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Automobiles - Great Drives

Style, performance, safety and luxurious creature features. These 2008 models are loaded with all of the above.

By EVELYN KANTER
Cadillac CTS
     If Elvis were still with us, he would trade in his pink Cadillac for the CTS, named “2008 Car of the Year” by Road and Track magazine, one of the few such winners from Detroit in eons. Redesigned this model year, it boasts a new 3.6-liter, 304hp direct injection engine that pumps out 25 percent less hydrocarbons than before, and a 363hp version with five more horses than in ’07. You can thank space-age engineering and materials, which lighten the load to balance the added weight of optional AWD (rear-wheel drive is standard), which adds up to super handling and stability in the trenches. All this and it’s actually $540 less than last year. Plus, the lower price includes such former extras as 17-inch wheels and tires and a Bose eight-speaker surround sound system that’s a pricey optional on other makes. Ditto the 40 gig hard drive that can store audio tracks ripped from CDs or flash drives—Elvis hits or not—and a TiVo-like radio that can pause and reply live radio. •MSRP $32,990

Audi R8
    Get your order in fast, since Audi is producing just 400 of this eagerly anticipated mid-engine vroomer for 2008. The low, wide stance and large airflow panels broadcast that there’s a powerful engine inside. There is. It’s a 4.2-liter, 420hp V8 that catapults you zero-to-60 in 4.2 seconds—visible through the rear window  for everybody to see. This is an AWD sports car, with Audi’s famous Quattro technology, not that you’d want to take this low-slung gem off-roading, but it will tackle Chicago’s winter snow and ice with confidence. Torque at lower gears is impressive, and steering wheel paddle shifters make downshifting and revving a blast, especially when there are folks close enough to hear the engine purr. A spoiler pops up at 55 mph, and the hand-welded aluminum space frame provides stability at higher speeds. Audi is marketing the R8 to fill a niche between super cars with super price tags like Lamborghini and Ferrari and more affordable Lexus and Mercedes two-seaters. •MSRP $109,000
Jaguar XF
    This is an important new model for Jaguar, replacing the S-Type, which was more like its worker bee Ford Taurus cousin, and it signals a new design and technology direction for the venerable British marque, which may or may not still be part of the Ford family as you read this. The XF is designed to behave more like its famous ancestor, the iconic long-nosed XKE and its modern version, the XK, and Jaguar is betting this new X marks the spot for mid-size luxury performance sedans, even at around $10,000 more than the one it replaces. It handles like a legendary cat, growling around turns and sprinting down straightaways, and its wide-track rear wheels provide suction cup stability. Start the engine and the cockpit springs to life, too—the drive selector rises into your hand and vents open from the flush, “parked” position. The V8 engines—a 4.2-liter with or without super-charging—are electronically limited to 155 mph, with steering wheel paddles that will make you wish the Ryan Expressway really was an express way. Arrives March as a 2009 model. •MSRP $67,973

Lexus LS460L
    The “L” model is five inches longer than the flagship LS460 sedan, providing extra room for a rear seat that reclines 45-degrees, with a pop-up leg rest, similar to a business class airline seat or the Maybach, so popular with Arab sheiks. But airline seats don’t offer a built-in massage feature. The LS460L does, to enjoy while you are being chauffeured or to soothe your backseat-driving mother-in-law. This Lexus is loaded with creature features, including power door closers, similar to the Rolls Royce, body heat sensors that maintain the desired temperature for all occupants, a heated steering wheel and a charcoal-activated clean air and pollen filter. The power plant is a 380hp, 4.6-liter V8, and despite its size and heft, this executive sedan can reach zero-to-60 in a respectable 5.4 seconds.  •MSRP $71,500

Land Rover LR3
    Turn mountains into molehills with this tough, comfortable, technology-packed SUV, winner of more than 90 international
awards. The patented Terrain Response system lets you conquer slippery snow and ice, mud, gravel, even sand and rocks, just by turning the dial, changing torque, steering, acceleration and braking to match conditions. Hill Descent Control is another marvel—it automatically restricts downhill speed to a deep breath so you can concentrate on steering. On-board computers also will sense an out-of-control turn, to fix your steering or braking, or both, reducing the danger of a roll-over or spin-out.  All of this with a six-speed transmission with a manual sport mode for highway comfort.  The LR3 is packed with a 190hp V6 or a 4.4-liter, 295hp V8, both adapted from Ford sibling Jaguar. Full-size third row seating means room for seven adults, and a panorama-style sunroof eliminates that locked-in feeling of many SUVs. •MSRP $49,300

