In the fourth part of our Driving Force series from the AW 2022/23 issue, LUX’s car reviewer gets behind the wheel of the Maserati Levante Granlusso

As the car industry moves into its new phase focused on electric and, in due course, autonomous motors, presumably there will be shifts in priority for consumers. Previously, you may have chosen a car for its exciting engine noise and performance advantage over rivals. In an autonomous, electric-car future, these factors will be uniform: all cars will go at the same speed and make the same (lack of) emotive sound.

So how will they be distinguished? Or will they not be distinguished at all? Will cars become like road-going versions of train carriages, the space inside them hired out by passengers?

It would be logical to presume that personal (as opposed to shared) automotive transportation will continue for the wealthier consumer and, with differentiation in the performance stakes no longer possible, design and luxury will come more to the forefront.

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Designing a car’s interior to look striking is not as simple as creating a fashion collaboration for a sneaker, though. Like a plane’s, the interior of a car has to adhere to specific stipulations for safety, space, comfort and security. Materials also need to handle years of being sat on and scraped by (luxury) behinds. Which is why, we reflected, as we sat in the Maserati Levante Granlusso, it is rare to see an interior with this much style. The most luxury car interiors are fairly interchangeable. Not so this one.

It was designed by the Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna – a special edition that is worth seeking out. There were swathes of what looked like men’s suit fabric along the seats and doors, and it had a delicious boudoir feel.

We subjected the Maserati to a longer test than usual, over a period of weeks rather than days, because this is a car designed as everyday luxury transportation, just as your Birkin is designed as an everyday luxury carrier of stuff. If you’re going to be using the car every day and will be seeing a lot of its interior, then it deserves serious consideration on this alone from anyone in the market for a mid-size luxury SUV. Everyone who experienced the car – friends, relatives and so on – commented on the interior. It’s a comfortable car under any circumstances, but the design touches give it a distinctiveness that is unique to this edition.

brown and leather and black car seats and a steering wheel

Embodying function and Italian flair, Maserati’s new mid-size luxury SUV is particularly distinctive for its fashion house-designed interior

Before we go further, let’s elaborate on the term “mid-size luxury SUV”. A few years back cars came in simple categories. Now there’s an infinite variety of what the industry calls “crossovers”: vehicles that are fluid in terms of categorisation, sometimes the better for it, too, and sometimes not, if you look at the more curious attempts at merging luxury, high-performance and bling. Fortunately, Maserati does not fall into this trap. It is a relatively simple, medium-sized (that is to say, pretty big by European standards and quite small by American standards), sporting off-road vehicle, the type seen on school runs and in luxury shopping streets globally.

Its shape is more quiet and harmonious than out-there and ostentatious, and all the better for it, unless your primary aim is to be noticed. It has a touch of Italian flair – more so than its Germanic rivals, like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 – but not so much that it shouts at you. Unusually for an SUV, it attracted many compliments from people we encountered, and no inner-city anti-car hostility.

To drive, it felt a bit bigger than it is. The flowing shape means that it is hard to judge where the ends of the car are (the 360-degree camera was an advantage here). In a car with a Maserati badge, we expected something focused on performance and agility (as much as possible for a large, tall car) but, actually, the Maserati is aimed more towards the comfort end of the spectrum. This was fine most of the time, except occasionally the ride did get more lumpy than in a true luxury car, such as a Mercedes E-Class, and it was a shame not to have a bit more excitement on a twisty road. That is the essential compromise of these sport- utility vehicles – they encompass engineering challenges for the way they drive and ride. Still, it hasn’t hurt their sales and it would be a very sensitive driver or passenger who noted this.

Read more: Driving Force: Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid

One thing you may notice, depending on how mechanically aware you are, is the engine. If you are part of a (now dwindling) demographic for whom an Italian car brand means a glorious, smooth and powerful engine, you will need to readjust for the diesel engine. It gets the car around effectively enough, but it’s not going to make you feel like a racing driver. It is functional, which is slightly out of kilter with the car’s flair.

