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Luxury's Best of the Best

The high-line sphere in today’s automotive world has grown to include almost every conceivable category. We look at the class of every class.
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Brad Paisley, March/April 2012

(continued from page 3)

Best Luxury Crossover or SUV: Range Rover Evoque

There were few surprises when the Range Rover Evoque nabbed the title of North American Truck of the Year at January’s Detroit Auto Show. But maybe there should have been. The Evoque is the first model ever built by Range Rover parent Land Rover that’s built on a car-based crossover platform. Even more heretical, it features a downsized four-cylinder engine.
But the initial order bank suggests the new Evoque is rapidly on its way to becoming the best-selling model in the British marque’s history. It is certainly nabbing just about every award that it qualifies for since its late 2011 launch. And it deserves them.

Designer Gerry McGovern has come up with a distinctive, swept-back look that is a far cry from anything that ever wore either the Land Rover or Range Rover badges before. The underlying platform, meanwhile, is surprisingly nimble and manageable, with the sort of on-road manners the maker traditionally couldn’t deliver. Yet, while you might not be able to maneuver the most grueling off-road trails in Moab, Utah, the Evoque still manages to handle some tough terrain thanks to its Terrain Response system, which allows you to instantly shift the settings for everything from brakes to engine to suspension to best manage road conditions.

Best Luxury Green Machine: Lexus GS 450h

When Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda introduced the new Lexus GS line at last summer’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, he promised that it would be part of his goal to put more passion into the Japanese luxury brand. Of the entire Lexus lineup, the GS series has always been the most sporty, much as the 5-Series is arguably the best luxury driver’s car in the BMW line. But passion was not a word one traditionally associated with a Lexus.

Think again. The base model got strong consideration in one of the other categories but we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the combination gas-and-electric drive in the GS 450h can satisfy both an environmentally minded driver and one who still wants some serious excitement. To improve the green claims of the Lexus GS 450h engineers took a number of steps to improve its 3.5-liter V-6, which already used a combination of port and direct fuel injection for the gasoline side of its drivetrain. The bottom line is a 30 percent improvement in mileage over the GS 350 gas-powered sedan, while still going  from 0 to 60 in just 5.6 seconds.

This is the first model to wear what Toyoda described as the “new face of Lexus,” but the rest of the car is a lot more handsome, as well. You can always expect plenty of technology from Lexus. The GS includes a new high-definition video monitor that’s several inches bigger than an iPad. But our favorite interior touch is the “renewable” bamboo-trimmed steering wheel.
 
Best Luxury Concept Vehicle: (tie) Acura NSX and Lincoln MKZ

Acura NSX: The original Acura NSX, of 1990, was the first Japanese supercar, a real game-changer with its industry-first aluminum monocoque. Sadly, the Honda luxury brand could never quite figure out how to update the two-seater, which it finally pulled from the lineup in 2005.

Since then, Acura has toyed with a variety of ways to revive the NSX, including one misguided prototype using a heavy V-10 engine. But now we feel the long wait will be worth it. Due for a return to production sometime late next year, the next-generation Acura NSX will once again be a styling and technology tour de force, with a trick gas-electric powertrain that uses a single electric motor and a V-6 to power the rear wheels. Each of the front tires is powered by a separate, smaller electric motor. That approach will allow aggressive torque vectoring—turning the wheels at slightly different speeds to help power through the tightest corners.

Lincoln MKZ: As for the new Lincoln, the MKZ will resurface later this year in production form, but the concept is worth honoring now. Few brands have done a better vanishing act than Lincoln over the years. But the New MKZ says this old dog has some very new tricks in store.


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