pillar which produces a more even air flow as it dives at speeds exceeding 100 miles an hour.

            The emblem on the face of the CTS-V doesn’t serve quite that function. Its eight-cylinder, 556-horsepower, supercharged V-8 engine replaces the wings and propels the car from 0-60 in just 3.9 seconds, en route to a top speed of  196 miles per hour. The coupe’s windshield slopes sharply back, melding into a side expanse of glass on the sides. That provides a wide field of vision which the hawk can only emulate by swiveling its head 180 degrees.

The sides of the CTS-V are heavy and smooth, with a slight airfoil at the bottom seemingly designed to help it glide through the air. In reality, the CTS-V is decidedly earth bound, with angular shapes modeled after those old stealth fighters to minimize air interference and keep noise to a minimum. In fact, even at speeds approaching 200 miles an hour, the interior of the coupe is surprisingly quiet, the result of a blend of heavy padding and smooth design. Its airfoil is such that the car is quieter at speeds over 80 MPH than under it.

The rear is pointed, with wide red tail lights flanking the corners – a touch the juvenile hawk could respect since its tail feathers turn redder with age and experience. The young hawk cocked its heard in that universal, teenage arrogant gesture meaning “I could take you if I wanted to.” And then it flew off.

Actually, it couldn’t.

If one were to believe the latest round of Cadillac commercials the CTS-V, one of the world’s fastest production cars, was designed to emulate the aerodynamics of a high performance bow and arrow (  http://bit.ly/p8fCsd  ). And as if to prove the point, the car takes off over the straight desert course just as a small army of archers loose their black-shafted arrows. Not surprisingly, they never catch up with their streaking target.

While the imagery of the black hunting arrows chasing the streaking black Cadillac – whose paint is infused with soft gold flecks which make sunlight dance off its skin – is captivating, in reality the origins of the design are grounded in the modern Air Force. For Ed Welburn, General Motors’ design chief, the latest incarnation of the Cadillac is an evolutionary knockoff of fighter jet technology. The huge tailfins on the Cadillacs of the 1950s emulated the technology of the huge, lumbering, Korean War-era bombers that ruled the period’s skies. They were known more for their size than speed – hence the common nickname of Hogs.

The new edition, however, takes its design cues from the angular stealth fighters, capable of racing half way around the globe and attacking before anyone knows they are there.

This new edition Cadillac comes in three flavors: the standard, $50,000  CTS Coupe, powered by a 304-horsepower V-6 engine; the supercharged, $71,000 CTS-V Coupe; and the slightly slower, 191-mile per hour, CTS-V Station Wagon whose sticker price is about $71,500. All of them roll on 19-inch wheels. The latter was introduced at the 2010 New York Auto Show and when asked why he would design a racing station wagon Welburn replied, grinning, “Because we can. Besides, does that look like a station wagon to you?”

   The station wagon bears no resemblance whatsoever to the surfboard-toting family wagons popularized by Hollywood beach movies of a bygone era. In fact, the functional station wagon did not look like one at all. The rear was more tapered, the windows were trapezoids under a sloping roof reminiscent of Acura’s crossover, the ZDX, and the front was the aggressive grill of the Cadillac cat.

“Who wouldn’t want one?” asked Welburn, rhetorically.

It can be a family car. There was more than enough room in the back to take three grandchildren – two of them still in children seats – and assorted toys and presents on a day trip through Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Two tall adults would also enjoy the ride in the rear seats. And when the kids were gone, the rumble of the big V-8 engine became a smooth, baritone vibration as the speedometer hit 120 along the sparsely traveled mountain highway.

The interior of the Cadillac triplets are what you might expect from a premium car line.  The interior décor is leather with a generous amount of wood accent on the steering wheel, doors and dash.  The steering wheel, with fingertip audio, Bluetooth, and cruise controls, tilts and retracts. The CTS features a pop up, seven-inch, touch information screen which makes the satellite-augmented navigation system extremely easy to use. It also provides crystal clear viewing from the backup camera.

            For entertainment, there is a single disc CD player, iPod, USB and MP3 connections, as well as AM/FM and XM Satellite radio. The system contains a massive 40-gigabyte hard drive to hold a few thousand of your personal favorite tunes, and the sound comes clearly through a Bose system.