And it is flair that we keep going back to. In a world of increasingly homogeneous cars notable for their efficiency, Maserati has succeeded in making a comfortable, functional, spacious everyday car with a splash of luxury. That is an attractive trait in itself, and a very nice place to be when you are sitting in everyday traffic surrounded by your Zegna-fabric interior.

Find out more: maserati.com

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

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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, green and black lamborghinis parked in front of a mountain
red, green and black lamborghinis parked in front of a mountain

Our fleet at the foot of the Cervino (Matterhorn) in Cervina, Italy

You might associate Lamborghinis with Dubai, Cannes, Los Angeles and London, shooting down city streets or parked outside expensive restaurants and hotels. Candice Tucker visits Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, the home of the brand, and drives, and is driven in, the company’s latest models to a village high in the Alps

Like many, I find I can be easily distracted by a Lamborghini’s sleek shape, often ostentatious colours (most famously green, yellow and orange) and of course, the sound the engine makes when someone speeds past you.

Visiting the factory, watching the cars being made, altered my perception of the brand.

Making our way up into the Alps in convoy

Take a quick tour around the factory, in central Italy, and you can begin to see why these cars are some of the most expensive in the world. There are rows of stations, and clocks on each row that don’t say the time, but the amount of minutes each worker has left to work on their station. 33 minutes. That’s how long each worker in the main Urus factory has to do their part in the making of each Lamborghini. From the door fitters to the needle workers on the leather seats, everyone is under a timer to move their part onto the next station. The robots are only used to assist rather than replace the human hand. Your green status symbol is indeed hand made.

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The Lamborghini factory has been CO2 neutral since 2015

The future is electric cars, and it’s difficult to imagine what this means for Lamborghini’s distinct sounding engines, but this hasn’t stopped them pursuing a hybrid transition with gusto. They expect by 2023 to create their first hybrid series production car and by the second half of the decade, Lamborghini has committed to creating a fully electric model.

The Lamborghini V12 is the brand’s flagship engine

After the factory came the journey, in various Lamborghinis. I started mine in the ‘beast’, also known as the ‘Urus’. Lamborghini’s SUV (large 4×4) is huge and extremely powerful. Driving it, you feel as if you are in the emperor of SUVs. Very big, very fast, and you can alter driving modes like in a supercar. “Corsa” mode felt wicked – Corsa means race in Italian.

Lamborghinis parked in a semi circle inside a fort

Lamborghini makes a full-on supercar, the Aventador; a more practical two-seater sports car, the Huracán; and a powerful SUV, the Urus. All are available in a variety of specifications – and colours

If you want to take a step further into raciness mode, the Huracán STO or the SVJ Aventador might interest you. The Aventador is futuristic and showy from the outside. Inside, the SVJ is stripped of all its finer comforts, and you sit in unforgiving carbon fibre seats. It’s all about speed, which is no surprise given it is renowned V12 engine, which was deafening particularly when you drive through tunnels, the sound drilling through your ears. The STO is slightly lighter to drive and the exterior of the car is as close as you’ll get to looking like a race car on the road. Both cars offer the same extreme performance, but the STO allows you to remain cocooned in luxury by comparison.

The Urus was the most sold Lamborghini model in 2021, with 5,021 deliveries

Having travelled across the motorway, through the ancient part of the village of Bard in the Aosta valley (where cars are normally prohibited) and up the mountains to Cervinia, Lamborghini demonstrate that their cars are fit for purpose on any terrain. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest driving on icy roads, we put the STO and the Huracán EVO to the test, driving on an ice ring. The STO being a rear wheel drive, made this slightly more difficult to manoeuvre, but the EVO retained its speed and control.

Huracán EVO spinning on the ice track

The ultimate experience for me was the Huracán EVO Spyder. This is a convertible 640 horsepower supercar. Scaling the Italian Alps with the roof down, enjoying the fresh mountain air casting over your face was fun. With no space for a suitcase or even a hand luggage, the EVO wouldn’t be the car for your family ski holiday but it’s perfect for a day trip. The lightness of the car made it very agile up the mountain.

