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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 3)

U.S. versions have an electronically shifted dual-clutch, seven-speed manual gearbox that can be operated as seamlessly as an automatic or shifted using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. $89,800

Best Compact Luxury CUV/SUV
Mercedes-Benz GLK

The "K" at the end gives you a hint: kurz, in German, or short, in English. This is the first compact crossover/SUV in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and it made a grand entrance into the world, playing a supporting role in the film version of Sex and the City.

The price is likely to surprise-pleasantly-those used to paying a hefty premium for anything bearing the Mercedes tri-star hood ornament. The only complaint is that the German maker has saved a few pennies with an interior not quite as lavish as what we'd expect.

But the GLK is worth the money and then some. It's decidedly more solid and attractive than the somewhat tinny BMW X3. It's also a lot more quiet and comfortable around town, yet the new Mercedes offering will go places the girls from New York would likely never consider. Despite a car-based platform-lifted from the C-Class sedan-the GLK can handle some seriously challenging off-road trails.

The powertrain isn't the most fuel-efficient in the segment, but the trade-off is some surprising performance out of the GLK's V-6 and a smooth-shifting, seven-speed automatic transmission. $34,775

Best MidRange CUV/SUV
Tie: Lincoln MKT and Land Rover LR4

As a classic sport-utility vehicle the newest member of the Land Rover family would win hands down. But these days, many customers want a car-based, crossover utility vehicle (CUV)-or what one might call a sport-ute lite. In that category, we had to give the nod to the Lincoln MKT in its latest incarnation. And hence the tie.

The domestic offering is handsome, with an in-your-face, love-it-or-leave-it chrome grille that has come to define the rebirth of the Lincoln brand. The cabin is roomy, comfortable, well-turned and incredibly quiet. The twin-panel panoramic glass roof is a must-have option.

The MKT's power train flouts traditional SUV/CUV thinking. Nope, no V-8. Parent Ford opted to equip the 2010 MKT with the six-cylinder EcoBoost engine. The new high-tech, twin-turbo package delivers eight-banger power and performance with the fuel economy of a six.

The Land Rover is the remake of the old and less-than-fully-refined LR3. With the redubbed LR4, the British marque has truly come through. Gone are the clunky plastic parts that covered the cabin. The new cockpit is lavish. Slick features include a forward-looking camera to help see the obstacles ahead when you're off-roading. The LR4 is a phenomenal trail-handler, thanks in part to the Terrain Response Control, which instantly adapts brakes, chassis, transmission and throttle to road conditions. We tried and failed to get it stuck during an autumn tour through New England. But this is now a car that you can drive everyday. Maybe you don't need a crossover after all. Lincoln $44,995; Land Rover $48,100

Best Premium CUV/SUV
Land Rover Range Rover

In years past, it would have been hard to imagine Land Rover taking one, never mind two, best-of awards. But the British maker's latest version of its flagship Range Rover also deserves inclusion here.

The ultimate in comfort, style and performance comes with the crème de la crème Autobiography model, which is targeted at its most exclusive and demanding customers. The goal, according to chief designer David Saddington, was to make the Autobiography look "more formal and more elegant." That means modest exterior touches, including new headlamps, a revised grille and tweaks to the bumper. The striking front "signature" lamps now use LED bulbs, as do the tail lamps. The supercharged versions of the Range Rover-Autobiography included-carry over the three-bar grille to the now functional side intakes.

The cabin has been refined on all new Range Rover editions, with such subtle details as the updated, backlit switches. The most striking change for 2010, however, is located smack in the center of the gauge cluster. Land Rover has adopted a positively massive 12-inch TFT video screen, which instantly changes look and layout depending on the driving mode.

Like the LR4, the Range Rover gets the slick Terrain Response system. This is truly the sort of vehicle that will handle a rough trail by day and get you to the theater in style by night. $79,275

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