Car driving in front of a cliff
Car driving in front of a cliff

The new BMW XM is the first high-performance car from BMW M GmbH with an electrified drive system

BMW’s sporting flagship promises to be the best of its luxury SUV division, combined with the best of its racy M division. Does it deliver?

Many large SUVs are dramatically imposing, aggressive vehicles that look like they are as likely to declare war on Mars as get you to your destination. Which is fine if you are a certain type of person or in a certain mood. But not always.

The BMW XM is certainly a large SUV. It is also a kind of flagship of the company’s range, combining, in an adaptation of their own words, the best of its SUV division (X) with the best of its sports division (M).

It doesn’t need a racing driver to tell you that a huge, tall wide vehicle is not necessarily best suited to a racing purpose; and nor is a racing car mush suited to carrying several people wearing Etro and Patek Philippe and Off White around in comfort.

But in the manner of an athletic rugby forward, or a centre back, the XM carries off that blend of athleticism and muscle.

car inside

Unique exterior design twinned with luxurious interior that showcases the ‘M Lounge’ concept

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What is particularly interesting about the car is that while it looks dramatic and striking, it manages not to look aggressive. Perhaps because of its hybrid nature, it gives off an element of futuristic electric vibe.

It’s also great fun to drive, even in town. BMW have somehow managed to endow it with responsive steering, and very flat cornering, it feels astonishingly agile for a car the size of a small hotel. Like all hybrids, it is very relaxing to drive an electric mode, and when the engine kicks in, you get an overlay of sound.

The nature of the sound divided our passengers: Some thought it sounded cool and racy, others said that such a sophisticated looking car should be seen and felt rather than heard. It’s not as noisy as a Lamborghini SUV, but it’s much louder than a Bentley Bentayga or Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Happy medium or compromise? Probably in the eye of the beholder.

Read more: Porsche 911 Carrera GTS Review

What sure is that this is a magnificent long-distance vehicle. Back seat passengers get smart, detachable branded leather cushions. (even the plug-in charging cables in the boot/trunk are housed in a rather striking leather overnight bag), there is masses of legroom and a feeling of a huge amount of space and light in the car, and also that the rear seats are well designed, unlike in some of these vehicles where you end up sitting very upright. A journey between London and Oxford was devoured in one gulp without anybody noticing the in between.

Speaking of gulps, in the past an SUV of this size would have been planet-wearingly thirsty, but due to its engine efficiency and electrical assistance, the XM is remarkably frugal – more so than many cars half its size and power.

Car driving on a cliff

The high-performance Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) is powered by a newly developed plug-in hybrid system delivering 653hp and 800Nm of torque

Criticisms? Apart from the size, which you have to be able to deal with f you are buying a car like this, the entertaining and sporty nature of the driving experience means that the ride is quite firm. Don’t expect a limousine here – for that you should look at this car’s I7 sibling. But if you can live with that, this is quite the car.

www.bmw.com

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red car driving in nature In the second part of our Driving Force series from the AW 2022/23 issue, LUX’s car reviewer gets behind the wheel of the Audi R8 V10 Spyder.

We at LUX are not engineers. We leave analysis of the technical side of motoring to our specialist colleagues in the automotive media. What we do know, though, as motoring enthusiasts, is that a mid-engined car should be fun to drive.

With only an elementary knowledge of physics, we know that placing an engine – a car’s heaviest part – behind the driver instead of in front, should make a car easier to pivot through a turn. And while LUX readers may not often do their own grocery shopping, anyone who has tried to steer a shopping trolley full of bottles of, say, Dom Pérignon, will know how much harder it is to turn corners than when the trolley is empty. The same principle should theoretically apply to a mid-engined car, where the space under the bonnet is air, not engine.

Driving through a series of sharp corners in the latest Audi R8, we were delighted to feel this theory being put into practice. The R8 is a fine-looking car, making the most of the engine placement. It has a short, aggressive-looking front end and a fat, squat rear, suggesting speed and intent. Then there is its handling. Steer into a corner and the reactions are instantaneous: there is no mass, no trolley full of Dom Pérignon to turn ahead of you. In fact, it turns so quickly you need your wits about you or you will overdo it, steering too much and aiming onto the wrong side of the road. You feel the car’s four-wheel drive getting its claws into the road as the engine shoots out of the curve, ready for the next one. It may be an Audi, but this is one hyper-responsive car, as sharp as a Ferrari or a McLaren. 

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You also have no doubt that the engine is just a few centimetres behind your head. It is a special engine. As you accelerate out of a corner, its howl grows, like the sound of a Formula One track getting closer. The revs continue to rise and the F1 track continues to increase in volume, the engine getting more and more urgent, until you hit the rev limiter at 8,700rpm. It is an exciting experience, and, combined with the concentration required to keep the hyper-responsive steering pointing in the right direction, makes for real fun and engagement.

Most sports cars today that have not turned electric or into part-electric hybrids are powered by turbocharged V8 engines. They are, by and large, very fast, and the engine response in many cases is even swifter than in this car. However, they lack the character and drama of the now old-fashioned V10 engine, as it gains revs and power mid-howl – something to treasure.

This all makes the R a brilliant car to drive. Unsurprisingly, over the years that its similar-looking predecessor was made, it was highly successful and remains highly desirable. If you feel a caveat coming, you are correct – it involves a mystery. This is an unquestionably rapid and exciting car to drive, even more thrilling on a twisty road than some of its acclaimed rivals. However, there is a slight snobbery towards it from some. Both rivals we mentioned have, we think, slightly higher status in the car-collector world, whereas the R8 V10, for all its brilliance, is considered a little more nouveau.

steering wheel of car with open roof

We can’t give a definitive answer as to why that might be. The R8 isn’t perfect, of course – a two-seater sports car rarely is. Even by the standards of this car type, though, there is very little storage space, either in the front boot or the cabin. If two of you were off for a weekend away, let’s just say that even if there were enough room for your bags, there would be none for souvenirs.

It is also true that the cabin suffers from the excellence of Audi’s corporate design. The shape of the interior is as you might expect from a low mid-engined, two-seater sports car. It is beautifully put together and clear in a Bauhaus-for-the-21st-century way, but the materials and interior design don’t feel special. It feels exactly what it is, a premium two-seater sports car from the people who bring you premium saloons and estate cars. However, the exterior shape, which we think looks better than anything else in its class, makes up for the lack of interior flair. 

If you did need further storage space, the Porsche is more practical and spacious, with small back seats that are suitable for humans over short distances. But these are not supposed to be practical cars and, as a racy weekend machine, the R8 is superb. It manages what some much more expensive supercars don’t: it is reactive and lively at low speeds, and you don’t have the feeling – common in some over-capable supercars – that the car is taking everything in its stride and not giving much fun or feedback. 

Read more: Ionic cars are transforming classic cars for an electric future

In the R8 you have the best engine in its class, combined with handling that lets you know you are in a supercar, while keeping you hyper-alert. The steering could have more feel, although that is a common complaint in this era of electrically assisted steering and giant tyres. Importantly, the R8 is the last of its kind. With emissions regulations, Audi will not make another V10. We recommend it, and, for extra fun, opt for the Spyder over the coupé, so you can open the roof and hear the engine even more.

LUX rating: 19/20

Find out more: audi.co.uk

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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Red car driving on road
Red car driving on road

The latest Porsche Panamera, a comfortable, high-performance SUV, is less lumbering than other fast SUVs and provides genuine driver satisfaction

In the fourth part of our supercar review series, LUX gets behind the wheel of the Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid

Mitteleuropa (middle Europe) is a semi-mythical territory that has always fascinated us. It is, decisively not the same as central Europe, the web of countries to the east of Switzerland and to the west of Romania. Its German name suggests it incorporates a part of Germany, but it cannot include the brisk North Sea coast or the Hanseatic ports, which belong to the Baltic. And we felt we were entering Mitteleuropa when a sign on the motorway in eastern France (that’s right, France) declared that we were in Lorraine. The signs on the motorway exit boards changed tone, as did the scenery. The place names became Germanic, and the flat fields of the Champagne region gave way to forested hills and ridges.

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Here, the Porsche Panamera felt in its element, as it headed back to its homeland. The straight-line motorway that had been a feature of the route to date turned into long, beautifully engineered curves, taken at high speed in this long wheelbase, semi-electric, large sports sedan. It was enormously satisfying, with subtle growls from the V8 engine upfront and the steeliness of the car’s sporting suspension making you feel like a pilot more than a chauffeur.

front black seats of car

This is the aim of the Panamera: a comfortable, high-performance vehicle intended to be genuinely satisfying for the driver, without the compromises of a high-sided SUV. As we drove past one mini mountain, the clouds burst open in a Götterdämmerung of rain, which rapidly flooded the road. The four-wheel-drive of the Panamera felt as if it was vacuuming up the water and spitting it out the back, wanting still to go faster, as if on a wet race track, when it would have been irresponsible to do so.

wheel of a car

We spent the night in Phalsbourg, eating at a French restaurant on a terrace on its wide central square while being served beer brewed in the Black Forest, in neighbouring Germany, by staff who spoke French and German, as if the two territories were one.

Between Phalsbourg and the Black Forest lie the Vosges mountains. The roads here were narrow, tight, still damp and the car clung to them through the gears, the electric and petrol engines working in unison to propel us forward. The Panamera is not a sports car by any traditional definition, it is too wide, too heavy. But if you’re used to driving a fast SUV and hanker after something less lumbering, while still having a lot of space, this is for you.

Read More: Style And Substance: Bentley Bentayga Hybrid

In the Black Forest the autobahn between Stuttgart and Lake Constance has no speed limit in many places, and its trail snakes through the mountains. At normal speed, the curves are gentle, barely noticeable, and you have the ability to admire villages pinned into the surrounding woods. But when you go much faster, on an empty road, each corner feels like a racetrack, and the car on its limit is muscular, secure, reassuring but sharp, made to maximise its capabilities on these roads not so far from its birth town of Stuttgart. At 160mph (257km/h), there is no time to admire the scenery.
We finished the day with a glass of the same local beer offered to us hundreds of miles away in Phalsbourg, while sitting in a little café on Lake Constance, Switzerland, a series of green bumps across the lake in front of us, Austria a couple of grey spikes in the distance to the left. Middle Europe, and the ideal car to conquer it.