Read more: A tasting of Dalla Valle wines with the owners

Driving through the streets of the village of Bard, in the Aosta valley, where cars are usually prohibited. You can see why

There were no other Lamborghinis of any colour in Cervinia. It’s not that kind of place. It’s all about cows, mountain air, and the shadow of the Matterhorn. But what an adventure getting there in four of the most exciting and eye-catching cars in the world.

Find out more: lamborghini.com

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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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red car on the road
red car on the road

The BMW M5 Competition may retain the conservative form of the 5 Series, but the car’s capabilities say otherwise

In the final part of our Fast & Luxurious car series from the Summer 2021 issue, LUX’s car reviewer takes the BMW M5 Competition for a spin

For an older generation of car enthusiasts, BMW’s M5 has a particular and hallowed heritage. There is intense debate about which generation of M5 history will judge best, whether it’s the original 1980s flavour, the 1990s editions with the souped-up engines, or the 2000s edition with the F1-like V10 engine. It’s a debate that is unlikely to end soon, even with the apparition of this, the latest M5. As usual, it is more powerful, faster and more luxurious than the generation before.

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On driving it down an empty country lane, it is also evident that BMW’s engineers have tried to keep true to the memory of the original in terms of handling. The company may put its ‘M’ for motorsport label on all its fast cars these days, but the M5 has a precision of steering, and a purity of balance, that is unique and highly impressive for a four-door saloon car.

car interiors

The faster you go, the sharper the curve, the more the car feeds back, feels lighter, at ease. The transformation from big and slightly anonymous car around town – you could be driving more or less any large-ish BMW – to sports car that feels like it just wants to be on a racetrack is quite striking.

Read more: Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava on light and space

The car’s interior and overall experience for passengers is one of a smart, comfortable saloon car; unless you are taking the car to its limits, they are unlikely to notice they are in anything much different to the executive sedan that shuttled them from the airport. The engine note from its twin-turbo V8 is muted, almost unnoticeable. The ride is firmly controlled and solid. With the driver settings on comfort mode, anyone could drive it anywhere and not know they are in anything special.

car steering wheel

That is the way it has always been with the M5. Even the earliest model, in the 1980s when car bodykits and show-off wings were all the rage, was deliberately dressed down to look like a normal BMW; there was even a slower model in the range, the M535i, that looked more showy about its speed. For us it was heartening to see that, despite its size (this car feels enormous), the M5 hasn’t turned into a straight-line drag racer. If your life involves driving down a twisty country lane, this is still the best car in the world.

LUX rating: 18.5/20

Find out more: bmw.co.uk

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue.

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silver sportscar
silver sportscar

Image by Mark Fagelson Photography

In the third part of our Fast & Luxurious car series from the Summer 2021 issue, LUX’s car reviewer gets behind the wheel of Porsche’s powerful SUV: the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid

When we were younger, we had a dream idea of what the perfect SUV would be. An effortless, go anywhere car with endless performance and the ability to take both motorways and winding roads (and on-roads) in its stride, without skipping a beat.

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The first drive in a then new 1990s Range Rover put us to rights. It was quite powerful, and comfortable, and could certainly go anywhere across a field. But at the moment it started even looking at a corner, the whole car would lean over as if it were going to fall on its side, and the general squishiness of its performance made it feel like driving a marshmallow on roller stilts. Not an edifying experience.
Things have moved a long way in the right direction since then, with technology, so often blamed for hampering a successful car experience, providing all the gains.

Now, it is possible to build a huge, luxurious, powerful SUV with the kind of road presence beloved of purchasers of this type of car, and a high centre of gravity which would have made a previous generation of cars lean over in corners. Due to electronics, everything stays flat.

Nowhere is this more apparent then in our spirited drive of the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid. This Porsche SUV is top of the range, having enough horsepower to tow a small European country if required. There is a huge amount of room for five passengers and their luggage, and a high-tech interior that will please, and probably confuse, the most ardent technologist.

This Cayenne can win a drag race with almost anything else on the road, its excellent gearbox reading your mind as you approach corners in sport mode, and changing down ready for the next assault of a straight. And in the corners themselves, it stays flat and precise.

