Auto Motives

By Robert Bowden May 1, 2010

If I know anything after more than 30 years of test-driving and reviewing cars and following automobile marketing and sales, it’s that you are what you drive. Cars are body armor you wrap yourself in each morning to greet the world. Like the clothing you wear, the car you drive says worlds about your personality and beliefs. A “dream” car, one of those ultra-luxury models that are reserved for the privileged few, says even more—the car you dream about owning reveals who you aspire to be.

So let’s start with a personality quiz. Which of the following most applies to you?

❑ I seek out the timeless and time-tested when I make a purchase.

❑ I enjoy new things and want to be part of the latest trends.

❑ I take my cues from successful people. I do not imitate, but I learn from others.

❑ I think there’s too much sameness in today’s world. I want to stand out.

❑ I value my privacy and do not want to attract attention to myself.

❑ If a dream can become reality, I’ll go for it.

You’ve mentally noted your answers and wonder how to apply your results to the purchase of a dream car in 2010. Read on. We’ll show you how to find the new luxury car for you.


You might want to own a Rolls-Royce Ghost if your wristwatch is a Rolex ("just because"), you travel in a private Lear jet, you want a family car to match your golf cart design, you make anonymous donations to charities and have never once driven your vehicle through a fast-food-drive-thru lane.

Happy days are here again.

No, Ronald Reagan has not returned to the White House, but Rolls-Royce did decide to resurrect a much revered model for 2010—the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Just as Republicans counter Democrats’ initiatives, Rolls-Royce resurrected the Ghost to take on Bentley’s Continental in a fight for faithful fans of British Upper Crust carriages.

The haunting Ghost carries a base price of $245,000 and will dart around faster than the friendly Casper. Under its bonnet (British for “hood”) is a 6.6-liter turbocharged V12 that produces a supernatural 563 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque. Coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the engine blasts a Ghost from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds. Top speed is governed at 155 miles per hour.

A unique feature today is clamshell doors, or suicide doors as they have been called, each side door opening opposite the other.

If you maintain a nautical interest, take a look at a 2010 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. This one offers an optional teak deck inspired by decks on classic racing yachts.

Each deck is hand-made from 30 separate pieces of teak cut from the same tree, to maintain consistent grain and pattern. The grooves are precisely machined and then covered with black yacht builders’ caulk. Two sealing coats and one finishing coat of liquid wax follow.

It’s all terribly expensive—but less than a mid-size yacht.

You might want to own a Bentley if Antiques Road Show is your favorite hour on TV, you find yourself saying “Things were better back when”..., you speak of “value” vs. “trendy” or you just want a killer car that turns heads while it accelerates your own head into the back seat.

This is a year of change for prestigious Bentley. Just as the Ghost of Rolls-Royce was resurrected, so is Bentley’s new model, the Mulsanne, which Bentley sold from 1980 to 1992.

The 2010 Mulsanne is, according to Bentley, the first all-new “from the ground up” Bentley since the 1930 Bentley 8-Litre. The Mulsanne is thoroughly modern, yet hearkens to Bentleys of yesterday. Consider the words of its chief designer: “To achieve this look,” says Raul Pires, “we spent a lot of time studying iconic Bentleys over time. The Bentley 8-Litre, Flying Spur of the 1950s, Brooklands, Azure and Arnage were all touch points. We wanted a more sporting and distinctive Bentley look.”

Hear, hear, my good man. You did it.

Under the Mulsanne bonnet is a six-liter V8 engine with 505 horsepower. Bentley says with the design of this new engine, emphasis was placed on torque, the power piece that quickens launch and adds grunt to any vehicle. The more-than-ample power flows through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base Bentley Mulsanne price is $300,000.

Should a buyer want even more Bentley, there’s a new Continental Supersports coupe, which Bentley bills as “the fastest, most powerful Bentley every built.” That’s no doubt the truth, since the Continental Supersports has a 621-horsepower, twin-turbocharged W12 (like co-joined V6s) engine under its bonnet. Those figures are close to a NASCAR race car and zoom the Continental from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. Top speed is 204 miles per hour.

It’s $350,000. A bonus? It can use flex-fuel.

You might want to own a Maserati GranTurismo convertible if you remember Juan Manuel Fangio driving a Maserati to victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957. Of course, the devil in you might also just like the Trident emblem you’ll show to rear view mirrors in traffic.

If you’re a successful family man, a two-seat roadster or coupe is not exactly a practical choice in vehicle design. You need the Maserati GranTurismo convertible with its four seats—the first soft-top convertible to be developed and built at the company’s Modena, Italy, headquarters.