LUX Rating: 18/20

Find out more: porsche.com

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bentley car driving amid mountains
bentley car driving amid mountains

The new Bentley Bentayga Hybrid is a lighter-feel luxury SUV that’s a wonderful mix of refinement and muscle

In the third part of our supercar review series, LUX gets behind the wheel of the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid

If you need an example of how the attributes of heritage luxury car brands have to change in the new world of sustainability and electrification, look no further than Bentley. This is a company that has been making cars that are primarily distinguished by their immensely powerful and vocal petrol engines for more than 100 years. Taking the petrol engines out of Bentleys would be like taking the leather out of a Chesterfield.

This latest model we drove is not electrically powered, but it’s a halfway point. The company’s luxury SUV is typically distinguished by its massive 12-cylinder engine (although there are models available with a V8). Here we have a hybrid version, with a six-cylinder petrol engine accompanied by an electric motor.

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Does it work? That depends: if you’re listening for that V12 ‘whoof’, and expecting the distinctive power characteristics – speed and responsiveness to increase in tandem – you may be disappointed at first. In fact, the sound is the most notable characteristic of this car, as going from a Bentley V12 to this is rather like going from wild to farmed beluga. Still good, but not what you’re used to. But, given that in a few short years no engine will make any sound at all apart from a faint hum, this is really a moot point.

Bentley beige car interior

One other characteristic a traditionalist will welcome is the lighter feel: there is less engine in the nose of the car. It feels quite alive around corners on country lanes on the way to one’s architect-redesigned Oxfordshire manor house.

Black car dashboard

That is the kind of lifestyle this car is aimed at and it does an excellent job. The interior feels like sitting in a well-appointed bank vault with windows onto which the outside world is projected. Unlike some very powerful SUVs, it doesn’t feel like it wants to race every car from the traffic lights. It’s not exactly serene – it’s a Bentley after all – but it’s a wonderful mix of refinement and muscle. If you’re an enthusiastic driver, you won’t complain about the relatively agile handling, excellent roadholding and responsiveness at speed. You may wish for a little more feedback and involvement, though, as this car is set up more at the luxury end of things.

Read more: Why You Should Get Your New Car Ceramic Coated

Your passengers will enjoy the crafted feel of the interior, which really does feel a cut above almost any rival. It may not feel as passionate as the SUV offerings from Lamborghini or the Mercedes G 63, but it aims to do a slightly different job, rather more grown-up. It is also a car you could get in to drive from the Cotswolds to ski in St Moritz in one day, and arrive refreshed and ready for the slopes. And the fuel savings from the new electric-petrol engine will pay for a couple of drinks at Pavarotti’s.

LUX rating: 17.5/20

Find out more: bentleymotors.com

This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of LUX

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yellow sportscar
yellow sportscar

Ferrari F8 Spider. Photo by Max Earey

In the second part of our supercar series, LUX’s car reviewer gets behind the wheel of Ferrari F8 Tributo and the F8 Spider

That’s it, folks. Ferrari fans, please shed a tear as, for all the right reasons, these two cars are the end of the bloodline for Ferrari’s celebrated mid-engined V8 series of cars.

For many, this series personifies Ferrari: Magnum PI drove a red one in the 80s TV series. The ancestral line of two-seaters grew in power and capability, though not always beauty, from the sleek 308 of the 1970s and 328 of the 1980s, through the more wedge-shaped 348 and 355 of the 1990s (not always everyone’s cup of tea, but very much of their era), to the more rounded 360 and 430 of the 2000s, and the recent evolution through 458, 488 and F8.

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The engine has always been a V8, and for some years has been an artwork visible through a clear cover behind the driver. From now, for the best of environmental reasons, the V8 will be replaced by a hybrid engine, and so the F8’s engine represents the pinnacle of Ferrari petrol engineering. We tried it out in both the fixed-roof (Tributo) and convertible (Spider) versions of the F8. It’s a glorious piece of machinery, giving a surge of power which grows to the typical Ferrari climax and you shoot towards what would be take-off velocity in a plane.

blue sportscar

Ferrari F8 Tributo. Photo by Max Earey

Every Ferrari handles well, but we couldn’t help feeling Ferrari had engineered some extra joy back into the F8 from the 488 which preceded it. There was a sense that Ferraris were getting too brilliant for their own good, beyond comprehension in the abilities they offered to a driver, but less engaging than of old.

Read more: Catherine Mallyon on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Success

The F8 engages the driver again, the sharper steering and more involving suspension meaning you really feel like you are driving the car rather than being at the helm of a video game. Crucially, it does so at low speeds, so you don’t feel like you need to be taking it onto a racetrack for it not to be bored – a complaint we have with a number of supercars. Back when the V8 Ferrari bloodline started in the 1970s, the cars were not recommended at low speeds because they overheated and were hard to manoeuvre. More recently, they were easy to drive and reliable but a tad sterile. The F8 addresses this, and how.

steering wheel of car

The F8’s aerodynamic body and control-laden steering wheel are all about the technicality of driving at speed

Whether you go for the Tributo or the Spider just depends on your preferences. The closed-roof car is probably a tad sharper around a racetrack but it is impossible to tell the difference, roof closed, when you are not. We like an open-roofed car so we will take the Spider.

Is it a must-buy V8 Ferrari, the last of its generation? Some would say that moment came with the 458, which was the last to have a non-turbocharged engine, with less power but more glory in its sensations and noise than the F8. Others would point to its predecessor, the 430, the last with a traditional metal-gate gearshift, which has a rawness and sharpness which even the F8 hasn’t quite gained back.

What’s certain is that it’s notable in itself for its sheer tearing thrust, the sharpness and brilliance of its handling and its joie de vivre. Ferrari really is on a roll, and Ferrari fans everywhere will be hoping it continues as the company moves into a more electric future.

LUX rating: 19/20
Find out more: ferrari.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue.

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white mercedes parked outside a hotel
white mercedes parked outside a hotel

The Mercedes-AMG G 63 is part limousine, part sports car and part SUV, with its lavishly appointed interior, sheer pace and rugged details such as the extended wheel arches

From supercar to supreme cruiser, our reviewers sample some of the latest and greatest from the automotive world, starting with the Mercedes-AMG G 63

Rain; hail; wind; floods. The north European summer offered it all this year. So, we decided to do a country drive with a difference by calling on the AMG G 63. If you have been to a big metropolis recently, you will have seen these, often driven by gentlemen from major oil-producing regions (and we don’t mean Norway). Don’t let that put you off, though, as the G 63, cartoonishly tall and square with rounded-off corners, is a cool-looking bit of design.

The details are even cooler. Doors have been engineered for the opposite of ‘soft-close’: they need to be shut with a slam, and make a satisfying whump on doing so. You have to climb onto a sill to get into the car, and the noise on start-up sounds like a dozen hungry Rottweilers.

But this is not a car only for poseurs. Its passengers agreed it was the most comfortable SUV they had sat in (and these are connoisseurs of the high-end SUV). Smoother than a Lamborghini Urus, less floaty than a Rolls Cullinan, and utterly distinctive and fun.

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The same could be said for the driving: bumbling out of London, it felt like driving a very nicely engineered small house. A fast one, too, as putting your foot down reveals comical acceleration, aided by well controlled suspension that doesn’t lean too much, but also doesn’t bump you around, either. A very hard trick to get right and one which most manufacturers of fast SUVs don’t manage.

Once we were in the countryside, and since this was a road trip in supposedly one of the most adept off-road vehicles in the world, we had to resist the temptation to head off across the fields to test its abilities. We suspect the car would have been fine (it was even wearing Scorpion all-terrain tyres!), the farmers less so.

Fortunately, it rained on our country hotel retreat. Chewton Glen, in Hampshire, is a hotel that has been around long enough, and been reincarnated enough, that it knows what to do in the rain: big indoor pool with picture windows, big hydrotherapy area (indoors and out), and plenty of salons inside in which to chill out.

But, as the rain poured down, sending mini-streams across the windows and the tarmac, there was only one thing to do. Take the G 63 out along country roads.

car interiors

To say it was in its element would be a gross understatement. It seemed the car grew even stronger and more grippy in the driving rain. Several centimetres flowing across one part of one road didn’t phase it, with not even a tricky twitch of the wheel; braking and accelerating was not just managed, but done with aplomb.

For us, the most important observation was not on the night of the heavy rains, but ahead of the journey home the next day. This tall, quirky looking, idiosyncratic machine is not just super-fast and capable. It is exceptionally comfortable to be in over long distances, which is something we didn’t expect, and, most refreshing and unexpected of all, it’s genuinely fun to drive.

We expected it to be a hoot in town, due to its height, its power and the way instant reactions have been programmed into its being. As a city car you may wish to take into account its size, height (for car parks) and the attention it commands, most of it good, some of it less so. But it is also a highly enjoyable companion on a long drive. And it still looks super-cool on a run around town, particularly if you place a two-metre-high, two-metre wide man in stubble, wrap-around shades, and a shiny suit with a bulge in the passenger seat.

Find out more: mercedes-amg.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue.

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White car on the road
White car on the road

The Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé transforms a sports car into a high-performance saloon

In the second part of our Fast & Luxurious car series from the Summer 2021 issue, LUX’s car reviewer takes the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupé for a test drive around England’s country lanes

Fast, four-door saloon cars used to be among the most exciting things on the road, believe it or not. In the 1980s, BMW produced its first M5, with the racing engine from its M1 supercar. At the time, it was a car that had it all, speed to match the Ferrari of the day, but comfort and reliability and space as well.

A tuning company in Germany called AMG started doing similar things to solid, dull, respectable, comfortable Mercedes cars of the time. They took one and made it something called the Hammer, which became a legend, so rare and desirable that it is now an expensive classic car.

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Since then, technological advances have made this category swell to the point of mundanity. A Tesla is now as fast as a Ferrari, without claiming to be ‘sporting’ in any way – in fact the whole concept of what constitutes a sports car is being eroded, but that’s a different matter.

Every prestige manufacturer now produces a very fast car that can fit the whole family and its Irish wolfhound, and generally these machines are astonishingly capable and often astonishingly unremarkable to drive.

car interiors and steering wheel

As a consequence, we approached the AMG GT 4-Door (yes, that’s its name) with mixed feelings. AMG was purchased and absorbed into Mercedes 20 years ago. Within this range from this single manufacturer alone, there are more than 20 cars which can easily go faster than you could possibly imagine going, unless you have a private race track or autobahn at your disposal.