If there is a down side, it’s that the huge engine with the CTS-V drinks gasoline like kids go through soda. The CTS-V wagon, with an EPA rating of 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 miles per gallon on the highway, carries a $1,300 gas guzzler tax while the Coupe, with a 12 mile per gallon rating in the city and 18 miles per gallon on the highway, has a $2,600 gas guzzling penalty. That’s not surprising. The actual mileage for the wagon, for example, was slightly less than its EPA billing, at 12.5 MPG in city driving and 18 MPG on the open road. The stats for the Coupe were just 10 MPG in the city and 17 MPG on the highway. The standard CTS with the V-6 engine avoids the tax and has an EPA rating of 18 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway.

But you don’t get a Cadillac – particularly one with GM’s most powerful engine – if saving gas is your primary concern. You get it for the comfort and the joy of driving.

And if low flying in style is what you crave, the Cadillac CTS-V provides a good place to start.

 

2012 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

 

MSRP:                                                                                               $71,485

EPA Mileage:                        14 MPG City                          19 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:           12.5 MPG City                       18 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

           

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            3.9 Seconds

                                    Top Speed                              191 MPH

 

2012 Cadillac CTS-V Black Diamond Edition Coupe

 

MSRP:                                                                                    $70,790

EPA Mileage              12 MPG City                          18 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:   10 MPG City                          17 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            3.9 seconds

                                    Top Speed                              196 MPH

6.2-Liter, supercharged, aluminum alloy V-8 engine producing 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode and paddle shifts; magnetic ride shocks; Bembro brakes; 4-wheel independent suspension; 19-inch aluminum wheels and Michelin performance tires; stability and traction control; fog lights; high definition headlamps with adaptive lighting; backup camera; front & side impact airbags; head curtain side airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM Satellite radio; Bose sound system; iPod, USB and MP3 connections; single disc CD Player; 40 GB hard drive; Bluetooth; tilt & telescope, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone and cruise controls; OnStar; satellite navigation system with 7-inch pop-up screen; heated front seats; leather seating; split, folding rear seats.

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Irene and the Hybrid Lexus CT

September 10, 2011

By Roger Witherspoon

 

            It was the gray calm after the storm.

The torrential rains from Hurricane Irene’s slamming northern side passed through theLower Hudson Rivervalley in the early morning light, leaving an uneasy calm, a roiling river, and an unpredictable string of roads blocked by downed trees and rampaging streams. The Hudson River swallowed the wide expanse ofPeekskill’sRiversideParkand splashed against the empty Metro North station as if waiting for a train that was never going to come.

Which made it an interesting day for a drive. Normally, in an unpredictable landscape like this, one would like to be behind the wheel of a Jeep orToyota’s go-anywhere FJ Cruiser. But the car of the day was a hybrid hatchback, the Lexus CT200h, which is billed as a luxury compact for all purpose family driving.

     The beginning of the trip was auspicious enough. The Bear Mountain Extension’s narrow causeway across Annsville Creek – one  of the Hudson River’s many, small, nondescript inlets – was half flooded, with the road west towards the Bear Mountain Bridge completely under water. Eastbound, however, on Route 9 looked like a promising trip, since there were only a few meandering streams winding under the road towards theHudson.  But not today.  A mile past Annsville the eastbound lane hosted a large, horizontal, elm, and the westbound roadway had become an uninterrupted set of fast-moving rapids undermining the eastbound roadway. If there had been a shoulder, it was long gone.

I was glad the Lexus hybrid was a compact, and not a big SUV, since there was not a lot of room to turn around on what was left of the two-lane roadway. And it helped that in reverse the sharp, color cameras in the bumper take over and the map in the seven-inch, pop-up, navigation screen on the dash is replaced by a crystal clear view of the road behind the car. In a shopping center, the camera serves the safety function of helping the driver avoid backing over small children. In this case, it let me see where the road ended and the rushing water began.

The compact was not designed to bound over downed tree trunks or large branches, or ford deep, fast moving streams. But its traction and stability controls were sufficient to keep the Lexus moving straight down Route 9, even though the swollen streams were now flowing across the road, covering it with an inch or so of rushing water.

