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The Best In Luxury Cars 2013

With smaller, lighter, faster, greener and more techy entries, car makers continue to widen the road for what is considered high-line driving
Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013

(continued from page 1)

The letters actually do mean something in German: Geländewagen Luxus Kompakt-klasse. We prefer to simply call it Mercedes’ compact crossover. The littlest version of the G-Class was completely updated for 2013 and given a distinctive—if polarizing—new look.

Mercedes likes to describe the GLK as the sort of ute you can take to the cottage during the day and the opera at night. It’s reasonably competent on gravel and washboard roads, but won’t tolerate truly rough off-roading. Then again, who cares? The majority of motorists never push the limits of traditional, truck-based SUVs, so the switch to car-like crossovers improves what really matters: on-road manners and fuel-economy.

Honorable mention: Audi continues to beef up its Q series of crossover-utility vehicles with the latest iteration of the Q5. Buick, meanwhile, has added an impressive compact CUV in the form of the new Encore.

Best Large Luxury Crossover or SUV
Range Rover

It’s been a big year for Britain’s Land Rover, what with its downsized Evoque winning just about every possible award—and now, the newly redesigned Range Rover aims to repeat that success in a larger package. The fourth-generation Range Rover may not deliver the visual shock that the much smaller Evoque did, but it’s a nonetheless appealing update of the big SUV’s familiar shape—and the attention to wind-cheating aerodynamic detail really pays off in a number of ways.

What’s been done under the skin is equally impressive considering the impact that it will have on comfort, functionality and fuel efficiency. The aluminum body saves as much as 700 pounds, depending upon the model, and powertrain improvements also yield significant advantages in both performance and mileage. There’s also a fancy new infotainment system that pairs with a 1,700-watt, 29-speaker Meridian audio system.

Honorable mention: It’s also been a big year for Mercedes-Benz after updating the entire G-Class lineup, including the big Geländewagen, the compact GLK and the bigger GL, which delivers surprisingly good mileage if ordered with its optional diesel package. Then there’s Nissan, which finally enters the seven-passenger crossover segment with the all-new and lavishly outfitted three-row JX.
 
Best Luxury Green Machine
Tesla Model S and Fisker Karma (tie)

This is a critical time for the green car segment, which has a flood of new offerings hitting the market between 2012 and 2014. Significantly, mainstream makers are adding hybrid options to a variety of conventional models, such as the BMW 5-Series, the Lincoln MKZ, the Infiniti M35h and even the Porsche Panamera and Cayenne.

We’re pronouncing a tie between two nontraditional makers, both California start-ups, though we need to add a few notes of caution. The Tesla Model S is the first mainstream offering from Silicon Valley–based Tesla Motors, the brainchild of Internet pioneer Elon Musk, who also runs commercial space firm SpaceX. The Tesla has been earning plenty of kudos for its interior and exterior design and features, though the real breakthrough is the use of an electric vehicle platform that can deliver a range of up to a 300-mile range. That’s more than triple that of most current battery-electric vehicles, but it requires an optional pack that nudges the price up to around $100,000. Part of our caution is that the lack of availability means not all of us have had a chance to drive the Model S yet.

Then there’s the Fisker Karma, founded in California by former Aston Martin chief designer Henrik Fisker. At a base price of around $103,000, it is one of the most stunningly beautiful sports cars on the road and offers the advantage of having both battery and a gasoline backup generator that lets it keep going even when the pack has discharged. Fisker has had some early quality problems but for those who want a stylistic masterwork that’s also green, it should not be ignored.

Best Luxury Tech Car
Lexus LS 600h

It likely won’t be long before you can order a hybrid option for nearly any vehicle on the market, from the smallest city car to the likes of a big Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But at the premium end of the scale, Lexus has first-mover bragging rights, having introduced its first gas-electric flagship, the original LS 600h in 2007.

As with the original, the 2013 version of the hybrid is the most expensive and lavishly equipped model in the Lexus lineup. The new LS 600h has nearly every possible bell and whistle, from massaging seats to a massive video display that will make an iPad owner whistle in admiration to the latest version of the Lexus hybrid drive system. It also boasts a sportier look, including the brand’s signature spindle grille design.

Honorable mention: When many buyers seem more interested in knowing the square inches of a vehicle’s video screen than the cubic inches under the hood, the Cadillac XTS, with its intuitive cue infotainment system is clearly clicking with the digital generation. For those with a seven-figure checking account, there’s the Bentley Mulsanne, which can be ordered with what is virtually an entire mobile-office layout.

Best Luxury Concept Vehicle
Lexus LF-LC

We’ll wrap up our annual Best-of awards with a tip of the hat to the Lexus LF-LC, a hybrid supercar concept that we first previewed at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show and visited again with an update at the Sydney (Australia) Motor Show last October. Officials with Toyota’s luxury brand remain cagey about plans for the dynamic design, which features the boldest use yet of the new Lexus spindle-grille nose. But odds are we’ll see it reappear—at the very least heavily influencing the look of the replacement for the original Lexus supercar, the LFA. And don’t be surprised if, like the concept, a production version uses hybrid power primarily to improve performance.

Incidentally, the two models that tied for our pick of Best Luxury Concept of 2012 aren’t going to disappear either. The Lincoln MKZ was being readied for production as we reached this issue’s deadline. As for the Acura NSX, stand by. That reborn supercar likely will reach U.S. showrooms sometime in 2014.

Paul A. Eisenstein is publisher of the website TheDetroitBureau.com.


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