Meanwhile, the AMG GT, the two-door sports car on which this big saloon is based, is very rapid, and exciting on the right day, but a bit uni-dimensional. It wants to be loud and go fast. All. The. Time.

How would that translate into a four-door, four-seater car whose raison d’être is to be versatile? And aren’t there enough fast, spacious AMGs already?

Read more: LUX’s Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai on media

Press the start button and – ROWWF. This is a big car with a big heart, its turbocharged V8 very much telling you it is there. It doesn’t take long to work out what kind of car this is. The steering is direct and responsive and has a little bit of feedback – rare in these years of electrically assisted steering. Mercedes does an excellent job in this area, best of any of its direct rivals. Which makes it a very satisfying car to drive, even at low speeds.

On the open highway, the car settles into a comfortable cruise, rumble from the engine telling you that it wants to play, but it is neither restless nor intrusive. The ride is comfortable. The interior is sculpted, luxurious and highly digital. It feels like taking a big but friendly dog out for a walk – straining at its leash a little but well trained.

The big surprise, though, comes when hurling this big, super-powerful car down a country lane. It feels neither big nor heavy, instead as eager as a large puppy.

car tyres

It burns down straights and lollops around corners delightedly, always enthusiastic, highly capable, and highly enjoyable. It feels faster than any of the other hyper-saloon cars on sale, although there is no way anyone would be able to feel that different on a public road, apart from in a couple of instances over a couple of seconds each time. But most importantly, it feels fun, in an almost old-fashioned way. It is not clinical, like so many cars.

Interestingly, this does not come with any significant compromises. The seats are the best we have tried in any saloon car. It may not be as quiet as some cars, but it is far more relaxing to drive than its two-door sibling.

It’s only real drawback is that it is priced at a higher category to cars like the current BMW M5. That is completely justified, for its combination of even higher performance, more comfort and sophistication. But at that price level, you are into the world of even more prestigious brands, where a name counts for as much as anything else in the ownership experience. So while this is probably the best big super-saloon car ever made we are not sure whether it will find a big market. It deserves to.

LUX rating: 19/20

Find out more: mercedes-amg.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.

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convertible sportscar
convertible sportscar

The Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet. Courtesy of Switzerland Tourism/André Meier.

In the latest iteration of our Fast & Luxurious car series, LUX’s car reviewer tries out four new versions of well-established models from Porsche, Mercedes-AMG and BMW. First up is the Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet

The sequence of events that led to this story is as follows. (1) At an early age, watch the James Bond classic Goldfinger, and be entranced by the sequence where Sean Connery’s Bond drives his Aston Martin DB5 in a chase up the spectacular Furka Pass. (2) Soon after, be driven up and down said pass as a small child, with family, in quite a slow, unremarkable car, whose engine and brakes overheated. Wonder what it would be like to do the same without family, in a proper car, or a proper mission. (3) Many years later. Finish business meeting, sitting outside by the eastern shore of Lake Geneva, on a hot day, clear blue sky, mountains looming all around. Say goodbye to business contact, hit the key button of the car to open roof, sit in car, and look at map (old-fashioned fold-out Michelin map) to plot a route for the rest of the day.

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My next business meeting was at breakfast the next morning in Andermatt, the swanky new resort development in the middle of the Swiss Alps. The car’s satnav and Google on my phone told me the same way to get there. Around 90 minutes on the motorway looping around the north side of the Alps past Bern, turn right on the motorway to Lucerne, along the east side of Lake Lucerne, and up the valley to Andermatt. Around 3.5 hours all told, a simple route, a scenic one, too, as I remembered, with the Alps constantly keeping you company in a panorama on the right as you traced the semicircle.

However, for every circumference of a semicircle, there is a diameter also. A more direct route. And according to my old fashioned map, the direct looked like an even better bet. Unlike some direct routes in the Alps, it was not only navigable by helicopter or eagle. Instead, I would drive along the very good highway up the Rhône valley, past the towns of Martigny, Sion and Visp, a route that is well known to anyone skiing in the Valais region. It was the last part of the road that was more of an unknown: along the very top of the valley past the source of the Rhône, and then a quick climb up the very same Furka that had appeared in my youthful dreams, and on the other side where Andermatt was literally sitting and waiting for me, with a cold beer in its hand.

lakeside road

La-Tour-de-Peilz, with the Rhône valley in the distance. Image by Darius Sanai

Even accounting for the fact that the mountain-pass road would be slower, it all looked to be a little more than half as long as the Google and satnav route. It was a no-brainer.

What’s more, I could not have chosen a better car in the world to put to bed the memory of the old, slow, overheating family steed. I was sitting in a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S convertible, the latest generation 992 model Porsche 911, with the upgraded engine sported by the S model, a drop top and four-wheel drive. It had been a fantastic companion on my way down from the UK, sitting more happily than a sports car has any right to do on the open road and never feeling fidgety, and then being highly rewarding on the occasional detour on the twisty lanes in central France. And in Geneva, transmission in automatic mode, while taking a conference call over Bluetooth, it had been as docile and hands off as any car could be.

Read more: Sophie Neuendorf on why tokenisation is the art world’s new frontier

The motorway from Vevey to the eastern end of Lake Geneva stands on a viaduct high above the lake, clutching the mountain side to the left. I caught the occasional glimpse of a spectacular sunset on the other side of the lake over the Jura Mountains. The road dropped down at the end of the lake to meet the gaping mouth of the U-shaped Rhône valley – a study in primary school geography. Flanked by steep mountains either side, the motorway swept along the flat valley floor past pastures, small towns and the occasional industrial unit. Fears of rush-hour traffic proved unfounded: the only time the traffic here gets busy is winter when crowds swarm to the Alpine resorts.

Roof down, slightly chilly air pushing down from the glaciers, sun set, the 911 was in its element as I switch the heated seat on and gently cooked the heating up from its lowest setting. It had been a hot day.

I stopped for petrol just after the last town on my route, Brig. All the roads leading to Alpine resorts were behind us, and the route to the Simplon Pass and Milan had also just been passed. The road was now a simple, well-kept main road, no longer a motorway. Curiously, though, there were no signs to Andermatt, Lucerne, or points beyond. How could that be, for what must be a major Alpine pass? The Furka itself was signposted, by a small, rather apologetic sign, as if it was a destination itself. Curious. Still wondering why no destination was signposted along the route, I pressed on.

mountainous road

The sinuous road up to the Furka Pass. Courtesy of Switzerland Tourism/André Meier.

As the Rhône valley rises towards the source of the river that flows through Lake Geneva, Lyon and into the Mediterranean near Marseille, it remains relatively straight but turns into a V-shaped rather than U-shaped valley (geographers will be interested to note). The forests rushing down either side meet in the middle, and the bottom of the valley is nothing more than a fast-rushing big stream.

This meant the road became entertaining as it swept along the valley sides, occasionally entering a couple of bends as it climbed. After a couple of villages, the gradient became steeper. As there was no other traffic at all on the road, this meant the 911 was really in its element.

Read more: Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava on light and space

There are multiple improvements in this new model of Porsche 911. There is its docility in town, which makes it relaxing and effortless to drive at slow speeds – too effortless for some enthusiasts, doubtless. At the opposite end of the driving spectrum is the way it shoots its way into corners. Previous 911s, for engineering and physics reasons related to the fact that the engine is placed behind the back wheels of the car, would happily zoom along the straight part of a country lane, but then require you to brake a bit more than you would in other sports cars before turning into a corner. At that point, you could use the car’s traction and thrust to power your way out. A required technique and highly entertaining, but it also meant you needed to cramp your style a little when entering corners.

Somehow, they have engineered that out of the new model. This car lashes into corners and lashes out of them again, as I discovered as I climbed higher and higher up my road (there was nobody else there, so it was definitely my road). Tear down a straight, brake, turn and be amazed by the sharpness of the steering into the bend, and then tear out, engine howling in the open air behind you. When the car is really going, there is an intimacy of communication, balance and brilliance to it, a complete contrast to its unassuming nature at urban speeds. I found it more accessible, more entertaining and simply more competent than the 991 model that is its predecessor.

Taking a break to admire the view (I had now climbed quite high into the centre of the Alps), I sat in the car, sipping on some caffeinated energy drink. I noted that the interior of the car had also advanced considerably from the previous generation. The design has been simplified while going a couple of notches in quality, feel and sophistication. It feels like a highly grown-up sports car now, and the previous clutter of plasticky switches has disappeared in favour of a well-located touchscreen.

Car on a road above a lake

At rest above Lake Zurich. Image by Darius Sanai

Andermatt was now only 30 or so kilometres away as the crow flies (still no signs on the road) so, relishing the idea of my end-of-day beer, I tore on, expecting the road to start winding benignly downwards towards the Andermatt valley. Past a closed hotel that announced its views of the Rhône glacier now sadly so depleted it is no longer visible from the old building. And then suddenly the beautifully surfaced road turned into a narrow strip of tarmac with no barriers. And why is there a wall in front of us?

It was now dark, with no street lights, no cat’s-eyes or anything to light the way apart from the car’s headlamps. I drove gingerly towards the wall, which appeared to be in the middle of the road, only to find myself staring at a hunk of mountainside, with the road doing a 90° turn to the left. Like a cartoon character, I tilted my head backwards up the mountainside, clearly visible in front of me through the open top of the car. The road did not go around this wall; it went up it. And it never seemed to stop.

This was why it wasn’t marked as a through road. This was no longer the time to enjoy the 911’s fabulous steering, precision and cornering joy, as a little too much of that joy would result in the 911 being converted briefly into a flying car before it made a reference to another classic film, The Italian Job, which sees its Lamborghini-driving opening star end up at the bottom of an Alpine precipice, very much not alive.

Around half an hour of inching along in the blackness later, I reached the top of the Furka Pass, at nearly 2,500m as high as a top lift station in a ski resort. Here was the symbolic heart of Europe. Behind me, the rivers flowed south, to the Mediterranean. In front of me, they flowed north, to the North Sea. Peeking out of my side window for the first time, I wondered which remote huts or settlements the pinpricks of light I could see to my right belonged to, before realising that I was looking at stars.