You won’t have to compromise your performance desires with this one. The $135,800 GranTurismo convertible has a V8 engine developing 433 horsepower. With a six-speed automatic transmission, this luxury ragtop revs all the way to a race-car-like 7,600 rpm.

The shape of the GranTurismo convertible was determined by air flow in wind tunnel testing. Wind resistance is measured as drag, friction that slows the speed of an object in motion. Maserati whittled this convertible to a best-in-class 0.35 coefficient of drag with the top up, 0.39 with the top down. In everyday language, this is one slick car! Looks great, less dragging—all the way to its top speed of 173 mph.

Back in the ’50s, Fangio and Stirling Moss were driving Birdcage Maseratis at Sebring and LeMans. Fast forward more than a half-century, and designers incorporated 20-inch alloy wheels on the GranTurismo that mimic those of the Birdcage design (the first lightweight spaceframe chassis ever produced).

Want some engine noise? The GranTurismo has a “sport exhaust system” that bypasses the mufflers if a driver presses a “Sport” button and the rpm is above 3,000. Rooooom, rooooom.

In an open-top car this quick, safety is a concern. Maserati has patented a pop-up rollbar system behind the rear seats that might save lives in a rollover accident. If needed, the rollbars hidden by the roof cover are deployed in 190 milliseconds. As they move into position, they shatter the rear window glass with, as Maserati says, “minimal risk to the occupants.”

You might want to own a Porsche Panamera if James Dean is your teen idol, you understand that a Spyder is not a creature to be shunned, you now have a family of four, and you correct friends to tell them it’s a Por-sha, not a Porsh.

There are few names in all autodom as magic as Porsche. Along with Ferrari, Porsche cars defined sports car racing during the youth of those now able to realize their teen dreams.

But a two-seat roadster is not a family man’s car choice, any more than an eight-seat minivan is. Get real. What is needed is a four-door, four-passenger, honest-to-James Dean Porsche!

Introducing, the Porsche Panamera.

Now, to some, Porsche should only make two-seat sports cars. And even with that limitation, the Fraternity of Porschephiles snubs some past efforts, like the Porsche 914 with its VW engine or the V8-powered 928. Ugh. Not Porsches, the Frat brothers voted.

The Panamera is a Porsche, however, and television commercials for the car show it speeding down a salt flat, surrounded by famous Porsches such as the James Dean Spyder and the Gulf Porsche driven by Steve McQueen in LeMans. Visceral objects for dreams, these magic cars.

Today’s family man with car lust in his heart will find the Panamera a dream come true. Five-hundred horsepower, 6,000 rpm, a seven-speed automatic, 188 mph top speed, a zero to 60 time of four seconds flat. The family will be ... thrilled.

There are four bucket seats, to hold each family member in place better than any bench seat can. Four seats for $133,575 base (but many, many desirable features are options, so the desirable Panamera leaves the door at $174,875 after everything is added up).

How can you be sure this is a real Porsche? The ignition is to the left of the steering wheel, as it is on all Porsche cars. This location resulted from the fraction of a second gained by race drivers in so-called LeMans starts—sprinting on foot across a track, leaping into the car, starting it, engaging a gear and driving away. Starts were faster with left-side ignition systems.

Porsches always want to win.

You might want to own a Lamborghini if you collect Picasso sketches, think Adam Lambert was robbed by American Idol voters, or shout “I said I wanted ‘RED’” at the cosmetic counter sales lady.

Oh yes, you’ll stand out in a Lamborghini, either the $450,000 Murcielago or the $221,000 Gallardo. These are not cars for the reclusive or the timid. These are kinetic sculptures. Art in motion.

So individualistic are the designs of Lamborghinis that it’s difficult to imagine the inspiration. Perhaps it came when a designer visited an auto junkyard and watched flattened wrecks being piled up. Or maybe heat lamps in a test bay were too intense and the clay model melted (“Wow, does that look great or what?”)

Whatever, the trademark look is that of a hunkered-down speed demon with a pit bull personality.

Sadly, Lamborghini this year canceled plans for a four-door sedan, citing the bad economy as the reason. So we are left with two enviable models: the Gallardo and the Murcielago.

Of the two, the Gallardo is most affordable, if $221,000 can be called affordable. It’s available as a two-door hardtop or convertible, and the desirable color for 2010 is Robin’s Egg Blue. Both styles have a 5.2-litre V10 that makes 560-horsepower.

If you must ask, it gets 12 miles to a gallon. But no one asks.

The Murcielago is the luxury Lamborghini choice. Depending on options, a Murcielago costs from $382,400 to $450,000. Again, you may choose a hardtop or a convertible. Either will have a 6.5-liter V12 engine located mid-car (or “mid-ship,” as buffs like to say). It’s visible under the rear glass, a massive vehicular Terminator that transforms Mr. Milky Toast into Arnold the Great at the press of an accelerator.

