Fast and Luxurious

Fast and Luxurious
High performance meets high style, and it’s about time
BY MICHAEL FRANK

Fast and Luxurious Cars. IT MIGHT BE FUN TO DRIVE A VINTAGE FERRARI TO WORK ,but you’ll spend most of your spare time at the chiropractor. That’s because sports cars have always been kidney-busting brutes:You could have S-Class autobahn comfort, or you could have your G-force-pulling turbo, not both. But now a few high-end carmakers have discovered the happy place between hitting sixth (or seventh) gear at 160 mph and feeling fully at ease running down to the bakery on Sunday mornings. Each has a luxury car perched somewhere on the spectrum from sports car to deluxe coupe, meaning there’s one that’s bound to suit your needs perfectly.

Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG If all you want is speed there are other cars. But if you want nearly placid comfort at slow speeds, one of the best clutch-free transmissions ever invented, and an absolutely splendid cockpit, this Benz is it, period. The hand-assembled 6.3-liter V-8 is simply awesome, piped to an exhaust that at full throttle sounds like a pure muscle car but is fairly mild at tootling speeds; everything about this car works that way. It’s as much a racer as you could ever want, and with nearly every inch of the cabin coated in leather or genuine carbon fiber, it’s pretty luxurious too.

The Aston also has a clutchless manual with paddles and is a cinch to dial up to 90 mph in third gear (we abstained from going for the advertised 180 mph top speed). Handling is predictable, rewarding even mild antics, so you don’t need access to a racetrack to enjoy driving this baby. Hell, just sit still in the drivewayand study every bespoke detail: the hand-crafted aluminum door pulls, center console, and shift paddles; the posh, heavy carpeting and stitched suede headliner; the leather blanketing the dash, doors, and seats. Even the key provides a bit of magic — it’s a weighty chunk of crystal that nests in the center of the dash.

Porsche Panamera 4S The best selling Porsche in America isn’t the Boxster or 911, it’s the Cayenne. Porschephiles loathe this truth, and perhaps they’ll feel the same about Porsche’s first four-door non- SUV, but they shouldn’t. The four-wheel-drive Panamera — with its all-weather capability, skis-and-boots-and-poles (and luggage) cargo capacity, and 180 mph top speed — is plenty worthy of love. The 400 horsepower V-8 is paired with a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox with tuning modes for immediate gear changes, plus a customizable dial-a-stiffness suspension that enables on-rails cornering. Dial back and cruise and this Porsche is comfy, surpassing its most luxurious siblings and easily chasing its similar-size S-Class/7 Series rivals. Wisely, the Panamera is fairly eco, with a combined fuel economy of 19 mpg and an auto-start/stop system that kills the engine at idle and restarts it when you lift off the brake, saving gas when you’re soldiering through traffic in style . Beyond creature comforts, the seven-speed clutchless manual gearbox has a paddle-actuated setup and is customizable with four modes ranging from very mild to Formula 1 quick. Excellent rev- matching prevents fast shifts from feeling painful, and in automatic mode the interstate crawl is nice and easy. Then there’s the suspension. If you’re merely dashing around town, it won’t punish you. The Active Body Control (ABC) works in harmony with your driving style, automatically resisting body roll as needed: Drive more aggressively and the suspension stiffens to aid in cornering, lope in tranc and it becomes plush. Then when you clear congestion you can stab the “Sport” button on the console to stiffen up again, and you’re ready to rock.

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Sleek, muscular,sophisticated —and now plush and comfy too —the newest-gen sports cars deliver the best of all possible worlds.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage The Vantage is rare for the super-sports breed — it’s fun even when you’re within the speed limit and, though nudged closer to the sports side of the spectrum, it’s a perfectly comfortable daily driver. Still, the more road you have, the more fun you’ll have, thanks to a center of gravity that’s dead center — the motor is mounted behind the front tires, and the transmission is rear mounted. The 4.7-liter V-8 might lack some heft, but this engine hits most of its torque peak right off idle, and if you’re talking pure fun the best combination is a lithe chassis and lots of low-end torque.

