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Auto Hypnosis

If You're in the Market for the Planet's Priciest Production Cars, Look No Further
Joshua Shapiro
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 1)

Which cars break the Wilson barrier? No Japanese or American brands come close. The priciest Japanese offering, the race-bred Acura NSX-T, peaks at $88,000, while the American macho military Hummer and the 8.0-liter V10 Dodge Viper GTS both top off at only $66,000. Surprisingly, even the most expensive, obviously status-oriented Eurocars from BMW (850Ci at $95,000); its subsidiary, Land Rover (Range Rover 4.6 HSE with Kensington interior at $66,000); Ford's luxury marque, Jaguar (XK-8 at $72,500), or GM's former subsidiary, Lotus (Esprit V8 at $85,000), all fail to reach the stratosphere of truly costly cars.

Most of the world's limited supply of $100,000-plus motor chariots come from but three European countries and only six companies. In Germany, only the cream of the crop from Porsche--its two Turbo models--and Mercedes-Benz--its three V12 models--make the grade. In the United Kingdom and Italy, all the models from Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lamborghini weigh in over a 100K. All are rear- or all-wheel-driven and leather upholstered. All are powered by magnificent engines that have an unslakable thirst for gasoline--big V12s or blown sixes or eight-cylinder engines. None have cottoned to the American mania for cup holders. And regrettably, none have cigar lighters adequate for lighting a decent-sized torpedo.

Here are my top six choices of the nearly two dozen models of Wilsonmobiles now available in America.

THE PORSCHE TURBO

The Porsche Turbo, despite any rumors to the contrary, is truly the "ultimate driving machine." Other cars might be more expensive, more glamorous or showy, more plush and luxurious, and better prepared to carry a family around in style, but this is not the Turbo's game. The Turbo exists for one purpose only--to be driven. Porsche buyers are driven introverts, and this is their car. Ferry Porsche started building sports cars in 1948. The flagship 911 series, the $6,500 car with every one of its 2,381 pounds packing 130 horsepower and 120 foot-pounds of torque, debuted in 1964. The first Turbo appeared 10 years later. So depending on how you count, Porsche has had between 23 and 33 years to perfect this car. The breeding and experience are evident in the car's stellar performance and the absence of any annoying design flaws.

The Turbo feels roomier than the stock 911. Be warned, however, that the class designation "2+2" refers to the car's carrying two adults and two tiny, well-behaved pets. This is rarely an issue, since driving a Turbo is typically an individual meditation. No wood trim adorns the cockpit, unless you opt for Porsche factory customization. With the exception of the ignition key, which is located on the left of the steering wheel, the controls are neatly laid out. This affectation dates back to races that used the running Le Mans start. Being able to start the car and shift simultaneously really provides an edge for a dead-start event. The standard Becker stereo with 10 speakers is one of the few great-sounding, high-tech sound systems that you don't need a Ph.D. to figure out. The deeply bolstered electrically adjustable leather seat comfortably secures the driver while carving turns. The Xenon headlamps cast an eery bluish nighttime glow down the road. Twice as bright as standard halogens, these "Litronic" lights give the driver a deeper view into the distance--a safety feature that proves its worth when you're driving fast.

The Turbo extracts 400 hp and 400 foot-pounds of torque out of its smallish, 3.6-liter, flat six "boxer" engine by adding exhaust gas-driven turbochargers to each bank of cylinders. This is enough to power the car from 0 to 60 in a mere 4.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 180 mph. More impressive than the numbers is its effortless manner. Turbo lag is surprisingly absent. And Porsche makes all-wheel drive (AWD) standard on the Turbo with good reason. Without AWD all that raw power is tricky to control. With AWD, the power is divided among all four wheels, eliminating any chance of burning rubber. AWD also makes the Turbo's handling pleasantly neutral without any oversteer fussiness in turns.

A car is only as fast as it can stop with full control. Confident, power-assisted antilock 12.7-inch four-piston ventilated disc brakes match the engine's performance. On dry pavement these brakes can halt a Turbo moving at 100 mph in four seconds and inside 120 yards. Overall, the complete package behaves effortlessly. The car always seems to be asking its driver, "Is that all you want me to do?"

This year, Porsche has tweaked the engine to deliver another24 hp (but no additional torque). With some carbon fiber trimand new styling cues, this limited-availability Turbo S model sellsfor $50,000 more. Either is a serious investment of money and emotions. Losing one creates a depression clinically known as Turbo Remorse, for which nothing else, not even a lesser Porsche, will compensate. After driving the Turbo for one week, I got an elegant, new, glass-roofed Porsche 911 Targa with a Tiptronic automatic transmission as a replacement test car. My attitude was a blasé "Give me back that crisp-shifting six-speed and get this sluggish piece of junk away from me."

THE MERCEDES-BENZ S 600 SEDAN


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