Andermatt now beckoned, a cluster of lights clearly visible in the distance, but unnervingly far beneath me. The way down the other side was similar to the last part of the way up, down a steep wall of a mountainside, doubtless being stared at by some curious ibexes in the darkness. And then the road turned into a far better strip of tarmac at the bottom of the wall, and the car covered the last couple of kilometres in less than a couple of minutes.

There is no better car in which to relive the fantasy drive of your youth. But try and do it during daylight.

LUX rating: 19/20

Find out more: porsche.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.

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Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

In the final part of our supercar review series, LUX takes the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante for a test drive

What is a sports car? In an era of AI and soon-to-be self-driving cars, the idea of driving as a sport is an anachronism. Everything from power steering to radar-controlled cruise control mean the elements of activity and chance in driving are being eroded. If ‘sports’ is a measure of speed, the fact that even the most anodyne of fully electric cars can accelerate as fast as many traditional sports cars only adds to the question.

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One answer comes in the form of the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante. Volante in Aston terms means convertible, and while this car has many modern accoutrements as a price tag of several hundred thousand pounds/dollars/euros would suggest, it is very much old school in that it is aimed at the pleasure of the driver and passenger, and not as an implement.

The Superleggera is powered by a 715hp V12 twin-turbo engine, which means that it has to be a monster. It is a striking-looking car and the carbon-fibre finishing on the exterior adds to the air of menace and poise. Roof down around town, it attracts a lot of looks, of admiration rather than hostility. This is a cultured car, and it makes a cultured noise. Unlike almost any other car with this power, it is also pleasurable to drive around town. Give a car more than 700hp and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, and you often have something that is a bit of a pain to drive unless you are pressing on through an empty, fast road.

The Superleggera has a traditional automatic gearbox, rather than a F1-style manual gear shift (you shift gears with your hands on the paddles), meaning you can just stick it in D like a family school-run car and pootle around town quite happily. It rides firmly but doesn’t shake your brain out through your ears like some cars with extreme power specifications, and its medium-weighted steering makes it easy to manoeuvre. Roof down, you can see all parts of the car for parking – it’s a different story with the roof shut.

It’s the same with the accommodation. On a series of sunny summer days, we managed to cram four full-sized adults into the car for a two to three-hour journey each day. This is not what the car is made for: what you really want is to put the front seats back and drop your Bottega Veneta shopping bags in the rear. Still, when pressed, this supercar really can carry four adults, and some bags squashed in the boot.

Read more: LUX Loves: Richard Mille’s collaboration with Benjamin Millepied & Thomas Roussel

Conversely, the driver and front-seat passenger enjoy a wonderful experience. This is a car that can cruise at extremely illegal speeds, enjoyably and safely without too much breeze in the front. Some cars in this category excel at the racetrack, others are more aimed at high-speed comfort. The Aston is squarely in the middle, and actually succeeds in this difficult task rather well. Mashing the accelerator produces laugh-out-loud thrust all the way into those illegal speeds and beyond. Meanwhile it is a delight to steer through a series of fast, smooth bends.

Convertible car

Interior of the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

It also means that it is not as exciting or capable on tight roads as a full-on supercar; the Aston is heavy and will lose composure if pushed through the gears on a bumpy, sharp corner. Nor is it a calm, quiet cruiser, and the cabin does not have the luxury finish of its competitors. More nicely finished air vents and a detail in front of the passenger (perhaps a Superleggera logo, as appears on the bonnet), along with some more exclusive-looking leather on the dashboard, would make all the difference in what is after all a low production-volume car.

Other elements, though, are unique: the bellowing thrust from the V12, the steering that is calm and talkative; and the feel-good factor of piloting a car that requires effort. It is great fun to drive, and has a feeling of cultured Britishness. It’s very much at one with the company’s history as a supplier of cars to James Bond.

In fact, we can’t think of a better car for James or Jane Bond to be driving down the Grande Corniche while chasing a master criminal in a Tesla that runs out of electricity. Before turning up for an evening of fun and frolic at the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat with his or her gender-neutral companion for the night. Expensive, but a perfect sports car for the times.

LUX Rating: 18.5/20

Find out more: astonmartin.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2020/2021 Issue.

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Orange Car
Orange convertible car

Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible

In the third part of our supercar review series, LUX gets behind the wheel of the Bentley Continental GT V8 Convertible

Certain cars have visual drama. Other cars loom. Others still are artistic. The new Bentley Continental GT V8 has presence.

It’s a hard thing to do well in a car, presence. Any large car is literally more present than any small car, and the Bentley is on the large side for a car that doesn’t accommodate more than one large suitcase in its boot, But, recently re-designed, the Continental has a svelte way of going down the road, with a rather beautiful front, and balance in its looks. It is not imposing like a Rolls, its presence implies elegance.

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This is a powerful, fast convertible that actually has proper room in the back for a pair of adults. It’s true that four adults, seated in the car and travelling in refinement at high speed accompanied by the mellifluous howl from the V8 engine would need to send all but their hand luggage ahead of them, as the boot could only accommodate some squishy Vuitton bags.

Inside Bentley Convertible

But that’s fine, because the Bentley is a car for being there and enjoying it, rather than getting there, as the name implies. Unless getting there involved a hypothetical world of traffic-free open roads with no speed limits and sinuous curves up mountain passes devoid of caravans and coaches. In which case, the Continental would be enormous fun. The engine has huge reserves of power from low down and makes a great noise as it punches forward. Perhaps it doesn’t have the bite of its 12-cylinder, bigger engined sibling, but you would only really notice if you were having a race. In the past, Bentleys tended to be bruisers of cars – capable and powerful, but not delicate, and sometimes rather awkward when pushed.

Read more: Anne-Pierre d’Albis-Ganem on championing artists

This car will canter at high speed through tight corners which would have left its predecessors losing grip. It’s also enjoyable to drive at low speeds, roof down, enjoying the scenery outside and the absolutely stunning detail of the interior. As cars have become luxury brands more than simply driving implements, the beauty of the finish in this car’s interior is what sets it apart from cheaper competitors that can match it on performance (think Tesla).

That, and its presence. Essential owning, if you have a home in St-Tropez or the Hamptons.

LUX Rating: 19/20

Find out more: bentleymotors.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2020/2021 Issue. 

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yellow sportscar

Lamborghini Huracán EVO RWD

In the second part of our supercar series, LUX drives the new and improved Lamborghini Huracán EVO RWD

Amid the current debate about cultural appropriation, we have a theory that many of the best things in life come from cultural mingling – which is not quite the same thing. Anyone who has visited the region of Alto Adige in northern Italy, which has been swapped between France and Austria over the centuries, will understand Italian culture and cuisine combined with Austrian efficiency creating a whole new world of design and lifestyle? Yes, please.

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We have a theory that the same thing has happened at Lamborghini. This is, on the face of it, the most extrovert and Italian of carmakers. Its logo is a raging bull, created specifically to annoy Enzo Ferrari and his prancing horse. Its cars are not only era-defining design classics (look at the 1960s Miura, which featured in The Italian Job) or the crazy 1980s Countach. They are also, traditionally, loud (visually and aurally), outrageously designed inside, have posing value beyond any other car no matter what the price, and go very fast, if you can handle them.

But this was not all good. Perhaps you wanted something with a soul of a Lamborghini, which didn’t attract a crowd of onlookers every time you drove it. And perhaps you wanted something that you would actually look forward to driving, rather than bracing yourself for a task.

The calming influence on Lamborghini’s hairy-chest nature came in the form of the Volkswagen group, which acquired the company in 1998. Lamborghinis have had a reputation for being better built, more reliable and easier to use since then. But they have also started moving towards the other extreme of becoming efficient. You might have driven the previous model Huracán across Europe, for example, with great satisfaction, but would it have stirred your loins like a previous Lamborghini? The best cultural cocktails are a perfect combination of ingredients, and an alchemy creating something else out of the whole.

Read more: Anne-Pierre d’Albis-Ganem on the importance of championing artists

And this is where the RWD comes in. Lamborghini have taken their current Huracán EVO and taken away the drive from the front wheels, so the previously four-wheel-drive car is just two-wheel drive. They have also reduced the weight, made it more aerodynamically efficient, and, marginally, reduced the power. And they have reduced the price – although that is not likely to be very important to this market.

The reason behind this is to create a car that is not just brilliant on paper, striking to look at and efficient, but to create a car that stirs the soul. The ‘digital’ nature of some of today’s supercars is a reason why some models from 10 or 20 years ago have been going up in value. This Lamborghini is a more analogue car.

back of sportscar

The difference is evident even in the first low-speed corner. You are connected to the steering in a way you are not with its 4WD sibling. Approaching some higher speed corners once out of town, you feel a far clearer weight transfer to the back of the car and, on exiting the corner, you feel your acceleration is pushing the rear wheels out and helping you around the corner. And the steering is not interfered with by any tugging from power going to the front wheels at the same time as you are trying to steer. It sounds a little, but it means a lot. Suddenly, you are driving the car, rather than overseeing something that more or less drives itself.

The Huracán is old school in that it features a V10 engine, with no help from turbochargers or an electric motor. And given that typically these cars are driven short distances over their lifetimes, it will probably emit less CO2 than the average family car. Which is not to say that cars like these save the planet any more than they are not guilty of sacrificing it either.

Lecture over, on to the all-important Lamborghini feature of looks. Ours came in a spiffing shade of matt purple. It garnered stares from bystanders rather than a crowd of them like some Lambo models. If it’s attention you crave, better get an Aventador, this car’s big sister. If it’s driving pleasure, buy one of these.

It gets one of the highest ratings of any car we have ever tested. And if it had even more feedback to the steering, and even more dramatic looks (we like that kind of thing), it would receive a perfect 20.

LUX rating: 19.5/20

Find out more: lamborghini.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2020/2021 Issue. 

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red sportscar
sportscar

Ferrari 812 Superfast

In the first of our supercar review series, LUX enjoys an exhilarating drive in the Ferrari 812 Superfast

Ferrari is regularly voted the world’s most powerful luxury brand, and yet curiously there is some discrepancy in consumers’ perception of the company’s products. Mention Ferrari to most people, and they will think of a loud, exciting, flashy high-powered car. Something extroverted, stylish.

