How the Other 0.01% Drives
Actually, those others are quite often driven. A busy CEO often uses travel time to get work done. That’s why many luxury auto makers are equipping their top lines with all the accoutrements of a mobile office. This year the acknowledged “Standard of the World,” Rolls Royce, declined to participate in the Auto Show, but there were plenty of pretenders to incite envy.
Even on Press Days it’s sometimes difficult to get a clear shot of the popular cars. Here a couple of researchers benchmark the new Mercedes-Maybach S600 for its competitors. Unable to sell the Maybach name on its own merits, Mercedes has now applied the label to a model line at the top of their range. A $140,000 car must step out quickly and acquit itself well on the Autobahn, so its twin turbo V12 develops 523 horsepower and 612 pound feet of torque.
Maybach-monogrammed throw pillows, reclining hot-stone massaging seats, thigh bolsters, inlaid woods, integrated multimedia screens, swiveling writing surfaces, barefoot-friendly fur-like carpet – what’s left out? For the busy 0.01-percenter on the go the Maybach S600 has everything except a conscience.
In 1963 you could get luxury in a Cadillac, Imperial or Lincoln, with a huge thirsty pushrod V8 to allow you to keep their ponderous weight up with traffic. However, getting one of these behemoths to deviate from a straight line was a tense proposition, best accomplished at a sedate pace. Moreover, Ford, Chrysler and GM had ceased equipping their luxury cars with manual transmissions long ago, so driver involvement was nil.
On the other side of the Atlantic, European tax policy pretty much saddled luxury cars with mouse motors, underpowered by American standards. Jaguar was almost there (Their motto was “Grace, Space, Pace”), but in 1963 along came Maserati with the first car from either side of the Atlantic to combine luxury with true road performance.
In 1963 the company, long known for its successful racing cars and elegant sports and touring roadsters and coupes (A 1964 Mistral Coupe was the last post-war car to win Best in Show honors at Pebble Beach until this last August.), brought out the first in a line of sporting sedans, with elegant styling by Frua and the straightforward name “Quatroporte” for their four doors, and stuffed them full of de-tuned racing V8.
The sixth and perhaps oldest surviving first-generation Maserati Quatroporte, on loan from the Riverside International Maserati Museum, displayed at the entrance to the Los Angeles International Auto Show. In 1963 260 horsepower in a luxury sedan was no big deal, but quad cams, four Weber carburetors, a four-speed manual gearbox, and the ability to change direction without drama were downright exotic. Remember when you could actually see out of cars?
Carrying on the tradition of athletic sedans as Maserati celebrates their centennial, the latest Quatroporte boasts 406 horsepower from its twin turbo V6. At about $115,000, it’s a bargain compared to what you’d have to bid for the earlier car if you found one at auction.
While Mercedes’ Maybachs may be excellent cars in which to be driven, Bentleys, with multiple Le Mans wins when you could drive your car to a race and win (their welded wire mesh grilles are a conscious reminder), carry an aura of sporting credentials even in their most luxurious models. After all, while Rolls Royce has an Owners’ Club, the Bentley counterpart is a “Drivers’ Club.”
The Bentley Continental Flying Spur has been around since 2005. It was updated in 2013 with structural, cosmetic, and performance upgrades. The current models include the W12 (two narrow-angle V6s on a common crankcase) version shown, with the Volkswagen corporate six liter twin turbo engine that now develops 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. It needs all that to motivate its two-and-three-quarter tons of mass.
With a few exceptions (Are you “Smart?”) there are few incompetent cars today. We’ll attempt a review of the mainstream cars some time, but really, you know the players. Where is the true luxury line drawn these days, though?
Were not referring to “Entry Level Luxury,” that domain of 3-series BMWs, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4s, Lexus IS and Infiniti whatevers. No, we mean big luxurious boats with soft leather, roomy rear seats and real wood on the dash, and engines that allow you to play a little when the mood hits you.
Cadillac has done well here recently. Last year we highlighted their 556 horsepower Corvette-powered CTS-V, but that’s an outlier. Their flagship sedan (Where are you when we need you, Sedan DeVille?) is “in development” and will have a boring alphanumeric name.
You all know about S-class Mercedes (other than the Maybach above), 7-series BMWs and Audi 8s, but those are all creeping into one percenter territory. What about the twenty percenters?
The Hyundai Equus came first, and I don’t have a picture of the Kia K900. It’s a shame, because the K900 is easily the prettier car. The Equus’ belt line rises too high above the fender haunch – what I call “old man pants” – like its belt has been pulled up over a paunch instead of riding on its waist.
The Korean twins, Hyundai and Kia, seem to have the lead in this category. They are offering the Equus and K900, respectively. The K900 can be had with reclining rear seats and quilted leather for about $20,000 less (about 22%) than a Mercedes S-Class with no options, if you don’t mind forgoing the European driving dynamics, 37 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque.
Or just get a Chevrolet Impala. It’s handsome. It’s huge inside. Its interior is beautifully designed and assembled. It has all the luxury you need, scored among the top cars tested by Consumer Reports, is available with nearly every available option at way less than half the sticker price of a stripped Mercedes S-Class, and it’s built in Hamtramck, Michigan by Americans.
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