Top Wheels, Part I: Five Cars for Work
September 8 2011 by William J. Holstein and Michael Jordan
This is the first of our two-part series on top cars for CEOs, Top Wheels, Part II: Five Cars for Play.
When you get right down to it, there are two types of luxury cars. The first is both practical and pleasurable—the car that will actually make you look forward to your daily commute, yet won’t draw undue attention in the office parking lot. The second is the kind that simply makes your spirit—and body—soar. To help you find the right ride for your needs, the Chief Executive teamed up with Edmunds.com to round up the best of the best in each category in a two-part series.
In this issue, we present five cars that offer comfort, performance and hi-tech features but are also sensitive to appearances—essential in an era of intense scrutiny of corporate leaders. These wheels will carry you in comfort, while making the kind of statement you’re comfortable with. Stay tuned for our November/December issue’s roundup of five cars that deliver powerful performance—perfect for play.
Until now, Hyundai hasn’t been known for making luxury vehicles, but it has clearly challenged the Germans and Japanese with this sumptuous sedan. Think of it as all the things that you like best about the full-size Lexus LS sedan—quiet ride, effortless driving, lots of comfort, and convenience features—and a price that makes you think of Costco.
Just like a Lexus, the Korean-built Equus is a premium car, stately and imposing in appearance. It’s fully powered, with a large V-8 engine up front and the rear wheels putting the power on the ground. The range of comfort and convenience features isn’t as broad as either Lexus or the premium German sedans, yet it has everything you need.
The Hyundai Equus makes a statement about money, but one about value, not excess. Hyundai has become a brand that’s about smart spending—a message today’s CEOs understand all too well.
Here’s a shocker: Diesel power has become synonymous with performance as well as practicality. After more than decade of enormous success with a range of highly sophisticated diesel-powered vehicles in Europe, German manufacturers are slowly introducing the technology in the United States.
The diesel-powered version of the ubiquitous BMW 3 Series sedan is now widely acknowledged as the best combination of power and practicality in the BMW lineup. Yet you won’t sacrifice either BMW’s famous acceleration or its instinct for engaging handling. Even better, the fact that the BMW 335D costs less than $50,000 will silence any complaints that the boss is driving a BMW. Hey, you’re saving the planet!
Drivers of electric-powered vehicles always fear running out of juice—or “range anxiety.” But the 2012 Chevrolet Volt makes electric power practical because it’s a plug-in hybrid. It offers an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack to deliver as much as 40 miles of quiet cruising; then a small, turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 gas engine kicks in to keep the car going for hundreds of more miles. Thus, the Volt is the first electric car that is practical all of the time, not just part of the time. You recharge at home with either a fast-acting dedicated quick-charger or a slow 120V power cord.
Within the cabin, the Chevy Volt looks slightly futuristic with a center console of controls that might remind you of something from Apple. This is a compact car that seats only four, yet the seats are comfortable and the highway ride is poised. With the Volt, you don’t feel like you’ve had to make many sacrifices for driving an environmentally friendly car.
The completely redesigned 2011 Audi A8 feels much fresher and bolder than its traditional competition, the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Featuring not only voice-activated Bluetooth telephone but also a Wi-Fi hotspot for wireless Internet usage by mobile devices within the car, this Audi is ideal for business use. The satellite navigation features Google Earth. Seating in the back of the long-wheelbase L-type A8 is like being in a first-class airline seat with video screens, a refrigerated compartment and even a massage feature.
Yet, the Audi A8 also is meant to be driven. Its all-aluminum body helps minimize weight, so the 372-horsepower V-8 can help you to go faster than the heavier competition, yet also cruise farther thanks to good fuel economy.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid is the modern way to enjoy the guilty pleasure of driving a fine German luxury car without your employees or shareholders thinking you’re squandering the company’s assets. Yes, it is a full-size Mercedes S-Class, but it’s powered by a hybrid powertrain just like a Toyota Prius. This is the best of both worlds, an expression of excellence underscored by respectable fuel economy.
As in the Prius, a battery-powered electric motor shuts down the gasoline-powered engine at stoplights and then re-engages it when the lights turn green.
It’s not a hugely powerful car but it offers a great ride and superb refinements, such as television screens in the back of the front passenger seat headrests and finely stitched leather upholstery. Mercedes says its lithium-ion battery pack is lighter and therefore smaller than the competition’s, so there’s not much compromise in rear-seat space and cargo capacity. The combination of luxury and technology adds up to a car that seems smart.