Getting into more detail, participants in your own personal luxury brand survey, depending on their age, might describe a car with two seats, an engine behind the driver, above the back wheels, in open view. Like the Testarossa in Miami Vice, or for an older generation, the 308 in Magnum P.I.

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In reality, Ferrari’s flagship product has for the past two decades been something slightly different. Since the introduction of the 550 Maranello in 1997, the most expensive regular production Ferrari you can buy (as opposed to the limited edition special additions open to gazillionaires with contacts only) has been a two-door, long-nosed car with the engine in the front, far more conventional than perception would have it.

These were a continuation of the original front-engined Ferraris from the 1950s and 60s. But the visual quietness of the new flagship 550 in 1997 also coincided with an and sophistication of experience that is perhaps at odds with most people’s perceptions. The 550 and its successor the 575 would pass down any street without turning heads. They were intended to be driveable every day, not show pieces for show-offs.

And while their successors, the 599 of 2006 and F12 of 2012, turned up the dial in terms of performance, the flagship Ferrari was still not a show-off ’s car. The F12 in particular was a conundrum. Here was a car with 730hp, two seats and the ability to handle that power around the toughest of racetracks. Yet on the road, it was curiously refined.

front seats of sportscar

So, when Ferrari announced an updated and upgraded version of the F12 called the 812 Superfast, one might have expected even more of the same. But, for the first time since the F512 M of 1994, which was the ultimate incarnation of the legendary 80s Testarossa, here was a flagship Ferrari that looks like it really wants to be noticed. The 812 is not exactly beautiful, but it is extremely striking in the intent that its engineering and aerodynamics give it.

And the driving experience is also transformed. It has more power from a bigger engine, shorter gearing, rear-wheel steering, and an even faster and more sophisticated paddle-shift gearbox. However, none of these guarantees a more exciting driving experience – just a fast one.

Read more: Why The Alpina Gstaad is top of our travel wish list

From the moment you aim the Superfast around its first corner, you realise that something is up. The steering is sharp, the whole car feels alive and wanting to communicate to you. The faster you go, the livelier and more delicate it feels, and more exciting. Drive the F12 or the 599 down a good road at 70mph and the car shrugs its shoulders: “This is slow, boring, I can do three times the speed”.

The miracle of the 812 is that it is even faster yet feels more involving by a factor of five. At higher speeds it feels delicate, like a dancer, you can control it with two fingers on the wheel while feathering the accelerator pedal.

The star of the show is the engine. Ferrari, like the rest of us, knows that the days of the internal combustion engine are strictly numbered. So, it is a kind of act of brilliant defiance to create this 800hp, 6.5 litre V12. You don’t even have to move to appreciate it. With the engine warm, and gears in neutral, give the accelerator a tap with your right foot. Revs shoot up to 6,000 with a “VLAAP” noise straight out of a Formula One car, and down again instantly.

The interior, meanwhile, is a masterpiece of modern Italian design, minimal yet beautifully put together with Alcantara, carbon fibre, curves and angles.

Is there a downside? In a car-seat set up uncompromisingly for excitement rather than cruise and use, the ride will inevitably suffer and it does in the 812. This would be a tiring car to drive on a long trip; it is no grand tourer at all. It is, simply, a supercar.

We knew the 812 Superfast would live up to its name in being the fastest regular production Ferrari ever made. What we didn’t know was that it would be the most fun as well. Bravo.

LUX Rating: 19.5/20

Find out more: ferrari.com

This article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2020/2021 Issue. 

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White convertible supercar on road
White convertible supercar on road

Bentley’s third generation Continental has the lot – power, handling, looks, and even a rotating display next to the dashboard

In the third and final of our supercar reviews, LUX sits at the cockpit of another super fast convertible: the Bentley Continental GTC W12

It used to be said that sitting in a Bentley was like sitting in the drawing room of a Downton Abbey-style British country house. Wood panelling, tastefully muted colours, and probably a butler with a silver tray of slightly stale sherry lurking on the back seat.

That market for Bentleys has largely died out, and, under the aegis of its German owners (the Volkswagen group), the august British company has undergone one of the most successful brand transformations in the history of the luxury industry.

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If you doubt that, just sit in the cockpit of the new Bentley Continental GTC. I did, and found myself clutching a thick, two-tone steering wheel in black and cream. All around me were acres of quilted leather, more trapezoids than I could care to count, on the seats, and inside the doors. Above the leather on the doors, black lacquered piano would give it an oriental feel, above which was beautifully burnished British walnut wood. The fusion of colours and textures extended across the whole interior, and in between me and my passenger was the most lavish centre console I have ever come across, bursting with polished buttons, dials, and traditional looking air vents; all is as beautifully put together as a Swiss watch.

The positioning of this car is perfect: to the new generation of young, swanky drivers, as likely to be wearing a Hublot or Richard Mille as a Patek Philippe the previous generation has taken care of for you, it looks contemporary, super chic, but still has a nod to its heritage.

And to those who have always driven Bentleys – hey, what’s not to like?

Red interiors of a sports car convertible

We drove the top-of-the-range 12-cylinder convertible version, and the roof zips down in a few seconds leaving you and up to three passengers exposed to the sea breeze in Malibu, Monaco, Mayfair, Macau or wherever. The car sounds wonderful, in a deep, long, slightly rheumy way: it’s somewhere in between being fierce, like a Ferrari, and silent, like a Mercedes.

Click the switch into comfort mode and it lopes along happily, but move the dial into sport mode and the car tightens up and feels like it really wants to go and play. This is a big, heavy, powerful car, not a sports car, but it is immensely fun to drive. It changes direction faithfully – better than its predecessors, which always felt a little bit heavy – communicates well, flies along as it gets going, and is generally a hoot.

Along very tight, twisty country lanes – ironically, down which many traditional Bentley owners will live – you do start to feel its size, and width. But that’s part of the Bentley experience, as you imperiously wave at other vehicles to get out of your road.

Read more: Behind the wheel of the world’s most powerful supercars part two

On more open roads, it feels perfect, wailing its way up through its revs, always smooth, never harsh or unsettled. Its four-wheel drive ensures you always feel safe, and can power out the roundabouts, even wet ones, at comical speeds. And in a straight line, it never slows down. With a top speed of over 200mph, this is the fastest convertible in the world. Just warn your passenger not to get an expensive hair makeover before you try that.

But like any Bentley, its beauty is that it is not just here to be driven hard. You can spend your life pootling around and still enjoy the car’s many assets, most notably its beautifully appointed interior, its general presence and feel. It’s as easy to drive in town as it is down the highway – particularly if you don’t live in a town with very narrow streets. The only minor flaw we could find was that very wide centre console with all its gadgets impinged slightly on knee room for the driver and the passenger. But that just made it feel even more like sitting in the first-class seat of an international airline. Not that most owners would know what that feels like – and the Continental’s interior quality is certainly up to private jet level. We like. A lot.

LUX Rating: 18.5/20

Find out more: bentleymotors.com

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

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sports car on road at sunset
sports car on road at sunset

Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

In the first of our supercar reviews, we take one of the world’s fastest convertibles for a spin: the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante

What is the purpose of buying an expensive fast car? The manufacturers themselves have had plenty of focus-group conversation over glasses of Krug at owner events; and so have we at our own gatherings of friends and readers.

Two-seater fast cars generally fall into one of two categories: super sports cars, created to be able to go around a racetrack as fast as possible while remaining legal and reasonably comfortable to drive on the road; and what the industry calls grand touring cars, which can be just as powerful but are biased more towards comfort, theoretically for crossing continents.

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The two categories are bound together by looks – all of these cars are designed to garner attention – and indulgent, hedonistic design. In reality, not many people use cars from either category for the purposes they were designed for. You are as unlikely to take a multi-million euro Ferrari LaFerrari on a race track as you are to test your gold Rolex Submariner at the oceanic depths for which it is designed. And if you want to cross the continent in comfort, you will jump in a jet, and ensure your car is waiting for you at the other end, rather than endure traffic jams and police speed traps.

Which brings us to the Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante. This is a car that looks as exotic as it sounds: long, wide, sculpted and slightly brutal. It is not a show-off car like, for example, a Lamborghini, which is guaranteed to get the whole street looking at you; nevertheless with the primordial roar of its engine and its sheer presence on the road, it is a car that tells everybody around that you are here, and that you have made it.

Convertible car interiors

It is also the most powerful regular production Aston Martin, a significant statistic in itself. Get in and steer it down the road, and it doesn’t feel quite as wild as the horsepower figure, which at 715 is around five times that of the average car, might suggest. The steering is superb, with feel and sharpness. Some cars in this category have so much engineering to manage their enormous performance, that the sensations of driving are dulled. Not in the Aston, the noise and handling of which immediately let you know that you are driving something very special. It feels sharper, more alive, and more connected than the previous generations of powerful Aston two-seaters, while remaining comfortable and civilised enough not to shake you around, and that alone should guarantee it some loyal customers trading up.

Read more: Gaggenau presents new series of super-sleek combi-steam ovens

But it is also very much a grand touring car. You don’t feel that every prod on the accelerator will send you hurtling over the horizon and off the edge of the world, as is the case with some supercars these days. The DBS works through its rev range a bit more like a V12 engine of old, gaining speed with momentum, despite having distinctly new tech using turbochargers to aid its power delivery. To appreciate what you can do properly, you need a long stretch of road, ideally with a Mediterranean beach café at the end. Put your foot down, feel the car gathering pace relentlessly as the engine sears towards its redline. It’s a supremely satisfying feeling, and slightly old school with its delayed gratification. It is not a car that tries to handle like a go-kart with a rocket on it. Its pleasures need discovering slowly. But it certainly has a hard, supercar edge to it.

Nobody buys one of these for comfort and practicality, but it does reasonably well on both. There is plenty of space for two in the front, and some shopping bags on the back seats; only a masochist would want to actually sit in the back, although we did fit one teenager in with their legs across both back seats and the roof down. They had a whale of a time.

In an era where cars, even at the very high end, have never been better, but also have never been more similar in terms of engines and general engineering, the Superleggera Volante (Volante just means convertible in Aston speak) has two things that make it distinctive: character and class. You can buy faster cars for the money, and flashier cars, but James Bond circa 1966, teleported to today, would recognise immediately that he was driving an Aston as soon as he shut the door and hit the start button. Priceless.