That airplane-sized engine develops 631 horsepower. Top speed is an almost unimaginable 204 mph, zero to 60 is a motorcycle-like 3.4 seconds, and it gets 8 mpg of gas.  

If you buy one, be sure your lipstick is RED. People notice, you know.

Robert Bowden has been test-driving and reviewing cars for more than 30 years; his reviews have appeared in magazines, newspapers and his former Web site, named a “Best of the Web” by Forbes Magazine.


Coming Soon

Get ready for the Lexus LFA. 

Not long ago, the most coveted new car was the Bugatti. In 2010, the gotta-have-it set will want a Lexus LFA.

This is not a normal car. Not for $350,000. Not with a 4.8-liter (293 cubic-inch) V10 engine that has motorcycle size and performance.

No, this Lexus LFA is a cocoon of insane power usually found only on elite race tracks. It takes the LFA a mere 0.6 seconds to rev from idle to a 9,000 rpm redline. Shifts come in adrenaline-surging urgency, and second gear tops the legal speed limit on any interstate highway.

Zero to 60 takes 3.6 seconds.

Should the accelerator stick, the LFA will rocket to 202 mph.The carbon-fiber car weighs a mere 3,400 pounds—and much of that has to be the huge brakes that can haul an LFX down from its ungoverned speeds.

Lexus will produce only 20 of these each month, until 500 have been made. Then that’s the end for this outrageously fast, luxury road car.

Visit your local Lexus dealer to get in line. Deliveries should begin about Christmas. A December to remember, for sure.   


Off the grid

Tesla’s new S sets a new standard for the electric car.

If one of the luxury sports models already profiled doesn’t pull you out of personal depression and into a local dealership, then perhaps you will want something that very few other people on the planet can own or drive.

No, not the Chevy Volt, coming amidst shrill fanfare later this year as a glorified golf cart for tree huggers. Discerning individual that you are, you want a really special all-electric car, Tesla’s new S, a hummer every bit as attractive as the Porsche Panamera. “S” is for sedan, but it also could stand for “sport.” This car gives no quarter to models getting 8 mpg around town.

It seats seven and goes zero to 60 in a whoosh lasting 5.6 seconds. A fully charged system offers a driver 300 miles of uninterrupted travel. Then a 45-minute recharge over a $5 footlong lunch sets up another 300 miles. Recharging means plugging into any standard electrical wall outlet. For most uses, then, the Tesla S can run all day without expending its on-board, battery-stored energy.

Now, the best part. The Chevy Volt’s price hasn’t been released, but auto experts agree it will be in the $40,000 range. A Tesla S? $49,900. Plus, there’s a $7,500 federal tax credit for buying one. 

Earlier this year, Tesla opened a dealership in Dania Beach, Fla., where its cars can be road-tested and purchased.

You might want to own an Aston Martin Rapide if you watch and re-watch the early James Bond movies, if your idea of elegant fashion comes from Lady Gaga or Dennis Rodman, or if you spent last summer solo-kayaking Colorado rivers.

Much like other fine British cars, the Aston Martin Rapide is not the product of robotized assembly. It’s hand-built.

Back when 007 smoked cigarettes and before M became an app designer for the iPhone, Aston Martins were the secret agent’s car of choice. Today, of course, a car used in a movie is just another advertising prop available to the highest bidder.

Who knows? Bond might drive a Chevy Volt in his next outing. (But Aston Martins were used in Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale, so there’s hope for this car star to keep a recurring role).

For those who still insist on Dunhill, this Rapide will be among the most expensive luxury sports sedans. It is intended to compete, according to Aston Martin, with the Porsche Panamera. But its entry price is higher: $199,950.

Yes, it’s a four-door, four-seat car. Standard features are much like those on the Panamera—top-notch audio, heated memory seats, adaptive damping for the suspension system. The car is based on the legendary Aston Martin DB9. It’s under the bonnet where things get interesting.

Each Rapide has a hand-built six-liter V12 monster engine that produces 470 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The driver can shift a six-speed automatic transmission by using magnesium paddles behind the steering wheel. Or let the car shift itself.

A Rapide driver certainly will not encounter a mirror-image car at many stop lights. Only 2,000 Rapides will be built this year.

If you remember, Ford bought Aston Martin (and Jaguar) back in the affluent 1990s (1994, to be exact). But things didn’t work out, and Ford really wanted to unload the premium British brand. Private buyers were found in 2007, and Aston Martins no longer face the prospect of a Ford Boss 351 V8 under the hood ... er, bonnet. Kuwaiti oil fortunes now fund this venerable British brand.

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