Riding in Style

Luxury cars are certainly a status symbol, but for car enthusiasts, it’s all about power, safety, and design
By Tina Arceo-Dumlao

It is unthinkable for some people that in a country where about half of the population lives on less than P50 a day, there is a robust market for luxury vehicles that each cost the equivalent of about 20 low-cost houses.

This is even more surprising considering that oil prices have skyrocketed to about $120 a barrel – even going as high as $147 – thus seriously increasing the budget for gasoline that will get these vehicles out of the garage and on to the road. Considering the rate these vehicles guzzle fuel – about four kilometers to a liter – the owners must have a big wallet.

And indeed some Filipinos do, which is why luxury vehicle distributors in the country are still meeting their sales quota despite increasing prices of basic commodities and general turmoil in the global financial market.

The market, however, is understandably tiny, and so distributors have to come out with what they consider to be the best vehicle in class to woo the moneyed customers. Here are some of the latest models to hit the showrooms.

Jaguar XF
Jaguar Cars Inc., the exclusive distributor in the Philippines of British brands Jaguar and Land Rover, is pinning hopes of continued sales this year on its recently launched Jaguar XF.  The Jaguar XF fuses sports car styling and performance with the refinement, features and space of a luxury saloon.

It replaces the long-running Birmingham-built S type that was the norm for more than nine years to appeal to a new market looking for smaller, yet still stylish, luxury vehicle. “These are exciting times for Jaguar. The XF represents Jaguar’s strategic move to firmly establish itself as the leading player in the world’s premium car market. The XF will not just challenge people’s perception about the Jaguar brand but will also appeal to people who would not even have considered a Jaguar before,” Wellington Soong, Jaguar Cars Inc. chair and president said in a statement.

Like all Jaguars, the XF is fitted with luxurious materials, sophisticated instruments, and calm interior mood lighting. It also comes with more creature comforts, from an iPod connection to space for sunglasses, drinks, and CD cases. And the details of the XF are true to the Jaguar tradition for superior design, as seen in the woven mesh of the grille to the large alloy wheels.
Jaguar is confident that with the XF, it will appeal to a new, up and coming market in search for the perfect car to show off.
“Jaguar knows that individuality and a creative mindset define the XF customer. The XF caters to a younger market compared to the car it replaced – the classic looking S-Type,” Wellington says.

Porsche 911
The iconic Porsche 911 model series marks another milestone in its evolution with the launch in September of four new models – two Coupes and two Cabriolets. These four models are the first in the Porsche line to have direct fuel injection and the optional double-clutch gearbox, making the new 911 models even more sporting and dynamic.

The Porsche double-clutch gearbox combines the driving comfort of an automatic transmission with the dynamic gearshift of a racing gearbox. The seven-gear system will allow the Carrera S Coupe (P8.9 million) to accelerate to 100 kilometers an hour in just 4.5 seconds, 0.2 seconds faster than with a manual six-speed gearbox.

Porsche claims that with these new technologies, the Carrera Coupe becomes one of the more fuel-efficient of the sports luxury vehicles with a mileage of 10 kilometers to a liter, reducing emissions of harmful carbon dioxide by up to 15 percent.

The maximum output of the 911 Carrera with its 3.6-liter power unit is up by 20 bhp to 345 bhp. Output of the 911 Carrera S with its 3.8-liter power unit, on the other hand is up to 383 bhp. With the extra power, the Carrera S Coupe can now go to a maximum speed of over 300 kilometers an hour.

But where exactly can a Porsche from Stuttgart, Germany test its maximum speed in the Philippines remains to be seen. Perhaps it is a good thing, however, that a Porsche can move too fast in the city streets for it gives others a chance to just appreciate this piece of mean machine.

Improvements on the Porsche 911, after all, did not stop at the inside. Even the exterior was improved to include LED daytme driving lights and the bi-xenon headlights. The silhouette of the 911 becomes even more distinctive with the new LED rear rights and dynamic cornering lights as an additional safety option.

First there were the luxury sedans, then the sports utility vehicles. BMW innovates yet again and came up with the BMW X6, which claims to offer the best features of the Sports Activity Vehicle and the coupe in one handsome piece of engineering.

The X6 has the proportions of a genuine coupe with extra ground clearance, elevated waistline, large rear tailgate, and adjustable luggage compartment. The side windows are low slung and the roofline flows into the rear to emphasize the width of the vehicle.

There is more luxury inside with comfortable seats for the driver and front passenger and contoured seats for two passengers at the back.

The BMW X6 is the only car in the BMW X model range with a sports steering wheel with gearshift paddles that give drivers a feeling of control at all times. And as far as amenities goes, it has a lot of options to offer, such as a rear view camera, four-zone automatic air conditioning, DVD system at the rear, and USB audio interface to add to the CD player.

Multifunction buttons on the steering wheel can operate the telephone and audio systems to minimize distraction. And in keeping with the X6’s sporting character, the mechanism panel is dominated by dual round instruments with fine scales reminiscent of motor sport.

The BMW X6 comes in three variants with the BMX X6 xDrive50i at the top of the line. It comes with a V8 gasoline engine with twin turbo technology and direct gasoline injection. It accelerates to 100 kilometers an hour in just 5.4 seconds and is clocked at a top speed of 250 kilometers an hour.

The xDrive 35i variant, on the other hand, has an engine capacity of 3 liters, compared to 4.4 liters for the 50i. There is also a diesel variant – xDrive30d – that is powered by a three-liter engine. It can accelerate to 100 kilometers an hour in eight seconds and has a top speed of 210 kilometers an hour.

All the variants are equipped with an all-wheel drive technology that distributes drive power between the front and rear axle.

Mercedes-Benz SLK
The SLK Class Roadster is already considered the best-selling sports car here and abroad. But this did not stop the venerable Mercedes-Benz group of Germany from further improving on the features of the classy vehicle.

This year’s generation of SLK Class roadsters is a result of an extensive facelift incorporating around 650 newly-developed components, according to Mercedes Benz.  These new features include a new-look front and rear sections and a modified interior with a new instrument cluster and three-spoke sports steering wheel – all in keeping with the thrust to make the second-generation two-seater vehicle even sportier in character.

Since music quality is important to the target market, the new generation SLK will have standard features integrated in the radio, such as a hands-free facility using Bluetooth.

There is an option for a new media interface in the glove compartment, which enables mobile audio devices such as the iPod to be fully integrated into the audio system and operated from the control panel.

There is also more power under the hood for the four-cylinder engine in the SLK 200 Kompressor (P4.3 million) and six-cylinder sports engine in the SLK 350 (P5.35 million).
Only the SLK 55 AMG retains the familiar eight-cylinder unit that remains a unique selling point in the SLK segment.

But despite the higher output, the engines are more fuel efficient and therefore emit less carbon dioxide. Mercedes Benz says around 185,000 customers got an SLK – 60,000 of them in Germany alone – since the launch in March 2004. This means that total unit sales are now approaching the half-million mark.

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