LUX Rating: 18.5/20

Find out more: astonmartin.com

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

 

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Maroon Maserati GranTurismo sportscar pictured on a drive in the woods
Maroon Maserati GranTurismo sportscar pictured on a drive in the woods

The Maserati MY18 GranTurismo MC is a candidate for the most beautiful car on the road

We take the Maserati MY18 GranTurismo MC on a road-trip through France to test for comfort, power and satisfaction

Focus groups, aerodynamics, safety laws – there are a lot of elements to blame for the standardisation of today’s car designs. A room full of cars from the 1960s is a panoply of distinctive, flamboyant creations. As we approach 2020, a common critique is that often you can’t tell one car brand from another.

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Which gave us particular joy as we bowled through the French countryside in the Maserati MY18 GranTurismo MC. The car’s sweeping curves look stunning – it is a candidate for the most beautiful car on the road – and its engine, derived from Ferrari’s V8 engine which powered the 430 and 458 supercars, sounds wonderful – in fact, Maserati have coaxed an even better sound out of its version than Ferrari did from theirs. There’s a long, hollow bellow every time you even think about accelerating.

The GranTurismo wants to be everything: it sounds like a Ferrari, but the suggestion that it’s a ‘Grand Touring’ car means it also wishes to be a laid-back cruiser across continents, and that’s exactly what we used it for.

Black interiors and steering wheel of the Maserati GranTurismo

The ambience inside the car is exactly right

It’s certainly never dull. Whether flying out of a toll booth or opening up after leaving the confines of a village, it emits a rising series of gurgles and roars that signal its enthusiasm for gaining speed. ‘MC Stradale’ signifies Maserati’s most sporting setup, and, with the suspension in its firmest mode, it corners flat and fast, although drivers of Ferraris would wish for more feedback from the steering and the chassis. It’s rapid and secure, but perhaps less of a sports car than you might expect, the long nose and overall weight making you remember you are in what is quite a large car, despite its sporting ambitions.

Set the suspension to its softer setting and the ride is comfortable to match the Grand Touring ambitions, but this also results in quite a lot of body roll if you try and corner fast.

Read more: Instagram influencer Tamara Koen’s guide to Milan

The interior feels delicious. In German cars, leather often looks and feels like plastic; in British cars, it smells like an old Chesterfield; somehow the Italians got the texture and ambience inside the GranTurismo exactly right. Many cars of this category offer only an excuse for back seats – if you try and get anyone with legs in the back of a Ferrari California, you’ll rapidly hear protests – but the Maserati is moderately comfortable in the back, even over a long journey, although headroom is limited and basketball players, for example, would emerge with cricked necks. The front is comfortable, but we had a couple of niggles: we never quite fell in love with the driving position; the seats seemed to slightly lack shape and support; the engine does feel loud on a long drive; and the sat-nav system isn’t as advanced as on some cars.

If there’s one word that summarises the GranTurismo, it’s ‘character’. Many cars, even high-performance ones, look, sound and drive in an anodyne way. The Maserati looks and sounds brilliant; if it only drives well, and not brilliantly, that likely won’t bother most prospective buyers.

LUX Rating: 18/20
maserati.com

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Reading time: 2 min
Ferrari 575 Maranello

By Darius Sanai, Editor-in-Chief

A few months ago I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on investing in modern classic cars, by the Financial Times, at its annual reader event in London. It was a very FT-type of festival: intellectuals, entrepreneurs, CEOs and private equity principals lining up quietly to listen to the likes of Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor of the Economist, superchef Heston Blumenthal, and economic and political commentators of the likes of Martin Wolf and Gideon Rachman. I had a little chat with Jancis Robinson, the most thoughtful of all wine commentators, ahead of her talk on discovery wines, and then took to the stage myself to converse with the FT’s own classic cars guru Simon de Burton.

modern classic ferrari

As a quintessential Modern Classic, prices of the Ferrari 550 Maranello are set to rise ever higher – but only for the best examples

Modern Classics are a new category of collectible, loosely defined as cars made from 1985-2005. As well as being newer, more refined and more comfortable than traditional classics like a Jaguar E-Type or Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, and appealing to a younger generation, they tend to have been made in greater numbers. I made a good return on selling my own Ferrari Testarossa last year, but there were more than 7000 of those cars made, compared to dozens or hundreds of the multimillion dollar classics like the original Ferrari GTO or 275 GTB.

My message to FT readers was that they should choose carefully, because abundance will act as a natural brake on values, and modern cars can suffer hard-to-solve electrical problems that older, simpler cars do not.

For you, my LUX readers, I have a rhetorical question. Would you buy a classic car because of its design and status, or because of its performance and reputation? Old classic cars, like the GTO, 275 GTB, E-Type, 300 SL, Aston Martin DB5, and others of the 1950s and 60s, are real beauties. They were created by (mostly but not wholly) Italian designers, to look beautiful, and then married to an engine.

They have an objective beauty which transcends the motoring world. I work in an environment which is light on car knowledge, but thick with design, fashion, and art expertise. These cars elicit as much admiration from a magazine creative as they do from a mechanic.

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Modern cars are ruled by different principles: those of aerodynamics, engineering, performance, economy, safety and packaging. None of Sergio Pininfarina’s original designs would pass muster. Some of the most valuable modern classic cars don’t look interesting at all: try selling an Audi Sport Quattro short wheelbase or Porsche 993 Turbo S to a creative director and you’d get a blank look.

So I am going to go a step further than I did to my FT audience and say that if you wish to invest in a modern classic car, looks can be one of many important elements to take into consideration. The other important elements are driving quality, scarcity, brand, and the end-of-the-line factor. Ferrari will never make any more of its metal-gated manual transmission cars: they are all automated, “paddleshifts” now, much more efficient but with less soul. A Ferrari 575 or 599 with the manual transmission is the last such car (V12 Ferrari) ever to be made: it combines soul, driving quality, scarcity, brand and the end of the line kudos.

Ferrari 575 Maranello

A rare Ferrari 575 Maranello with classic manual transmission, right hand drive and the Fiorano Handling Package; it is likely that there were fewer than 20 examples made, earmarking it for classic status

a rare classic ferrariBut the canny collector goes further than that: he or she also identifies sub-brands within the category. There were more than 2000 examples of Ferrari 575 (2001-2005) made, a relatively large number. But only 246 of these were fitted with the gated manual transmission. The model’s handling was also vastly improved by its factory-option Fiorano Handling Pack, fitted to a minority of the cars. So with just 246 manual 575s made, and a minority of them with the “FHP”, the pool of ultra-desirable examples of this car is actually more limited than that of the legendary 1966 275 GTB/4, of which 350 were made, and probably more limited than that of the 1960 250GT SWB, of which 167 were made.

Read next: LUX’s fine wine tasting at Villa Giuseppina 

That’s the kind of calculation collectors of modern classics are making, formed part of my reasoning (apart from sheer desire) when buying my modern classic Ferraris, which also include a F512M, F430 Spider and 550 Maranello, all from 1995-2005. And while I would never claim my own Ferrari 575 (2004, manual, with “FHP”) is anywhere near as beautiful as one of the 1960s cars, it has a 1990s elegance and is rather nicer to drive – and far faster and more comfortable.

Cars are correctly seen as an alternative investment – I prefer the term “Investment of passion” – because they don’t provide a dividend, unlike shares, or an income, unlike a rental property. Unlike wine, however, and unlike art stored in a warehouse, they do, however, provide a return throughout your ownership. This happens whenever I pull the cover off one of my Ferraris, gingerly put the key in the ignition, turn it, let it warm for a couple of minutes, slink the metal gearlever into the slot in the metal gate, balance the aluminium gas pedal against the drilled metal clutch, and ease forward with the music of 12 Ferrari cylinders in my ears, for a day’s blast through the English countryside. It has to be a passion – and the return is both joy and, if you’re lucky, one day it will be monetary too. Because classic cars taken as a whole have been the best-performing investment of all of the past decade, according to – who else – the Financial Times.

All of LUX’s Ferraris are taken care of by Joe Macari, the official service centre in London, with the exception of the 550 Maranello, which is looked after by The Ferrari Centre.

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Reading time: 5 min

By Darius Sanai
Editor in Chief

One of the truisms of collecting, whether you are Imelda Marcos hoarding shoes or a 21st century gentleman acquiring classic cars, is that enlightenment comes with possession. You research your subject, speak to fellow collectors, make an acquisition, and, through the circle of friendship and contact endowed by possession, acquire more and better knowledge.

Thus it was with my Ferrari Testarossa. The fabulous looking 1980s supercar is still being fettled to perfection by Joe Macari Ferrari, the celebrated London dealership. Joe Macari has the reputation as one of the most exacting, and most expensive, places to set your classic right. In the course of my conversations with their chief guru (gurus are essential in this game), Andrew Gill, head of aftersales and a man long-term Ferrari aficionados regard with awe, a new dream came into view.

It started when I told him , slightly playfully, that having acquired a Testarossa I was now interested in its successor, the 512 TR, a car that was basically an improved version of the Testarossa: looking just as beautiful (and almost identical), but better to drive. It is also, and this is important for a classic car’s value, rarer. There were 7177 Testarossas made (though mine is one of the 438 UK, right hand drive models), and just 2280 512TRs.

IMG_2540

Forget the 512 TR, Andrew said: the 1995-1996 512M was the car to have. “Amazing car. They ironed out all the faults and they drive like nothing else.” Another friend, a very big and respected collector, gave it the nod also and said he’d even go halves with me if I found one.

The 512M was the final iteration of the Testarossa series, and one of the most outrageous looking Ferraris ever. It was given a dramatic aerodynamic makeover which divided opinion at the time (I remember thinking at the time it looked cool and fast, but no longer like a Testarossa) but now looks slick and modern, 20 years on. And its mechanical credentials were legendary. Essentially, the 512M was a racier, lighter, faster and more hi-tech version of the 512TR, down to the engine’s titanium alloy connecting rods and variable pitch valve springs.

