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Divine Machinery

Our choice of the ultimate luxury cars in 12 different categories shows what it takes to boost posh to new levels of excellence
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010

(continued from page 1)

The price tag completes the transformation. Acknowledging economic realities, Mercedes has pared prices sharply on all the various E-Class models. So, for 2010, add affordability as one of the car's most appealing standard features. $49,475

Best Premium Luxury Sedan
Jaguar XJ

It doesn't take long to recognize when an automaker unveils a new classic. The last generation of the XJ made titanic advancements under the skin with a lightweight aluminum body and a variety of other technological innovations. Now, the latest iteration finishes the job with superior styling.

"Sultry" and "sculpted" are two words that you'll likely hear in conversations about the new design. The new "saloon" car, as the British prefer to call it, has a decidedly more coupe-like shape, especially with the flowing roof line. The elongated teardrop-shaped windows are the most striking feature. The nose shares some of the basic design DNA of the smaller Jaguar XF. The LED taillights, highlighted by three vertical red stripes, flow into the rear fenders.

As distinctive and striking as the body may be, the real breakthrough is in the interior. To our eyes, the new Jaguar XJ features the most attractive cabin on the road. Once you slip into the driver's seat, you'll understand why. Oh, and don't forgot to tick the box on the options list for the new, 1200-watt, 20-speaker Bowers and Wilkins audio system. $72,500

Best Luxury Convertible
Audi A5/S5 Cabriolet

The A5 is as handsome a coupe as you'll find on the road, sized somewhere between Audi's compact A4 sedan and bigger A6 four-door. Now comes the cabriolet, which matches benchmark design with a quick and easy-to-operate convertible roof.

We drove the cabrio during a spate of bad weather along the French Cote d'Azur and found that we could operate the ragtop at speeds up to 30 mph and go topless whenever the sun burst through the clouds.

The turbocharged, 333-horsepower, 3.0-liter, V-6 power train found in the sportier S5 delivers the same performance as the big, gas-slurping V-8 in the original A5 coupe, but is decidedly more stingy with fuel. The seven-speed Tiptronic transmission can be shifted manually. Audi's quattro drive system feeds all four wheels, adjusting torque on left and right wheels as well as front and rear axles. Go into a hard corner, for example, and the outer tire gets more power, helping steer you more accurately on dry, damp or downright snowy pavement. A5 $38,025; S5 $54,425

Best Premium Luxury Convertible
Ferrari California

We expect that the California will be one of the more controversial of our 2010 picks, though we stand firmly behind it as Best Premium Luxury Convertible-and so do buyers, it seems. You'll likely be on a long waiting list for this Italian supercar.

There's no question it's a bit different from the likes of the F430 or the 612 Scaglietti, with some unusual touches, like the vertically stacked twin-double exhaust pipes-a layout Ferrari aerodynamicists created to reduce drag in the rear wheel wells. We see the new car as an homage to the original 250 GT California, produced between 1953 and 1964.

One notable update is the modular body, which is aluminum with the exception of the composite rear panel. A significant Ferrari first is the mounting of the V-8 engine ahead of the cockpit, rather than amidships. For those who drive al fresco, however, the nicest feature is likely to be the two-piece folding roof, a trick affair that you can raise or lower with the touch of a button in just 14 seconds.

Ostensibly, this is a four-seater, or as Ferrari dubs it a "2+," recognition that even small children really won't find room in back. But one thing we take seriously is the maker's claim that the California is a "daily driver." It's a lot easier than your typical supercar to motor around town, even in the Golden State's endemic traffic jams. $192,000

Best Luxury Performance Car
Bentley Continental Supersports

A few decades back the Bentley brand seemed destined to disappear. But about 10 years ago the British marque got a new lease on life when it was auctioned off to an unlikely benefactor: Germany's Volkswagen A.G. Really. VW has shown a surprising willingness to support its luxury brands, which include Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti and, soon, Porsche, while allowing them to maintain their distinctive character.

Bentley's revival began earlier in the decade, with the smaller, more affordable sporty Continental line. The basic platform has proven flexible, as the foundation for the GT coupe, the Flying Spur sedan and the GTC convertible, as well as the "Speed" editions, with more horsepower and torque and firmer suspension settings. All, however, were hefty.

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