New 2010 luxury vehicles

Everything is under control; 2010 BMW 750i XDrive

Despite the fact the new 7 Series was launched at the beginning of the year, BMW is already expanding the model range. Toward the end of this year, a new V12-powered 760i will arrive with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. There is also the addition of BMW’s sophisticated xDrive all-wheel-drive system to the 750i. This is a first for the 7 Series and something that’s destined to become very popular because of the ability it adds to an already sure-footed sedan.

Under normal circumstances, xDrive splits the power 40/60 front to rear. The beauty is that because the system monitors a number of different sensors xDrive is proactive, which means it begins to redistribute power before the car loses traction. When travelling at speed, the system relaxes the power split (20/80 front to rear). Conversely, matting the gas sees the system lock the centre differential. This splits the power evenly front to rear and banishes unwanted wheelspin.

Naturally, there’s a top-flight electronic stability/ dynamic traction control system. This electronic overseer not only does the usual understeer/oversteer correction in conjunction with xDrive (it alters the power split to compensate for any wayward tendencies), it also features something called Performance Control, which uses the brakes to physically turn the vehicle into a corner.

The xDrive model features the same 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 as in the regular 750i. This motor is not only sublimely smooth, it packs a hellacious punch when the gas is nailed. When the turbos spool up to speed, which happens in a hurry, the engine produces 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque anywhere between 1,800 and 4,500 rpm, which allows the 7 to run to 100 kilometres an hour in approximately 5.5 seconds.

Adding the ability of xDrive to the usual accoutrement that defines the 750i is a smart move because of the manner in which it all comes together. BMW expects 80 per cent of 7 Series buyers to tick the all-wheel-drive option box when ordering their cars. I would if it was my money on the line.

— Graeme Fletcher

Packing a punch; 2010 Lincoln MKS

Ford’s Eco-Boost program is essentially a new range of V6 engines that benefit from a combination of direct-fuel injection and turbochargers to offer the power of big displacement V8s but with the fuel economy of a small six.

The greatest surprise is that the turbocharged V6, as found in the Lincoln MKS, is as torquey as a larger-displacement V8. In fact, it is more so. Thanks to Ford’s decision to use two tiny turbochargers instead of one larger compressor, the turbines are able to spool up at lower engine speeds, providing more boost — and, therefore, more torque — at lower rpm. Indeed, Ford claims that the MKS’s maximum torque of 350 pound-feet is available at a low 1,800 rpm.

Nonetheless, the MKS feels plenty powerful off the line and in passing manoeuvres. There’s virtually no turbo lag since those two small compressors react so quickly and there’s plenty of urge to move the MKS, despite its somewhat portly 1,944-kilogram curb weight. The same applies to passing acceleration; starting from almost any speed, the MKS rocketed forward with far more enthusiasm than either of the V8-powered competitors. And, while not quite as sonorous as either of the two V8s, it is still very pleasing to the ear. It also feels very sophisticated, with none of the harshness common to V6s and some lesser V8s, even Ford’s own Triton engines.

Lincoln has added an all-new suspension calibration for the EcoBoost MKS. Stiffer in every regard — bushings, springs and dampers — the boosted version is far more sporting. On the test track, the turbocharged MKS remained flat and on line, more committed to handling high speeds than any Lincoln before it.

It may not be a BMW, but the MKS feels as sporting as an Audi A6, an appropriate comparator since, like Audi’s mid-sized sedan, it too features an all-wheel-drive powertrain.

The MKS interior is also superior to the original’s. There’s a tan leather version that is positively European and some new faux leatherette used on the dashboard, door trim and door handles convincing enough that even some of Ford’s public relations personnel couldn’t be sure if it was real or not.

The MKS is quite simply the best Lincoln ever made. For a company that seemed doomed to making nothing but Town Cars just a few short years ago, the transformation is nothing short of amazing.

— David Booth

High-powered hybrid; 2010 Lexus HS 250h

Lexus is introducing an entry-level luxury sedan that’s exclusively a hybrid. The 2010 HS 250h is the fourth gas/hybrid product in the lineup, but the first to be designed from the ground up to accommodate a gas/electric powertrain.

With a base price of $39,900, the HS 250h fits nicely in the Lexus lineup, between the IS series and the ES 350. Its overall length is 4,695 millimetres, slightly shorter than the ES. That length ensures decent manoeuvrability without compromising interior space.

With MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone suspension in back, the sedan delivers a comfortable ride while maintaining good handling manners. The electric power steering was quite responsive and feedback was decent, lacking the numbness found in some similar electric systems.

Inside, the cabin is spacious, with heavily sculpted front seatbacks providing additional legroom for the back benchers.

A single powertrain is offered — the Lexus Hybrid Drive with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder running on the fuel-efficient Atkinson cycle and producing 187 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. This gas engine is coupled to a two-motor hybrid system, with the second motor driving the generator that charges the hybrid battery pack. It also serves as the engine starter. The power output is channelled to the front wheels through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT.)

This powertrain is the next generation of hybrid technology from Lexus, stepping even further ahead than the systems on the recently introduced RX 450h. For example, the battery system is more compact and efficient, and its placement has been positioned to still provide a decent amount of trunk space — 12.1 cubic feet.

Three trim levels are offered. The base Premium model includes dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start and a 10-speaker audio system with USB audio input jack, Bluetooth connectivity and XM satellite radio. For an additional $1,500, one can step up to the Sport Package, which adds a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, heated seats, sport pedals and illuminated scuff plates.

The Ultra Premium Model ($48,750) includes a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, a next-generation, voice-activated navigation system with backup camera, rain-sensing wipers and adaptive front headlamps with automatic levelling.

— Clare Dear

A more muscular Mercedes; 201
0 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan

Mercedes has totally revamped the E-Class with styling that has a muscular, dynamic presence. The front overhang has been trimmed back 24 millimetres, while the beautifully sculpted rear end is 20 mm longer. The sedan’s overall height has been lowered three mm, while the width has been broadened by 32 mm. The attractive profile is tied together by a prominent new accent line that runs from the front wheelwell to above the rear wheels.

Standard equipment on all E-Class sedans includes an AMG Sports Package with 18-inch wheels, a lowered sport suspension, larger cross-drilled front brake rotors with four-piston calipers and special body styling.

Three powertrain choices are available: The volume model will be the E350 with a 3.5-litre V6 that produces 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The E550 steps up the performance levela notch, thanks to its 5.5L V8 with 382 horses on tap and 391 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The driver can also select Comfort or Sport modes, which remap the tranny’s shifting behaviour.

These two models also include the fourth-generation 4Matic all-wheel-drive system currently used on the C-Class, S-Class and GLK. It’s a more compact unit that’s 20 per cent lighter and it splits the engine’s torque 45/55 front to rear — compared with the previous generation’s 40/60 split — to improve the car’s dynamics.

For the ultimate driving experience, an AMG version features a potent 6.2L V8 that kicks out 507 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, coupled to a seven-speed automatic, exclusive to AMG, with multi-clutch technology to harness the power and transmit it to the rear wheels.

— Clare Dear

Add some zip; 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe

The E550 has a 382-horsepower, 5.5-litre DOHC V8. There’s also a very healthy 391 pound-feet of torque available as low as 2,800 rpm. With it, the Coupe accelerates like a leopard — zero to 100 kilometres an hour in just 5.2 seconds — doing it with all the bearing and sophistication one expects from a Mercedes. Oh, and gas mileage isn’t horrible, either. Throw in a slick-shifting, seven-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and one has a very sophisticated way of scaring the bejesus out of the slow and incompetent.

Then there’s the E-Class’ ride and handling. The new Agility Control Suspension and Dynamic Handling package, standard on the E550, eliminates the stiff ride often associated with the sportiest of Benzes. Essentially a quicker-reacting variable damping system, the E550’s four shocks are adjusted individually to react to different-sized bumps. And the sporty E-Class Coupe rides surprisingly well. The E550 not only handles better than the base model with regular suspension, it also rides better. It’s not often you see improvement in both diametrically opposed attributes. Throw in the Dynamic Handling package, which offers manual adjustment to further firm up the suspension, variable, speed-sensitive steering, a more liberal electronic stability program and enhanced throttle response from the engine and there’s a decidedly boy racer attitude from this E-Class.

The E550 can virtually park itself thanks to its Parktronic system. This guides the E550 into a parking spot and, at any speed below 35 km/h, actually scans the side of the road for adequate parking spaces. As well, the Distronic Plus system with Pre-Safe can slam on the brakes automatically if it determines an accident is imminent. Lastly, there’s a new Active Bonnet that helps protect pedestrians who wander into the path of the E550 by popping the hood up 50 mm to provide an extra cushion. Many pedestrian fatalities occur when their head deforms the hood enough to come into contact with the top of the engine — the Active Bonnet system uses the hood as a metallic “airbag.”