 It was Ferrari’s flagship. When it came out, it was the fastest Ferrari and for a while the fastest car in the world. It was also a beast, the last mid-engined production 12-cylinder Ferrari, the end of a line that started with the 365 GT/4 Berlinetta Boxer in 1973, with all the flamboyance that implies. Its successors, from the 550 Maranello to today’s F12, all have engines in front and are far more sober looking.

And there were only 501 made, in the world. I really wanted one.

F512M interior

But where to find one? Calls to friends in the Ferrari universe saying I wanted one received replies of the “so does everyone else” variety. Someone knew of one coming from Japan; no, already been sold. A classic dealer had one advertised in southern Germany, but he wasn’t getting back to me and, no, sold weeks ago. A friend in Switzerland knew of a friend who had one, but values were going up and he wasn’t selling. One in Holland: but lots of miles and looked a bit tired. One at auction in London, but it was missing a lot of history. If you don’t have history, you have to take the mileage and the fact that it has been maintained properly on trust.

One evening, an ad popped up on an alert from an Italian website I subscribe to. Yellow 512M, great history and condition, low miles. I rang the number. “So sorry,” said the owner, a gentleman I would guess in his 70s. A dealer had seen the ad hours earlier, come over with cash (more than 200,000 euros in cash!) and taken the car. When dealers rush for cars, you know they’re hot.

Two days later, on a Friday, another alert, this time from a Spanish specialist site, a car in Barcelona. Pictures, obviously taken by an amateur, of a car on a sunny hillside. Ferrari Red (rosso corsa) with red and black carbon fibre racing bucket seats, a rare option. Only 12,000 miles, a 1995 car, always serviced at a main dealer. An even better car. I dropped the iPad and rang. “Yes, there are lots of people calling,” said a distinguished voice in Spanish. “Dealers, who don’t even speak Spanish!” (a disgusted tone). “I am going away until Tuesday night”. The ad only stated a landline, which meant nobody would get through to him until then.

I’ll meet you on Wednesday at 9am at the Ferrari dealership in Barcelona, I said, to get the car inspected and seal the deal. He agreed. Nobody would be able to get there before me, or would they?

On the Tuesday evening, I flew out to Barcelona and settled in at the Majestic. I had to finish some work, and then drank a couple of cocktails by the (closed) rooftop pool. What if he didn’t show up? What if someone else had managed to get hold of him and put a deposit down sight unseen on the phone, common with such desirable cars? What if the car was not as good as advertised? Did I really want to spend this money on a car which, until last year, had just been another old money pit? Was I ahead of the market or a sucker? A. wasn’t answering his phone.

At 9 the next day, A. (as I will call him) was there, besuited, with his 512M already up on a ramp at Ferrari Barcelona. It looked so clean and barely used, underneath and above. “We service all his Ferraris,” the mechanic told me. All? What others does he have? “A F50 and a 550 Maranello,” he said, naming more than a million euros worth of car. “And then there are all the Porsches and the Aston DB6 and the Rolls…”

A., a scion of Barcelona society in his late-sixties, was delightful. I looked over the car in detail, a list of tips in my hand from both Andrew Gill and the experts on the Ferrarichat online forum. We agreed a price, subject to a full formal inspection by the dealership. I gave him a copy of one of my magazines containing a feature I had written about Ferraris. He zoomed off and came back with a full set of bespoke Schedoni luggage for the car, which hadn’t been mentioned before (market value, more than £10,000). He threw it in for free. We left the 512M with the dealership and he took me for the finest paella I have had, and then a tour of his cars at his stunning modern hillside home (next to Neymar’s house) and in his storage garage. The 512M was neither the fastest or finest of his possessions. We spoke in a blend of French and Spanish, and I pondered that any English or German dealer who had rung A. would not have been able to communicate. He received several messages about enquiries about the car.

The dealership rang me. “We’re emailing the results through,” they said. These included a compression test, which doesn’t lie. It was perfect; as beautiful an example as you could dream of. We shook hands, I transferred the money and boarded a flight to Switzerland for a business meeting the next day, with the elegant gentlemen of Ferrari Barcelona looking after the car for us. A couple of weeks later, my 512M arrived in Britain. I entrusted it to Roger Collingwood of The Ferrari Centre in Kent, a former racing mechanic so honest he needs to be reminded by customers to send his invoices. It passed its UK inspections with flying colours and received a number plate.

I took the train out to Kent to drive it back to its London garage home. The flat-12 engine rumbled behind my ears like a pair of growling hunting dogs. The steering told you everything about the road and more – it has no power assistance and is heavy and astonishingly direct and real compared to today’s cars. The gearlever is grumpy and obstructive when cold but slashing it through the bare metal gate is a joy in itself on the go. The carbon fibre seats are amazingly comfortable. At speed, around corners, it feels on edge (with a big 12 cylinder engine behind you) alive like no modern car and just a little bit dangerous – it has no traction control of any kind, apart from the driver. And the howl when you take those lightweight pistons towards the top of the rev range is properly frightening – you feel this is why they made the car. Even idling, you are always aware of those two angry mastiffs behind you – I keep wondering if a superbike is dawdling by the rear three quarter flank of my car, only to realise it’s my own engine.

While it is now 20 years old and not as fast as any of today’s Ferraris, it feels very fast because it’s so raw, and it is still a properly quick supercar (200 mph, 0-60 in 4.1 seconds).

 Its value has also risen 50% in the six months since I bought it. A is happy, as I paid a strong price at the time; we went to his wedding last month. I don’t intend to sell it anytime soon; it is one of the greatest Ferraris ever made, and I recommend tracking down one of the remaining 500 or so in the world before the prices hit the moon.

Meanwhile, the bug hit again. The 512M’s successor, the 550 Maranello of 1997, was as different as it is possible to be: front engined, understated, wearing a Milanese suit rather than a Versace shirt and Gucci loafers. But a magnificent car, even more powerful, and apparently much easier to handle. Prices seemed very low. With two outrageous Ferraris for those Versace moments, I needed something sober suited and sleek: bespoke Zegna. Time to start looking for one.

(to be continued…)

Darius Sanai

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Reading time: 8 min
Ergonomics, style and sound. Sports car technology, intelligently combined.

Ergonomics, style and sound. Sports car technology, intelligently combined.

In which Darius Sanai experiences the latest model of the most iconic sports car of all, and an updated version of a modern legend 

Porsche 911 C4S Convertible

Pity is not an emotion that has commonly been projected onto purchasers of Porsches over the decades. Envy, loathing, awe, respect — all of these have their place. But pity?

Yet I do feel for purchasers of the latest Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, and, more particularly, for the car’s makers. They are judged by an impossibly high standard.

When comparing benchmark wines against each other, it is standard practice, among professionals and amateurs, to do so ‘blind’, in a quasi-scientific setup that ensures each product is (theoretically) judged on its virtues alone, and not its reputation.

It is impossible to do so with cars. Even if you were to blindfold a driver until he was seated, and to cover up the badges in the interior, most driving enthusiasts would recognise the interior style of a new sports car as belonging to a brand with which they are familiar: whether it’s Aston Martin’s architectural cool, AMG’s metallic chic or Ferrari’s boyish flair. In the case of the Porsche 911, one look at the rev-counter dominating the instrument pod and the sweep of the interior door handles is enough. Even though the latest 911 may have no visible parts carried over from its predecessors, it is plainly a 911.

And that means it is judged as a 911: not just an icon but a benchmark, the 911 is to sports cars what Château Lafite is to wine or (currently anyway) what Bayern Munich is to football. Everyone wants to try and beat it; everything else is the underdog.

Even the most ostensibly unbiased enthusiast may fall into the trap. Drive the latest Aston Martin, or speedy Jaguar, or Audi, and you err on the side of the positive. You forgive. The steering that is not quite right is ignored in favour of the handling balance that is. Traction that may be questionable is overlooked in favour of blowout mid-range performance. Back seats that aren’t really usable are less relevant than the machined finishing on the dashboard. You are constantly thinking: is it as good as a Porsche? Is it better? Parts of it are better!

Porsches, like all cars, are constantly improving: each generation is faster, smoother, more economical, roomier, more efficient. And the 911 can only be benchmarked against itself. I climbed in to the 911 C4S Cabrio, and, instead of marvelling at its stunning exterior — stretched, slicker, smarter than before — and modernised, roomier interior, immediately asked myself whether the electronically-aided steering system would be as alive as the wonderfully tactile steering in its predecessor model.

I realized I was preparing to judge the 911 on a different standard to any other sports car: not asking whether it was fun, fast, well-made and complete, but whether it was perfect: whether every element of it was an improvement on every element of every one of its predecessors.

And that would be falling into the trap I outlined above. So, instead, here are my views on the new 911 C4S Cabrio — at the moment the fastest of Porsche’s convertibles, with an uprated engine, as well as four-wheel drive — as if written by someone encountering the brand for the very first time.

Firstly, it looks stunning. Mine was in silver with a crimson roof, and matching crimson interior — every centimeter of the seats, doors and dash leather was crimson. Very, very cool. Even in more standard colours, the extended back and elongated light cluster on the rear give it an elegance that adds to the 911 squatness (necessary because the engine is in the back). It instantly makes all the previous models look a little squitty.

The interior is functional and purposeful, rather than chic: the red dash leather is a good idea because I imagine that in black it might look a little basic. There are lots of switches and the instrument display is absolutely clear and crisp. There is a surprising amount of room: much more headroom than in any other sports car (even with the convertible roof) and so much rear legroom that my long-legged 11-year-old could happily sit straight while my long-legged wife sat in front with her legs stretched out.. The downside, according to the rear seat passengers, is that the seat squab itself is flat and you have to sit very straight up. Fine for a fit nearly-teen child, not so good for a bibulous adult.

You may imagine that the slim front area of a 911 doesn’t offer much of a boot/trunk and it’s certainly an odd shape, stretching deeper than it does long, but it’s surprisingly commodious. It can take a couple of weekend bags, tennis rackets and other bric-a-brac with ease — apparently golf clubs fit comfortably in it (although I would think that if you are keen on golf perhaps a Jaguar might suit you more).

The convertible roof is very quick and easy to raise and lower electrically, and you can now do so while outside the car by pressing a button on the key, which makes for a good show on the street if you are hiding behind another car. You do need to keep pressing hard, though, or it stops and reverses its movements next press; in the end I found it easier to do so using the button in the car.

