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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 2)

The Continental Supersports takes things one giant leap forward by using carbon fiber components, even stripping out the rear seat, to lighten the basic GT platform and body. Add to that the most powerful version yet of the W-12 engine, which makes an astonishing 621 hp and 590 pound-feet of torque. That'll launch the two-seater from 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds, making it Bentley's fastest production car ever. Supersports is nevertheless lavishly equipped, and when you add the blackout wheels to a black-on-black body, it's as striking as it is quick. $273,295

Best Luxury Sports Car
Mercedes-Benz SLS

It's been 55 years since the original Mercedes-Benz 300SL, best known as "the gullwing," took the automotive world by storm. The long-rumored and long-awaited update has arrived. But don't call the new SLS retro, asserts Mercedes' CEO Dieter Zetsche, proclaiming, "It is not a stroll down memory lane but a look into the future."

While the 2010 Mercedes SLS does share some of the original 300's design cues, we were pleased to discover that the reincarnated gullwing door doesn't require you to slide awkwardly across massive doorsills. Indeed, this is a very modern car.

The replacement for the less-than-loved SLR-and about $100,000 cheaper-the new SLS features an aluminum space frame and other modern touches: rectangular, rather than round, headlights which flow up into the front fenders; a more steeply-raked windshield; a decidedly taut and aerodynamic body; larger, wider tires; and a Formula One-style wing that cuts across the cross-hatched, blackout grille.

Power? Plenty. The new supercar uses a heavily modified version of the 6.3-liter V-8 created exclusively by Mercedes' performance division, AMG. In the SLS, it makes a whopping 571 horsepower, and is promised to tear from 0 to 60 in just 3.7 seconds. Top speed is 197 mph. $261,018

Best Luxury Roadster

With the launch of the Z3, for 1996, BMW helped revive the classic roadster, a niche it has been exploring for more than 75 years. But something about the two-seater-and the remake, the Z4-didn't quite work and kept them from vying with the more sporty Porsche Boxster.

All that's changed with the launch of BMW's latest incarnation of the Z4, the first real redesign since 2002. What's emerged from the Bavarians is a truly striking blend of styling and performance. Start with the adoption of a metal, rather than cloth top. The foldaway hardtop can be opened or closed in barely 20 seconds. The new design means a quieter, more comfortable cabin-and also enhances safety and security.

Slightly larger, the new Z4 boasts both a roomier and decidedly more upscale interior that, for the first time, features the iDrive controller-a new version, we should add, that's a lot easier to understand and operate.

Go with the sporty, 3.0-liter inline-six and you'll get surprisingly good mileage as well as performance, though we'd opt for the the 3.5 liter, 300-horsepower I-6 mated to a new, double-clutch gearbox, which is badged the sDrive 35i. It delivers the best of a stick and an automatic all in one, and allows rapid-fire shifts using steering wheel-mounted paddles. 3.0 liter $46,575; 3.5 liter $52,475

Best Segment-Buster
Porsche Panamera

The 2010 Panamera joins impeccable performance numbers, incredible functionality and one of the best luxury cockpits ever designed. But the body. Oh, the body. The back has a bit of the ant queen, the shape that was ultimately required to fit two large adult males into the rear seat of Porsche's first-ever four-door sports car. Blame or credit-whichever you prefer-the tall and now-retired CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, who insisted on a car that would carry him in any seat.

Once you slip inside the debate ends.The cabin is divided into quadrants and, if you opt for it, features a separate set of climate controls for each person. The sweeping center stack is an almost overwhelming display of knobs and switches. Porsche consciously avoided an iDrive-style controller in favor of an aircraft style console that gives you quick access to the seemingly endless array of controls.

The "base" Panamera S features a 400-horsepower, 396 pound-foot 4.8-liter V-8. The engine is shared on the 4S, though the latter model gets all-wheel-drive. For the ultimate kick, there's the Turbo-actually a twin-turbocharged version of the V-8 that boosts the pony count to 500, and torque to 516 pound-feet. Turn on the launch control system and it'll hit 60 in less than 4 seconds.

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