Read more: An exclusive tasting of Moët & Chandon’s Grand Vintage 2013

Driving it this way, you do wonder though whether such high-performance needs would be better served by a lighter, lower car like Porsche’s own 911. That car can’t squeeze in as many people and bags as this, and it certainly can’t make its way over a muddy field, but you wonder whether owners of Cayennes do that much real off-roading, or that much super high-performance driving. Most of them would be just as happy with a normal model Cayenne.

But if you want the best of the best, this is up there. Lamborghini’s Urus is even more wild and exciting to drive, but more ‘out there’ and perhaps too much for everyday driving. Bentley’s Bentayga and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan are different types of car, more expensive and more focused on luxury than performance.

In that sense the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid is that ultimate SUV for the person who wants it all. Overkill, perhaps, but then what’s the car for?

LUX rating: 18/20

Find out more: porsche.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 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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car on cliff side
car on cliff side

Bentley’s latest Bentayga SUV is more environmentally friendly, faster, more comfortable

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai discovers Bentley’s new, faster and more environmentally friendly Bentayga model revealed earlier this week

You, dear LUX reader, have a transport conundrum. Your driver is self-isolating, and you have a desperate need to transport yourself, your latest husband, two very long adolescent offspring, and a large number of Louis Vuitton suitcases, from the private aviation terminal at Nice airport to your villa above St Tropez. (The husband does not do helicopters).

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We are pleased to say that a solution is at hand, courtesy of British (well, British-based) automobile manufacturer Bentley and its new Bentayga SUV, announced this week.

You will naturally have been familiar with the existing Bentayga, which was pretty much the most luxurious way to transport a large family at frightening speed while taking up most of the Autoroute Provencale.

dashboard of car

The new model is more environmentally friendly, faster, more comfortable and has more room in the rear for those ever-growing adolescents, or alternatively your long-legged late night companions home from La Voile Rouge and, crucially, it looks better: sleeker, and less huge.

Read more: Two of London’s best restaurants in our home

car in parking space

Apparently, it drives better also, thanks to a wider track between the wheels and various other improvements that we won’t go into here. The key point is that you will feel like les genoux de l’abeille (the bee’s knees) as you hand the keys to the voiturier at Les Caves. Now, where’s the alcohol-free Dom Perignon?

Discover more: bentleymotors.com

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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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red sports car shown on the road
red sports car shown on the road

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

In the second of our supercar reviews, we test drive a road-burning Italian sports car suitable for all the family: the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

One of the great conundrums for any current car enthusiast involves trying to work out why the country that produces the greatest supercars in the world has in general not produced anything nearly as outstanding to drive in the fast saloon car category.

If you’re looking for a racy two-seater, you’ll look first at Ferrari and Lamborghini. But if you want to carve similar performance and passion for four or five people, you would, in general, need to look to Germany’s Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, and BMW.

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Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo were world-beating sports cars before Ferrari was even born. Its more recent history as (largely) a maker of saloon cars has been less exciting.

Alfa’s heritage still resonates strongly: as soon as the new high-performance Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon was announced, I had texts from excited Ferrari owners wondering if they had found their next potential family runaround in this four-seater high-performance car.

We took delivery of our Giulia in Zurich. The Quadrifoglio is the high-performance version of the Alfa saloon, and the first thing to note: it looks mean. Beautiful and flamboyant alloy wheels are wrapped in Corsa racing tyres, aimed for use mainly on the track and in dry weather. The car may be a four-door saloon, but it looks like it means business. It has a wide shouldered stance, and the racy feel continues inside, where the combination of bucket seats, carbon fibre and a focused dashboard say supercar more than family car.

Interiors of sportscar

So, the Giulia QF can talk the talk, but that’s the easy part. Can it also walk the walk? We are, after all, in an era where any good family saloon/sedan is comfortable, fast and capable. Standards are high, and if you are pitching yourself as both a practical, comfortable car and a sports car, it has never been harder to be at the top of the pack.