Bentley Brooklands
    This impeccable new model is Bentley’s first coupe since the Continental R. The Brooklands is a stylish 2+2 grand tourer with the most powerful V8 the company offers—a massive twin turbo-charged 6.75-liter engine that kicks out 530hp and catapults from zero-to-   60 in 5.3 seconds. Flip the six-speed automatic transmission to manual for stronger and faster acceleration in every gear. Its wide stance and 20-inch wheels guarantee stability and comfort at any speed, whether cornering or gliding effortlessly and smoothly on a leisurely excursion. The Brooklands is being built on the same assembly line that also turns out the ultra-luxurious Arnage and Azure models, with the same hand-built care and attention to detail that includes matched veneers and hand-stitched leather. To ensure exclusivity, the Brooklands is limited to a lifetime production of 550 cars, so it is sure to become a collector’s classic, as did its predecessors, the Continental R and T coupes of the ’90s. But this is a vehicle to drive, not garage for future auction. The Brooklands is named for the British racetrack where Bentley dominated in the 1920s, when its name was synonymous with racing.  •Price: $450,000

Maserati GranTurismo
    With its muscular front fenders punctuated by Maserati’s signature air vents and a low-slung hood, this is a graceful and elegant Italian stallion. Inspired by the Pininfarina Birdcage concept car, this sculptured beauty is a genuine 2+2, with more room in the back than other sports coupes, so you can share its luxury, style and performance with those you care to impress. It features a 4.2-liter, 405hp V8 and the same six-speed automatic transmission developed for its sedan sister, the Quattoporte, with a sport mode to grab the road more tightly and feel each turn as the engine responds with a feisty growl.  •Price: $114,650
Callaway C16
    Reeves Callaway has designed a new roadster that is not for the timid. This handmade speedster, packed with a monstrous super-charged intercooled 6.2-liter, 700HP (yes, 700!) engine, itches to stretch its legs on the open road or, better yet, a closed racetrack. It is loaded with space-age and racing technology, including carbon wheels that weigh some 40 percent less than the lightest aluminum wheels, for improved acceleration, cornering and braking. Did we tell you yet that top speed is more than 210 mph and there’s an astounding zero-to-60 in just 3.2 seconds? Fast is an understatement. So is calling the C16 a sleek and sculptured beauty. Much like its spiritual predecessors, the 1990 Callaway Speedster and 1998 C12 Speedster, this is a visceral open-air driving experience. As we said—not for the timid.  •Price: $305,000

GREEN CARS
Tesla Roadster
    This car is what happens when a bunch of Silicon Valley types hire a bunch of auto veterans from Detroit and defy the naysayers. The Tesla Roadster is fast and spiffy—it should be, since it’s based on the Lotus Elise and can do zero-to-60 in a blistering four seconds. But unlike the gas-guzzler Lotus, the Tesla uses none. It’s completely electric. Plug it in to recharge it from a station in your garage, and you can drive some 250 miles for about $2.50 worth of electricity. Tesla’s founders guarantee the batteries will last for 100,000 miles and can be recycled when they wear out. They’re planning a family-friendly sedan model, too.  •$100,000, www.teslamotors.com

Smart Fortwo
    Maybe it was the divorce from Chrysler that finally prompted Daimler to bring its little baby car to the USA. The Smart has been popular in Europe for a decade, for its tiny price tag, size and style of sipping—not even drinking—gas. Just eight feet long and five feet wide, the Smart is being marketed in the United States as Smart Fortwo, a second generation Smart with beefed up safety enhancements. Everything about it is smart. Made of 100 percent recyclable materials and getting 40 miles per gallon, there’s a 71hp, 3-cylinder engine that can crank out a speed of 90 mph, more than enough to keep up with the big boys on the daily commute. There’s a clutch-free, five-speed manual tranny and racy paddle shifters under the steering wheel. Smart! •$11,590, $99 refundable reservation at www.smartusa.com

    This is the 100th Anniversary of the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, Feb 8-17. Check www.chicagoautoshow.com.

Published: February 07, 2008
Issue: February 08 Money Issue