            As a go-anywhere family car, theLexus CT200h is an interesting blend, and the company seems intent on developing a new genre of vehicle – the luxury compact. As a compact car, the CT 200h has a lot to offer in terms of comfort, convenience, and performance and clearly stands out in the tiny car field. But with a price just south of $40,000, it’s going to have to compete with much larger, sportier, more comfortable, cars like the Chrysler 200 or Lexus’ corporate cousin, the Toyota Camry, as well as small, sporty, SUVs like the turbo-charged Nissan Juke.

In terms of styling, the CT 200h is low and sleek, with subtle ridges and lines giving it more character than the typical, low budget compact.  It is about the size of a Honda Civic, but has a stubby hatchback instead of a long sloping one. And though the rear window on both cars contain windshield wipers, the window on the Lexus can’t open. That can be a drawback if you try to haul long cargo which, on the Civic and some other compact vehicles, would stick out the rear window.  But with the rear seats folded down, the Lexus CT is long enough to hold a half dozen, eight-foot stakes that lay across on the arm rest and nestled against the passenger side of the center console.

There isn’t much under the hood, either. The primary power plant is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor which, combined, provide 134 horsepower.  While compact cars are not generally known for power plants, one might expect more of a compact costing nearly $40,000 – which is about what you’d pay for a Lincoln MKZ. That hybrid power plant will take about 10 seconds to propel the CT200 from 0 to 60 miles per hour, which means you need to have a lot of space before trying to cut into traffic. It does offer a shift between a more responsive sport mode, or a more ecologically friendly normal driving mode. The most notable change in sport mode is that the instrument panel lighting changes from blue to red, and  the hybrid power indicator changes into a tachometer.

On the other hand, the Lexus can drive on just the battery power at up to 28 miles an hour, and the hybrid combination gets an EPA estimated 40 miles per gallon of gasoline on the highway, and 43 miles per gallon in city driving. And one doesn’t usually buy a compact if you are looking for a performance car.

    Inside, the Lexus luxury compact has a lot going for it. To begin with, despite being a compact, it is extremely comfortable and roomy, with enough leg room in the rear for the average six-footer. The seats are soft leather, and the front set can be heated. Only the driver’s seat is power operated, however – the front passenger has the limited manual seats.

Its navigation system is especially easy to use, featuring the company’s new “Lexus Enform.”  This is an interactive program which lets you sit at home at your computer, input up to 200 addresses or destinations you want to use, and upload them all to the car’s navigation system. The addresses can be placed into a maximum of 20 individualized folders with titles such as “Favorite Restaurants” or “relatives” or camp sites. The navigation system also ties with the satellite radio to offer XM updated traffic and weather.

The sound system utilizes 10 speakers – more than enough to envelop the small cabin in a blanket of sound. There is a six-disc CD changer, AM/FM and XM satellite radio, as well as connections for flash drives, iPods, and MP3 devices.  The car has a traditional slot in the console to hold a cell phone, or you can use a plug-in, adjustable holder to contain your cell phone or iPod.  The gadget sticks up on the console and takes some getting used to. But it does make the device convenient to see and use, and holds it firmly in place.

Whether Lexus can succeed in creating the luxury compact market, particularly in this economy, will be an interesting experiment. But Lexus put a lot of thought into the CT 200h and, if there is a market for such a category, it will set the standard for competitors.

 

2011 Lexus CT 200h

 

MSRP:                                                                                                 $38,725

EPA Mileage:                        43 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    9.8 Seconds

            Top Speed                                                      113 MPH

 

1.8-Liter, in-line, 4-cylinder, DOHC gasoline engine and electric motor, producing 134 horsepower and 105 pound/feet of torque; 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels; 4-wheel independent suspension; 4-wheel, power assisted, front & rear disc brakes; anti-lock brakes; stability and traction controls; front driver and passenger knee airbags; front side impact airbags, side curtain airbags; fog lamps, backup camera; rear windshield wiper.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; tilt & telescope leather steering wheel with audio and cruise controls; heated front seats; 7-inch navigation screen; Lexus Enform navigation destination system; Bluetooth; 6-disc CD player; MP3, iPod, and USB connections; Lexus audio with 10 speakers.

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