First impressions are very racy. This is a car with steering out of a two-seater track machine, and it is extremely bracing. Every millimetre of movement of your hands translates into an equivalent change of direction from the wheels, something that does not often happen with saloon cars which tend to have a lot of safety margin to avoid inexperienced or inattentive drivers wheeling them off the road in a moment of low concentration.

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

The engine sounds glorious; it is a turbocharged V6 with a feeling of being tuned for both sound and power. In a future era where cars are electric or hydrogen powered, the melody of a Giulia QF will be sorely missed. (And before this prompts anybody to write in about greenhouse gases produced by conventionally engined cars, a proper audit of the carbon footprint of every component of an electric battery car should bring you back down to earth.)

So, sharp steering, fabulous sounding engine, fun interior – and how does it drive? The Giulia zinged down the back roads above Lake Zurich with the kind of gusto and brio missing from many of the highly capable but emotionless fast saloon cars on the road today. This is a car that, like some kind of Alpine hound, wants to sniff out twisty roads with delicious curves and power through them, challenging the driver to get everything perfect, balancing their way through the corners before powering outwards
and upwards.

It’s very fast, too – but that is really a given for this category of car, and in a straight line it is neither perceptibly slower nor faster than any of its rivals. It’s more about the way it goes about doing its business with a sense of joy.

But is there a flipside to that, in terms of comfort and practicality? The short answer is no, not really. That Giulia is a good solid motorway cruiser, perhaps not quite as magisterially comfortable as its German rivals, but certainly not flawed. The boot is big, the interior is spacious, although the ride is a little bit bumpy on the big wheels and racing tyres. If you wanted to sacrifice a bit of its alertness for more smoothness, you could swap to Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres, which in our experience come close to giving the best of both worlds.

But given that this is a car aimed at enthusiasts, the sharpness is really no sacrifice to make. For driving your family and friends around with a big grin on your face there really is no better alternative.

LUX Rating: 18/20

Find out more: alfaromeo.co.uk

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.

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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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Yellow Ferrari sports car pictured in the desert

Yellow Ferrari sports car pictured in the desert

LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai tries out Michelin’s supercar tyres on his Ferrari 430 Spider to see whether they’re worth the investment

Tyres are a curiously under-explored subject when it comes to supercar optimisation and maintenance. You can have conversations all day long with fellow owners about filters, suspension geometry, engine remapping, and other arcane elements of your car’s construction that might add fractions of a second to your lap time on a circuit.

But conversations about the patches of rubber that actually transmit all the power, and handling, from the car to the road and vice versa, are frequently limited to the very basics. How big are your wheels? How wide are your tires? Are they okay to drive when they have a certain amount of tread left, or a certain age?

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But tyres are, as any Formula One driver knows, far more important than that. Not only are they the only point of contact between your car and the road, they also elements of your car that will never, ever be made by the manufacturer of your car. You may have a Ferrari, a McLaren, or a Lamborghini, but your tyres will always be made by third-party manufacturers.

Each manufacturer has a range of tyres optimised for types of car and driving. My Ferraris were all supplied with Pirelli P Zero tyres, with the owners’ handbooks stating that these and similar Michelin and Bridgestone tyres were all officially approved. Owners’ forums, meanwhile, were full of discussion about the latest range of Michelin tyres for supercars, the Pilot Sport 4S.

Product image of the Michelin PS4S tyres

Michelin PS4S tyres

Of all my Ferraris, there is one model that has become my car of choice for a sunny, weekend high-speed drive in the countryside. The 430 Spider is the last of the line in a significant way. Certain model lines of Ferrari are celebrated for their ‘mid engines’, meaning the engine is located just behind the driver’s head, rather than under the front bonnet. They are also celebrated for their “gated manual” gearshift: a metal manual gear-lever which moves around a race-style bar metal gate, a work of art in itself. The 430 Spider is the last, and most modern, Ferrari that combines these two attributes; all mid-engined Ferraris since then have been made only with paddle-style gearshifts by the steering wheel, and no clutch pedals, like an automatic.

