Posts Tagged ‘luxury cars’

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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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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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Really Regal Road Running in a Rolls Royce

December 26, 2010

 


By Roger Witherspoon

The empty New England highway was dry, the speedometer was in triple digits, the passing landscape was a dreamy, flowing, green kaleidoscope and the warm fall sun radiated off the brushed steel hood of the Rolls Royce as the miles flew by.

There may have been bumps in the road, but a Coupe with self-leveling air springs has the feel of riding a soft leather cushion on a fast moving cloud. There may have been a strain at 105 miles an hour when going around a wide turn. But since the edges of the leather seats sense gravitational forces and expand or contract to counter the pull you really don’t notice these, either.

The roof folded neatly into the back, between the trunk and the rear seat. Yet the aerodynamics of the car were sleek enough that it was easy to hear Miles Davis’ sax blowing from the CD player instead of the roar of the passing wind. And though, at three tons, this is a big, heavy vehicle, the convertible, two-door, Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe still jumps from 0 – 60 miles per hour in just 5.7 seconds and can cruise at a license-losing 150.

Rolls Royce, the ultimate upscale division of BMW, bills the half million dollar Drophead Coup as one of the finest touring cars – though nothing manmade is perfect. If there are drawbacks, it lies in the meld between the technologically oriented BMW and the traditionalist Rolls Royce.  In an effort to modernize the vehicle, BMW added the computerized control system updated from its high-end, 750 series of luxury cars. At the tap of a finger at the end of the console, a mahogany drawer folds out revealing a single round control knob which governs the entertainment, climate, navigation and communications systems. Some of that works well. Some it is cumbersome and none of it is intuitive.

The navigation system is relatively rudimentary by the standards of a $30,000 ford Sync or $50,000 Lexus RX 350. It is lacking in detail, particularly the names of upcoming streets, for example, and does not list upcoming turns and their direction – features which are pretty standard these days. The entertainment system on the other hand, with 15, 420-watt, Logic-7 speakers, has excellent sound quality, but there is only a single in-dash CD instead of a six-disc changer. There are, however, modern connections for iPods and MP3 players. And the Drophead comes with XM satellite and HD radio, as well as an easy to use, Bluetooth cell phone connection.

But as a defining symbol of craftsmanship and luxury, the Rolls Royce still sets a standard for the high end, luxury line. The trim around the top of the doors and the rear is teak, the kind of wood one would find on the decks of private yachts. The wide teak deck behind the rear seats covers the storage space for the retractable roof.  The wood on the console and doors is polished mahogany offset by thick, cream colored leather interrupted by chrome dials. The grain in the mahogany panels is bookend matched, something you find in high end, hand-crafted furniture. The entire craft has the feel of a small, pricy, well maintained, hand-crafted yacht.

On the outside, there is the characteristic, distinct steel hood and the traditional, Flying Lady hood ornament which disappears under the hood when the engine is off. Underneath that brushed steel is a 6.75-liter, V-12 engine which cranks out 453 horsepower and delivers 531 pound/feet of torque through the six-speed, electronically controlled transmission. The high torque is what makes the Coupe so responsive. It also drinks a lot of gas. The EPA mileage estimates are just 18 miles per gallon in highway driving and 11 MPG in the city. The test car averaged just under 12 MPG in mixed driving. But then, this is not a car you buy to be eco-friendly: It comes with a $3,000 gas guzzler tax.

The most distinct feature from the Drophead Coup’s flowing side profile is the long, front-opening “suicide doors,” so-called because if you open one while driving the wind will instantly whip it back and pull you out of the car. But in normal use, the rear-hinged door provides easy access to the wide, comfortable back seats, which really are intended to be used and have enough leg room for folks living well north of six feet. The doors are long and heavy and are, therefore, power driven – they close at the touch of a button.

In the back, the Coupe has a double trunk: raising the floor board reveals bins which are capable of holding two small suit cases, leaving plenty of room for larger ones and golf bags in the main storage area. There are separate climate controls and air outlets for the front and back sections of the car which are so effective, you can actually have the heat and air conditioning going at the same time with little interference.

And when driving at night, there is soft, blue lighting under the seats, instruments and storage areas.

The Rolls Royce vehicles have long had an image of being designed for those who have money, like expensive, exquisite things, and don’t like to drive. The driving experience was reserved for the chauffeur.

But the modern Rolls Royce  fleet, under the auspices of BMW, was designed with the philosophy that if you pay a half million dollars for a car, you ought to enjoy the driving experience.     The Drophead Coupe, a beautiful, exquisite, detailed, powerful, high-performing, convertible sports sedan is at the top of their line.

 

2010 Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe

MSRP:                                                                       $471,500

Gas Guzzler Tax:                                                       $    3,000

EPA Mileage:                        11 MPG City                          18 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   11.9 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:

0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.7 Seconds

Top Speed                                                      149 MPH

6.75-Liter, aluminum alloy, 48-valve,V-12 engine producing 453 horsepower and 531 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission; double wishbone front suspension; multi-link rear suspension with self-leveling air springs; run-flat high performance tires; power assisted, ventilated, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes; stability, traction, and cornering brake control; head-thorax airbag in each seat; spring-loaded, pop-up rollover protection; engine immobilizer; heated windshield; bi-xenon headlamps with auto-leveling and power washers; chrome 21-inch wheels.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite and HD radio; single disc CD player; MP3, USB-port, and iPod connection; 420-watt, 9-channel Logic-7 audio system with 15 speakers; navigation system with 6.5-inch monitor; front and rear cameras; Bluetooth cell phone connection; full leather interior – seats, dash, and sides; teak wood  rear deck and brushed steel hood; power closing doors; power tilt and telescope leather steering wheel; power retractable cashmere lined roof; lambs wool floor mats.

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