Audi R8 With its crazy/beautiful exotic looks, consider driving theR8 just at night, if only to avoid the gawkers straining to see which A-lister is behind the wheel. Or you could just ditch everyone. Plant the accelerator and rip ou gears via the next-gen sequential-manual R tronic transmission and you’ll blow past 60 mph in under five seconds, all while the exhaust whines out a pure, high-pitched wail. Handling is a snap; the R8 is actually easier to master than Audi’s vaunted quattro because the Lamborghini-derived engine sits in the back of the cockpit under glass (illuminated at night, no less), to make rotating corners a ball, while all-wheel drive keeps your heroics in check. In all, the R8 is the most extreme of this superdeluxe lot.

Still, this two-door is surprisingly livable. The double-wishbone front and rear suspension has enough range to make the ride comfortable, and the exhaust booms only when you’re gunning for glory. And the cabin, though rakishly low, is luxe and roomy enough for tall drivers. Nappa leather graces the seats and much of the cockpit, bracketed, of course, by carbon fiber or brushed aluminum. In fact, touring in the R8 would be a pleasure, though you’d have to pack light: The front trunk is small and there’s barely room for a suit bag behind the seats, much less a pair of skis. But isn’t that what Fed Ex is for?

Beyond creature comforts, the seven-speed clutchless manualgearbox has a paddle-actuated setup and is customizable with four modes ranging from very mild to Formula 1 quick. Excellent rev- matching prevents fast shifts from feeling painful, and in automatic mode the interstate crawl is nice and easy. Then there’s the suspension. If you’re merely dashing around town, it won’t punish you. The Active Body Control (ABC) works in harmony with your driving style, automatically resisting body roll as needed: Drive more aggressively and the suspension stiffens to aid in cornering, lope in tranc and it becomes plush. Then when you clear congestion you can stab the “Sport” button on the console to stiuen up again, and you’re ready to rock.Aston Martin V8 Vantage The Vantage is rare for the super-sports breed — it’s fun even when you’re within the speed limit and, though nudged closer to the sports side of the spectrum, it’s a perfectly comfortable daily driver. Still, the more road you have, the more fun you’ll have, thanks to a center of gravity that’s dead center — the motor is mounted behind the front tires, and the transmission is rear mount- ed. The 4.7-liter V-8 might lack some heft, but this engine hits most of its torque peak right ou idle, and if you’re talking pure fun the best combination is a lithe chassis and lots of low-end torque.

With its crazy/beautiful exotic looks, consider driving the R8 just at night, if only to avoid the gawkers straining to see which A-lister is behind the wheel. Or you could just ditch everyone. Plant the accelerator and rip ou gears via the next-gen sequential-manual R tronic transmission and you’ll blow past 60 mph in under five seconds, all while the exhaust whines out a pure, high-pitched wail. Handling is a snap; the R8 is actually easier to master than Audi’s vaunted quattro because the Lamborghini-derived engine sits in the back of the cockpit under glass (illuminated at night, no less), to make rotating corners a ball, while all-wheel drive keeps your heroics in check. In all, the R8 is the most extreme of this super deluxe lot. Still, this two-door is surprisingly livable. The double-wishbone front and rear suspension has enough range to make the ride comfortable, and the exhaust booms only when you’re gunning for glory. And the cabin, though rakishly low, is luxe and roomy enough for tall driv- ers. Nappa leather graces the seats and much of the cockpit, bracketed, of course, by carbon fiber or brushed aluminum. In fact, touring in the R8 would be a pleasure, though you’d have to pack light: The front trunk is small and there’s barely room for a suit bag behind the seats, much less a pair of
skis. But isn’t that what Fed Ex is for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

        


  

 

 

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