So the 430 Spider is a piece of history, and quite rare: a few hundred were made in right-hand drive. And it’s also tremendous fun to drive, combining a 485hp engine behind your head, no roof, sharp handling, and the opportunity to shift gear yourself. There was nothing wrong with the way it drove on its Pirelli tyres, in fact it was quite thrilling, but I decided to swap over to the new Michelins to see if they made any difference.

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First thing to notice: the car rides appreciably more smoothly on the new tyres. Lumps in the road that formerly jarred now only bump. But you don’t buy a Ferrari for its comfortable ride.

Yellow sports car driving along a desert road

Going for an enthusiastic drive, the improvements made themselves known more subtly. Previously, turning into a corner, the car felt sharp, but now that sharpness, and feel, was there all the way through each curve. It was as if there was a new channel of communication open with the road. Push harder around the corner, and the feel increased: you had a stronger sense of what the car was doing.

Modern Ferraris have a switch on the steering wheel that allows you to flick between driving modes; the F430 was the first to have this, and for enthusiastic driving I switch mine to Race. This sharpens up responses and also means the car is allowed to slide around a bit when you are driving at its limit, before the electronic systems (usually) catch the car. Pushing on, in Race mode, the car now feels more adhesive at the limit – it simply feels like it sticks to the road more. It’s not a transformation – the car always had superb roadholding – but now you feel more on the way, and can stay gripping the road longer.

Read more: 6 mountain restaurants to stir your soul this summer

I haven’t tested another of the PS4S’s supposed attributes, its wet weather grip, because I don’t take my car out in the wet; and hope not to test another of its noted qualities, its performance under emergency braking.

Normally, performance and comfort in tyres are in inverse proportion: the more comfortable the tyre, the less suited to high-speed driving, and vice versa. The PS4S (not to be confused with another Michelin tyre, the less sporty PS4) manages somehow to combine both. In terms of investing in an upgrade in your car: if you have a car worth £150,000 (or euros, or dollars) or more, spending around 1% of that on a set of new Pilot Sport 4S tyres might just be the smartest investment you make.

Find out more at michelin.com and ferrari.com

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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.

Follow LUX on Instagram: the.official.lux.magazine

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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yellow sportscar manufacturing process in workshop with engineer working on engine
still life image of Richard Mille watch with black strap and large rectangular face

The RM 11-03 McLaren watch

It costs as much as a McLaren 570S and will turn just as many heads. We love the RM 11-03 McLaren Automatic Flyback Chronograph with a desire that is almost unhinged – this is why you will too. 

1. It feels like a supercar.

Unlike many high-end watch-car collaborations, where a motoring logo is stuck onto what is basically an existing watch design, the 11-03 was designed jointly by McLaren Design Director Rob Melville and Richard Mille Engineer Fabrice Namura. It uses the same materials and coatings used by the British high-performance car brand, and while big, is incredibly light.

2. It looks fabulous.

Collaborative watches can be hit and miss; at worst, a mish-mash of two completely different design philosophies. The 11-03 is actually beautiful, a tough achievement for a big watch.

yellow sportscar manufacturing process in workshop with engineer working on engine

The production facility at McLaren in the UK

3. You’ll not see anyone else wearing one.

Only 500 are being made, worldwide, and the first ones are only available to McLaren Ultimate Series clients; afterwards, they’ll be available at Richard Mille stores.

4. It’s not a Patek Philippe.

If you buy one of these, you’re likely to have at least a couple of Pateks as well, just as a McLaren P1 owner is likely also to have a few Ferraris. But, just like buying a P1, or an F1, purchasing a 11-03 shows a certain breezy panache and originality.

detail photograph of watch manufacturing process

The manufacture of the RM 11-03 McLaren watch case

5. It’s wearable.

You may have a platinum dress watch also costing as much as a high-end sports car, and you’ll wear that a couple of times a year under a dinner jacket, for fear of scratching or bashing it. The 11-03 is not just lightweight; it’s made with hi-tech materials like top-grade titanium, and you can wear it to play tennis, fish on your boat or hike in Alaska. And it’ll be fine.

6. It’s beautiful.

Did we say that already? But it just is.

For more information visit: richardmille.com

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