Instantly noticeable on driving the 911 is the beautiful purity of the accelerator’s response. There is no mechanical connection these days between the pedal and any engine — it’s all done by computer, like flying an Airbus. As a result fast cars can suffer from one of two ailments: over-eager programming that sends the car spurting forward as soon as you brush the pedal, which is both tiring and inauthentic; and turbo-response, which means wildly differing amount of go per touch on the pedal depending on where you are in the rev range.

The 911 suffers from neither of these. Instead, you feel like you are coaxing that powerful six-cylinder engine gently from a prowl to a growl and then finally a wild sprint.

I spent the first couple of days with the Porsche driving it like a sports car: engaging the Sport option that speeds up responses and firms up the suspension, measuring my way into corners and blasting out, noting with satisfaction that, pushed hard, it has a wonderfully interesting tendency to remind you the engine really is at the back — the 911 thrill, although I shouldn’t be noting that as I am playing the 911 novice here. I can’t think of a better sports car.

On the last day I had an early-morning journey entirely within central London, so I flipped it into lazy-automatic mode. Comfort suspension, automatic gearbox. How would it cope? Would it feel like a caged lion? Would the automatic gear changes to maximise engine efficiency mean you never got into the speedy range of the engine, and thus lacked performance to zip into gaps in traffic?

It was surprisingly good: quiet, smooth, with enough low-rev muscle to remind you that you were in a seriously fast car. Not as intuitive as a sports car with a proper automatic gearbox like an AMG Mercedes, perhaps, but this is technically an automated manual, not a traditional automatic, although the differences are becoming increasingly moot.

And how was the steering? It is precise, well-weighted, intuitive, and gets more communicative the harder you drive. I suspect that on a circuit it would be brilliant. Compared to all the other super-sports cars out there, it’s near the very top. Putting the 911-critic hat back on, I would, if pressed, say it’s not quite as tactile as the previous version of the 911 that went off sale last year. It means the car, as a whole, is perhaps a tad more grown up. Less instantly loveable, perhaps, but a better machine. And if you want fun, all you have to do is lower the roof, punch Sport, and the (optional) exhaust button that makes the car sound fabulous, and take off. At the price, the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet is impossible to beat.

LUX Rating: 18.5/20

Chassis control systems make a key contribution to the 911 driving experience

Chassis control systems make a key contribution to the 911 driving experience

Porsche’s iconic 911 celebrates its 50th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, LUX spoke to Vic Elford, former racing and rally legend and one of the most famous 911 drivers of all time, for his view on how the icon has developed over the decades.

LUX: What is the defining driving characteristic of a 911?
Vic Elford: Unlike many ‘luxury’ cars of today which apparently think for themselves, the Porsche 911 can not be left to just wander around on its own — it needs a firm, knowledgeable hand in control at all times!

How does it compare to its peers when driven on track?
The simple answer is, it has no peers! There is no other car like the 911 in what it can do and how it does it. Sure you can make some Ferraris go fast, even some modern Corvettes, although they do it by brute force and not engineering superiority.

Is each generation of 911 better than the last, in what way?
I would say, “I would say different, but not necessarily better”. For example, in my ‘Porsche High-Performance Driving Handbook’ originally published in 1994 and still selling well in it’s second edition today, the chapter on ‘Driving in Unusual Conditions’ explains how to drive fast on snow or ice; but since the advent of on-board electronics which take over when they think the driver has overstepped his or her ability, some of those manouevres are impossible to do with a modern car. And you can’t switch them off; they are always waiting in the background ready to switch on again when they think something is wrong.

Have they become less thrilling even as they have become more sophisticated?
In some ways, yes, as noted above.

Which are your favourite 911s to drive in the real world, and why?
Older versions where I decided what the car was going to do, not the car itself!

What are your favourite 911 memories?
In 1967, only the second time I had driven a 911, I should have won the Monte Carlo Rally, but quirky regulations meant that although we were leading as we approached the Col de Turini for the very last speed test before the finish, I had no snow tires available when it started to snow heavily. I finished third. So my favorite moment was the following year, 1968, when for the first time the Monte Carlo Rally was a pure scratch event — fastest driver in the fastest car wins. I did! First time for Porsche, last time for a Brit!

911s used to have a reputation that they needed handling with care — do you think this is still true?
Years ago the 911 had a reputation created by people who had no idea what they were doing. A 911 is a very gentle understeering car but early ones, especially the short wheelbase which was so effective in rallies in the late 1960s, were extremely sensitive to the input from the driver, especially in the way it affected the balance of the car. Modern versions are too, but to a much lesser extent as improved chassis engineering and having tires that fit the performance of the car iron out most of the problems for normal drivers.

Would you encourage 911 owners to get onto the track?
Sure; why not? Just make sure you read my book first and then get really expert tuition from an approved driving school or from the expert driving consultants at a Porsche Experience Centre.

If you could have one 911 from any era to race, which would it be?
A 1967/68 911R with a 2 litre four-cam engine!!! (If you have never heard of that engine, look it up. I think I am the only driver who ever used it).

If you could have one 911 from any era to own and drive every day, which would it be?
Since I discovered and analysed the need for it and then wrote the original specification, I would have to say, ‘The Porsche RS America’, 1993. Preferably in Sky Blue, my favourite colour!

World Class Dynamics - The new revised V12 engine makes this the most powerful DB9 every produced

World Class Dynamics
– The new revised V12 engine makes this the most powerful DB9 every produced

Aston Martin DB9 Volante

It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since Aston Martin launched the DB9. Motoring experts point to its predecessor, the late 1990s-issue DB7, as the car that saved the company, selling more units than all Aston models before it put together. But the DB9 was something else. While the DB7 still had hints of old-fashioned English sports car about it — parts of it were based on the 1970s Jaguar XJS — the DB9 was strikingly, brilliantly modern.

Here was a British sports car which you wouldn’t dream of specifying with walnut wood on the dash and black piped Connolly hide on the seats accompanied by a Racing Green Exterior. It had to be metallic grey or black, with anthracite leather, all the better to show off the metallic-chic dash. The DB9 belonged to an industrial-chic, minimalist, modernist school of design — indeed, it was at its vanguard. It was equipped only with a V12 engine, looked superb with brushed aluminium and carbon fibre adorning its interior, and was a quantum leap over any other Aston in terms of driving appeal.

It was developed with a personal passion by Dr Ulrich Bez, the transformational CEO of the company who is also a successful racing driver. My first experience of the car was in a pre-production model driven on the country roads around the factory between London and Birmingham by Dr Bez himself.

Brilliant and highly desirable though it was, the DB9 was not perfect. Its imperfections were minor and masked by those wonderful avant-garde looks and that beautiful-sounding engine. They crept up on you slowly. In my first drive with Dr Bez, I couldn’t help notice that for such a sophisticated-looking car, its ride seemed ever so brittle. Drive onto a change of road surface and you could feel the change with a thump, and seemingly no suppleness in the suspension.

I drove an early DB9 to Scotland and back and returned with a blend of exhilaration and doubt. This was an involving, entertaining car to drive; but pushed like a sports car, its responses weren’t as progressive or intuitive as they should have been. It wasn’t agile, like a Porsche 911, and it wasn’t as relaxing as a Bentley.

It did look beautiful though.

Now, a decade later, there is a new DB9, although in terms of its looks it is strictly evolutionary. It looks like a sleeker, updated version of the original, particularly from its mean, flat front end. But there’s no mistaking what it is. The interior has also had the touch of a gentle magic wand: you know things have changed, but it’s unmistakeably a DB9 and you would be hard-pressed to say what, exactly, has changed.

Nearly 50 per cent of all parts and more than 70 per cent of all body panels are new

Nearly 50 per cent of all parts and more than 70 per cent of all body panels are new

The engine, still a V12, has 60 horsepower more than the original, taking it to 510, and while this sounds like a lot, it is worth bearing in mind that the lead two-seater super-convertible at the time of the Aston’s original launch, the Mercedes SL55 AMG, managed more or less that kind of output a full 10 years ago. (Its successor has even more now.) And the Aston is not a lightweight car.

For the purposes of an honest assessment, I took along as a passenger a friend who bought one of the first DB9s to appear in 2003 and who still owns it, among numerous other cars. (His is a coupe, while my new test car was a convertible ‘Volante’ version). His immediate response a few seconds after we set off down a central London road was that this model was far more refined, quiet, and smooth in its ride. “It’s like being in a saloon car,” he said. “Mine is like a wooden go-kart in comparison.”

The actual driving experience is also very different, although subtly so. The car sounds the same — that is to say, magnificent — and you still know you are at the helm of a long two-seater super-sports car. This DB9’s responses are smooth, accurate, progressive: it is a relaxing car to drive slowly through traffic, especially when you hit the D button for fully-automatic mode. It heads into corners with gentle determination, or with gusto when you push it, although at speed you are more aware that this is quite a heavy car, despite the admirable flatness of the suspension. What is new is the suppleness to both ride and handling: there is no crashing of suspension, no unnecessarily sudden responses. It makes for a far more satisfying and relaxing experience.

The engine wails mellifluously when you accelerate, and this, combined with the looks which are as striking today as on the previous model, means it scores highly on the head-turn-o-meter I use while driving among tourists in central London. (Most accurately measured by the scientific measurement of cp/h, or cellphone pictures per hour.)

The Aston also has two back seats, although you need very understanding children if you are planning to sit them there (adults won’t fit) and they are best suited to Hermès and Chanel bags, including the larger sizes.

It seems almost all the niggles of the previous DB9 have been ironed out in this new model, although I should mention one factor that will be of concern to a minority of readers. The acceleration is fast, true and smooth, as a V12’s should be: but the car lacks the ultimate punch of today’s latest cars of this price, most of which would leave the Aston behind on cross-country blast (I am thinking in particular of the Ferrari California and Mercedes SL63 AMG). This may only make a difference of mere minutes to a journey, but it also means that an overtaking manoeuvre that is accomplished easily by those other cars might be tight in the Aston: and that’s not necessarily what you might expect from a car with an Aston Martin badge and a V12 engine and a price tag to match.

If that doesn’t worry you — and in most places, you won’t be able to use the car’s full power in any case — then the new DB9 Volante is as beautiful as it gets, and now refined, sophisticated and modern to go with it.

LUX Rating: 18/20

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