If you like your luxury coupes on the conservative side, the new E-Class Coupe is a dramatic leap forward from the outgoing CLK, which was based on a lesser platform, was less powerful and did not handle as well as this new coupe. The E550 is filled chock-a-block with luxury, safety and performance goodies. No less should be expected from Mercedes.

— David Booth

Seamless hybrid vs. true dynamism; 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

S400 Hybrid — For 2010, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been freshened and there’s a totally new model — the rear-drive S400 Hybrid. As before, the largest of Mercedes sedans features many of the company’s latest innovations, including state-of-the-art drivetrain technologies, interior features and new safety systems. The facelift touches both the exterior styling and interior ambience.

The new look brings revised front and rear fascias, new LED daytime running lights and tail lights and reshaped exterior mirrors, while the twin tailpipes, which bark delightfully when the driver presses the gas pedal, have been integrated into the rear apron. Inside, there’s a new steering wheel with standard paddle shifters, better front and rear seats and some very nice trim accents.

Parktronic now comes with Parking Guidance. At speeds below 35 kilometres an hour, the system scans for a parking space that’s at least 1.8 metres longer than the vehicle. When found, a “P” illuminates in the instrument cluster. The system even helps the driver back into the space by indicating how much steering input is required.

Another camera brings the Night View Assist Plus system to life. At night, the infra-red camera has the ability to “see” into the darkness. It is way cool — when activated, the scene ahead of the car replaces the speedometer in the instrument cluster. The advantage is the system’s ability to identify pedestrians that might not be visible to the driver.

Finally, there’s Attention Assist. This system monitors the driver’s behaviour and looks for the first signs of drowsiness. If it determines the driver is beginning to nod off, it provides both audible and visual warnings, including flashing a coffee cup symbol in an attempt to get the driver to take a break.

The big news is the new S400 Hybrid, a mild hybrid that blends an electric motor with a 3.5-litre, Atkinson-cycle V6 (the hybrid components add about 75 kilograms to the car’s mass). The electric motor, which doubles as the starter and alternator, is sandwiched between the engine and the modified seven-speed automatic transmission.

It’s a seamless system that functions such that the driver is almost completely unaware this S-Class is different from the other models — the idle-stop feature, which can operate at speeds below 15 km/h, is one of the few giveaways. The beauty of the system is that it puts a net system output of 295 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque at 2,400 rpm at the driver’s disposal (the electric motor contributes 20 hp and 118 lb-ft). Mat the gas and, with the hybrid system giving its all, the heavy S400 (all 2,050 kg of it) romps to 100 kilometres an hour in a speedy 7.2 seconds. Remarkably, it manages this level of performance while returning a combined European test cycle fuel average of 7.2 litres per 100 km.

The beauty of the S400 is its lack of compromise. By mounting the main 120-volt lithium ion battery under the hood, there is no decrease in cargo capacity, The 19.7 cubic feet of trunk space is exactly the same as the other models.

Likewise, the driving experience is without compromise.

Unlike so many hybrids that employ regenerative braking, the S400’s pedal is crisp underfoot, which makes modulating it that much easier. The new direct steering system provides excellent feel and feedback, the suspension hunkers down whenever the car is pushed and, because of the adaptive damping and 54/46 front-to-rear weight distribution, the S400 feels alive and dynamic.

S600 — On that note, if true dynamism is sought, hop behind the wheel of the S600. Its twin-turbo V12 engine kicks out 510 hp and a tire-shredding 612 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 rpm. Mash the gas pedal and the turbos propel this 2,250-kg, leather-lined missile to 100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds, and performs the 80-to-120 passing move in 3.3 seconds. On the autobahn, the big S rockets to 220 km/h in what seems like the blink of an eye. (Between 80 km/h and 180 km/h, the speedometer’s needle rises faster than the tachometer’s pointer!) One can only dream of taking the S65 AMG and its 603 hp (and mind-blowing 738 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm) for a drive.

The S600 is also awash with features. All of the new technologies are in place plus active body control (ABC) with crosswind stabilization. It’s such that an AMG package and a dual-screen rear entertainment system are the only options.

— Graeme Fletcher